This week we started phase two of our weekly app challenge in which members perform the foundations to breathing programme available on the Science Of Fitness app.
Although you may not know it breathing is one of the most undervalued parts of movement and performance. Thanks to our modern lifestyles the positions we put our bodies in for the vast majority of the day compromise some of our fundamental movement patterns including breathing. The other problem we have is that little time and focus is given to our ability to breathe even when you consider the “traditional” activities involved in exercise.
It is a movement pattern that we all have taken for granted and by incorporating weekly and even daily focused sessions, you will notice a huge difference in a number of things in your life beyond just your performance.
By practicing breathing, you have a chance of improving:
- symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues
- hormonal and adrenal function
- movement and physical performance
- cardio & respiratory function.
So the question you're probably thinking of is “How does something we do every day all day have such a large influence on our body and brain if we deliberately practise it?”
Well to give you an understanding, we need to take a dive into the neuroscience and physiology behind what practicing breathing does.
We all know the obvious from year eight and nine biology with regards to breathing oxygen into your body and exhaling carbon dioxide out of your body - so we won't bore you with the nitty gritty.
What you may know less about, is the muscles that generate breathing.
For example when your diaphragm (big muscle sitting underneath the bottom of your rib cage) and intercostal muscles (small muscles between your ribs) contract, it makes room for your lungs to expand allowing air to move in (pardon the crude explanation of gaseous exchange but we don’t want to be here all day).
When this process occurs the diaphragm pushes down and creates pressure on the organs below. So if you take a long deep inhale and keep your stomach muscles relaxed you should feel your stomach expand outward.
This is why during a yoga class you may be instructed to breathe into your belly, you're not actually drawing air into your stomach, you're creating more room in your lungs an immediately, by slowing down and breathing deeply, you are relaxing the muscles of your abdomen both at a superficial and deep level which is one of the first issues when it comes to correctly moving your body (know when to relax and contract your abs).
On a deeper neurological level, deep slow breathing is associated with stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the largest cranial nerves in the body It connects your brain to a lot of major organs in your body including:
- Large and small intestine
- Kidney and bladder
Also the vagus nerve is also associated with the parasympathetic nervous state because of it’s relationship with the midbrain - put simply stimulate your vagus nerve and shift your nervous system to a more parasympathetic state.
Shifting a nervous system to a more parasympathetic state is one of the best things you can do for performance recovery hormonal regulation, digestion , sleep and the vast majority of mental health issues.
Psychologically, deliberately practising breathing and breathwork is invaluable. In a world in which we are constantly chasing stimulation and instant gratification taking the time to stop, slow down and focus on something so simple is actually incredibly challenging - and that is the whole point of the exercise.
Developing the discipline to practise something so simple helps you build the nervous path (think neuroplasticity) that gives you the discipline to do the next simple task (studying, going to bed on time, resisting certain foods and other addictive types of behaviours).
So if you want to get better at the little simple things why not start at the very beginning?
Jump on the science of fitness app now and learn the fundamentals of how to breathe.