Exercises to build your breathing foundation
The topic of this article is how to build a strong breathing foundation, but as I was writing it, I realised that if you're anything like me, you might misinterpret the meaning of the word ‘foundation’.
In construction, the foundation is laid at the very start, generally before any other building work has begun, and this is why the word could be misleading.
Often in our lives we wait and try to do everything in the right order or until everything is in the right place, before making a start. We clean the house before we study, we wait x number of days before calling a date back, we don’t apply for that job because haven’t achieved xyz. We’re bound by these invisible rules, this invisible sense of order, that we often create ourselves.
Throw that out the window when it comes to breathwork. You don’t need to nail step one before moving to step two or wait until step two is perfect before you start the training exercises at step three. Just jump in with both feet (or both lungs in this case).
To quote one of the pioneers of breathwork, Dan Brule:
'The real miracle of the breath occurs only when we learn how to turn it on, fire it up, and set it free to do it’s work in us.’
Breathwork and improving your breathing is a journey. It’s not a rigid set of rules or a formula to follow. Turn it on, fire it up, set it free and enjoy the ride people!
My segue aside, here are three ways to build your breathing:
Become aware of your breath
Consciously control your breath
Learn to train your breath
1. Start by becoming aware of your breath
Become aware of how you breathe during the day; is your breathing different in the morning than at night? What happens to your breathing as you walk through the front door at work? What about after you’ve had a coffee? How are you breathing on the commute home? What about when you get bad news? Or when you see your partner as you arrive home?
How are you breathing? Are you breathing in and out through your nose, or with your mouth? Are you breathing deeply, with your belly (your diaphragm - your primary breathing muscle), or does your chest move the most?
Breath awareness is simply about becoming aware of your breath, without interfering with it. Take a small amount of time at various points during the day and simply observe.
2. Learn to consciously control your breath
The next step is to change the way you breathe and observe how it changes you. Set aside some time to explore how different types of breathing impact you. 5-10 minutes is all you need.
Take 5 slow breaths using the following techniques:
In and out through your nose
In and out through your mouth
Focusing on making your belly rise before your chest when you inhale
Focus on the chest rising first on the inhale
Breathe in for 4 seconds and exhale for 8
Breathe in for 4 seconds and simply let go on the exhale
Do you notice anything different when doing each of the techniques? Any new physical sensations? Observe your thoughts too.
3. Train your breathing
You train your muscles when working out. Training your breathing is no different. The more you connect with your breathing by training it, the greater your awareness of it will become, and the more you’ll be able to use if effectively.
Here’s three breath training exercises for you to try out:
1:2 exhale. Inhale through your nose, and aim to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale e.g. if you inhale for 4 seconds, aim to make your exhale 8 seconds. Don’t worry if you can’t make 8 seconds, slowly build up. Do this for 2-3 minutes or until calm. This is a really effective technique to calm the body and mind.
Box breathing. Used by Navy SEALs to heighten performance and concentration, while remaining calm. The idea here is to make your inhale, pauses and exhale the same length e.g. inhale slowly through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for a slow 4 count, exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds, hold your breath again for a slow 4 count, repeat for 5 mins. Here’s a nice explainer video
4,7,8 breath. Another helpful technique for relaxation (I like to use it to help me get to sleep). Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for a slow 7 seconds, exhale slowly through pursed lips for 8 seconds, repeat for 5 rounds (or until you fall asleep!)
Sure, there are often correct or optimal ways to do things. Yes, you will need some awareness about how you breathe before you move on to consciously controlling your breath and then on to practicing the breath training exercises. But don’t let that bind you and please don’t wait until you’re perfect before attempting the next step.
While the steps above explain the how, this article explains why breathing is the foundation of health.
I’m going to end with another quote from Brooklyn, NY artist Adam J. Kurtz (Instagram @adamjk):
'As soon as we realise that it’s not our job to be perfect, everything gets easier and more honest and more true, and in my experience, it tends to work better.'
Interested to learn more about breath awareness and other breathing exercises? Join me at an upcoming workshop
Like me to teach at your gym, studio, workplace or backyard? Contact me
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Breathing techniques can be quite powerful and certain techniques like breath holds may not be suitable for those with serious medical conditions or pregnancy/breastfeeding. It’s important to gradually build up the intensity and duration of any techniques you do. Always practice without force and listen to your body carefully. Those with specific health concerns or any serious medical issues should consult a healthcare professional..