Most people take their breathing for granted, as it’s an automatic function that only gets attention when something goes wrong. Thing is, once you start becoming involved in a sport like running, suddenly, it seems like there isn’t enough air to fill your lungs!
Struggling to breathe during cardio workouts is a pretty big deterrent for people, which makes sense. Why would you keep doing an activity that makes breathing a struggle and instead just stick to something easier, like lunchtime stretches? Well, because cardio exercise is fantastic for your overall health, it helps to reduce stress and is something that you can learn to enjoy over time.
So, if you want to improve your health and manage your stress levels, then it’s time to take a close look at focused breathing.
Science Behind Breath Management And Stress Reduction
Breathing may be something we all do automatically, but how you do it can affect your stress levels. In a way, we already know this at least partly in its connection to hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation is when your breathing is shallow and fast. Often, it is how our body responds to high levels of fear, stress, or other disruptions. The rapid, short breaths contribute to your negative emotional state and can keep your body on high alert as long as the short breathing continues.
On the other side of things, researchers have looked at the impact of deep diaphragmatic breathing on stress levels and found encouraging results. Participants were broken up into a control group that breathed normally and the other group engaged in deep breathing where the diaphragm was expanded to max capacity before releasing the air.
Over the course of 8 weeks with 20 sessions of deep diaphragmatic breathing, participants in the deep breathing group had significantly lower cortisol levels—which hormone increases stress—greater attention spans and reported improved moods overall.
How to Breathe While Running: The 4 Techniques
When it comes to testing out breathing techniques to see if they help you, there are several different ones you can try. Some can be done while you are exercising, and others are best done when you aren’t sweating the pounds off.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
To do this technique, you will need to cover your right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe deeply through your uncovered nostril. Hold that breath for a count of 15, uncover your right nostril and breathe out through the uncovered nostril. Repeat that pattern for 10 breaths.
This form of mindful breathing can help you center yourself after a stressful day as well as re-energize you. That way, with a boost after a long day at work, you can jump on your treadmill or head out the door for a good workout. Just try not to do it before bed, as it is an energizing pattern of breathing.
With this form of breathing, you will want to settle yourself in a safe spot and close your eyes. As your eyes are closed, take in a few deep breaths.
Then, as you continue to take in deep breaths, visualize how the air is filling your body. Imagine how the air brings calmness and peace. As you breathe out, imagine the outbound breath to carry your day’s tension and stress, allowing them to release your body.
Even 5 minutes of this type of visualization breathing can be beneficial. I would recommend pairing it with your cooldown, foam rolling routine, and stretches, as it is relaxing and not something you want to jump up from and workout.
For your abdominal breathing, it may be less natural to start, but it is likely the most helpful breathing technique as you run. While we normally breathe fairly shallowly, with abdominal breathing, you will breathe in and allow the air to expand your stomach. It may look like how a little kid sticks their stomach out, but that full expansion of your abdominal muscles can be both stress-relieving and helpful.
Consider this—like almost all runners, you have probably gotten a side-stitch while running. They are painful and annoying, and by doing abdominal breathing, you can get rid of them. Usually, side-stitches trigger because of shallow breathing, and with deep, mindful breaths, you can negate this common running issue.
This final technique is called Lion Breathing because it can look and sound like a lion as you release air. Start by finding a comfortable spot—standing or sitting—and breathe in deeply through your nose. Allow the air to fill your stomach, and when you can’t hold in any more air, open your mouth wide and release the air with a “haahhhh” sound.
The forceful pushing of air coupled with sound can help you as you push during workouts. Say you are doing HIIT exercise and you need to run 400-meter intervals 8 times. Before you start your interval, take in a lion breath, and as you release it explosively, use that to help fuel your interval.
Incorporating Better Breathing Into Your Exercise
As you can see, with each of the above techniques, there are ways you can incorporate them into your exercise routine. It may take some practice, but these breathing techniques can become a natural part of your healthy routine and provide you with greater stress relief than exercise alone.
Even if all you have time for is a quick five minutes of sitting and focusing on your breathing, you may be surprised how much better it can make you feel.