This weekend I was on an a Breatheology course with Stig Åvall Severinsen, to further increase my knowledge of breathing techniques so that I can pass it on to the athletes I work with.
Stig is a 4 time free diving record holder and has a PhD in medicine. He really knows his stuff, from yoga to scientific research. He’s also a great lecturer and if you have an interest in learning more about yourself and breathing, I can recommend his courses and his book “Træk vejret”. Download the first chapter here.
If you’re thinking what’s the point to hold your breath as long as possible, and think of free diving as a crazy sport, think again.
Strength and fitness coaches are starting to catch on about the benefits of breath training for sports performance and recovery.
But breathing is more than just sport performance. Becoming conscious of the breathing process helps you relax, focus, be in the moment and a list of other things. By the way, there’s no need to be a yogi to benefit from Stig’s teaching. Check out the calendar of events if you want to attend one of his courses on his site.
Dr Yessis has a short article about breathing and sport.
“A few decades ago physiology books referred to the cardiorespiratory system in which the heart, circulation and respiration were thought of as a single unit. You could not work on one without also working on the others.
Today however, a distinction has been made between the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This is a shame because in time most athletes and sports teams thought of the cardiovascular system and ignored the respiratory system.
Runners and other athletes now think about training the heart and legs but rarely about training their lungs. More specifically, training their respiratory muscles. For many runners and athletes this is a new concept.
However, strong respiratory muscles can improve your lung function greatly. The stronger muscles will allow you to breathe more deeply and more easily so that you can take in more oxygen for your muscles which in turn, equates to more endurance.
We often think of breathing as being automatic which to a good extent it is. However, it can be improved by strengthening the muscles. For example, simply improving the strength of the diaphragm will improve your inspiratory capacity greatly while improving strength of the expiratory muscles will improve your ability to get rid of dead air as quickly as possible.
With both the muscles for inspiration and expiration strengthed, you will be able to breath much more efficiently. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between your breathing and performance not only in relation to economy, but also in relation to the leg muscles that must do the bulk of the work.
Thus it is important that you strengthen the respiratory muscles if you wish to be an accomplished runner. To do this you should use a resistant device such as the Sports Breather which allows you to adjust the resistance of inspiration and expiration to tax the muscles just as you would any other muscle in a strength exercise.”
I own one of those breathing apparatus, but it is possible to do similar training without if you know how.
The flow of air in and out of the alveoli is called ventilation and has two stages: inspiration (or inhalation) and expiration (or exhalation). To accomplish this, the whole thorax moves and changes size, due to the action of two sets of muscles: the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm.
Training those muscles let you inhale more oxygen, and you exhale more carbon dioxide for a more efficient gas exchange.
More reasons to do some deep breathing exercises?
“Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the cleansing of the lymph system by creating a vacuum effect which pulls the lymph through the bloodstream. This increases the rate of toxic elimination by as much as 15 times the normal rate.” Dr. J.W. Shields, MD, Lymph, lymph glands, and homeostasis. Lymphology, v25, n4, Dec. 1992, p. 147
Here’s an exercise to do to get the system ready to do some deep breathing and breath holding exercises.
Cleansing Breath. The purpose of this breathing technique is not about breathing, but about the cleansing of the frontal air passages and the lungs. Therefore, it should be practiced before doing other pranayama or breathing techniques. Sit in a comfortable asana. During inhalation, the diaphragm descends and the abdomen is pushed out. During exhalation, the abdomen is drawn in quickly towards the spine, pushing the diaphragm up against the base of the lungs. This action is repeated over and over again. Inhalation and exhalation are performed through the nostrils rapidly, contracting and relaxing the stomach muscles as in a pumping action. Emphasis is on the exhalations. The inhalations are passive. One could envision the process as though with each exhalation you were blowing a bee off the end of your nose. This exercise clears the nasal passages, purifies the blood, cleanses the sinuses, removes phlegm, stimulates the liver, spleen, and pancreas, improves digestion, facilitates evacuation, and strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles. It is excellent for people suffering from asthma. It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure.