What does every athlete or fitness enthusiast want the key to? We all yearn for that space where exercise feels effortless physically and meditative mentally. In Western athletics, we call this “the zone.”
As an athlete in my mid-30s, my body was breaking down from all the years of training and competing. Fifteen years ago, a female friend of mine recommended yoga. I was amazed at what she could do with her body. The competitor in me had to take this on.
While I loved the practice of asana, I was most intrigued by yoga breathing: pranayama. You see, without the breath, it’s not yoga. It’s exercise. The pranayama (or conscious breathing) is what “yokes” the body/mind. So, if the breathing was having such a profound effect in the movement of yoga, why wouldn’t it within cardiovascular and strength-training exercise?
Breathing patterns determine the physiologic response of the body. Nasal breathing offers a dramatically more positive response than mouth breathing, including how well you’re able to oxygenate your cells, burning fat instead of sugar (we want to be burning fat), hormones releases, heart rates, lactic acid build-up, cardiovascular and digestive function and so much more.
With this understanding, I began to develop a very intimate relationship with the breath. Into the lab I went… and by lab, I mean my body. The breath showed me all the hidden secrets of the body/mind relationship.
There are a few key areas I like to focus on with exercise or athletic training: breathing patterns, warm-ups and cool-downs. Sure, the “skill” involved in your sport is important. However, all the skill in the world won’t save you when your bodies been over-trained and undervalued.
Diaphragmatic breathing or Dirgha as it’s called in yoga is the main breathing pattern we should be using in the meat of our workouts. Today, we’re going to use this breath systematically as a warm-up routine.
Warm-ups play a vital role in preparing our bodies for their workout. The digestive system is an enormous furnace of energy, all of which we want to tap into and harness. The best way to do this is by heating the body from the inside out: When we mouth breathe, we slow digestive fire. When we nasal breathe, we activate digestion.
A 10-Minute Warm-up Routine:
- Begin nasal breathing using the diaphragmatic breath. Develop a steady rhythm of breathing.
- Next, begin diaphragmatic breathing with a system of counting to three (either strides, pedals or seconds). Inhale the breath for a count of three, retend the breath for a count of three, exhale for three and hold the breath out for a count of three. Repeat this for five minutes.
- Weave another layer into your practice by moving through the same sequence as above but taking six breaths at an intensified pace between rounds. Repeat this for three minutes.
- End with several rounds of alternate nostril breathing.
You can do this with any piece of cardio equipment or outdoors in your walking, running or cycling routine. If using the six count feels too challenging, reduce it to three, four or five and build your way up to six. For the rest of your workout, breathe from your diaphragm and watch how your body performs for you.
It takes time to transition from mouth breathing to nasal breathing in exercise and/or athletic training. Once we strengthen respiration, all yoga breathing techniques can be integrated into your workouts and sequenced in hundreds of dynamic ways. Imagine weaving various forms of pranayama into speed and endurance training. You can! It begins with training the diaphragm muscle.
“Training for Leadville Trail 100 MTB 2015 with the team. Road 4 hrs this morning climbed probably 5,000 ft. without mouth breathing (started at 8k to 13K). Loving my low heart rates in the climb. Dude, we’re killing it! Can’t wait for race day. Go Team CKF” — Chris Klug, Olympic Snowboard Champion
The body is a vehicle for transformation, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The no pain, no gain theory is old news. Develop a relationship of trust and respect with your body and you’ll be amazed at how it will perform for you. Nasal breathing is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the body, and yoga breathing provides body over mind flow states that feel like meditation-in-motion. This is exercising as a Mind Body Athlete™.
Go BE Great! It’s just that simple