AND BREATHE… Practise good breathing while using a wall for posture.
A Chinese sage once said that ‘breathing is the act of living’, and he was not overstating the importance of this most basic yet vital human function.
Breathing is an involuntary mechanism that occurs without our conscious effort. It is one of many such functions governed by our brains. Without it, of course, we could not exist. Yet most of us have become severely inefficient at breathing. We employ a small percentage of our respiratory function to take in shallow breaths into a small area of our lungs. This results in a lack of highly-oxygenated blood flowing through our bodies, leading, at best, to low energy and a lack of vitality.
Trying to exercise from a poor respiratory base is an even bigger problem. When you exercise your body’s demand for oxygen increases. This puts a greater stress on the respiratory system – the lungs, diaphragm and the intercostal muscles that surround and work with the lungs. As we use only a small percentage of our available lung capacity, taking in little sips of air, there is precious little available to our muscles once the stress of exercise is added.
This results in over-compensation, the symptoms of which you may be familiar with – labored breathing as you try to suck down oxygen using muscles that are ill-prepared for the task. Our largely-redundant respiratory muscles become atrophied.
Our sedentary lifestyles are partly to blame. We are also distracted by technology to the point where we have become much less aware of our bodies and our breath. Our respiratory system offers us a source of power that most of us will never fully exploit.
All is not lost, however. The muscles of the respiratory system can be retrained to achieve their potential. The following simple exercise that, practised consistently, can offer a path to better breathing and help change your life. This is because the benefits of more-efficient breathing will be felt not just in your training but in every aspect of your life.
Improvements in focus, concentration, sleep patterns, mental well-being and general awareness of your own body can all be realised with a few minutes of dedicated breathing practice daily. Not to mention improved oxygen delivery to muscles during training, leading to a faster, fitter you. Not a bad return for a few minutes of your day – and it’s something you can do nearly anywhere, any time.
Start by standing straight against a wall, with good posture. The back of your head, shoulder blades, buttocks, calves and heels should be touching the wall. Relax your shoulders and tuck your chin in slightly.
Take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of four seconds. Breathe into your abdomen, not your chest. Notice your abdomen rise first as air fills your lower lungs. Then notice your chest rise as air filters to the upper lungs.
Hold your breath for a further four seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for four seconds, focusing on completely collapsing the abdomen to push out all the air. Start by doing two to three minutes daily, working up to five minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening or as desired.
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.