Monday, November 29, 2010

Are you breathing comfortably? fast tip for immediate performance improvement

This post is about a fast simple cheap way to improve health and well being pretty much, yup, right this minute. Literally. Simply by tuning what we have to do and are doing right now. Yup it's breathing, every breath we take, where amazingly, less can be more, especially the right less. So when you hear your pals say they don't have time to workout - why not offer them these few tips? They will actually be improving a key marker in health and for that matter athletic performance.

What this post proposes is a quick series of exercises that we can do any time of day, pretty much anywhere. Once or twice a day, no more than a few minutes a go (and that's remarkably few breaths) research/practice shows, such deliberate breathing is a fabulous stress buster, may help reduce asthma symptoms, balance blood pressure, enhance sleep, digestion, energy - all this before. By deliberate breathing we mean we pay attention to it.

So let's take a look.

How's your breathing right now? 
Fast check - when you inhale right now, is your chest moving our your belly? Here's another fast check: is your mouth ever partially opened or closed? This next one needs a timing device - how many in and out breath sets do you have in a minute when sitting still?

Now, why should you care about any of these questions?

Quick facts: how we breath has a tremendous effect, especially, on whether the body thinks we're stressed or not. We literally perform better when we breath better. This isn't hard to imagine: if we can't breath we die; if we have strange breathing - like hyperventilating (too much breathing) that's a pretty good way to say that our system is in distress, and is going to be concerned about survival rather than performance.

Better breathing - fewer, slower, deeper - helps redress not only hormonal levels that signal stress (or not) that get triggered by stress breathing (hyperventilating again) but also manages our pH balance which can also signal stress and is hugely important for cuing up the state of the body - too acidic; too alkaline. Indeed, any of us who have gotten nauseous when overdoing exercise are experiencing the effects of imbalanced pH levels.

Without going into the gnarly bits of what's going on, here's a few things we can do at any point in the day that will help us feel better, sleep better, digest better - well almost anything better.

If we're answering yes to any combination of chest moving, open mouth or greater than 20 sets a minute, we're ready for some practice.

A Low Tech Breathing Practice Progression
Moving Chest Breathing to Belly breathing: goal - regular breathing from the belly
 if you breath up in the chest, consciously think about breathing from the belly instead - simple practice - do it for five breaths, and then go back to your life. Any time you think about your breathing, just check: chest or belly? do a few belly breaths. As that become more frequently part of personal awareness, the more we'll be belly breathing

Moving Mouth Breathing to Nasal Breathing 
Nasal breathing is just breathing in and out through one's nose.  Sounds simple, but when combining nasal breathing with belly breathing it's is a powerful technique to help with stress, hyperventilation, and respiratory distress

So as in the last exercise, getting to nasal breathing from mouth breathing is to do the work when you think about it: if you become aware of breathing through your mouth, practice a few breaths with a very deliberate focus "i'm breathing in through my nose i'm breathing out through my nose"

Nasal breathing helps keep our co2/o2 levels balanced, and physically using the nose as designed for breathing means that we're filtering particulates out of the air that ain't going into us, the air also gets warmed which is less stressful for us to for performance.

Nasal Breathing ++ (pursed lips exhalation)
When the top two techniques feel more comfortable, try this on a daily basis and especially when feeling stressed. It's this: inhale normally, pause before exhalation, and then see how long you can breath out through pursed lips. A healthy person will get to 50-60secs of pursed lips exhalation.

Now here's a cool thing: if you give yourself five minutes to focus on just this task, you will likely find that your exhalations go up significantly each exhalation.

This latter practice in particular is a big big win: it will help reset the CO2 balance in the body. Doing this reduced breathing also is very relaxing and helps reset our hormonal/stress balance.

Noting the Difference
So it's very cool to put breathing awareness into our daily practice and watch how it affects sense of wellbeing in terms of sleep, rest, energy, digestion.  One of the practices colleagues and i have looked at it NOT to practice anything for a week and note how we feel about sleep, digestion, energy, and then give this practice a go for two weeks and track the difference - it's nice to see something's really having an effect.

It's Cheap It's Easy It has a Fast Effect.
One of the best things about breathing is that we have to do it all the time anyway, so it's awesome that doing so little in terms of deliberate practice (pay attention to how we breath a couple times a day and practice particular types of breathing a few minutes twice a day), we get such a big bang for the buck.

Invitation: how's deliberate breathing going?
Please give this a go, and as you do, please come back here and post your experiences over the coming weeks.

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