In all forms of physical activity, proper breathing is an integral part of the process.
Breathing with purpose isn't something that comes naturally to everyone, but once you learn the skills to focus your airflow, you'll reap a number of benefits.
What Do You Mean I'm Not Doing It Right?
According to the American Lung Association, the average person takes more than 20,000 breaths a day. However, most people take shallow, rapid chest breaths, about 15-20 per minute. They don't absorb enough oxygen and carbon dioxide to maintain energy and pH levels, nor do they expel their breath in such a way that toxins are purged from the body.
Our bodies eliminate more than 50% of waste through breath. Not breathing correctly keeps toxins locked inside.
A Quick Test
American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) suggest this test to determine how you inhale and exhale.
- Sit up straight and breathe as you normally do.
- Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.
- Breathe as you usually do and notice whether your "stomach hand" rises or your "chest hand" rises.
- In order to breathe correctly, your stomach area must rise more than your chest as your diaphragm (located below your rib cage) expands.
The AFPA recommends this method to learn how to breathe properly.
- Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four. Place a hand on your stomach so you can feel your diaphragm expanding.
- Hold the breath for seven beats.
- Slowly exhale out your mouth for a count of eight. As you release the breath, try to make a soft "whoosh" sound by holding the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth as you exhale. This practice is called "4-7-8 Breathing."
- Repeat this process for three more times. Caution: do not do more than four breaths at first. With practice, you can work your way up to eight breaths. If the process causes you to feel anxious or if you become dizzy, stop and try again the next day.
- Increase the number of breaths each day until you can do the exercise every 15 minutes.
Proper Breathing During Exercise
During exercise, the way you breathe is vital to performance and results. Oxygen is essential to nourish cells. Lactic acid develops in the muscles when there isn't enough oxygen reaching them. You'll know when this happens because you become tired more quickly and feel a burning sensation that's different from the general fatigue of a good workout.
As you exercise, make sure your inhalations and exhalations are even and controlled. Breathing too quickly causes hyperventilation. You'll require more oxygen as exercise levels increase, but the number of breaths you take per minute will respond to this need automatically.
Breathing and Yoga: A Natural Combination
If you've been practicing yoga for some time, you're probably already familiar with pranayama, an important form of breath control in relation to lifeforce. Pranayama identifies the breath as its own entity, separate from our minds and bodies.
The best way to breathe during yoga is from your stomach, as demonstrated above. Never hold your breath during any movements; you should always be inhaling or exhaling. As you prepare to move, expand your chest or move up, inhale. When you bend, move deeper into the posture or lift a weight, exhale.
When integrated with yoga, breathing guides your body's natural rhythm in performing the asanas. Yoga therapist Leslie Kaminoff, founder of The Breathing Project, explains it this way: "Everyone's length and quality of breath is different, so the movement and pace should be reflective of that. Follow your breath and take your time."