“Fatigue… muscle aches and pains, sighing and yawning, poor concentration, headaches, insomnia, chest pain, dizziness, feelings of panic or loss of control, gastric reflux, pins of needles, bad breath, bloating, anxiety etc. If you look at these things, think of the drugs that are being sold for those symptoms on a daily basis. It’s in the millions and millions and millions, potentially billions of dollars potentially a day just due to the symptoms of faulty breathing. Remember breathing is chi cultivation and breathing is the most primal form of movement there is so learning to breath is the first step of learning to move.”—Paul Chek
When I was a young girl and I played my Jane Fonda aerobics tape, I would laugh whenever she said the words, “don’t forget to breath.” It seemed like such a simple and automatic thing. After working in the fitness industry, I have learned why she always says this. People hold their breath all the time and this can lead to hyperventilation. The worst thing we can do is starve our body for oxygen. How we breathe determines how much energy we get and therefore, how much energy we have.
Studies have shown that only 50% of people use their full lung capacity. When the body is starved for oxygen, it goes straight into flight and fight mode, otherwise known as stress. When we are too tense to breath deep or when we are gasping for air during a workout, studies have shown that free radicals enter the body. These toxins speed up the aging process. This is counterproductive.
Below are some reasons why most of the population does not breathe properly:
––Improper posture: Our spine moves with our breath and our posture determines how much oxygen we intake.
—Tense muscles around the back and lungs: When our ribs, abdominals and shoulders are tight, air becomes unable to fill in our lungs. Our muscles and organs are designed to move flexibly and expand as air enters our body. Muscle imbalances from bad posture or strengthening some muscles more than others can cause this.
—Stress: Stress causes us to panic and start breathing through our mouths, making our breath quick and panicky. This causes the breath to become shallow so it doesn’t reach the deeper receptors in our lungs. Most amateurs breathe through the mouth when they try to run fast or workout hard. However, if you watch the fastest athletes in the world, you’ll see that their breath is controlled and smooth, allowing them to intake more oxygen so they can move efficiently.
For some of us, it is difficult to think of how to breathe while moving. For these types, taking extra time to understand the breath is crucial. Just understanding how to inhale and exhale while lifting weights means the difference between having enough oxygen and energy to fuel our workouts and not having the energy to make massive improvements.
By learning how to breathe properly, we can cure ourselves of anxiety, stress and fatigue. On a higher level, by learning breath control, we can use the breath to control the subconscious mechanisms of our body such as heart rate, blood pressure, and the autonomous nervous system. This can bring us incredible power and self-healing and athletic abilities.
Try these exercises at home to test your breathing capacity:
Lie down on your back and relax. Let go of any need to control your breath. Just rest your hands right below your belly button and feel how naturally the breath rises and falls in your belly. If your belly does not rise and the breath is in your chest, you are a shallow or reverse breather. Most people will have the breath rising in their bellies. Now stand up and put your hands on your belly and see if the breath still rises in the same area. At this point, many people stop breathing in their bellies because they are not as relaxed while standing. The key is to ease unnecessary tension in your body. You might have to do some exercises or yoga poses to help relieve this tension. You can also try deepening your belly breath while lying on your back and then imitating the feeling while standing.
Some people are reverse breathers. This is a disorder that is caused by sucking in your abdominals while you breathe in. The abdomen should expand as you breathe in so the air has room to enter. Reverse breathers do not allow air to travel to their diaphragm and get less oxygen than they should be getting. If you are a reverse breather you may have to learn some exercises to free the energy blockages in your body so you can breathe naturally.
This second exercise helped me tremendously in regards to applying proper breathing to cardiovascular exercise. Many people deal with poor breathing during intense exercise due to nervousness or unnecessary tension while working out the heart. To help cultivate your breath while active try this: While you walk, count how many steps you take while inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Try to increase the number of steps per one complete breath. If you can take one full breath over 18 steps, you have great respiratory fitness.
This month, I will be holding a workshop on mastering the breath. Click the “events” section above for more information
By Rhea Morales