SPRING IS IN THE AIR: BREATHE YOUR WAY TO HIGH PERFORMANCE
Recovery modalities in recent years have gotten a ton of glitz and glamour from the health and performance industries. This includes: light massage, ice baths, cold tubs, deep tissue massage, light therapy, saunas, hot tubs, self-myofascial release, and Normatech recovery boots. I am not here to discredit any of these strategies, as I believe the placebo effect is one of the most powerful effects in the world; or in other words, if you believe something works for you personally, it probably does have a beneficial effect on your system. With that said, I also feel many recovery tools have gotten an excessive amount of attention rather than giving the power and control to the individual. My goal in writing this is
to provide an effective strategy for getting your nervous system to relax, and your body to promote rebuilding processes to counteract the abundant amounts of stress that are constantly applied to the system. The objective is to give the power back to the individual so that you can better control your
state and well-being.
We often take daily, mindless tasks for granted. Activities such as walking, sleeping, eating,
drinking, and breathing are things we do on a daily basis, yet many of us fail to give appropriate attention to the effects these activities have on every other aspect of our life. Sleep is the most powerful recovery strategy on the planet, but we will save that for another time. Breathing, however, is another incredible tool that can be utilized to communicate to the nervous system and influence whether our brain perceives our environment to be stressful or restful. Most individuals have a tendency to breathe by utilizing accessory muscles to lift the ribcage up and back as opposed to using the diaphragm to create pressure changes in the ribcage and create airflow. Compound this with the fact that we take more than 15,000 breaths each day, and you have a recipe for compensation patterns that increase the risk for injury and promote stress responses in the body. This is why “chest breathing,” as it is commonly referred is often associated with pain in the neck, anterior hip, shoulders, and lower back, as it forces muscles to compensate as breathing is a higher priority to your brain than doing a push-up, throwing a football, or sprinting a 40 yard dash.
A solution to this problem is to spend a few minutes each day dedicated to promoting a
breathing strategy driven by the diaphragm, also commonly referred to as “belly breathing.” At the beginning this is often very difficult for many individuals as they have spent years utilizing faulty strategies to drive air into the lungs because the body often seeks the path of least resistance in order to prioritize survival. The problem is that for longevity, injury risk reduction, and general stress responses this tends to have negative effects. However, I am not arguing that “belly breathing” is always the correct strategy in every circumstance either. There is a time and place for almost everything.
From a practical standpoint, I would recommend applying an active breathing practice daily.
Schedules are often filled with a plethora of activities nowadays, but I guarantee if you can dedicate just five to ten minutes each day focusing on deep, controlled breathing that every aspect of your life will improve. There is no perfect technique to apply this strategy, but a few key points to note are: avoid shallow and aggressive breaths, try to utilize the diaphragm, or stomach region, as much as possible, full exhalations should be about double as long as inhalations, the nose should be the primary source of inhalation, and holding the air when the lungs are both empty and full will make the practice even more powerful. This sounds like an overwhelming amount of details, and at first it is, but I would first focus on
driving inhales from the diaphragm and focusing on completely exhaling once the lungs feel filled with air. From there you can slowly add the other details like holding when the lungs are both empty and full and increasing the length of time it takes to both inhale and exhale.
The purpose of a breathing practice is not to worry about your breathing strategies throughout the entire day, but rather give you the keys to control whether you are in a state of relaxation or stress. The easiest way to employ this with consistency and deliberate effort is to spend five to ten minutes each night before bed working to clear your head, relax, and gradually slow down your breath. I also would recommend adding a few minutes of dedicated breathing practice after hard practices or training
sessions as well to facilitate a transition into a more relaxed state.
I ordinarily recommend laying on your back with your eyes closed and hands on your belly to provide feedback and minimize resistance. A general recommendation for those beginning this for the first time is an inhalation period of 2-4 seconds, exhalation period for 4-8 seconds until complete emptying, and a one second hold after both inhaling and exhaling. From there you can either decrease the times if this seems impossible, or increase the times if this is simply too easy. Once this strategy is mastered, the possibilities are endless. Do not begin anything like this without first consulting with a medical professional to ensure there is not a history of respiratory or cardiac problems, but I guarantee that anyone who chooses to add this simple daily practice to their life will feel the beneficial effects instantly!