Breathfulness is the New Mindfulness

Breathfulness is the New Mindfulness

Since we do it about 23,000 times a day, focusing on the breathe every so often throughout the day is not such a difficult task. And since “All chronic pain, suffering, and disease are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level” (Dr Authur C Guyton – Textbook of Medical Physiology 1956), then its not difficult to conclude that addressing dysfunction breathing is essential to our health and fitness.

Breathing is an oft-neglected aspect of fitness training programmes but it is essential that we learn to breathe efficiently to get the full benefits of training. In fact we can actually be damaging our health if we are not breathing correctly. Here are three simple breathing practices you can incorporate into everyday life and also take take forward into your training programme.

1. Take deep, but not necessarily big breaths

It’s quite logical really. Breathe the amount of air required for your metabolic needs. For example if when sitting you took a number big, deep breaths, after a short while you would be breathing too much air for what your body is doing at that moment in time. Just as you can over-eat and drink too much you can also over-breathe.  You do however want to be breathing deeply to activate the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle that divides the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Breath guru Dr Belisa Vranich suggests to visualise breathing in horizontally across the base of the ribs rather than vertically up through the chest. Practice: Sit towards the front edge of a chair with feet on the floor and a tall spine. Start by deliberately over-breathing to active the diaphragm, taking in a big breath and driving the air deep into the lungs. Visualise breathing horizontally across the base of the ribs. Keep the belly relaxed and notice it expand as you inhale. As you exhale pull the belly in with the intention of actively expelling the air.  Do this a couple of times then settle into soft, easy, relaxed, rhythmical, breathing. Focus now on the effortless expansion of the belly and lower ribs as you breathe in and allow the exhale to happen as a natural release through elastic recoil.  In a resting posture breathing out requires no effort from your body unless you have a lung disease. However when you’re physically active, your abdominal muscles contract and push your diaphragm against your lungs even more than usual. This pushes air out of your lungs. When you have establish a sense of calm, relaxed breathing, you can take this exercise a step further. As you follow your breath notice how little air you actually need for what your body is doing at this moment in time. Now, keeping relaxed, see if can can create a sense of light air hunger by breathing a little less air.  The Oxygen Advantage Breathing method, devised by Patrick McKeown, addresses the common tendency to over-breathe, often due to mental overload and stress. This exercise is a great way of helping to re-set the brain to bring breathing volume back to a more ‘normal’ level of between four and six litres of air per minute in a resting posture. Researchers in Sweden found that the majority of patients with chronic stress and resultant exhaustion also have disturbed breathing patterns including the habit of over-breathing. The severity of their poor breathing habits were also related to their depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and quality of life.

2. Shut your mouth

In everyday life, sleep and aerobic physical exercise breathe in and out through your nose. The health benefits of total nasal breathing are immense including:
  • 10-20% more oxygen uptake
  • Warms and humidifies incoming air
  • Removes a significant amount of germs and bacteria
  • Can reduce risk of developing forward head posture
  • Can improve respiratory strength and encourage diaphragmatic breathing
  • Releases nasal nitric oxide produced in the nasal cavity
  • Increased focus and concentration
  • Reduces breathlessness during exercise and improves sports performance
Practice: Walking at an easy pace, keep the lips lightly together and breathe softly in and out through the nose. If you struggle with this, slow the pace or stop and rest for a short while. Then, hardly increasing the breath-rate, keeping your mouth closed, break into a very easy-paced run taking quick, light strides. If you feel you need to open the mouth, slow the pace or go back into and easy walk.  The same applies for any endurance training at the gym. ie many reps (12-20), comfortable weights, steady rhythm. In 1995 Morton, King, Papalia wrote in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. “While breathing through the nose only, all subjects could attain a work intensity great enough to produce an aerobic training effect (based on heart rate and percentage of VO2 max)” For less-than maximum intensity training, and at all other times, nasal breathing should be employed. However mouth breathing can and should be combined with nasal breathing when training at higher intensity. Competitive athletes may spend 80% of their training with the mouth closed (80/20 rule).

3. Breathe rhythmically

Our body loves on the rhythm. It promotes a sense of ‘being in the zone’, creating focus and energy.  Breathing rhythmically has numerous health benefits since it helps to create coherent heart rate variability.  If a doctor takes your pulse they will measure your heart beat over a certain period of time and perhaps the result is 70 beats per minute. However there are moment-to-moment variations in our heart beat that are not normally considered when average heart rate is measured. This naturally occurring beat-to-beat variation in heart rate is called heart rate variability (HRV). “Coherent HRV is experienced as a calm, balanced, yet energised and responsive state that is conducive to everyday functioning and interaction, including the performance of tasks requiring mental acuity, focus, problem-solving, and decision-making, as well as physical activity and coordination.” Emotional stress – such as anger, frustration, and anxiety – creates an irregular and erratic rhythm. Whereas positive emotions create a coherent heart rhythm pattern, helping body’s systems synchronise and work with increased efficiency and harmony. Emotional stress and mental overload all play a part in activating our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response. All too often we are spending time with our body preparing for danger and not enough time in ‘rest, recovery and restore’ mode. Since breathing patterns modulate the heart’s rhythm, it is possible to create a coherent HRV simply by breathing rhythmically. Therefore smooth, rhythmical breath, regardless of what activity you are doing – resting, working, exercising, has many health benefits. Practice: As with the exercise above start off nasal breathing as you walk and then take it into the easy run. Keep a constant cadence (strides per minutes) of between 170-180bpm. This constant cadence sets a rhythm into which the breath can settle.  Find you own comfortable breath count. ie the number of steps per inhale and number of breaths per exhale. This will vary depending on pace, effort level, gradient, terrain, current fitness, state of mind. It is important not to force a specific count as this could induce hyperventilation. Remember as discussed above that we should be breathing to match our metabolic needs.  Mindfulness has garnered lots of attention of the passed few years with more and more studies highlighting the benefits of a mindful practice. Breath is quite literally at the heart of mindfulness and it doesn’t take much for you to spend some time each day paying attention to your breath. It’s time now time to take up the practice of breathfulness. 

