Take a big deep breath in. Do you think you got as much air in as you possibly could? Now exhale. No, really push out. Now push out some more. And more.
So many of us live in such a fast paced world that even our breathing speeds up. It’s not that we breathe faster, we just don’t breathe as deep as we could do.
I have this problem and it started late last year when I was in a shitty situation that I let get the better of me. I’ve never thought of it as anxiety but I guess, in hindsight, it was. I was stressed, frustrated and mentally exhausted. The by-products of that, for me, were poor posture, shallow breathing and eventually a tight thoracic spine and like all repeated actions this became habit. I was in a habit of shallow breathing.
So how did this affect me athletically? Oh let me count the ways… Poor spine mobility lead to bad lifting mechanics, limited upper body rotation, tightness all the way down, and eventually a rib was pushed slightly out of place. One tiny sneeze and I could have slipped a disk… Then there was the reduced oxygen saturation, inability to breathe well during intense exercise, and probably a massively reduced V02max. All from being a little stressed!
Even though it took me too long to realise it, when I did finally take notice it was easy to fix. Not quick to fix, but easy. Here are three easy steps you can take to de-stress, ensure great breathing mechanics, and be harder to kill:
Be mindful of your breath and posture.
It all starts here. If you are blissfully unaware then nothing else means anything. You have to notice your current situation. Stop where you are and take a look at yourself right now. How’s your posture? Which way are your hips tilted? Is your core switched on? Is your head hanging off your shoulders like an apple off a tree? Find a way to check yourself several times throughout the day by attaching memory cues to common occurrences. Each time you get a phone notification check yourself. Whenever someone around you coughs or sneezes check yourself. Put little red stickers around your house and office and everytime you see them check-yo-self.
This is a big one for me. While we could all probably inhale more than we currently do, exhaling completely is the biggest win for me. When you exhale completely your nervous system is forced to take a big breath in. If you yawn after this; great. A yawn is not a silent scream for coffee it’s a very important scream for more oxygen. Don’t ignore it.
Channel your inner Freediver.
There’s some cool stuff around the interwebs on breath training- Wim Hoff, Brian Mackenzie, BE Training, anything Mark Healey does… A simple and effective app I use is called Apnea Trainer. For memory it was free but it might be a dollar or two. This app guides your breath training through the pranayama yoga technique which strengthens the diaphragm with an inhale, hold, prolonged exhale then another hold before repeating the process. I’ve found improvements in breathing mechanics and meditative benefits from using this app a few times a week.
If you only do steps 1 and 2 you will already be ahead of many. The benefit of step 3 is that it doesn’t take much time to see improvements but you do have to be consistent. I started with 5 minutes a day and rarely spend more than 15 minutes per day on breathing exercises. Check yo self before you wreck yourself. Give it a try and let me know what benefits you are seeing.