We have discussed the importance of nasal breathing in various blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and Coach Phil's Programming Talk (The Main Show, The Summary), so we won't flog a dead horse….but it is important, so if you haven’t read these blogs, or watched the programming talk, make sure you do so!
For many of us, mouth breathing is a habit, caused by factors such as poor posture, and high (chronic) stress work and life environments.
To begin to reverse this and to take full advantage of our current (and future) training cycles, we recommend a daily breathing practice.
What a formal breath practice or protocol looks like (out of the many, many options) doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put something in place that you can do daily, and slowly turn into a habit. Whether it is morning or evening, before or after training, between the office and home, doesn’t matter.
It matters that you do it.
Your daily breath practice doesn’t have to be complex or long, just do something. This will give you insight and awareness into how practices or protocols affect you, and also begin to develop your breathing capacity to aid in your overall health and your performance in training.
We recommend 5-10 minutes of breathing practice, 1-3 times everyday.
Our first step should be to bring awareness to how we are breathing. Are we breathing through the mouth or the nose, are we chest breathing or using our diaphragm, do we have short, shallow breaths or a long slow respiration rate? Most importantly, how does how we breathe (and how we change our breathing mechanics) influence our state and how we feel? As we know, how you breathe has a huge influence on our central nervous system.
Below are three examples of daily breathing practice you can implement, starting with the most basic and easiest to implement, as well as some more advanced methods.
Remember, what is important in the beginning is that you bring awareness to how you are breathing, how that makes you feels and how it affects your state.
When you wake up, take 5-10 minutes to sit and focus on your breath. Make a mental note of:
How are you feeling physically today?
How are you feeling mentally?
Are you feeling stressed or at ease, tense or relaxed?
Are you taking short, shallow breaths or long slow breaths?
Don't worry about what is 'right' and 'wrong', just be aware of your present state.
During this time, focus on having a slow rate of respiration (think 4-5 seconds inhale, 4-5 second exhale), long slow breaths in through the nose and long slow breaths out through the nose. During the 5-10 minutes of awareness breathing, how do your answers to the questions above change, if at all?
Cadence Breathing (1121)
This is very much like tempo training, with a prescribed time (in seconds) for each stage of your breathing (inhale, hold, exhale, hold). This particular cadence is a good “warm-up” for the respiratory system and can be mildly up-regulating and mentally stimulating, a great method for morning practice!
In the 1121 cadence, the numbers given are the multipliers. For example, if I was using 5 seconds, my cadence would be 5-5-10-5. If I was using 10 seconds, my cadence would be 10-10-20-10.
A good starting point is 5 seconds: 5 second inhale + 5 second hold + 10 second exhale + 5 second hold
Repeat this breathing cadence for 5-10 minutes, 1-3 times every day. Once this becomes comfortable increase your multiplier to 6 seconds (6-6-12-6), and continue in this fashion as your breathing mechanics improve.
Box Breathing Protocol
This is a technique that takes a method called superventilation (see here) and mixes it with taking slow, deep breaths. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.
Perform 3-5 total rounds, where one round is:
Inhale for X seconds
Exhale for X seconds
20 Super ventilation breaths (full nasal inhale, partial nasal exhale)
After the last breath, perform a full exhale and hold for as long as possible
* In round 2, increase your inhale and exhale by 1 second (and increase again in round 3)
*Perform 25 Superventilation breaths (30 breaths in round 3)
*Try to increase your exhale breath hold each round
For example, one total session may be:
5 x 5 seconds inhale + 5 second exhale
20 Super ventilation breaths + max exhale breath hold
5 x 6 seconds inhale + 6 second exhale
25 Super ventilation breaths + max exhale breath hold
5 x 7 seconds inhale + 7 second exhale
30 Super ventilation breaths + max exhale breath hold
If you finish the whole breathing practice with no real issues, the next time you practice this, add 1 second to your starting inhale/exhale time.
A daily breath practice is a must for anyone seeking to improve their overall health and those wanting to maximise their performance.
When you first begin your journey into the art of breath, do not worry about what method you should be using, it's more important to become aware of how your breath affects your state and to build the habit of a daily breathing practice.