Why Changing Your Relationship With Your Breath Will Increase Athletic Performance, Reduce Anxiety and Increase Overall Well-being.
We can live for a month without food, a week without water, but only minutes without oxygen. The breath is the most fundamental part of our being. We are brought into this world with our first breath and we leave on our last breath. In today’s society, we focus on so many areas of self-improvement such as fitness, nutrition, and the mental game. However, few people focus on the one area that can help improve all of the other ones, the breath.
Look around and see how many people are sitting there with their mouths wide-open breathing into their upper chest. When you breathe into your chest it causes a stress response and puts the body into a fight or flight state, activating the sympathetic nervous system. Doing this, your body constantly releases cortisol and chronic inflammation will become a problem. This can also cause problems with hypertension, anxiety, weight gain, low energy, and poor sleep.
Your nose is made for breathing. When we use the nose for its intended purpose we release nitrous oxide into the sinuses. This sterilizes the air we breathe, allows for bronchial dilation – opening the airways and assists in ventilation-perfusion, which improves oxygen uptake into the system. Nasal breathing is more efficient than mouth breathing. It allows for the proper amount of carbon dioxide to be released allowing oxygen to travel from the blood to the tissues more freely. This will also show up in increased performance during athletic events and daily activities.
Performing nasal breathing during warm-ups and jogging can increase aerobic capacity without adding more volume to a workout. At first, it will be difficult and your mind will try to force you to breathe through your mouth as it gets stressed and worried about dying. However, I encourage you to hold off on the initial gasp response and push through. You will be okay. At first, your performance might drop as your body adjusts to lower oxygen levels. However, over time your body will become more tolerant of higher carbon dioxide and you will be able to nasal breathe at a higher heart rate. Not only do you gain added performance benefits but you also add awareness to your body. You will determine what movements and postures make it more difficult to breathe and you can begin to work through them.
Nasal breathing also allows you to kick-start your recovery quicker post workout. By extending your exhale, you can lower your heart rate and drop your nervous system into a parasympathetic state resulting in an improvement in recovery time. I practice an eight second exhale through the nose. It might take a few tries but once I get there I can feel my body begin to calm down.
Nasal breathing will help the body stay in a more parasympathetic state and not allow you to over-react to the stressors of everyday life. It is one of the easiest ways to calm the system and control your emotions. I encourage you to try it right now. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose for a count of four, now hold for four seconds, exhale through your nose for four seconds, and hold for four seconds. This practice is called box breathing because you are breathing an equal ratio into the four corners of the breath. Repeat this cycle five times. How do you feel? From my experience, you will be in a much more relaxed and alert state and can better handle what life throws your way.
This video from SealFit founder Mark Devine is a great demonstration of the box breath and a few other techniques.
This article is a short introduction to what you can achieve when you change your relationship to the breath. In future articles, I will discuss additional techniques you can apply in your day to day life that will help you sleep better, reduce stress and anxiety throughout the day, and prepare your body to optimize any physical activity. We tend to go through life breathing on autopilot. It is time to make the breath conscious. Conscious breathing is a powerful tool that can add performance to athletics and to life. If you are a skeptic like I was, try it for yourself. It only takes five minutes a day to start and you can do it before you get out of bed in the morning. I encourage you to begin your day box breathing and see how it changes your mental state throughout the day.
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