There are many distinctive practices in yoga, but two aspects are foundational in almost all forms of yoga. Asana is the physical movements and Pranayama is the breathing techniques that frame the overall benefit of yoga.
The proper breathing during yoga or any other exercise is one of the most overlooked aspects to help you achieve the most out of your overall health and workouts. For most of us when we think of breathing, we don’t consider a right or wrong way of taking a breath. Correct breathing technique is learned and from ancient yogi’s to current world-class athletes, they have all learned to master the art of proper breathing. So what does it mean to be incorrectly breathing during the day and exercise?
Let’s start by understanding that inhalations create your breathing cycles. Intercostal muscles around your diaphragm drive these cycles. When air gets drawn into the lungs, the diaphragm drops and those muscles contract. This process broadens your thoracic cavity, the pressure within the lungs decreases, and air flows in, then out. The reason to clearly understand this is most of us rarely breathe properly. Changes in breath shape our body and our movements along with our mental state. These changes and shaping are vital in how we manage our life energy or Prana.
Proper body function relies on oxygen and the delivery of oxygen is critical to our mental processes. For this reason, breath control and practice is not only crucial to our health, but also our psychological wellness. Your breath and breathing practices strongly influence and help control, anger, stress, anxiety, and concentration. Some research studies even suggest that shifting how you breathe can, in fact, change your overall health and wellness for a lifetime.
Many people develop poor breathing habits like holding their breath, breathing too shallow or breathing too fast. When you are active, whether it’s exercise or just hustling to get somewhere on time, your muscles demand a greater-than-usual amount of oxygen to work efficiently and, as a result, expel more carbon dioxide. Proper breathing allows your body to run at peak performance. Improper breathing, especially during exercise, will only slow your body’s efficiency, decrease the effectiveness of your workout and can lead to more severe problems with your health.
Let’s look at the mechanics of breathing, which regulates your heartbeat, removes waste from the body and feeds our muscles and other essential body functions with oxygen. Proper deep breathing is a great way to increase your energy levels, improve performance and feel great during exercise. The body’s most basic chemical is oxygen and it uses approximately 80-plus pounds of oxygen each day. Also, the average person takes 21,000 breaths of air each day.
The first area to understand when breathing is to breathe from your diaphragm. To determine how you are breathing, try this small test. When you breathe in, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath, either through your nose or your mouth slowly. Be sure it is a full breath that fills your lungs. Now note which hand raises more. If your stomach came up first with the most volume, then you are correctly breathing from your diaphragm. If not, you are breathing with less efficiency as a chest breather.
When we workout and attempt to build endurance, we must learn to breathe correctly. When you start running, for example, time your breathing with your foot strikes. Timing breath with foot strike is a breathing technique called a 3:2 inhale-to-exhale ratio; full inhale and exhale. This example references that you breathe in on the left, right; left foot strikes then wholly exhale on the right, left foot strikes. Learning to breathe in this method is not natural, so you will need to concentrate and practice on this method to get it mastered.
For weightlifting or another more anaerobic exercise such as lifting, pushing or pulling exercises, be sure to breathe. Never hold your breath! Breathing during exertion exercise is critical in preventing such injuries as hernias, blood vessel strain and high blood pressure issues. Keep in mind that breathing out when executing the effort portion of the activity gives you the best results. Just remember that it is pretty simple: always breathe during anaerobic exercise!
When you’re breathing improperly, you stress your body and cardio-respiratory system:
• Improper breathing is forcing the heart to work harder, leading to overall premature body fatigue.
• Shallow breathing fatigues your upper body muscles.
• Excessive, inappropriate breathing places tension on the cervical and cranial areas of your body leading to headaches, light-headedness, and dizziness.
• Short, shallow breathing can lead to inadequate oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. Metabolic waste can build up in your muscles leading to fatigue and poor muscle performance and even cause brain fog.
• Labored or quick short breathing can add to your overall stress, anxiety and hinder your ability to think clearly.
Many of us know we need to fuel our bodies with macronutrients: protein, carbs and good fat. We also need to remember that proper breathing is learned and very important for great oxygenation of our body which is the most important fuel.
Oxygen is the catalyst around our life energy and affects every aspect of our overall wellness. Proper breathing techniques improve your exercise efficiency, mental health and general quality of life just by making small adjustments to how you breathe.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.