Breathe Your Way to Your Personal Best
Find out how proper breath control can enhance endurance and strength, whether you’re a weekend workout warrior or a professional athlete.
Breath control is vital to athletic performance. When you control your breathing you enhance your focus, concentration, and discipline. Learning to control your breath chances energy, increases metabolism and will allow you to feel, heal, and be present to what’s happening in the moment.
YogaFit emphasizes deep diaphragmatic and controlled breath to improve your quality of breathing. In turn, as you improve, you not only reap the health benefits (such as reducing stress) but you improve oxygen efficiency. Oxygen fuels strength, movement and cardiovascular endurance. It is the “what,” the air you breathe in rest and during activity. Your CO2 Max is the “how,” a measurement of how your body utilizes the air you breathe in and converts it to energy. A strong and efficient CO2 Max will enable you to perform longer while maximizing the oxygen you take in with each breath. Work on the breath ability, and your CO2 measurement will improve.
Breath is also an innate tool to keep you calm and focused. An inhalation, followed by a complete exhalation slows down the central and respiratory systems and helps release nervous energy, which brings attention back to the present moment. Think about it: Before taking that penalty shot, before leaping off the platform for that perfect dive, before preparing for that super life, or whatever it may be, you can get “in the zone” with a long, deep breath. Look closely at professional athletes, and you’ll see them do this. Intentional breathing gives you a specific moment of focus while relaxing your nervous system.
You can find several breathing techniques (pranyama) designed to calm and energize, in my book The YogaFit Athlete. Here’s one of my favorites, which I like to do in the morning as I get ready for my workout. It warms up the body, revs up the metabolism, and calms the mind by burning away distractions.
Breath of Fire
This practice uses deep, rapid breath cycles to warm your body and to increase your energy. Traditionally known as a “kriya,” or cleansing practice, the Breath of Fire focuses on the exhale to release toxins that have accumulated in the body. Keep in mind that this technique focuses the breath in the belly, not the chest. (Do not do this practice if you are pregnant).
1. Find a comfortable seated or reclining position
2. Keeping your mouth closed, take a few gentle rounds of breath in and out the nose
3. And now, inhale gently through the nose
4. Exhale about half way and then begin contracting your abdominal muscles with quick, sharp exhales. Your exhalations should be short, vigorous, and active, while inhalations remain light and passive.
5. Continue this rhythmic pattern for several rounds, working up to 20-25 breaths. Repeat 2 to 5 rounds, and finish by breathing normally for several breaths.
For more ways to work with athletes, check out the popular YogaFit for Athletes 100-hour teacher training program.