If you want to be faster, stronger and more dedicated to your sporting performance, the simple act of breathing could be all you need to achieve your goals.
Many breathing practices come from ancient yoga traditions and controlled breathing exercises can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate and reduce levels of the stress hormone in your blood.
But could breathwork really help you to achieve a PB in your chosen field? Absolutely, says Stuart Sandeman, a breathwork expert whose new book, Breathe In, Breathe Out, has a whole section dedicated to how the right kind of breathing can improve your sporting performance.
Stuart, who hosts BBC Radio 1’s Decompression Session, has worked with clients including athletes preparing for the Olympics and World Championships. He says that good breathing will change your whole world. ‘Breathwork isn’t exclusive to the spiritual elite,’ he says.
‘You don’t need a guru, master or sensei. Breathing is yours to own, and when you know how to use it, you can do it anywhere, from a mountaintop monastery to the train you take to work. It doesn’t matter whether you use it to relax, to achieve a goal or to transform yourself. You’re in control.’
A former DJ, Stuart’s life was transformed after discovering breathwork and he founded Breathpod in 2017. He now offers breathing and coaching programmes to accelerate performance, increase productivity, alleviate stress and help reduce negative emotions.
What he’s learnt along his journey is that breath is the bridge between our physical, mental and emotional states and it can make us the best version of ourselves physically, too.
‘It’s not just food that brings energy to the body, breath does too,’ he explains.
‘The oxygen in the air is transported to your cells, where it combines with glucose to produce adenosine triphosphate. This is an energy source that enables your cells to perform their many functions, including allowing your muscles to contract.
‘When your muscles need more energy, your breathing speeds up, and your heart beats faster to pump more oxygen to those hardworking cells and remove the excess carbon dioxide created in the process.
‘In this process – which is called aerobic respiration – carbon dioxide, water and heat are also produced and removed from the body when you breathe out.
‘In fact, most of your cellular waste is carbon dioxide and this means that about 70% of your body’s waste is expelled through your lungs when you breathe out – the rest is removed through your skin (sweat), kidneys (urine) and intestines (stool).’
According to Stuart, how you breathe is essential to transporting this energy in, around and out of your body.
‘The most effective way to bring air into your lungs is through your nose, using your diaphragm, yet most people tend to breathe through their mouth, especially when the intensity of an activity increases,’ he says.
‘It happens naturally when we feel like we can’t get sufficient air quickly enough. Mouth breathing provides less air resistance than nose breathing and the chest moves short and shallow so we can quench our thirst for air faster.
‘Despite this apparent quick fix, research suggests that mouth breathing is not as economical a process for oxygen delivery. One of the main jobs of your nose is to support your respiratory system – preparing the air, filtering out particles, and adding moisture and heat to improve the entry of air to the lungs.
‘Nitric oxide is also released during nasal breathing, and this increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure.’
Stuart’s advice is to train yourself to use your nose when you’re working out.
Next time you go for a run, try only breathing through your nose and when you feel the desire to mouth breathe, slow down until you catch your breath. You could be on the road to a PB…
Stuart’s book Breathe In, Breathe Out (£16.99, HQ) is out now
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