Idea 1. Decipher between Good Exercise and Harmful Exercise
According to Ayurveda, exercise is important, but in the right amounts.
If exercise is excessive, it can deplete the body. If there is too little of it, the body can become congested. The right amount is essential for moving prana, the body’s life force, into every cell of the body. The simple and quick way to decipher between balanced exercise and too much is to breathe through the nose. Exercising only to the point where you can still comfortably breathe through the nose has a wealth of benefits. Let me count the ways!
But first, let me tell you how to do it.
Idea 2. Begin Slow and Breathe Deep
Begin your workout with a slow walk, and begin to breathe deeply in and out through the nose. If possible, exhale using a yoga breathing technique called ujjayi, which constricts the back of the throat slightly and makes a snoring or ocean sound.
The inhale is done without the ujjayi sound—just a regular deep nasal inhale followed by a deep and complete nasal exhale using the ujjayi breath. Walk slowly for five minutes and breathe in and out through your nose as deeply as you can, exercising your lungs first before you speed up the walking or increase the intensity of the workout.
Tip: Remember to notice the slight pause or space between the deep and slow inhalation and the exhalation.
Idea 3. Start the Nose Breathing Workout
In this phase, begin to slowly walk, run or ride faster. As you pick up the pace, put your attention on the space between each breath. Notice the space and slight natural pause between each breath. As you pick up the pace, try to maintain the space between each breath. If the space shortens as you speed up and you need to breathe faster, you are going too fast—slow down the pace and reset the original rhythm of your breath.
After resetting the original rhythm of your breath, putting your attention on the space between your breaths, begin to go faster again. Each time you go faster, be aware of the space between your breaths. If the space shortens or is lost, slow down the pace and reset your breath. Once your breath is reset, increase the speed once again. Continue this for 10-30 minutes.
Idea 4. Enter the Zone
If you listen well and respect the space between your breaths, you may fall into what is known as The Zone, The Flow, or The Runner’s High.
This happens when the breath rate becomes longer, slower and deeper as you continue to slowly increase the exertion, intensity or speed of your exercise. You may find yourself running as fast as you can, but your breathing remains long, slow and deep—and only through the nose. Scientists have measured the impressive, coherent brain chemistry of the “Flow State” in extreme athletes, but nose breathing during your regular workout can produce the same chemistry. Let’s examine why!
Idea 5. Take the Low Road
The nose is a breathing apparatus designed to direct the air in a rarefied stream all the way into the lower lobes of the lungs. With mouth breathing, the air is directed into the upper lobes of the lungs in a thick, large burst of air. In the upper lobes of the lungs, there is a predominance of receptors for “fight or flight” stress. Mouth breathing activates a sympathetic, fight or flight response. Think of gasping through the mouth when you’re frightened. The lower lobes of the lungs are loaded with parasympathetic receptors which calm the nervous system and repair the body. Think of the calm state a baby experiences while nursing and nose breathing.
Idea 6. The Magic of the Ujjayi Exhale
When practicing the ujjayi breath, during the exhale, you will notice that the stomach contracts as you force all of the air out. The stomach muscles are secondary muscles of breathing, but few use them.
As you perform the ujjayi exhale during exercise, the stomach muscles contract onto the diaphragm, which then contracts onto the heart. This is called an abdominal—diaphragmatic—cardiac massage. In our study published in my book, Body, Mind and Sport, we demonstrated an increase of beta wave production in the brain during nose breathing exercise. This is a slower brain wave pattern indicating a meditative state of calm.
Curiously, this is the same brain wave pattern that extreme athletes have when they base jump off of a skyscraper or cliff. Mouth breathers in our study produced only alpha brain waves, indicating a state of high stress.
Idea 7. The Eye of the Hurricane
In our study, not only did we see more beta brain wave production with nose breathing, we saw the sympathetic (stress response) nervous system, which typically maxes out during exercise, only increase about 50 percent. We also saw the parasympathetic (calm) nervous system, which typically bottoms out during exercise, actually increase 50 percent.
So, the two opposite nervous systems, the calm parasympathetic and the dynamic sympathetic systems, were co-existing. This is what I call, the “eye of the hurricane” effect, where the dynamic winds and the calm eye are co-existing. This effect actually defines the “Flow State,” and when athletes say, “My best race was also my easiest race.”
Idea 8. Nose Breathing Detox
When folks huff, puff and pant as a result of vigorous exercise, the gasping for air through the mouth is an attempt to move CO2 waste out of the body through breathing. The lower lobes of the lungs are gravity-fed, and the vast majority of blood supply and respiratory alveoli hang out there. Most folks rarely breathe into the lower lobes of their lungs, and therefore rarely exchange the oxygen in and CO2 out in an efficient manner.
Breathing through the nose drives air more efficiently through the turbinates of the nose, which act much like mini-turbines designed to drive the air into the oxygen-rich lower lobes. This lower lobe respiratory efficiency allows for enhanced waste removal of CO2 during exercise. With more efficient CO2 removal the muscles dump waste faster and can perform at a higher level longer and recover faster.
Idea 9. The Ribs as a Cage
The 12 ribs can act as 12 levers that pump lymph and massage the heart and lungs 26,000 times a day, or they can become 12 ribs that tighten and cage in the heart and lungs. Nose breathing during exercise forces the air into the lower lobes of the lungs through the nasal turbinates, which act much like a turbo-charger in a car that drives air into the carburetor.
The rib cage also has something called “elastic recoil,” which constantly squeezes and tightens the rib cage in an attempt to force the air out during exhalation. Over time, this tension can cause rib cage rigidity, forcing the breathing to be shallow. Most folks breathe 26,000 upper chest, emergency breaths each day. Nose breathing forces the rib cage to become elastic again, allowing for lower lobe breathing access, more efficient waste (CO2) removal, and mechanical elasticity that boosts circulation to and from the heart and lungs.
Idea 10. Effortless Exercise
Perhaps the most telling research on nose breathing exercise was the Perceived Exertion Test. On a scale of 1-10, 10 reflecting the most exertion and 1 the least perceived exertion, nose breathers performed sub-maximal exercise with an average perceived exertion of four out of 10.
The mouth breathers, who performed the same test, perceived the same workload as a 10 out of 10 on the exertion scale. Nose breathing is more difficult than mouth breathing, but in the long run, with practice, it provides a level of respiratory efficiency that we are all born to have.
Humans are born as obligate, or preferred nose breathers, meaning that we are hard-wired to naturally breathe through the nose. With stress and a sedentary lifestyle, we lose access to the lower lobes of the lungs and become mouth breathers. With just 2-3 weeks of practice, most folks can become efficient nose breathers once again and naturally handle stress the way we were designed to—like water off a duck’s back!
Source: Body Mind and Sport. Douillard John. Three Rivers Press, New York. Revised 2000.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Dr. John Douillard
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: elephant archives