Improper and un-efficient breathing has been tied to many problems. Sleep, mood, digestion, muscle function, the nervous system and your performance in fitness activities can all be affected by poor breathing mechanics. You may probably not realize it, but the way in which you are currently breathing may be jeopardizing your body’s normal functions and preventing you from reaching your maximal potential.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the adverse effects of improper breathing patterns:
- The nervous system becomes unbalanced – Breath has a lasting impact on the health of the nervous system. Short and shallow breathing has a tendency to activate the sympathetic nervous system (it tends to go into fight or flight mode), while more comfortable and consistent breathing enables it to loosen up and relax (and go into rest and digest mode).
- I can lead to constriction of the blood vessels which can lead to high blood pressure and the heart having to work harder to oxygenate the blood and keep it flowing.
- Poor breathing patterns can reduce energy production – Without sufficient oxygen available in your cells, your body will be unable to produce energy, leaving you tired and lethargic on a frequent basis.
- Finally, your airways become tighter – Chronic patterns of improper breathing can shorten the airway over time which in turn force us to work harder to get oxygen into our body.
Now…. what is then a correct way to breathe?
The answer is rather complicated, but in short, the best way to breathe is to do it in a way that is physiological optimal for your specific body. Oxygen requirements vary from individual to individual because of a variety of factors.
A first step to improve your breathing is to become aware of the way you breathe currently. Maybe you have a tendency to hold your breath, breathe too shallow or too frequently.
Even though there is no ‘perfect’ way to breathe, there are however a few principles tied to proper breathing.
- Breathe through the nose
- Breathe from your diaphragm
- Breathe relaxed
- Breathe rhythmically
- Breathe in a silent way
There are numerous benefits of conscious diaphragmatic breathing. You activate the vagus nerve (the 10th cranial nerve) which is responsible to calm the nervous system down, you provide your body with sufficient oxygen to function, and you naturally reduce tension throughout the body.
I even try to do this during my workouts when I am in the ‘red zone’ with my heartrate and by doing a couple of deep conscious diaphragmatic breaths I am able to bring my heart rate a couple of beats down and hover back underneath my redline (see the blue circles on the graph below).
Breathing properly may seem easy at first sight but it is a physical skill and like any skill, it requires practice and patience.
Here are a couple of good practices Set aside a few minutes at the beginning of every hour by focusing on your breath. Take note of the manner in which you are breathing. Become aware of how your breathing changes throughout the course of your normal day.
Take about 20 deep diaphragmatic breaths prior starting your meals, this will calm you down and prepare your body to properly digest the food.
In individual programme design I include breathing exercises (eg crocodile breathing or extended child pose breathing) not only in the training sessions of some the athletes but also outside the sessions. Because very often, it’s what takes place in between training sessions that allows us to unlock our true athletic potential.