When we are physically active, we will naturally want to spend more time exhaling than inhaling as the additional muscle activation during exhalation helps to support and brace our body against any impacts we may experience and also makes our movements more efficient as the additional stiffness of our body makes it easier to move through space. The longer we can make our exhalation relative to our inhalation while still comfortably getting all the air we need, the more comfortable and energy efficient we will be during the activity and greater our endurance will be. To do this requires not only that we become good at lengthening our exhalation, but also that we become good at inhaling rapidly as well. All endurance breathing will ideally be in and out through the nose to help avoid overbreathing.
Exercise: Mastering the Short Inhalation
Walking is an excellent activity for practicing this breathing exercise, but any rhythmic low exertion level activity will be suitable. Begin by inhaling through your nose as you take one step, then exhale through your nose for the next step, then repeat for several steps. The inhalation and exhalation will only be small as this will be all the air that you will need for one step. Next inhale through your nose as you take one step and exhale through your nose as you take two steps, then repeat for several steps. The breath will need to be a bit deeper now as you need more air for the additional step. Repeat this process adding more and more steps to the exhalation while still inhaling only on one step. Gradually this will mean that your inhalation will need to become faster and faster as you need to take in more and more air within the same amount of time. Gradually build this up until you are comfortable taking seven or more exhaling steps for each one step inhalation.
During regular activity you do not need to keep up this extremely long exhalation with such short inhalations, but developing the ability to take a rapid deep inhalation will help you to be relaxed and function efficiently through activities that challenge your endurance.
When our body gets pushed to the limits of its abilities, it will often stop breathing as this makes it easier to brace itself as it no longer has to adapt for the expansion of breathing by lengthening and shortening muscles. This applies to flexibility and stretching as well. When the body thinks it has reached its limit it will be inclined to hold the breath so it can sustain the position with less chance of injury. This doesn’t help with flexibility as the breath holding starves the muscles of nutrients and will make them stiffer over time. It is much better to breathe throughout any flexibility or stretching activity even if this means not pushing yourself to the limits that you may be able to by holding your breath as this will mean that the muscles and connective tissue continue to get the nutrients that they need which will allow them to gradually become more flexible in the movement rather than stiffening up. Also the subtle lengthening and shortening required of even the muscles in the extremeties to adapt to the expansion and contraction of the body during breathing will help to soften the body and improve flexibility.
Also ideally breathing during most activities aimed at increasing flexibility will be in and out through the nose as breathing through the mouth will tend to increase muscle activation and stiffness which will generally be counterproductive to improving flexibility.
Exercise: Breathing While Stretching
Whenever you are stretching, check that you can breathe comfortably in and out through your nose. Breathe as deeply and as slowly as you comfortably can while stretching as the greater expansion and contraction caused by deeper breathing will assist with loosening your body and improving flexibility. If you are unable to breath comfortably during a stretch, back off it until you can, this will yield the best long term flexibility results.
Practice Sessions This Week
This week your practice session will be focused on developing breathing skills for endurance and flexibility
- Mastering the Short Inhalation – 20 minutes
- Breathing While Stretching – 10 minutes