Draw air in through your nose on a slow two-count. Blow air out of your mouth like you’re blowing out birthday candles twice as long, to a count of four.
Now in for 3 seconds, out for 6. Can you get to 4 seconds in, 8 seconds out? Repeat a few more times.
You have just successfully calmed your Central Nervous System and reduced the circulation of excitatory neurotransmitters and stress hormones. Sound like some hippie-dippy BS? Well according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is directly linked to ALL of the top 6 leading causes of death in the United States:
– heart disease
– lung ailments (i.e. pneumonia)
– accidents (car accidents, falls, etc)
– cirrhosis of the liver
This is going to sound like one of those ridiculous promise-you-the-world prescription drug commercials…”Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could greatly reduce your risk of mortality from the 6 leading causes of death, improve your energy and performance, and reduce chronic pain due to inflammation in just a few minutes a day – well you can!”
And you don’t even need to pop a pill. Just breathe. Intentionally and actively for a couple minutes a few different times per day.
Here’s a test. Lie on your back and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. If only one or the other hand rises you are significantly under-utilizing the volume of your lungs. For those already aware of “belly breathing”: try hooking a finger under the rib cage and then take a breath. If it doesn’t get pushed out you may just be pushing out your belly artificially instead of effectively breathing with the diaphragm. Respected strength training mogul Mike Boyle recently discovered that essentially ALL of his clients with chronic back pain could NOT breathe into their belly when instructed to. While this doesn’t prove necessarily that low back pain is caused by shallow breath, it does show a strong correlation that the two are related which is well worth paying attention to.
Types of Breath and When to Use Them
• Forceful Breath
This is the type of breath many of us in the strength training world are familiar with: a forceful exhale to lock down the abdominal muscles and protect the spine during powerful movements or heavy lifting. Forcing an exhale, making a “shhh!” sound, is an effective way to produce more force and protect the body during moves like Kettlebell swings, push-ups, ball slams, etc.
• Pursed Lip Breathing
In through the nose as if you’re sniffing up snot that keeps running out of your nose during your worst cold. Blow air out of pursed lips and using the abdominals to squeeze the last bit of air out of your lungs. This type of breathing has been demonstrated in medical settings to very quickly raise patient’s’ blood oxygen levels several percentage points within just a few breaths. This type of breath should be used during your warmup to better prepare your body for intense activity, and during breaks to help you adequately recover. Maintaining a high blood oxygen during exercise can reduce feelings of fatigue, dizziness or light-headedness, and even reduce your perceived exertion! (How difficult an exercise “feels”)
• Deep Breathing
Similar to pursed lip breathing we’ll breath in through the nose and blow out through the mouth, except you insert a pause into the mix. Breath in through the nose about four seconds, hold your breath about six or seven seconds, exhale for eight. Start with just 4 breaths at a time, twice a day – working up to a maximum of 8 breaths twice a day. The focus and the pause are what set this breathing technique apart, and after just your first cycle through you can almost rest assure that you will be more relaxed, less anxious and experience a pleasant type of euphoria. Make use of this breath when dealing with excess stress, experiencing anxiety over a difficult decision, worrying, etc.
Now there are many different types of breathing out there, but we have chosen just to highlight these 3 as we think they are the most relevant and beneficial for the people we work with. The most important thing to take note is that your breath is a tool and while you generally do it unconsciously (thank goodness, or else sleeping would sure be interesting!) there are certain times when it will greatly benefit you to breathe intentionally.