Become a Chi Running Coach

Share you passion and build a business The Chi Running Instructor Training Programme will give you the tools to deliver a simple but effective training method to help your clients improve their running technique. Check out our Teach It page or register below to receive more information.

The programme includes a comprehensive online training course and a 4-day practical workshop.

The Power of Posture

The Power of Posture

Good posture is essential but what do we actually mean by good posture? Yip et al, 2008 describe proper posture “… to be the state of musculoskeletal balance that involves a minimal amount of stress and strain on the body”

Good posture therefore depends on an awareness of your body’s relationship to gravity. In an optimal upright standing posture your main centre of mass, an area just below the belly button and in towards the spine (in Tai Chi, lower dantien) should be balanced over your contact with the ground.

Moving upwards, the centre of gravity of your ribcage (middle dantien) and head (upper dantien) is balanced over your lower dantien. Take your time to body sense how this feels.

5 Steps to Powerful Standing Posture

  1. Stand with your feet feet hip-width apart and parallel
  2. Lengthen the spine and neck gently lifting upwards from the crown of the head
  3. Focus on your centre of gravity (lower dantien) and balance this directly over your contact with the ground
  4. Connect the dots now by balancing middle and upper dantien directly above. As a visual guide you can check side on in a mirror and look for ankle hip and shoulder in a vertical line
  5. Take a moment in this standing posture to focus on the breath. Keeping the lips lightly together and jaw relaxed notice the effortless flow of air in and out through the nose. Follow rather than force the breath.

It is important, however, to realise that posture is not to be considered as a single act or position, but a unique moment in time that captures only one possible postural position. Standing posture is a beginning, not the end to encouraging good postural alignment.  

As Katy Bowman highlights in her book Move your DNA “…correct human alignment does not imply that there is one body position that we should be using all the time. In fact, it is often our determination to maintain a ‘good’ fixed posture that is undermining our health”.

I find clients often misunderstand the meaning of a strong core, focusing only on the stomach muscles and over-tensing these to ‘keep the core engaged’ during walking and running. Over-tensing stomach muscles can have a detrimental effect on movement, breath and organs. Muscles deep in the core of the body should be reactive to movement, working accordingly to maintain structural efficiency and ‘the state of musculoskeletal balance that involves a minimal amount of stress and strain on the body’.

Avoid forcing alignment. Your current posture is a result of how you have lived, breathed, moved, played and worked since you were born. Gravitational pull shapes posture as do our emotions, how we think and feel. 

Having an awareness of current posture, how our body feels and looks is the starting point. From there you can work with a Chi Running Coach to practice simple exercise, drills and visualisations to help improve alignment.

A good manual therapist such as osteopath, physio, massage therapist and Rolfer is also invaluable as part of your practice. Unfortunately many of us don’t have the budget to see such a specialist on a regular basis. Or we often only approached one in the event of injury or pain rather than for structural maintenance.


Work with a certified Chi Coach

A certified coach will help you bring awareness to your body and help you discover a more efficient way of moving

Become a Chi Running Coach

Share you passion and build a business
The Chi Running Instructor Training Programme will give you the tools to deliver a simple but effective training method to help your clients improve their running technique.
Check out our Teach It page or register below to receive more information.

The programme includes a comprehensive online training course and a 4-day practical workshop.

Being grounded can reduce stress levels, encourage relaxation and reduced recovery time after exercise

Earth represents physical and emotional strength and stability

Chi Running teaches a progression in your practice following the five elements found throughout Chinese philosophy – earth, water, fire, air and space.

Earth represents physical and emotional strength and stability. There are numerous health benefits when we are physically connected to the earth enabling the transfer of electrons from the ground into the body. Mounting evidence suggests that the earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.

Research supports the idea that earthing the human body by either walking outside barefoot or indoors connected to a grounding system can reduce overall stress levels, help the body to relax and improve recovery time after exercise*.

I believe this to be one of the reasons why people benefit so much from  retreats. Chi Running retreats focus on reconnection and re-energising of mind and body not only internally but also externally with the environment. Chi Running retreats offer the perfect opportunity to spend time outdoors, connected to the earth which is as essential to health as sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food, and physical activity.

Click here to check out our upcoming Chi Running Retreats this autumn and winter on the Costa Brava, Assisi Italy and Cornwall.!po=0.769231

Chi Honours – a Race to the Stones

A massive big Chi Honour to Rachel Masser who has just completed the Race to the Stones 100km trail race and finished second lady!

Rachel has been running for 25 years and always enjoys the freedom it gives. She has run competitively at county level in road, cross country and fell events. After completing several marathons she decided to try the challenge of ultra races.

Rachel, from Woodstock in Oxfordshire, is currently training to be a Chi Running Instructor and aims to be fully qualified by the autumn.

“My Chi Running journey has certainly helped me to enjoy my running more, and to run for hours and hours in a relaxed yet focussed state. I am now looking forward to helping people experience the fluidity of motion that Chi Running brings.”

Rachel will be getting her first taste of teaching Chi Running, assisting at a Chi Running and Yoga 1-day workshop in Oxfordshire in September.

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