Endless research articles show how proper breathing techniques and interventions can boost overall athletic performance.
The problem is that the average person takes it completely for granted. If you walked up to a stranger and asked them what their breath was, you'll notice a slightly strained breathing pace as they walk away. We can also feel it strain when faced with stress, when we're in situations that we don't like or when we get attacked.
Headspace has a nice article on some of the effects of shallow breathing.
So, what is the breath and what can it actually do? Essentially, it can generally help with times you need more power, speed, focus, strength, endurance, resistance to impact or notice any symptoms of stress. If you get hit in the stomach you better breathe out or loose the fight in an instant.
When an athlete is gasping for air, his blood is having a hard time bringing enough oxygen to their muscles, including the efficiency of how much it can carry is also reduced. When a student is struggling on an exam, besides their degree of preparation, they will find their breath to likely be shallow. When a boxer throws a weak punch, besides their degree of training, their exhalation will also have been weak. Some panic attacks come about at times when a person feels too much stress over what they can bear and will try and force them to breathe alright, but on the floor in a ball… Breathing by itself does very little, but in combination with training and education it can literally make the difference between success or failure.
Although our autonomic nervous system controls our breath, it's also something we can focus on, work on, improve and train. It's controlled by our lungs which is a muscle, and like any muscle it can and should be trained. Not only can it help with all of the above situations, but it can be one of the most powerful weapons in our fight for that next inch forward.
It goes without saying that the health of our lungs is important. Research shows that tobacco harms our lungs and should be avoided. Most people don’t turn to smoking for the divine taste, they use it as a crutch for stress management. See The Combat Of Wellness and Stress for a view of what it would take to solve the problem of stress without this deadly habit. Without first addressing our true opponent in the battle of life, how is one supposed to quit their coping mechanisms? Otherwise, consuming more antioxidants, consuming more healthy foods, improving air quality at home or wearing masks in high pollen or dust areas and checking in with your doctor are great starting points for general lung health.
So how do we train it? Practice.
Cardio is amazing at training our lungs for it is one of the best ways to challenge those muscles, especially swimming with the limited time we have to breathe. As in any training, we never want to get to the point of pain or injury, even weightlifting does not require heavy pain, it requires determination and general care so as not to make ourselves literally sick. HIIT, Orange Theory fitness, oxygen deprivation tanks and general endurance activities are also very powerful additions when first consulted with one’s general doctor. As in anything relating to wellness, our commitment will depend on what time we can spend and to the degree of challenge that we feel comfortable with. Hitting the gym for three hours in an all-out war will never yield as powerful of a result as forming a habit of doings 5 minutes or more a day of exercise. In the war of wellness, habits reign supreme.
Building the muscle of the lungs is vital for it will strengthen this ally for the times we need to run, lift, attack, defend or focus. It’s not something we should leave up to chance. And the strength of our focus goes a long way to overcoming depression and lethargy. Ironic, isn’t it, that those same things will try to get in our way of improving it, and too often can succeed, hence ‘The Combat Of Wellness.’
But what about the strength of our breath specifically to help us overcome stress?
First, your brains job is to warn you of things contrary to your survival. It’s your job to only pay attention to what you agree are risks. Ideally, instead of dwelling on that which you fear or regret, you’d hopefully focus on ways of gaining more insight and coming up with a peaceful battle plan on how to best prevent or overcome it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is amazing for that. So imagine your brain is like a stereo that’s hard wired to continually raise in volume. The problem is that sometime that volume can become so loud we can no longer think straight, lash out or completely wreck something we cared for. How do we turn down the volume?