Using Mindful Breathing
Matching your footsteps to your in and out breaths is one of the simplests ways to regulate your pace. In practice a 2 – 2 rhythm means that you inhale for 2 steps and exhale for 2 steps. Most of the world elite distance runners breathe in a 2- 2 rhythm and then a 2 -1 when they’re pushing hard.
When you are running and you don’t really notice your breath that is when you are running at your ventilatory threshold. It’s the pace at which you can easily hold a conversation. As you speed up a little you’ll begin to notice your breathing and this is when it becomes useful to start counting in and out steps per breath. A 3 in 3 out rhythm is still an easy pace. As you speed up it becomes more efficient and easier to switch to a 2 – 2 rhythm, at the upper end of that rhythm is race pace. A speed at which you feel comfortably fast. When you switch to 1 – 2 or 2 -1 that’s when you are at your limit. The minute your breathing becomes ragged is when you need to slow down. Experiment with different breathing rhythms at different paces and see how it feels.
Breathing is often an indication of a state of mind. Think of how you breathe when in a panic, relaxed or excited. When you get a fright there is a sharp intake of breath. Your brain changes your breathing pattern based on your current state of mind. Luckily for us the feedback loop works both ways. We can influence our state of mind by controlling our breathing. Simply calming the breath can induce a calm state of mind and almost instantly reduce the stress related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in your body.
Steady rhythmic breathing will help you run with a relaxed attentive state of mind. When you are in this state of mind you are able to ‘observe, PAUSE, think, act’. The mindful practice then is to simply focus on your breathing. Find the rhythm you are comfortable with and focus on breathing. Each time your attention wanders bring it gently back to your breathing.
Breathing should be from the diaphragm. Imagine your chest cavity as an upright cylinder with your diaphragm at the bottom of it. Pulling the diaphragm down will cause air to flow into the cylinder. Relaxing the diaphragm will force air out of the cylinder. This type of breathing is also called belly breathing and it is used by many different practitioners in the martial arts, yoga, and various forms of meditation.
You can practice in a stationary position either sitting or lying down. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. On the inhale pull your diaphragm down and you should feel your belly raise followed by your chest rising as the air fills the top of your lungs. On the exhale start by pulling your navel towards your spine which will push air out of your lungs. Practice until you are confident and then take it to the road.
Stay upright with your chest open and shoulders wide. Avoid collapsing at the middle especially when climbing a hill as this severely limits your ability to get a lung full of air. Keep the mouth open and don’t be afraid or embarrassed of being a loud breather. Your body needs oxygen to function. When you are going faster you will need to breath heavier.
If you feel breathless it helps to take 2 or 3 very deep breaths exhaling rapidly and forcefully on each one. This can help to reduce the Carbon Dioxide levels in your lungs.
Enjoy the focus on breathing. It can be a real game changer and I’d love to hear some feedback on how the Mindful Breathing practice works for you.