In almost every yoga class, there’s a point at which the instructor reminds everyone to breathe. At first, this may strike you as odd — but then half the room realizes they actually aren’t breathing and a symphony of exhales ensues. Isn’t it interesting how you can be moving and exerting effort but not breathing? It’s not like you even have to consciously breathe while you’re sleeping, yet we often stop during moments of exertion, like while trying to stabilize the torso.
You can go days without water, weeks without food but only a few minutes without breathing. We need oxygen to feed our muscles, to prevent dizziness and to keep our joints lubricated. But we also need it to move properly and think clearly — without it, we won’t be able to access our mind-body connection. Breathing is also where we gather our energy. On a fitness level, we actually lose most of our weight through exhalation, not sweat (which is designed to cool the body when it becomes overheated). So breathwork ties into everything in life.
Boosting Your Strength and Endurance
When it comes to movement, connecting to your breath allows you to lift more and push harder. Most people are focused on either catching their breath or doing the movement — but if you’re thinking about the breath and focused on breathing from your spine out, you can move better through all positions of any workout. When you concentrate on breathing through the tension and moving through the tension, you’ll be able to move more smoothly. Therefore, focusing on your breath allows you to stabilize.
If you’ve ever watched a powerlifter, they do a powerful breath in to oxygenate the body as quickly as possible and keep that tension as hard as they can. The exhalation is what gives them their power. If their breath is tied up doing something else, they are going to lose the ability to recruit more musculature for that power or strength they’re looking for in the movement.
3 Ways to Use Your Breath During a Workout
It’s important to play around with breathwork while you’re still new to the concept to see how you can best harness the tremendous power within your breath. For example, with our clients, we focus on these three main periods of breathing:
- Preworkout: Breathwork gets you ready to start moving and gets you connected to your body, which allows you to start moving better.
- Workout: Breathing gives you more endurance and allows you to pressurize your body at the right time to keep it safe. All throughout your workout, mindfully go into breathing exercises to maintain your mind-body connection. Otherwise, you are likely to begin chest breathing, which often leads to a panicked or breathless state that interrupts your training. Focusing on your breath gives you an even session without needing to take breaks to catch your breath.
- Postworkout: During your cool-down, it’s time to get you out of the sympathetic “fight or fight” response and into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. This is why every yoga class ends with deep breaths and relaxation.
One breath to strive for is called a 360-degree breath, during which you expand the entire sphere around your belly outwardly from your spine. It may take a while to get the hang of it, but don’t be discouraged. Unfortunately, we live in a society where women are told “you’re only pretty if you have a skinny waist,” so women often have the hardest time learning to correct their breathing because they’re used to always sucking in their bellies.
The best part about mindfully breathing is that your body will match the breath, automatically. The smoother you breathe, the smoother you flow. If you want a powerful movement, then choose a powerful breath. For each workout you do moving forward, see how minding your breath (and not holding your breath!) will cause your strength and endurance to soar to new heights.
Looking to challenge your body from multiple angles, including strength, athleticism, balance, mobility, coordination and power? This summer, we are pairing movement specialist and certified trainer Venus Lau with master kettlebell trainer Marcus Martinez for a series of 30-minute Kettlebell & Flow workouts that will train both your mind and body.
So what are you waiting for? This high-octane program designed exclusively for Oxygen is guaranteed to build incredible resilience, strength and body awareness — so switch things up by choosing kettlebells over dumbbells this summer! Join Kettlebell & Flow today.