by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
How you breathe affects everything from mood to athletic performance. Here’s how to improve one of the most basic functions …
Mindful breathing has been known throughout history for its endless benefits to physical and emotional health. Beyond that, mindful breathing allows us to control how we breath to improve functioning. Breathe for a better state-of-mind and body, whether working out or chilling out.
Maximize Your Workout
Proper breathing can help you excel in your fitness endeavors, from cardio classes to swim meets. Personal trainers and fitness instructors often remind exercisers to breathe. Of course, you are breathing. However, it may be sporadic with periods of unintentionally holding your breath and other times of panting. (Sound familiar?)
Learn to breathe like a yogi, even if you aren’t practicing yoga. Those gurus definitely know how to use breathing to advance a workout.
Weightlifting: Try to exhale on the lift and inhale on the lower. When lowering weights, blood pressure takes a quick dip. Inhaling as you lower the weight can help avoid dizziness that accompanies this natural reaction.
Swimming: Avoid a fast exhale before you gulp in breath when your head surfaces above water. Instead, begin to exhale through your nose as soon as you finish taking in a breath. This rhythm increases stamina by improving oxygen supply and limiting shallow breaths.
Running: Try slow, deep breathing to turn your run into a Zen experience. Get in the zone with rhythmic breathing that coincides with your stride. For those new to running, hard breathing is common. This will improve as your body becomes more efficient at exhaling carbon dioxide that builds up in exhausted muscles. (Plus, your muscles will tire less quickly.)
Stretching: Stretching is essential before and after your workout. Deep, mindful breathing helps prevent muscle tightness and pulls. Pre-workout, it also prepares the mind for exercise by bringing attention to the present moment. Breathing should be the foundation of every workout. It is one of the elements we can manipulate to improve results every time. Post-workout, breathe in unison with stretches. Raise your lungs as you reach for the sky and exhale as you release worries, fatigue, and tired muscles.
Relax or Energize
Manipulating your breath can have two drastically different outcomes. You can breathe to gain energy or breathe to relax.
Most have heard of controlled, deep breathing to help dissipate anger, anxiety, and stress. This method slows heart rate and reduces blood pressure. Those who regularly and successfully practice it probably have managed to bypass an anxiety attack or avoid an argument with their significant other.
Try it! Avoiding that argument can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a night on the couch:
- Exhale completely.
- Inhale slowly through your nose while counting to five. Breathe in from the abs by engaging your core.
- Hold the breath for 2-3 seconds.
- Slowly exhale through your nose, emptying your lungs. (Contract your core, if you’d like. It might save you a few crunches later.)
- Pause and repeat for 5-10 minutes.
To increase your energy level, breathe right—with your right nostril, that is! Recharge with this breathing technique:
- Close your left nostril with your left thumb.
- Inhale and exhale as normal through only your right nostril for 3-5 minutes.
This method naturally raises your blood pressure, which triggers a sense of invigoration. (Want to lower blood pressure for a sense of calm? Reverse it! Breathe only through your left nostril.)
Breathing directly affects the autonomic nervous system. It helps regulate heart rate, hormone release, and oxygen distribution. Proper breathing can help reduce pain, and strengthen the body’s immune system by reducing stress.
It’s time to leverage this critical function to improve well-being. Start now. Take a breather with a deep, cleansing breath!
“Breathe Easier during Exercise,” by Peg Rosen at fitnessmagazine.com.
“How Diaphragmatic Breathing Can Change Your Workout,” by Giselle Castro at fitnessmagazine.com.
Breathe & sip: pixabay.com/en/coffee-calm-time-meditate-1032938
Shadowed face: pixabay.com/en/face-portrait-man-male-head-old-984031