For the Love of Breathing
A guest blog post by 2021 race ambassador, Robyn Childers
As a yoga teacher, marathon runner and health and wellness coach, there is no topic I find more important or fascinating than “Breath.” Breathing is living. It is a vital function of life. Breath development has been a source of interest for me since I was a young child. As someone who suffered with severe childhood asthma, I recall feeling afraid due to my breath becoming short when I began participating in high-intensity sports, erupting into coughing fits and occasional dizzy spells. I never attended a practice or game without my inhaler on hand and would often have to take the bench or dugout to regroup. For a small person, I was fast, strong, had excellent coordination and a ton of energy, but frequently ran out of breath. Therefore, I stuck with activities that offered breaks. Long-distance running was not something I felt safe doing, thought I would be successful at or imagined being enjoyable activity. I was the kid with a physician’s note that was excused from running “The Mandatory Mile” in P.E. Class.
It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga and meditation in my mid-20’s, when I finally realized that the breath is the connection/bridge between the mind and the body. I quickly understood that breath regulation/development requires daily practice. Practicing a variety of breathing techniques—inhaling and exhaling for even counts and then lengthening both, while maintaining your awareness of the breath—helps to increase the cardiovascular system’s V02 max, or maximal oxygen consumption. Of course, this makes sense, but as someone who avoided endurance sports my entire life, I grew increasingly curious about how breath regulation and mindfulness practices might improve/enhance my performance if I were to take up running. During longer-held, more challenging postures in my yoga practice, I was confronted with the same familiar set of sensations I had experienced as a child when I pushed myself too far and needed a break. The difference, now, was that through a daily practice, I was acquiring the tools, training and education to use the breath as a way to develop not only strength, flexibility, balance, but ENDURANCE.
In yoga, we refer to breath regulation as pranayama. Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life force and yama means extending or stretching. Thus, the word “pranayama” translates to the control of life force. It is also known as the extension of breath. Every cell in our bodies needs oxygen to function properly. So it’s no surprise that research shows that a regular practice of controlled breathing can decrease the effects of stress on the body and increase overall physical and mental health. There are many Pranayama breathing techniques I’ve learned over the years, but the technique I practice most frequently during my physical yoga practice is called Ujjayi Pranayama. Ujjayi means victorious breath; it’s also referred to as oceanic breath due to the wave-like sound it creates. This breath is especially practiced during ashtanga and vinyasa classes. Ujjayi encourages the full expansion of the lungs, and, by focusing your attention on your breath, it can assist in calming the mind.
How to do it: Find a place where you can sit comfortably with a straight spine. Take a steady breath in through both nostrils. Inhale until you reach your lung capacity; maintain a tall spine. Hold your breath for a second, then constrict some of the breath at the back of your throat, as if you were about to whisper a secret, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This exhalation will sound like an ocean wave or gentle rush of air. You should feel the air on the roof of your mouth as you exhale. Repeat up to 20 times.
When to do it: This breath can be practiced for up to 10 minutes at any time of day. Try it with an asana practice as well.
As a yogi who only began running seriously 5 years ago, when I first started, I noticed my breathing and posture were head and shoulders above the average runner because of my breathing practices during yoga and meditation. You pay such strong attention to your breathing and how it influences your posture when you’re practicing, and you also pay attention to how your posture influences your breathing. Together, they influence the deepest parts of your mind—your subconscious. Building a strong practice with breath awareness gives you a choice about how you respond when it feels like your breath is getting choppy. Instead of panicking, compromising your form (i.e., dumping forward), or needing to slow down, you can mindfully employ techniques to deepen and broaden the breath. Regulating the breath in this way allows for more of your energy to be put toward the effort of your running performance. When my performance is optimal, not only do I feel successful during workouts and races, but I’m also able to enjoy the many benefits running has given to millions of people throughout the history of the sport.
If you want to learn more about breath regulation, or yoga practice, you can visit Robyn’s yoga studio at: https://welcomehomeyoga.com/
You can also support Robyn as they prepare to open their new studio by participating in their virtual 5K on April 24-25. The link to registration is available at: https://welcomehomeyoga.com/our-2021-5k-run-walk