Provision #130: Control your Breath

LifeTrek Provision

Four weeks ago I encouraged deep, diaphragmaticbreathing: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Diaphragmatic means thatyou’re breathing deeply enough to move your diaphragm, the muscle thatseparates your lungs from your guts. If you lie down on the floor and put abook on your stomach, it should rise and fall as you breathe. If it doesn’t,you’re not breathing deeply enough to produce the relaxation response.

Three weeks ago I talked about smiling and laughing.I made specific mention of what happens when you smile and breathe in throughyour nose. The movement of the muscles and of the air cools the blood going tothe hypothalmus region of the brain, releasing feel-good endorphins. Theseendorphins have many energy building, pain relieving, stress reducing, andhealth enhancing benefits.

Before I leave the subject of breathing altogether,at least for a time, I want to offer one more tip: control your breath.Although it’s easy to breathe mindlessly, we’re born with that ability, it’spossible to become aware of and to control the process. The benefits of doingso to your mind-body-spirit being cannot be overstated. They are trulyunfathomable.

Last year I lost 65 pounds and became a marathonrunner. My first 30 pounds were lost exercising at a health facility. I wantedto run but I knew the impact of my weight would be too much for my knees andhips. So I opted for low-impact machines. When I got down to around 200 poundsI started running, without much coaching, wisdom, or knowledge. I just did it,as they say, but in the process I developed some bad habits that I’ve beentrying to change.

The worst habit was to not be aware and in controlof my breathing. Within seconds of starting my run, I would be huffing andpuffing along. Over time I became aware of what I was doing: I was breathing intime with my pace. With every step I would exhale or inhale. Having reachedthis level of awareness, I got to the point where I could control my pace bychanging my respiration rate.

This worked well enough when I was dropping from 12to 11 to 10 to 9-minute miles. But as I went to 8 and then almost 7-minutemiles my breathing pattern, learned from my initial mindless huffing andpuffing, became a real problem. I could no longer breathe as fast as I couldrun without hyperventilating and expending an enormous amount of energy in theprocess. As a result I’ve been relearning how to breathe and run, stretching itout from every step to every other to every third to every fourth step until Ireach my limit.

All this has produced an amazing paradox: breathingslower helps me to run faster and longer. Shallow, rapid, jerky breathingexhausts me and gives me the feeling of extreme exertion. Deep, regular, smoothbreathing energizes me and gives me the feeling of effortlessness. This is whatI want for you.

Enter a piece of ancient yogic wisdom: “Breathing isthe string that controls the kite.” This has become a mantra for me in theearly stages of my runs. I want to control the kite, my mind-body-spirit being,and that happens when I control my breath. If I forget to do this when I firstget started, I’m thrown out of whack for the rest of the run. When I rememberto do this, my performance and perspective are both enhanced.

This truth has wide application, far beyond thefield of running and athletics. Aladar Kogler writes, “The way that you breathedirectly affects your mental and physical state. If you breathe deeply andcount silently as you slowly exhale, you can feel yourself relaxing. Try now tobreathe irregularly and quickly, and you will feel some anxiety. A surprise orsome type of shocking news creates jerks in your breathing, increasing thefeelings of anxiety or tension.” (Yoga for Athletes, LlewellynPublications • St. Paul, MN, 1999).

In other words, control your breath and you willfeel peaceful. Allow your breath to control you and you will feel stressful.This can be done at any time. Do it now. Finish reading this paragraph thenclose your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Slow it down. Control it.Do this for several minutes and wonderful things will begin to happen. Do thisevery day for several minutes, or multiple times day, and you will become morehealthy and whole.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC