“No amount of strength, power, endurance, stamina, speed, flexibility, skinny, buff, youthfulness or what you eat matters if you lack the ability to breathe well. You cannot out-exercise this paradigm, as every bit of our physiology is dependent on oxygen.”Brian Mackenzie
There are very few things as essential as your ability to breathe. You can live far longer without food and water than you can without oxygen. It is so important that our body is designed to keep us breathing without our conscious control. And any inhibition in our breath is met with stress and a strong fight or flight response as the body struggles to regain our breath. As important as it is, we do not come preprogrammed with our breath optimized. Just because you have driven a car for ten, twenty, or thirty-plus years, does not mean you are a better driver than you were when you were 16. Likewise, just because you have been breathing all your life, does not mean that you are world-class, breathing champion. Even though our breath works well enough, we can upgrade it. And, in fact, we must upgrade it.
Usually I speak to people about breath in the context of improved athletic performance, Improving the way you breathe will have a direct and positive impact on your physical performance. However, in today’s world we have to really take a hard look at breath from the view of health and longevity. We are all living in fear of a respiratory virus that seeks to compromise our most basic of life functions: our breath. Now, more than ever, we should focus on developing better breathing mechanics.
What can you do right now to breathe better right now?
- Only breathe through your nose. We are designed to breathe through our nose and it is healthier as our nose is designed to filter and warm the air.
- Tape your mouth shut. If you’re like me, you often find yourself mouth breathing, especially during workouts. Tape your mouth shut and force yourself to breathe only through the nose. Your workout intensity will drop precipitously but ultimately you will train your respiratory muscles better and gain more capacity in the long run.
- Irrigate your nose. Buy a neti pot or some kind of sinus irrigator and flush the sinuses with salt water/saline. It’s gross and weird at first but it helps clean out the pipes and makes nasal breathing easier.
- Do some breathing exercises. I will continue to post some here and on social media. I teach breathing exercises in my online classes. Also google “pranayama” and jump right in with some breathing exercises.
- Strengthen the muscles of respiration. The lungs while essential to breathing are not muscles and do not move on their own. The main muscle of respiration is the respiratory diaphragm which is hard to control independently. We must learn how to use our abdominal muscles to help facilitate diaphragmatic control. We must learn to engage the intercostal muscles to create proper movement in the rib cage to facilitate breathing.
- Be conscious of your posture. Good postural positions facilitate better breathing while slouching and poor posture can constrict our ability to breathe.