Never before have the applications of "fitness" been so vast in the realms of both group fitness and personal training. From restorative yoga practices to the complexities of high-intensity interval training, today's fitness offers something for everyone. Interestingly, although breathing is a common thread that runs through these various modalities, rarely do we actually teach breathing in traditional formats. In fact, while breathing consistently is the most important aspect of any fitness environment, breathing continues to be one of the least-addressed disciplines of group fitness (Nyklicek, 2008). To be sure, many prudent instructors and trainers remind their clients to breathe, such as "exhale on the exertion," but the following breathing tips may help you view the discipline of breathing as worthy of meriting its own structured instruction.
Indians often say that "to the degree that your breathing is limited is the degree that your life is limited," advocating a sometimes-conscious attention to breathing. While breathing should be an automatic response that occurs in the background of life, an occasional focus on its various techniques can enhance our performance in various situations, from stress-free to stressful.
As we explore some of the following breathing techniques, try to stand or lie supine comfortably, preferably with the stomach empty. While sitting is a comfortable position, having the hips in flexion actually can inhibit the full breathing mechanism because full diaphragmatic movement can be restricted. This is because the diaphragm shares attachments with some hip flexors (Boyd-Wilson, Walkey and McClure, 2004). Extended hips promote better breathing, which is why we rarely see opera singers crouching on the floor or sitting down to sing. Keep tissues nearby in case you need them to clear the nasal passages, especially if you have a cold.
While there are numerous available breathing techniques, the options are limited by our anatomy. We can manipulate the orifices (three) and the speed (rhythm-based). We can breathe through the nose exclusively, through the mouth exclusively, or in combination with those two. Individuals without a head cold or deviated septum can enjoy practicing some of the breathing techniques using the nostrils, called "nares."
Nose Breathing (as in yoga)
The most common breathing technique is nose breathing. Yogis in India have long referred to the nose on the face as a source of respiration, stating that the mouth's primary purposes are for feeding and communication. Of yogic pranayama, or breathing techniques, perhaps the most ubiquitous is ujaayi, used to bring awareness to the breath, improve concentration and actually warm the body a few degrees Fahrenheit when practiced appropriately for longer than five minutes (Ospina et al., 2007).
TRY THIS: Ujjayi
Get a small mirror from the bathroom and hold it in one hand. Sit comfortably upright without using the back of a chair to encourage an
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