Breathing: How to Get Better at Something You’ve Been Doing Your Entire Life

Alright, let’s talk about breathing. It’s something you’ve been doing your entire life, so why would you need to learn how to do it better? If you’re doing it really, truly wrong, you’d probably be dead, right? But the funny thing is, most of us could stand to get a bit better at it. Yeah, I know, it sounds ridiculous. Like teaching a fish how to swim or a bird how to fly. But stick with me here because improving how you breathe can make a huge difference in your performance, recovery, and overall well-being.

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty: nasal breathing. Breathing through your nose rather than your mouth has some serious benefits. Research has shown that nasal breathing can improve athletic performance, aid in recovery, and enhance sleep quality. Nasal breathing helps to filter and warm the air before it hits your lungs, which means your body gets more oxygen and less of the bad stuff. Plus, it engages the diaphragm more effectively, which can lead to better endurance and stamina. Studies have found that athletes who practice nasal breathing have better oxygen uptake and more efficient use of their lung capacity.

Of course, most breathwork advice can be impractical, hard to implement, or downright uncomfortable when you start. It’s like telling someone to suddenly change the way they tie their shoes. It sounds easy, but in practice, it feels awkward and unnatural. But don’t worry, I’m not here to throw you into the deep end without a float. I’m going to share some practical tips that have worked for me, making this whole “breathing better” thing a lot more doable.

When should you start working on breathwork? Ideally, at the beginning of a training cycle or when you’re restarting running or endurance training. Let me share a personal example: it clicked for me after I hadn’t been running for a while and started back really slowly. Since I started very gradually and my capacity was low, it was way easier to practice and maintain nasal breathing versus just deciding one day to start nasal breathing while trying to perform at a high level. This is good advice for most technical tweaks—sync it up with a reset! It’s like rebooting your computer; sometimes you just need a fresh start to get everything working smoothly.

Now, let me share my easy recovery breathing sequence. Recovery breathing is all about switching from your sympathetic (fight or flight) to your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Here’s the sequence I follow:

  1. Get Elevated: After you finish a hard workout, try and get your legs elevated, lie on your back, and just breathe through your nose. This helps reduce blood pooling in your legs and promotes circulation.
  2. Lengthen Your Exhale: Once you feel comfortable and your breath isn’t racing, see if you can lengthen your exhale to be longer than your inhale. Do this until it feels easy. This helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm your body down.
  3. Box Breathing: Once a long exhale feels easy, try to do some “box breathing.” Start with a 2-second inhale, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 2 seconds, and hold the exhale for 2 seconds. Gradually lengthen the time of each segment to 3, 4, and then 5 seconds. I usually keep going until I can get to 5+ seconds—that’s my sign that I’ve got my breathing back down and I’m ready to take on the world again.

So there you have it, a little guide to getting better at something you’ve been doing your entire life. Remember, it’s all about making small, manageable changes and integrating them into your routine. Happy breathing!