I recently had the pleasure to work with a group of hockey players and coaches at Competitive Edge Skating and Strength Training in Michigan. And I’d like to share with you some of the tips and techniques we covered in the three days of work with these great young athletes.
First, a reminder of the basics: Breath Awareness and Conscious Breathing. Develop the habit of paying attention to your breath while you are exercising, training, or performing. And deliberately regulate or consciously pace your breathing to meet your body’s energy demands.
When you get a handle on your breath, you get a handle on your awareness (focus and attention), and your energy (life force or spirit). By focusing on your breathing, you take your mind off any pain or fatigue. Also, breathing consciously keeps your mind from slipping into “performance degrading self-talk.”
Use the principle of rhythm. When you are running, experiment with different rhythms. For example, inhale three steps and exhale three steps, or inhale two steps, and exhale four steps, or inhale four steps and exhale four, etc. Find a pace that feels natural and efficient and be ready to adjust the rhythm from time to time to meet your energy demands.
When you notice that you are breathing quick and heavy, “go long.” In other words, deliberately take in a long slow expansive inhale and give yourself a big exaggerated sigh of relief. From time to time pull past what feels full and snap the exhale loose, then go back to the rhythm.
Remember, it’s easier to keep up than it is to catch up. Don’t wait until you are winded or out of breath before you take control of your breathing. Lead with the breath. Learn to stay ahead of your body’s demand for energy rather than having to constantly struggle against an O2 deficit or a CO2 buildup.
Synchronize your inhales and exhales with active and passive movements. For example, when doing pushups, practice inhaling on the way down and exhaling on the way up, and practice exhaling on the way down and inhaling on the way up. Or do two or three up and downs on one inhale and two or three up and downs on the exhale. Experiment in the same way with pullups, sit-ups and squats, and so on.
Use conscious breaths to focus your or gather energy before shooting, diving, kicking, etc. (Notice what the great baseball pitchers, basketball players, and Olympic divers do just before they throw, shoot, or dive.) Use audible breath sounds to express or reflect or support moments of power or release. (Listen to the great tennis players when they serve or return the ball.)
Use the “nasal inhale, oral exhale.” Breathe in the nose and out the mouth as much as you can, and as often as you can.
Concentrate on diaphragmatic breathing. Make sure that you are a “belly breather.” Remember that you have three breathing spaces: upper, middle, and lower, and make sure to send breath into the lower and middle spaces when you work out, train, or perform.
To prevent that uncomfortable “side stich” when running, make sure to extend or complete your exhales so that your diaphragm sets high up into the rib cage. That pain is your diaphragm rubbing on your lower ribs. Picture a ball and socket joint: the socket is your rib cage and the ball is your diaphragm.
Learn to suck or draw fatigue out of the muscles of your body and release it with the exhale. (In the nose and out the mouth.) Use gravity to dump that fatigue into the earth. Practice your breathwork until it becomes automatic, unconscious, or second nature.
Master “burst breathing.” (Check out some of the YouTube clips of Eastern European weightlifters) Review Mikhail Ryabko’s Systema principles and Tom Sotis’s breathing drills in my book, Just Breathe.
Remember that rest is half the work. When you relax, really relax! It’s not just a matter of being relaxed or not relaxed: there are levels of relaxation. In your wind down or recovery period, learn to “puddle out.” Lay down and surrender completely to gravity.
magine your body like ice cream melting in the sun. You want to relax so much that the spaces between your cells open up so that the breath can get into all the crack and crevices of your being. Imagine “infusing” every muscle, joint, and organ with breath.” Consciously distribute breath-energy to every cell of your body.
Use that rest and relaxation period to feed yourself reward yourself with nurturing, uplifting thoughts and words. Generate feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Visualize health and success. Feel your connection to life and the cosmos, to nature and your source, and to everyone and everything in existence.
Good luck in your practice, and many blessings on your path!