What would you do if I asked you to take a deep breath right now? You would probably just take an exaggerated breath that only fills the upper part of the lungs because most of us practice shallow breathing as a matter of course.
You may also have noticed that if you exert yourself strenuously, you sometimes hold your breath during the exertion. Not good!
We tend to hold our breath when doing something physically challenging. This is not a good practice when working out and can be dangerous to your health. Holding your breath limits oxygen delivery to the muscles and the brain. The internal pressure in your chest builds up rapidly and raises the blood pressure dramatically, causing dizziness, fainting, exercise induced headaches, and can even induce strokes for those at risk. When working out, your musles need more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide as a result and learning to breathe well is critical.
In this culture, most of us were never taught to breathe properly, unfortunately. Sounds kind of strange for this very basic activity. Yes, breathing is an automatic function and your body will continue to breathe on auto-pilot. If, however, you practice conscious breathing, you'll begin to see the many advantages such as increased aerobic benefits, lower stress levels and enhanced healing of injuries because you are actively increasing the oxygen flow through your system.
Learn to breathe like Darth Vader and let the force of life be with you! Darth Vader's breathing sound is exaggerated but it sounds similar to an ancient technique called Ocean Breathing which you do with your mouth closed (actually, it sounds like Vader is breathing through his mouth, but he's just here for dramatic effect).
Once you've learned this type of breathing you can apply it throughout your day. We would also highly recommend that you use it when you exercise.
Basic Breathing Technique
The antidote to shallow breathing is to learn a basic breathing technique, such as you would learn in voice training.
You learn to fill all 3 breathing compartments:
- Lower abdomen and back
- Midriff and rib cage (diaphragm)
- Chest cavity (lungs).
Also known as Ujjayi Pranayama, Powerful Breath or Warrior Breath, Ocean Breathing comes from the world of yoga and meditation. Usually the breath is used in yoga or meditation, but I propose that you can use this in your daily activities and when you exercise. Ever since I learned this technique in my first yoga class, I use it throughout my entire day. It is particularly useful and effective at getting your body through strenuous movements and difficult exercise positions. It will regulate stress and keep your blood pressure at normal levels.
When you begin using this technique during exercise or strenuous activities, you might find it difficult to keep it going. Just keep practicing it while you're at rest and you will get it.
Panting happens when your breathing has gone haywire and out of control and is not an indication of aerobic activity! Ocean Breathing is the solution to stop the panting. Ocean Breathing is like panting slowed down, but it increases the aerobic benefit of what you're doing.
This video shows you the basic technique to get started:
The basic idea is that you are keeping your mouth closed as you are inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Your breath is passing over the larynx as you are breathing in and out. You can also imagine that your are drawing your breath through a straw in your throat. A yoga instructor might prompt you to “Make the sound at the back of your throat.” Come up with your own idea of what this sounds like to you as a reminder for your inner dialogue (Darth Vader anyone?).
Many people I've met instinctively use some kind of Ocean Breathing even though they've never done any sort of yoga. One of my friends breathes like this whenever she's exerting herself. It strengthens and calms her. Another friend commented that the glottis in her throat became too tense when she tried Ocean Breathing, so she stopped. I told her to watch my dog sleeping and how the breaths she takes sounds like Ocean Breathing. My friend immediately understood and learned how to relax her throat as she Ocean Breathes.
Ocean Breathing and Asthma
I suffer from asthmatic wheezing. Whenever I went to see my doctor, though, I was unintentionally hiding it during the exam because I was Ocean Breathing (it had become a regular way of breathing for me). After a decade of this, she discovered one day that I had been controlling my raspy wheezing using Ocean Breath. The wheeze gets interrupted or intercepted as air passes gently over the throat. During Ocean Breathing, the lungs get exercised, increase their capacity and work more efficiently.
Watch this longer video for a more detailed explanation of Ocean Breathing and what parts of the body you are using.