What does every athlete or fitness enthusiast want the key to? We all yearn for that space where exercise feels effortless physically and meditative mentally. In Western athletics, we call this “the zone.”
As an athlete in my mid-30’s, my body was breaking down from all the years of training and competing. Fifteen years ago, a female friend of mine recommended yoga. I was amazed at what she could do with her body. The competitor in me had to take this on.
While I loved the practice of asana, I was most intrigued by yoga breathing; pranayama. You see, without the breath, it’s not yoga. It’s exercise. The pranayama (or conscious breathing) is what “yokes” the body/mind. So, if the breathing was having such a profound effect in the movement of yoga, why wouldn’t it within cardiovascular and strength-training exercise?
With this understanding, I began to develop a very intimate relationship with the breath. Into the lab I went . . .and by lab, I mean my body. The breath showed me all the hidden secrets of the body/mind relationship.
There were a few key areas that intrigued me when I started to blend the two worlds of yoga and athletic training. Yogi’s were focused on transcending the mind. They knew the breath was their greatest tool to reach higher states of consciousness. They also knew respiration played a large role in the function of our digestive system; what we know call the seat of our “Second Brain.”
Our digestive system is vessel of untapped energy levels driven by our emotions. Emotions are energy in motion. When we mouth breathe, we slow digestive fire. When we nasal breathe, we activate digestion.
I started by using the breath as a tool to warm-up my body. No more junk miles for me. I could use the breath to activate my digestive system and warm the body up from the inside out. Pranayama is used to create heat in the body (or tapas) and it’s also used to cool the body down. So, I wove it into restoration and relaxation at the end of my trainings.
But, here was the magic to using the breath in my warm-ups. Not only was my body energized and ready for my workout, I was in the zone; that magical place all athletes yearn for. And, I was in the zone EVERY time I worked out. No more searching. I had learned the science of transcending the mind, uniting the mind with the body and turning my training in effortless states of being. My body performed at levels I had not experienced and it was effortless!
Diaphragmatic breathing or Dirgha as its’ called in yoga is the main breathing pattern we should be using in the meat of our workouts. Today, we’re going to use this breath systematically as a warm-up routine.
A 10-Minute Warm-up Routine:
· Begin nasal breathing using the diaphragmatic breath. Develop a steady rhythm of breathing.
· Next, begin diaphragmatic breathing with a system of counting to three (either strides, pedals or seconds). Inhale the breath for a count of three, retend the breath for a count of three, exhale for three and hold the breath out for a count of three. Repeat this for five minutes.
· Weave another layer into your practice by moving through the same sequence as above but taking six breaths at an intensified pace between rounds. Repeat this for three minutes.
· End with several rounds of alternate nostril breathing.
I lead this warm-up on a spin bike for an easy demonstration of the technique. You can do this with any piece of cardio equipment or outdoors in your walking, running or cycling routine. If using the six count feels too challenging, reduce it to three, four or five and build your way up to six. For the rest of your workout, breathe from your diaphragm and watch how your body performs for you.
It takes time to transition from mouth breathing to nasal breathing in exercise and/or athletic training. Once we strengthen respiration, all yoga breathing techniques can be integrated into your workouts and sequenced in hundreds of dynamic ways. Imagine weaving various forms of pranayama into speed and endurance training. You can! It begins with training the diaphragm muscle.
The no pain, no gain theory is old news. Develop a relationship of trust and respect with your body and you’ll be amazed at how it will perform for you. Nasal breathing is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the body, and yoga breathing provides “body OVER mind” flow states that feel like meditation-in-motion.
Learn more about yoga breathing for performance in my Performance Breathing Camp December 6th & 7th at The Peaks Resort in Telluride, CO.