As the title of this blog suggests, this blog is about how our breathing plays such a major role in fitness and overall wellbeing. With my background in Sports Medicine, I was never taught through my formal training on the importance of breathing exercises on fitness. The extent of my training on breath work was to only make sure athletes do not hold their breath, especially during weight lifting. Holding the breath is referred to as the valsalva maneuver; it can cause a drastic increase in blood pressure. Otherwise, breath work or breathing exercises were not part of the exercise regiment offered as a preventative core workout or as therapeutic exercise routine. Why?
I have asked myself this question of why athletes or even the weekend warrior are not doing more breathing exercises. The main conclusion I have come to is the benefits of deep breathing exercises are not widely known. The yoga and meditation communities are two exceptions to this, but otherwise it is just not common knowledge. Furthermore, breath work may not been seen as "intense" enough to constitute a workout. I can assure anyone that it is a lot of work for your body to manipulate your breath, building coordination, power and endurance just like any exercise workout. So what are the benefits?
Breathing exercises help engage the orchestra of muscles in your pelvis, torso, neck and face (1). Through repetition and improved coordination with the abdominal muscles, especially the diaphragm, intercostals and transverse abdominis, you can gain flexibility, strength, stability and endurance. Learning to utilize your breath in a greater capacity does not just improve respiration and core fitness, it can improve postural alignment, aid in digestion, and directly impact the parasympathetic nervous system (calming affect). Also, I have great success with guided breathing exercises with clients, helping them to isolate tension and release that tension; and reduce chronic back pain. This small paragraph can only skim the surface of the benefits and uses for breathing exercises.
Breathing Exercise Introduction
1. The easiest position for most to start is lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Other positions you can work in include: side-lying, lying on your belly, seated, standing and holding more dynamic positions (i.e. squats or lunges).
2. Once you are lying comfortably on your back, place your fingers on either side of you abdomen. To do this, find your belly button and move out to your side. Place your index finger at that point and the rest of your fingers line up below that. Gently press your fingers into the side of your abdomen; just a small amount of pressure will do.
3. When you inhale through the nose, imagine a balloon inflating from the bottom of your ribcage down into your abdomen (this is your diaphragm). You should feel your belly and ribcage expanding. This expansion should gently "push" your fingers out of your abdomen.
4. Exhale through the mouth allowing the ribs and abdomen to relax back into their original position.
5. To start off, I recommend 5-6 breaths in a row with even breathing, which means the inhale and exhale should be of equal duration. After 5-6 deep breaths, take a 30-60 second break and repeat as needed throughout the day or perform 3-5 sets with your workout routine.
[Disclaimer: As always, consult your medical professional before starting a new exercise or exercise routine, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.]