Yogis know it best: Focusing on breathing while exercising can completely change your training. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can boost your immune system, ease your blood pressure, improve your heart rate, combat stress levels, and help with asthma. That's reason enough to give it a try, right?
We should be naturals at deep breathing. It's mainly seen in babies and children—and we could learn a thing or two from them. As we age, many of us spend most of our time at a desk and become "chest breathers." We are mainly breathing through our upper body, which doesn't use oxygen the way our bodies intended. We should aim to be "belly breathers" by using our diaphragm, a muscle located at the base of the lungs. Try to initially breathe from the abdominal area, allowing your belly and ribcage to rise as you inhale. As you exhale through the mouth, the belly deflates and goes back to its starting point.
So how does diaphragmatic breathing affect exercise? Add it at the beginning and the end of your workouts and see benefits multiply:
It relaxes your nervous system.
Personally, I like starting up my classes with some diaphragmatic breathing, such as crocodile breathing, which makes it easier for those new to the practice to understand. Focusing on the proper breathing mechanics allows the parasympathetic nervous system (the part responsible for relaxing the body during moments of anxiety) to calm down. As a result, your blood pressure drops and your heart rate decreases, helping your whole system relax.
Oxygen fuels your body.
Diaphragmatic breathing allows your body to properly use its respiratory system. When you take a breath, there is an exchange between carbon dioxide (the unclean air) and oxygen (clean air). This permits the system to efficiently get rid of waste in the body and bring in as much oxygen as possible. In terms of exercise, the more fresh oxygen being sent to your muscles, the better your workout will be.
It boosts your immune system.
Because belly breathing relaxes the body as a whole, studies have found it boosts the immune system. Stress has been linked to many diseases, and stress levels are lower when you're breathing properly.
It can help strengthen your abdominals and improve functional movement.
We're often so focused on flat abs for aesthetic reasons that we forget they're intended to expand. It's challenging for some people to belly breathe if they've been chest breathing for a long time. Studies found that diaphragmatic breathing can help strengthen your core. When the abdominal muscles are co-contracting—moving the way they are biologically supposed to—who needs crunches? There's also evidence that diaphragmatic breathing can help with your basic functional movement. I've seen it with clients: A few breathing drills and they see a drastic change in their mobility and range of motion.
It can decrease pain.
Controlled breathing was found to reduce pain in patients who suffer from fibromyalgia. The subjects focused on breathing slowly and then were tested on their threshold of pain. Researchers discovered that those who tried deep breathing experienced less pain than those who didn't. If it can help chronic pain sufferers, imagine what it can do for you!