Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Just breathe

Today in yoga, my instructor was demonstrating dolphin pose. The key to this pose, she said, was to melt your heart towards the mat. Yoga instructors say the funniest things, don't they? I asked her what that meant, and she demonstrated by literally melting her chest towards the mat. She also told us that the key to doing this correctly was the breath.


"Come back to the breath". "Move with the breath". We hear this a lot in yoga. We practice breathing techniques, which in yoga we call pranayama. Today, during savasana (when I was supposed to be relaxing), I thought about breathing and running. We as runners focus so much on technique, on training, on our times, our fuel...but how often do we focus on breathing?

Breathing is pretty important. In fact, I joke with parents of asthmatic children in the clinic about this. Often reluctant to give their wheezing child a breathing treatment, I tell them that breathing should be their number one priority. Put it like that, and even though it sounds corny, it really makes them think twice. You can't do anything else if you're not breathing, right? When being trained to do CPR, we learn the ABCs of rescue: A=airway, B=breathing, and C=circulation. Breathing comes first. Breathing comes naturally to most of us, right? But how often do you think about your breathing when you're on the run? When you're getting tired? Running too fast? Running next to someone who sounds like Darth Vader? Would using breathing techniques, similar to what we do in yoga, help us while we are running?

and proper breathing techniques...
Running is simple, right? We put on our shoes and go. But by using better breathing techniques, we can supply more oxygen to our muscles. More oxygen equals more endurance. Have you ever been on a tough run where you noticed that your breathing was ragged? Ever get a side stitch? I had one at my race last Saturday. Oh, I hate getting side stitches. Luckily, I was able to chase it away by focusing on my breathing, taking deep, slow abdominal breaths, working my diaphragm, and exhaling on the opposite side of the stitch.

Just like everything else we do as runners, we need to learn how to breathe properly. Most runners at least use a basic breathing pattern of exhaling every 4th step. An article published in Runners World  talks a lot about rhythmic breathing. Not only does this technique help with endurance but Bud Coates, the author of Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter, says it can help you stay injury free. He theorizes that exhaling puts the greatest stress on the side of the body you land on. So if you continually exhale on the same side of the body, you are putting a ton of stress on those joints and muscles. He suggests an odd/even pattern, so that you land alternately on your right and left foot. Coates uses a five step pattern for easy runs and a 3 step pattern for racing. Rhythmic breathing also helps give runners a feeling of centeredness--just like we feel in yoga--and keeps you relaxed and calm. In yoga we learn to exhale stress and worry. These same principles can be brought to our runs. A relaxed runner runs better. If you are feeling a twinge or pain on the run, try exhaling deeply. It takes practice but it really works! If you want to read more about Coates' techniques, chase the link above.

Incentive to become a nose breather...
Are you a nose breather or a mouth breather? I'm a mouth breather, and my biggest incentive for trying nose breathing is to avoid inhaling insects on the run. Seriously. In June, we get those clouds of gnats that fly around, and ick! I've usually inhaled a few of them every summer. Protein, right? A few years ago, while on the run, I was stung in the eyelid by a yellow jacket. Yeah, it hurt, and my eye swelled shut. But all I could think about is what if I inhaled that bugger into my gaping mouth? I could die!  Experts say that nose breathing is more efficient, keeps your heart rate and your blood pressure lower, and helps relax you. Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner and author of Eat and Run, is a nose breather. Makes sense. He recommends breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.

I have tried nose breathing and it is hard! But I do occasionally breath through my nose when forced to, like if there's a bad smell, car exhaust, roadkill, or something like that. When I do breathe through my nose, my nose starts to run and that's a problem too. Back to the mouth breathing. I'm not a snot rocketeer and don't want to start.

I wonder if Jurek uses this app I found? The Breathe Strong app (available for download on the iPhone) was developed by Alison McConnell, breathing training expert and author of the book Breathe Strong, Perform Better. The app can be used for breathing training as well as during workouts. There's an app for everything, isn't there?

http://www.breathestrong.com/apps/

Or if you don't want to use an app or get a breathing coach, you can do what I do, and go to yoga. Besides all the physical benefits of yoga, and I've written about that, yoga teaches you to move on the breath, to become more conscious of your breathing, and to breath more deeply. There's a great article on basic breathing techniques here. But like anything else, there's no shortcuts. Breathing requires practice. Who would have thought that something so natural, so basic, would require so much thought?



Just breathe.

Do you focus on breathing when you're running? Are you a mouth breather or a nose breather? Any helpful hints to improve our breathing efficiency?

I'm linking up with the ladies at Workout Wednesday! Be sure to head over to their blogs and see what everyone else is talking about!




42 comments :

  1. My nose is so stuffy most of the time I'm more of a mouth breather. I've been told that I don't breathe properly myself so I don't have any hints.

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    1. I have no excuse. I'm a mouth breather, just because. Heavy breather, actually. It's a work in progress.

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  2. I notice my breathing because I do something weird. I blow the air out. So in some ok lots of my race pics I look like a blowfish. The last Chicago Marathon I did a guy turned around to ask if I was ok. Is it any wonder why I run alone?

