Q. I just did a climbing competition with one round on Friday and two on Saturday. Going into the third (and most important) round, my body was so tired I couldn’t hold onto the wall at all, and I ended up doing poorly. What could I have done to make my body recover a little in the few hours I had between the last two rounds—a certain food, sleep, or some type of stretching to get my body and muscles to recover just that tiny bit? ~ Alex Puccio, super-famous climber.
A. Researching endurance for my book, Body, Mind and Sport, we found that when athletes were significantly less stressed, their stamina and recovery times improved. We compared nasal breathing with mouth breathing during exercise and noticed that nasal breathing athletes had calmer brain wave functioning, a decreased stress response and faster recovery times. While mouth breathing, heart and breath rates are higher, as are blood pressure and perceived exertion rates. Why? Mouth breathing moves air into the upper lobes of the lungs first where stress receptors trigger an exhaustive and degenerative chemical response. Nasal breathing drives air through turbinates—mini turbo-chargers that are engineered to drive air all the way into the lower lobes of the lungs. While it does take some practice to master this technique (about three weeks on average), it’s well worth the effort. There is a predominance of calming and rejuvenating parasympathetic nerves in the lungs’ lower lobes. In our preliminary study we reproduced meditative alpha and coherent brain waves during nasal breathing exercise—which would translate to climbing and competing with the cool discernment and calm experienced in deep meditation.
The lungs’ lower lobes have 60-80 percent of the alveoli that bring fresh oxygen in, and carbon dioxide waste out of the muscles. This is critical: it’s the build-up of metabolic waste in the muscles that causes them to fail—and you to tire. This lack of efficient waste removal causes longer recovery times and shorter endurance. So it may be worth your while to take some time to become a better breather.
Imagine—once you become an efficient nasal breather, you’ll be taking 26,000 rejuvenating, waste-removing, fat-burning and mood-stabilizing breaths every day.
Author of four Ayurvedic [traditional Indian Science of Health] books, DR. JOHN DOUILLARD directs LifeSpa, an Ayurvedic rejuvenation center in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife and six children.