What If I told you that you could take your lifestyle and your mental/physical performance to a whole new level just by adjusting dysfunctional breathing patters? chances are you would not believe me.
That is why I am here to show you through science and evidence-based practice the real impact breathing has on our daily life.
In this article, I will share with you simple yet powerful breathing techniques you can practice by yourself that will boost your overall performance, wether if you are a runner, a basketball player, surfer or simply someone looking to feel better. All these exercises are designed to improve the overall functioning of your respiratory system, cardiovascular system and much more.
“You can live without food for weeks, you can live without water for days, but you can only live without air for a few minutes”
QUALITY BREATHING – THE BASICS OF PROPER BREATHING MECHANICS
So what is “quality breathing”? Before you can explore any details of breath enhancement training, you need the ability to simply breathe efficiently at REST.
You can’t expect efficiency during a situation where you are pushing yourself if you can’t even be efficient when at rest. So before jumping right into using these techniques during your next workout, make sure you can peform them with ease and comfort at rest.
BELOW YOU WILL FIND 5 BREATHING TECHNIQUES THAT WILL HELP YOU ACHIEVE A “HIGH PERFORMANCE” STATE OF MIND. PRACTICE THEM FIRST IN A RELAXING PLACE WITHOUT DISTRACTIONS, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE AND FOCUS ONLY ON YOUR BREATHING.
1) NASAL BREATHING
Yep, thats right: mouth breathing is THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE between you and your fitness/wellness goals.
Did you know that mouth breathing overstimulates our sympathetic system? (responsibe for the body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response) This increases alarm signals in our body, it increases our heart rate and it might also add psychophysical stress and tension.
Breathing through the mouth is also likely related to whats known as “shallow breathing” or “chest/upper body breathing” (CLICK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS).
Both of these lead to an inefficient breathing cycle: lower intake of oyxgen will lead to more inefficient breathing, which will probably lead to a fast-paced breathing that will increase heart and metabolic rate, which will lead to even MORE inefficient breathing, and so on and so forth.
If you are interested on this subject, go get “Shut your mouth and save your life” by George Catlin. OR “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown
So now that you know this…
The first and most important step before moving to more advanced breathing techniques is making sure you are breathing through your nose at alltimes, during day and night.
Here some HUGE BENEFITS OF NASAL BREATHING:
- Pressurizes the air, allowing the lungs to expand properly (+10-20% absorption of oxygen)
- Humidifies and warms up the air, making it ready to enter the breathing system
- Reduces heart rate
- Activates diaphragmatic breathing (keep reading for more details on this)
- Better oxygen administration throughout the body
- Cleans the air of germs and impurities
- *It is an important source of Nitric Oxide (NO) for the body* (click to learn more about nitric oxide)
We are physiologiclly designed to breathe through our noses, so next time you catch yourself with your mouth open, just close it and switch to nasal breathing and start getting all the free gains mentioned above!
2) DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING: AVOID CHRONIC SHALLOW BREATHING
The opposite to shallow breathing, diaphragmatic breathing is the type of breathing that babies do naturally where their bellies rise and fall with each breath. This is completely different to adults, who for the most part breathe entirely in the upper portion of their trunk.
Did you know that you are only getting about 20-40% of your lung capacity filled? That’s right, just because you are completely neglecting the diaphragm role in your breathing! If you practice any kind of breath hold related sport, you wouldnt want to start your holds with only 30% of your actual lung capacity! (Check our article on breath holding for surfers RIGHT HERE!)
Diaphragmatic breathing has a host of benefits for the body and mind. Most importantly, it activates our parasympathetic nervous system which is our body’s rest and digestive mechanism. It conserves energy, slows the heart rate and generally relaxes us. It also strengthens immunity, improves circulation, digestion and increases vigour. From a psychological perspective, diaphragmatic breathing also helps us to feel grounded, calm and focused. You’ll hear this referred to as “belly breaths” OR “lower section breathing”, as those terms refer to the expansion of the stomach upon inhaling.
Here’s a list of some of the many benefits diaphragmatic breathing has:
- Strengthen the diaphragm
- It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body.
- It lowers your heart rate
- It helps lower your blood pressure
- It improves your core muscle stability.
- It improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise.
- It lowers your chances of injuring or wearing out your muscles.
- It slows your rate of breathing so that it expends less energy.
- Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate
- Decrease oxygen demand
- Use less effort and energy to breathe
How to do it:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed or lay down on the floor with your knees bent.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
Note: You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you might feel its a little bit unnatural or that the area feels “tight”. Do not worry, with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.
3) RECOVERY BREATHING
Take 1 minute to answer this question before you keep reading the article:
“WHAT IS THE APPROPIATE WAY TO BREATHE AFTER EXERCISE?“
The answer is….our breathing pattern will be dictated by the activity we are performing and its metabolic intensity!
“Breathing right” means breathing at a rate that best matches the body´s needs at a particular moment: having enough oxygen for the body to work efficiently and healthy amounts of CO2 for an optimum blood chemistry. (CLICK HERE to learn more about o2 and Co2 relationship)
HOWEVER, there are certain “breathing rules’ we can follow to optimize our performance and be aware of what’s the most efficient pattern according to the intensity of the exercise!
Rules to achieve a better breathing:
- ALWAYS TRY TO BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE!
