Many of us think of breathing as a secondary aspect of exercise. Or perhaps more accurately, many of us don’t consider the breathing side of things at all! After all, it does more or less take care of itself. However, as any experienced fitness professional or athlete will tell you, proper breathing is absolutely vital if you’re going to exercise efficiently. Breathing can affect the overall quality of our workouts, our energy levels, and our ability to burn fat – not to mention it can also keep us relaxed and focused.
As to how you actually learn to breathe more efficiently, it depends to some degree on the exercise you’re doing. After all, you won’t necessarily be breathing the same way when going for a run as when lifting weights, etc. That said, there are some general ways to prepare your body for deep, effective breathing, and some of them can carry over to your general fitness efforts.
Diaphragmatic Breathing – This is perhaps the most important breathing technique out there, because it’s actually a specifically directed workout. That is to say, it’s intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly in a lasting manner, and achieves that goal by strengthening the diaphragm, simplifying the breathing process, and helping you to breathe deeply with less energy and effort. The exercise, generally, means lying on your back with pillows under your head and knees, and your hands on your chest and stomach. You then breathe in through the nose, such that the hand on your stomach rises while the hand on your chest remains still. You exhale through pursed lips, and contract your abdominal muscles as your stomach goes back down. It actually takes some getting used to, but regular practice can have excellent benefits.
Alternate Nostril Breathing – Alternate nostril breathing might sound silly, but many find it to be quite effective, and it’s certainly grown more popular of late. Hillary Clinton famously discussed using this method to relax, and it was also written about in a late-2017 article aimed at the gaming community and suggesting ways to calm down and focus. Described in that piece as one of the best ways to refocus and awaken the mind, alternate nostril breathing is more or less just what it sounds like: you close one nostril and breathe deeply for a set count in and out through the other, and then repeat and alternate as needed. It calms you down in the moment and trains you to breathe more deeply in general.
Deep Breathing – Though somewhat lazily named, this exercise is another that can have both immediate and long-term benefits. The same article referenced regarding alternate nostril breathing describes it as simply breathing in through the nose (and via the diaphragm) and then out through the mouth in long, focused breaths. Ideally you can set everything else aside and get into a relaxing posture or position before engaging in a deep breathing exercise, but it’s also true that the beauty of this one is that you can really do it anywhere, anytime, without any sort of disruption.
Engaging in any of these exercises on a regular basis will likely reshape your notions of whether or not breathing can truly be practiced. You’ll find the exercises calming and, over time, you may just feel that you’re more energized when engaging in other workouts.