What’s your breathing fitness goal? What’s your “why”?
Goals that relate more to this framework include increasing nasal breathing, reducing mouth breathing, breathing correctly while eating and talking, breathing more gently and relaxing as a practice.Many people are limited athletically by poor breathing fitness. Their lungs tire out way before their muscles fatigue. What is breathing fitness? It’s basically doing whatever you want to do physically without huffing and puffing. It’s somewhat subjective, although it doesn’t have to be.
What’s your breathing fitness goal? What’s your “why”?
Maybe you frequently can’t catch your breath and want more control. Maybe you want to complete an athletic event without collapsing just past the finish line. Maybe you just want to feel comfortable reading a couple stories to a child on your lap without getting winded!
If you’re dogged by uncomfortable breathing that you recognize is exacerbated by chronic stress or low stamina, how can you measure and improve it? That’s what this post covers.
A real challenge with assessing breathing fitness is that for newcomers it can feel like “There’s no there, there.” Although the quality of our breathing seriously impacts our vitality and our health, and most of us could stand to improve our breathing habits since our culture doesn’t recognize or promote functional breathing, the experience is still vague enough to get short shrift. Breathing is invisible and intangible, even when it’s uncomfortable.
The average person takes 20,000 breaths a day, and it’s managed by the reptilian part of our brains that puts repeated, primitive functions on autopilot. Breathing is not something we’re meant to pay too much attention to.
Nevertheless, if we want to improve our breathing, we need to measure it somehow. Here are several frameworks we can use to define functional breathing, see where we fall short, and set specific goals to improve and feel better. (Please get checked out by a doctor first to make sure your symptoms aren’t the sign of an illness that requires medical treatment, on top of or instead of a fitness regimen. There are also contraindications for breathing retraining.)
A regular practice is imperative. Here are four ways to approach it.
1. Learn the symptoms associated with poor breathing habits and if you have one that really bothers you, track the improvement of that symptom as you undertake breathing training.
When we’re upset, our bodies don’t distinguish well between emergencies and chronic stress or worry. To our caveman nervous systems, an emergency initiates a Herculean physical response to fight, flee or alertly stay still. But that survival mode of the sympathetic nervous system was designed to last only a matter of minutes, not the months that it takes to find affordable housing in this day and age, get out of credit-card debt, or many of the other modern travails we can find ourselves in.
To get out of this state, we need to breathe gently and intentionally relax, even if that’s counter-intuitive, to thaw our nervous systems back into the rest-and-digest, parasympathetic mode that will switch on our ability to process food, eliminate waste, sleep and think well again.
You can find a list of common health symptoms that are associated with poor breathing habits at https://breathingretrainingcenter.com/symptoms. These are actually things that are happening within the body for good reason during the fight/flight/freeze state (that can save our life in a bona fide crisis.)
If there’s a symptom on that list that you really want to change, track the improvement of that as you address breathing challenges with intentional exercises and activities.
2. Normalize your breathing pattern.
When doctors and scientists evaluate breathing health, they look at the pattern typically over a minute’s time, rather than focusing on individual breaths.
It’s possible to map out anyone’s breathing pattern, including yours!
An ideal breathing pattern features a regular, predictable pattern of steady, similar-sized breaths, changing when activity changes (from sedentary to active and back again, for example).
The types of goals in relationship to breathing pattern include slowing down rapid breathing/breathing fewer breaths per minute; and minimizing disruptions such as sighing, yawning, coughing, throat clearing, or breath holding.
3. Develop Healthy Breathing Habits
There are 10 Healthy Breathing Habits and they describe functional breathing. They are loosely aligned with one of the three dimensions of breathing , which are biomechanical (Habits 1-3), biochemical (Habits 4-7), and psychophysiological (Habits 8-10).
The 10 Healthy Breathing Habits are:
- Breathe through the nose all the time including while eating, speaking and exercising. Don’t do anything faster than you can do it breathing with your nose.
- Maintain an upright posture. Keep the airway vertical and open
- Breathe into the diaphragm, not the chest. Think of the breathing action as originating from the diaphragm muscle under the ribs, not the nose.
- Breathe with a regular, predictable pattern of steady, similar-sized breaths. Minimize disruptions such as sighing, yawning, coughing, throat clearing or breath holding followed by a big breath.
- Breathe like a healthy baby breathes: silently, gently and invisibly. Strong gusts are abrasive to the airway.
- Breathe 8-12 breaths per minute. Unless it’s an emergency, slower light breathing is better than fast breathing.
- Match breathing to activity. When resting, breathe gently using all the principles listed above. During exercise, breathe heavier as needed, then cool down the breathing like you would cool down your muscles to transition back to the rest state.
- Allow breathing to happen without expending energy. Exhale completely but not forcibly. Practice inhaling and exhaling without controlling it.
- Practice relaxation of muscles and thoughts. Tension requires more air. Stop negative thoughts. Think thoughts that engender positive feelings. Embrace instead of defend.
- Increase comfortable breath-hold time intentionally after you have mastered all the other habits.
Goals that relate more to this framework include increasing nasal breathing, reducing mouth breathing, breathing correctly while eating and talking, breathing more gently and relaxing as a practice.
4. Achieve a fitness milestone by focusing on breathing stamina.
Many people are limited athletically by poor breathing fitness. Their lungs tire out way before their muscles fatigue.
What is breathing fitness? It’s basically doing whatever you want to do physically without huffing and puffing. It’s somewhat subjective, although it doesn’t have to be.
We can track almost any variable we care about in a workout — mileage, duration, intensity, VO2 Max, pulse, recovery time, comfortable breath-hold time…you name it….while we measure how it improves over time with increased nasal breathing or decreased mouth breathing.
Practicing simulated high-altitude training where we continually breathe less over time as the exercise becomes harder, we get fitter and fitter. First we master reduced breathing while we’re sedentary, and then we start exercising with reduced breathing.
Which of these frameworks appeals to you?
Measuring your breathing fitness can be informal and productive, tracking telling non-medical statistics during activities you care about to achieve positive change.
When you identify your wellness vision and your “why”, it’s more fun to find a breathing goal that is linked to them and improve your performance during experiences that matter the most to you.