- ONLY switch to MOUTH BREATHING in the following situations: Feeling extremely out of breath after a physical challenge (briefly, until regaining control), if you are wearing a mask or a noseclip (freedivers) or surfacing after being underwater (swimming or surfing scenarios)
- Whatever the situation is, always try to regain awareness of your breathing and try to come back to the most efficient pattern you can apply for that particular activity.
- AVOID EMOTIONAL BREATHING (dysfunctional breathing pattern driven by emotions such as being nervous, anxious, or fear) A proper breathing pattern will help you stay focused and regain control even in highly demanding situations!
- AVOID HYPERVENTILATION! Breathing MORE will not get you more oxygenated! A shallower, fast pace breathing will accelerate your heart rate, creating a higher demand of oxygen and making your whole body functioning less efficient.
4) BOX/Square Breathing (Samavritti Pranayama)
Box breathing is a powerful, yet simple, relaxation technique that aims to return breathing to its normal rhythm. This breathing exercise may help to clear the mind, relax the body, and improve focus.
The technique is also known as “resetting your breath” or four-square breathing. It is easy to do, quick to learn, and can be a highly effective technique for people in stressful situations.
As the name suggests, box breathing starts with an inhale, followed by a breath hold, and then an exhalation followed by another breath hold, thus completing the square. All ‘sides’ of the square will have the same time length. Here some different examples of box breathing:
a) 4’’ IN – 4’’ HOLD – 4’’ OUT – 4’’ HOLD
b) 8’’ IN – 8’’ HOLD – 8’’ OUT – 8’’ HOLD
c) 4” IN – 10” HOLD – 4” OUT – 10” HOLD
“a)” shows a traditional 4-4-4-4 square breathing.
“b)” is a more advanced version of the square breathing, since holds are twice as long.
“c)” is called “modified square breathing” since there is an increase in time length but only for the HOLDS. This exercise is a great tool to develop Co2 tolerance. Check OUR COURSES if you are interested in improving your resiliency and the duration of your breath holds underwater!
People with high-stress jobs, such as soldiers and police officers, often use box breathing when their bodies are in fight-or-flight mode (overstimulation of sympathetic system) This technique is also relevant for anyone interested in re-centering themselves or improving their concentration.
How to do it:
Box breathing is a simple technique that a person can do anywhere, including at a work desk or in a café. Before starting, people should sit with their back supported in a comfortable chair and their feet on the floor or lay down on the floor and be as comfortable as you can.
If someone finds the technique challenging to begin with, they can try counting to three instead of four. Once someone is used to the technique, they may choose to count to five or six.
- The general rule is to fit your breathing into the established format. If the 4 second count feels too easy you can step it up to 6, 8 and so on.
- Always use your nose
- During the HOLDS, try to relax your body completely and get rid off any muscular tension, relax your shoulders, relax your eyes, relax your mind.
- Develop breath awareness & skill, increase tolerance to CO2 and increase your ability to control cravings (develop willpower)
- Increases concentration
- Great technique to reenter yourself and remain present
5) 1-0-3-0 BREATHING (LONG EXHALATIONS)
As simple as it sounds, long exhalations are a great way to work on your breathing awareness and control. Also, it is scientifically proven that exhaling for +7 seconds stimulates our parasympathetic system, allowing our mind and body to enter into a “rest and digest” state. This is particularly beneficial if you find yourself having a stressful day or feeling anxious or scared. Just to give you some scenarios where long exhalations could seriously help you rebalance yourself:
- Having issues to sleep
- Performance anxiety
- Any situation that is creating emotional unstableness
- Needing to relax and calm down
How to do it:
Find a comfortable position, during this exercise you do not want be feeling any muscle tension, maybe sit down in a comfortable position or just lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Place one hand on your abdomen and take a few relaxed breaths, this is a great opportunity to work in your diaphragmatic breathing.
This time, we will inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth by doing an “S” sound, this will create air restriction and will allow you to achieve longer exhalations. sound Lengthen out the inhalation and exhalation until they’re of equal length and progressively increase the length of your exhale until you have a 1:3 ratio. This means that, whatever your inhalation takes, your exhalations will be three times as long. Eg: 3 seconds inhale, 9 seconds exhale; 5 seconds inhale, 15 seconds exhale.
Try to find a comfortable number that forces you to be present and focused only on your breathing, but avoid jumping into an extremely long exhalation because it will become very hard and the main purpose of the exercise will be lost. Once you find a nice but slightly challenging pace, continue for 5-8 minutes.
- In through the nose, out through the mouth, making an “S” sound (imagine the sound of a balloon deflating).
- The general rule is to always keep the ratio 1:3 (inhalation to exhalation). If 4-12 feels too easy, you can step it up to 5:15, 6:18, etc…
- Increase or re-gain lung vitality, develop breath awareness & skill
- Stimulates parasympathetic system
- Build up of Co2 will develop better breathing habits
- Helps to stay in the present moment, increases focus and self control
Try to practice these exercises a few minutes per day and you will be amazed about the huge impact it will make in your mood, the quality of your sleep, your energy and, of course, your overal daily performance!
If you liked this article and would like to know more about breathing for health and performance, get in touch with us! We love what we teach because we are completely convinced that a mindful life leads to a quality, conscious life! Do not wait anymore, do yourself a favor and tune in with your breathing starting TODAY!