Pranayama translates to life force management which we can do through our breath. Breathing is a muscular activity which is tied to the nervous system. Exercises involving breath can energize, calm and balance your body and mind. Like many seasoned athletes, I’ve learned the hard way and worked back from there. I know how it feels to have tight breathing muscles before a race and that has quickly led to a feeling of not being able to breathe. During a triathlon start, this usually means a panic attack in the water. There have also been many times when I’ve turned my head to breathe during the swim and get nothing but a mouthful of water or better yet, a fist in my face. Being open and calm enough to skip a breath while being punched in the face or the like, is crucial to remaining in control during a physically challenging experience. The following exercises are a recipe of breath that seem to serve me well before any type of race. I will usually do them before my warm up or in the final moments before the gun goes off. Give them a try at your next starting line, presentation, confrontation or anything that puts you out of your comfort zone and report back on how they served you. On your mark, get set, namaste!
Three Part Breath
Breathe into your belly. Pause, don’t exhale. Breathe into your lungs and feel the expansion of your ribs. Pause, don’t exhale. Breathe into your chest and feel your collarbone lift. Hold for a count of five. Release slow and controlled from your chest first, lungs next and finish by emptying out your belly. Repeat this three times.
Breathe in but not all the way. Pause, don’t exhale. Breath in again to completely fill your lungs. Pump the air out on your exhales. Your inhales will be automatic and effortless. You shouldn’t feel any tension in your abdominal muscles, lungs or chest. It should feel like you could do it for a long time. Do this for a count of 30-45. Push the last exhale out completely and hold out for three to five seconds. Then take a long, slow breathe in followed by a long, slow breath out. Repeat this three times.
Tense and Release
Take a big breath in and tense every muscle in your body. Don’t hurt yourself, just tense everything. Hold for five seconds. Then empty your body slow and controlled. I keep a slight bend in my knees to avoid any strain on the back of me knee. Repeat this three times.
Breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of seven. Slowly exhale for a count of eight. This is a great for calming the nervous system and putting nervous energy to rest as exhales are governed by your healing nervous system. By making your exhales longer you will have no other choice than to feel more relaxed. Repeat three times.