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    1. Haha! I'm a heavy breather, and I actually have had people turn around and stare at me for that reason. I had no idea, since I listen to music when I run.

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  3. This is a great post. Breathing is so important. I am one of those who concentraters on breathing especially when running because I am a mouth breather. I do have to say, I started practicing yoga a month ago and it has helped me control my breathing more-- in addition to all the other benefis it has.

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    1. I don't think about my breathing that much, but I really believe that the yoga breathing I've done all these years has helped a lot. Most of the time, anyways...

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  4. I do not focus on my breathing when running. I am too busy listening to my music. I know I should pay attention to my breathing more.-L

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  5. I was a mouth breather for sure when I was running do to my chronic sinus problems I had back then. I didn't even know it was sinus and a deviated septum problem. I don't run anymore so I really don't care about how I breathe. #wowlinkup

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    1. I just wanted let you know on our linkup, both Diatta and I tweet out each link up posts. Since you are not on Twitter, I just wanted to let you know that.

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    2. I know, I know, I need to get on the Twitter. I need more time in my day to devote to social media! Oh, did you get your septum fixed?

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  6. Breathing is definitely important! When running I breathe mostly through my mouth. I read something when I first started running that said you could get more breath in when you breathe through your mouth while running. It made sense to me so that's what I do! :-) Of course it's probably the wrong thing but it has worked so far for me! ;-)

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    1. Actually, I read that too! Makes sense, really.

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  7. What is up with all of this dolphin stuff? My trainer had me doing a dolphin push up this week and I was like "What da' what"? I am sure it is something like this dolphin pose in yoga. Breathing is important but I feel like the deeper I breathe while running the more stitch cramps I get. I don't get it. #wowlinkup

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    1. Well, I have to say that all those Dolphins will make you strong! The breathing thing is a work in progress.

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  8. I don't feel like I ever get the breathing right in yoga and yes they do say some really odd phrases.

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    1. Like lift your kneecaps? After all these years, I still haven't figured out how to do that...

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  9. I definitely focus on my breathing!! Since being diagnosed with asthma at the ripe old age of 44, it has become critical to my ability to run. I totally zen out, counting my breaths and focusing on the rhythm. But I'm still a mouth breather!

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    1. I have that diagnosis too. Since then, I've become much more conscious of my breathing. But sometimes I just don't pay attention. And pay the price...

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  10. I am a heavy breather and I breathe through my mouth. When I started running, that's what they taught us.

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    1. Seems to be a lot of us heavy mouth breathers out there!

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  11. Very interesting. Once I started swimming I had to pay attention to breathing more. (I guess I always did in yoga but didn't really think about it in endurance sports). Also, in one of my TrainerRoad bike workouts they talk about breathing as you are going through VO2 Max intervals - making sure you get a good lungful of air in and get a good exhale to rid your lungs of the CO2. If nothing else, it gives a focal point for concentration.

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    1. True. I tried to find more technical info regarding VO2 max, but I couldn't. I think this is still an area that needs more science...

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  12. I'm more of a mouth breather, and my husband constantly reminds me that I need to focus more on breathing through my nose. So many things to think about while I'm running!

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    1. So true! But it's so hard to breathe through the nose once you get rolling. I think those people who do MAF running probably have an easier time with it.

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  13. When I start getting tired, I am more aware of my breath. It helps to focus on that sometimes to pull out of a hit-the-wall moment.

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    1. Yes! That's what we learn in yoga. When in a tough pose, come back to the breath. It really helps!

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  14. When I was marathon training I came across that uneven breathing technique and I swear it really helped me get through some long runs. It's something I need to re-train myself to think about.

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    1. I need to work on it...always something to work on!

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  15. I have read Running on Air and it's really interesting. I'm actually a nose breather and find that I breathe pretty well when I run, but put me in yoga and I can't breathe to save my life. I am constantly holding my breath! That app looks pretty cool, I'll have to check it out!

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    1. I need to work on that nose breathing thing...

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  16. Great post! When I run by myself I focus on breathing and actually have an inhale/exhale pattern, especially when I do speedwork. These are some GREAT tips!

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    1. Thank you! I need to follow my own advice, tho...

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  17. you know, i used to be a terrible mouth breather but now since i run with friends most of the time, i'm talking which requires me to breath out my nose. not an easy transition however! great topic!

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    1. Breathing is something we all do and give very little thought to...until we're short of breath!

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  18. I'm definitely a mouth breather. I've tried nose breathing while running and I feel like I can't catch my breath. I don't think about my breathing really at all when I'm running but that app sounds like a good way to start.

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  19. Awesome post!! I actually learned how to properly breathe while I run in middle school from my track coach. I still use the same in and outs now!! I am a total mouth breather. :)

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    1. Isn't it funny how those techniques stay with you?

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  20. Sometimes I chew gum when I run. I find it distracts me from thinking about my breathing, and therefore, I breathe completely naturally and uninhibited (because I'm not thinking about it)

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