They say you have to walk before you can run. Similarly, if you want to be a fire breather, then first you have to be a good air breather. It amazes me that so little attention is paid to breathing. Breathing is so vital to life and to performance that I think it requires at least a minimum of attention. Breath is life. We can stop eating and exercising for long periods of time and survive. However, if you stop breathing for 20 minutes the game is over. As far as I know there are two involuntary activities that we can voluntarily control. The first is blinking the eyes and the second is breathing. Controlling your eyelids is perhaps useful to keep you awake while reading this little article but controlling the breath can have real exciting consequences for your training and your life.
To be sure, breath is synonymous with life: the first sign of life is the cry of a baby that signifies that the baby has taken its first breath. The proposition of this article is that by taking greater control and responsibility of our breath we gain better control over our lives.
The yoga tradition has a whole lexicon of breathing exercises referred to as “pranayama.” Prana is the Sanskrit word for “life air” or “life force”. In China it is known as chi and in Japan as ki. The fact that many cultures have independently found their way to importance of breath practice is evidence that there is some relevance to it.
The act of breathing suffers from an observer effect such that the very act of observing how you breathe will change the way you breathe…and often for the better.
One of my favorite athletes is Rickson Gracie. He embodies virtuosity in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and he is also an advocate of yoga and breathing exercises. This clip of Rickson Gracie from the documentary “Choke” is something that I always found inspirational. He is a very fluid athlete and martial artist.
Breathing is a complex muscular activity. Consider how hard you are breathing after some 400m sprints or a WOD like Fran. The muscles of the torso (abs, pecs, rhomboids, intercostals, etc.) are all called into help the process of breathing. The body devotes its resources to keeping you alive. If you know that you are going to do something that taxes your muscles in such a dramatic way, then it seems to me it would be important to prepare those muscles for their work in facilitating the breath.
A simple way to get better at breathing is to learn to simply breathe deeper. The three-part breathing exercise below will also get your lungs to work fully and deeply in a relaxed manner. In all our CrossFit exercises we consider a full range of motion as a sign of quality. If we look at the quality of our breathing through the same lens, then we can see the importance of learning to increase the capacity of the lungs. Also if we are anticipating a very taxing MetCon workout, then we might benefit from warming up the muscles that will get the brunt of the workout.
Breathing exercises are not all about relaxation. Learning to control the pace of our breath can also warm and heat the body. Kapalabhati breathing is a great way to quickly generate heat, warm up the abs, and oxygenate the system. And, as with all breathing exercises, Kapalabhati focuses the mind.
There are so many breathing exercises, but try tackling these two first and let me know what you think. Focus on your breathing for a little while and prepare to start breathing fire! Leave a comment.