Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My own attempt at conscious breathing

Apparently, we care about breathing. Some interesting comments were added to yesterday's post, and today, after recovering from a little food poisoning, I was back on the treadmill. I decided to focus on some breathing exercises, and I thought I would give you a little personal experimentation perspective.

At present, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I run for about 30 minutes at a certain rate increasing the elevation .5% per five minutes (if I'm feeling strong). Today I ran at 11.3 km/h plugged into the treadmill's television watching some show called "the class" (I think). There were a few really funny moments in the sitcom, which resulted in me laughing out loud on the treadmill, and these moments made interesting challenges for breathing and running.

Back to the breathing... My plan was to work on breathing for parts of the run and see how easy it was. I was looking to use the 2 step inhale, 2 step hold, and 4 step exhale. Well, actually, I started with the 2 step inhale, 2 step hold, and 2 step exhale. That was a disaster since I couldn't seem to get enough air in my lungs to hold the rhythm for more than 30 seconds. Once I established the first rhythm with an aggressive 4 step exhale, I found I could keep the rhythm going for about 2 minutes. I suspect this aggressive exhaling sounded funny to other people in the gym. I didn't look, but I'm sure some people were concerned that I may be dying every five minutes or so.

I did about 4 of these breathing exercises over the thirty minute run, and during them felt awkward in breathing, but strong in running. It reminded me of my days on a swim team where you would freestyle swim for so many strokes without taking a breath. In the cool down, I did one more breathing exercise and found it significantly easier. My guess is that the less stress during the cool down meant my body wasn't in such high demand for oxygen and adapted easily to the breathing rhythm.

The other thing I paid attention to for the run was what seemed to be my natural breathing pattern. I'm not sure if there's a Heisenberg effect (where once you try to observe then what you're trying to observe changes), but I found I breath at roughly a 2 step inhale and 2 step exhale. There's no holding stage in my breathing. Also, I tend to breath through my mouth, and some of the literature is suggesting breath through your nose for calming effects.

Something to work on to make those 30 minute runs a little more interesting. Though the sitcoms in the morning on the treadmill are quite good, and if I can't get one that gets that specific channel then I get to watch cricket. It all makes the run a little less mind numbing.



Taylor said...

I'm pretty sure that I've read that you get better results by actively concentrating on the exercises you are doing. I'm not about to dig up any articles, but I can say that I've noticed a difference. It's too easy to lull yourself into a coma when on the cardio machines, but I find it's a great time to do visualisation work.

In terms of listening to music while you exercise, it's been shown to increase hearing loss for two reasons. Usually you have to turn up the volume because it's noisy. More interesting, though, is that you're just more susceptable to damage when you're exercising. Something about the blood flow through your ear.

Duncan said...

I've never directly used breathing in this context. Previously, I always breathed with my mouth when playing. A few years ago my team used breathe in part of focus before games. I switched to nose breathing and found drastic differences in my mental toughness. Dr. Goldberg/Tiina Booth encourages the Amherst players to do this, so my captain, an ARHS alum made Zoodisc practice this techniques just before games.

Starting with focus on the cyclic nature in my breath I can center myself, regardless of the ambient sights and sounds. From this center I am free to turn my focus and broader energies to whatever I want to do (training or game).

Mid-game use of this is a little more difficult, of course, but nonetheless useful.

Mackey said...


Sounds like meditation to me. What a great idea to make that standard practice before games (hopefully before practice too).

I highly recommend nose breathing, when exercising and just in general. We're designed to breathe through our noses, not our mouth, and if you force the nose breathing not only are you cutting down on airborne pathogens entering your system, but you're also forcing your respiratory system to become more efficient--you're getting less oxygen (lower air volume) for more work. It takes some time but the body does adjust. I like to compare it to altitude training (obviously this is a flawed analogy) for the benefits you can ultimately reap.

Keep in mind that sprinting is almost fully anaerobic, so the more you condition yourself to function well on less oxygen, and to recover with less oxygen, the more quickly you'll recover on an ultimate field.

That's my belief at least. If there's anybody out there with a master's in physiology or the like who knows better, feel free to shoot me down. Pretty sure you can find a decent bit of info on nose breathing with a bit of research though.

Andrew Stewart said...

Back when I was a cross country runner, when breathing really mattered, it was always a 2 step inhale, 1 step exhale at about a 90 step per minute cadence.

Also, to breathe better, lift your chin a bit, pull your shoulders backa bit (so you're not slouching), and breath from your tummy, not your chest.

Are you guys saying you breath through your nose during games? It doesn't make any sense to do that while sprinting, but while recovering, it might be a good idea.

Duncan said...


It is exactly meditation. I practice actual meditation outside of the game. And consider everything else mindfulness (via Jon Kabat-Zinn "Full Catastrophe Living"). Generally speaking, I reserve meditation for the more spiritual side of life. Plus, it is still somewhat mystical/on the fringe of some cultures in the USA. Semantics. Do you see it in Japanese players? I wonder, do the Buzz Bullets weave Zen into their game?

Joe said...

Not to be rude, but it is a little jarring to read "breath" (noun, rhymes with chef) where the word was meant to be "breathe" (verb, rhymes with weave) or vice versa.

Hey Duncan! How about those Wildcatz!

Oliver said...

You should go for a run with someone else to observe your breathing. Then you just have to forget about your breathing.

When I was out of shape (I couldn't jog for 5 consecutive minutes), I was instructed to breathe in for 2 steps and exhale for 2 steps, and that helped greatly. I imagine that's my rate when jogging or running. I'm curious to know how I breathe when sprinting.

honeyhands said...

Back in cross country/track days, we would use breath monitoring to check up whether pace was too fast or too slow. I used it in warm ups, and figured I was at a decent warm up pace when I got to a rate of breathing in every 2 steps, breathing out 2 steps later. It's easy to keep track of, e.g. right foot in, right foot out, right foot in right foot out. It was really helpful for getting into a running rhythm and while I didn't use it for races I could see how the 2 in, 1 out cadence (or other cadences) could be great for focus.

From a concentration perspective, breath awareness is one of the cornerstones of meditative practice, used as a baseline or centering technique. It is relatively contentless, so it won't help prepare specific actions or techniques, but should help with body/present moment awareness and letting go of distracting thoughts. The goal of the practice however is the awareness, not to get really good at nose breathing. In fact, it is a very common mistake in early meditation practice to alter the breath to make it more discernible. On the other hand, in a yoga practice one consciously modulates ones breath to come in line with body movements, thereby coupling breathing with action.

So, I agree with the comments here that during a game it doesn't make too much sense to try nose breathing any more than it does to play with a paper bag over your mouth when you run. Essentially, you're just depriving yourself of oxygen. Between points however, or whenever you're not actually exerting yourself, it can be a great mental reset tool. For training limiting your breaths is an interesting idea for cardio practice since you could in theory train your cardio while tiring your muscles less, since you might tax the aerobic system faster with slower breaths.

One more note- I did start using a forced exhale as a cue for hard push to initiate a cut or change direction on the field- the act of breathing out while putting maximum force through my legs helped me to really focus on technique rather than worrying about the outcome of the cut or whatever. It think of it as similar to breathing out while lifting weight.

Just remember, no breathing is bad for you (asphyxiation), too much breathing is bad for you (hyperventilation), and your body knows how much air it needs (homeostasis). Ignoring strong bodily cues about your breath during aerobics seems like a recipe for disaster, push those boundaries with caution.