Breathe Deep as a Movement Skill
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again. –
THÍCH NHẤT HẠNH, ZEN BUDDHIST MONK
Breathing is the most fundamental of all conscious human movements. Breathing is your gateway to consciously access the inaccessible systems of your body. Through breathing you can alter your mental state, your heart state, the state of your circulatory system. To have full control of yourself, you must develop your breathing mechanism.
Do you know how to breathe? Maybe. Maybe not. Other movements are easily tested. Can you squat or balance on one leg or climb a rope? Simple. Attempt it. Pass or fail in your attempt. Then aim to refine it. Make it more efficient. Perform the movement better.
Breathing can not be so easily quantified. Or at least it requires more sophisticated equipment to do so in a meaningful way.
In sports and in life, what can be easily measured often takes precedent over what can not be so easily measured. This does NOT mean that breathing is unimportant. The opposite is true. Breathing precedes all other movements. You must develop your breathing apparatus so that you can maintain your breathing under duress.
What I call “Breathe Deep” represents the ability to inhale fully, drawing the air downwards to utilize your entire lung capacity. But there is more to it. Breathe Deep also represents your ability to use your breathing to control your body and yourself. Breathing is your most powerful tool to Always Remain Stoic.
Viewing breathing a movement skill turns it into a skill you strive to refine and improve. Like squatting or balancing or climbing, breathing can be learned. It can be practiced. It can be mastered. And it is worthwhile to do.
When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace – ANONYMOUS
Imagine that you just played a prank on a friend and really scared them. You hide behind a closed door in a dark room. Your friend opens the door. You leap out screaming wildly.
Picture the immediate reaction.
It is visually obvious that the person is under stress. You can actually hear them inhale into the throat: shoulders are elevated, neck muscles are tensed, jaw is clenched. Your friend is “scared stiff”.
That is Reactive breathing. Your friend’s breath has reacted to a stimulus. Your friend was NOT ready.
Now let’s imagine the reverse. Your friend is hiding in a dark room waiting to scare you. But, you KNOW he is in there. You KNOW he want to scare you. You want to enter the room prepared to minimize the chance that you’ll be scared. What do you do?
Take a deep breath. This relaxes unnecessary tension. It helps you focus mentally. You become Stoic. Then you are ready. You enter the room.
This is Proactive breathing. You breathe to prepare yourself for a stimulus. You breathe to maximize readiness.
When engaging in an athletic pursuit, imagine this exact scenario. You are entering a darkened room. Your friend is hiding in there waiting to scare you. The darkened room is the training-of-the-day or a race. Your friend is exertion, discomfort, pain. You don’t want to react. So Breathe Proactively to be prepared.
Modes of Breathing
So absolute, it is no other than happiness itself, a breathing too quiet to hear – DENISE LEVERTOV
Imagine again your friend’s reaction to being scared. What you pictured was Shoulder/Neck breathing. Air is drawn upwards. There is tension in face and neck. The opposite of Breathe Deep. Shoulder/Neck breathing must be avoided.
Better than this is Chest Breathing. Upon inhalation, air expands your lungs outwards. The shoulders and neck are relaxed. The muscles of the rib cage perform this breathing mode. This is the typical breathing state of most athletes. It is not wrong. But it is superficial NOT deep. You will not gain control over the inaccessible systems of your body. You can do better.
There is Belly Breathing. Upon inhalation, air is draw downwards into the belly. Belly breathing engages your diaphragm. It pulls air into your lower lung capacity. This maximizes oxygen transport from your lungs to the blood. It is deep. It gives you control. BUT it is a passive form of breath used for relaxation. The expansion of your belly interferes with structural support musculature that maintain your posture. Belly breathing is ideal outside of your athletic pursuits. It is for times when your body is unloaded. However when under load, it is inadequate.
This brings us to Athletic Breathing. Athletic breathing maintains all the benefits of belly breathing. However, it is an active process. It does not interfere the body’s structural support system. Athletic breathing reinforces it. To feel athletic breathing, perform a deep belly breath against contracted abdominal muscles. The air can not expand your belly. The air instead enters your low back area. Your structural support is NOT compromised. It is in fact, enhanced. You have control. This is optimal.
To Breathe Deep in sport is to Breathe Proactively and Breathe Athletic combined. Your breathing maximizes readiness, physiological function and structural integrity simultaneously. This is the avenue to maximum performance.
I ask again. Do you know how to breathe? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, you CAN learn. You CAN improve. You WILL master your breath.