Breathe Your Way To Your Best Workout Yet

Written by Ed Harrold

So wait, do I inhale through my nose and exhale with my mouth? What’s wrong with mouth breathing in my workouts? I’m so confused!

Mouth and nasal breathing differ dramatically in how they physiologically support the body. How you breathe determines many factors, including how well you’re oxygenating your cells, whether you’re burning fat or sugar, the release of hormones, heart rates, lactic acid build-up, cardiovascular and digestive function and so much more.

So here it is...unless you are in jeopardy of being eaten by a tiger, nasal breathe on your inhale AND your exhale. Our mouths are designed for eating and our noses for breathing. Our mouth triggers the stress response, our nose triggers the relaxation response. It’s that simple.

Our bodies need a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide to function properly. Only nasal breathing can do this correctly and only nasal breathing can produce nitric oxide, which is a bronchodilator and vasodilator that helps to lower your blood pressure and significantly improves oxygen being absorbed by the lungs.

How often do you workout and feel like the end of your workout was easier than the beginning? Nasal breathing provides body over mind flow states that feel like meditation-in-motion. The key is warming the body up with breathing techniques that activate digestive fire first, then incorporating various nasal breathing techniques to tease and relax the autonomic nervous system.

The restorative qualities of these nasal breathing patterns leave your body feeling refreshed and renewed with virtually no lactic acid build-up. For performance athletes, this is the difference between winning or losing on race day after all the rigors of training.

Tips to Get Started:

  • Begin nasal breathing using the diaphragmatic breath. I recommend practicing this while walking to master how it feels to breathe this deeply as your heart rate rises. Then, take it into your sport or fitness routine. Slow down to master breathing in this way. Yes, you will feel like you’re drowning!
  • Next, use a system of counting on your inhale and exhale. Inhale the breath for a count of three and exhale for six (either strides, pedals or seconds).
  • Create another layer by inhaling for a count of three, holding the breath in for a count of three and exhaling the breath for a count of six.

I recommend practicing each of these individually until you master them, trying the second and third bullets for five to ten minutes each. By the time you’ve got the third breathing pattern down you’ll have yourself a nicely sequenced warm-up. Then, let your body go . . . but don’t stop nasal breathing through the rest of your workout.

As you strengthen your diaphragm muscle, build on your counting. Imagine inhaling for ten, retaining the breath for ten and exhaling for 20. Your body and mind will love this and you’ll never go back to mouth breathing — I promise! Over time, you’ll discover the many yoga breathing techniques to integrate into your workouts and hundreds of ways to sequence them.

Whether you're a training athlete or fitness enthusiast, there is a science to exercising your body. The body is a vehicle for transformation, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and nasal breathing is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the body.

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