I understand running is not for everyone. Whether you struggle to run 100 yards, a 5 or 15km route that’s ok. Everybody struggles at some point with running. So what’s the point in running?
The most important mindset for running is to understand that the distance is not what you should focus on, especially in the beginning. From my experience to get the most out of enjoying running you must consciously make it consistent to run and learn from it. In fact, what I have noticed now during my own running experience is how I feel during a run. I love to run to clear the head, relax and soak up the scenery. When you go for a run what’s on your mind?
Running is a great way to just get out of the house and start your day on the right foot. A million things could be on your mind before you run. Or maybe there is one thing on your mind giving you a little bother on that day. Sometimes the run will take care of your mind but this happens much more frequently when you run with awareness.
For many years I went for runs lacking awareness.
Yes I did get some benefits with the exercise and a confidence boost with that endorphin kick at the end of my run. But I didn’t understand my strong urges to just run back then. I think within me I personally liked the challenge and that unique connection of body and mind on the road. Yet I was unaware something else was behind it all to ready to tap into.
Let me explain what I mean here, sometimes I ran with a stressful mind (a little stress, head melted) and most times I ran with body (physical training). It was like my head was divorced from my body and I could never really reunite the two back together. Looking back, I just went without a thought trying to hit a particular distance, clear the head or stick to a pace using an app or listening to up-tempo music for a kick. Unknowingly I was dulling my experience within the run and a full body mind connection was lacking without me knowing it. For this reason, I am not a huge fan of letting distance apps, music apps or even smart watches disturb or even dictate the style or pace of a run.
Lately within the last 18 months I found a key to help me connect most innately to the body and mind it gifted me a new level of insight and awareness. The big benefits to running happen when you really check-in and notice how you feel, emotionally, mentally, and physically while listening and connecting with the body and mind during the run. This is where the breath is key. Now when I run, I really focus my awareness on my breath, the movement and just being in nature. It all works together. The next layer to breath awareness is breathing naturally during running.
Nasal breathing as it turns out, is the natural way for you to breathe at rest and during all low to moderate intensity exercise. Oddly enough I never considered it as a high priority because I used to think breathing was just an automatic response. I used to huff and puff on my runs and I became aware that I was mouth breathing during my day-to-day life.
Well, what’s the big difference then? Can we not just breathe with our mouth? Or both when we choose?
At a base level, yes you can use either nose or mouth to breathe but if you leave it at that, you can be missing the bigger picture.
Nasal vs Mouth Breathing
Nasal breathing has many benefits to it. It strengthens our central nervous system and regulates vagal tone (Vagal tone is proposed as a novel index of stress vulnerability and reactivity). As we begin to utilise nasal breathing our sensitivity to carbon dioxide decreases resulting in a calmer state of mind, reduced stress levels, improved focus, a greater aerobic capacity and improved overall health.
Nasal breathing also filters and humidifies the air we pull in promoting smooth circulation of oxygen to and from the lungs. The mucus in your nose helps fight off germs and bacteria in the air. Nitric oxide generated from the nasal passage dilates the smooth muscle layers embedded in the airways supporting healthy immune defences and neurotransmission signals to the brain.
Compare these benefits to mouth breathing and you’ll quickly notice why nasal breathing is the natural way to breathe. Mouth breathing naturally activates the upper chest encouraging you to take more shallow and quicker breaths. The result of which is a higher breathing rate with a reduced oxygen uptake in the arterial blood. Yes, we can get a greater or quicker draw of air through the mouth, but we will also breathe out too much carbon dioxide, way more than we need to. That is the culprit here.
Blowing off too much carbon dioxide sensitizes our response to carbon dioxide. Our need to breathe more air becomes greater over time and eventually our breathing becomes adapted. A fast respiratory rate, recurrent yawns, and constant sighs become part of our normal breathing habit.
What comes with adapted breathing patterns? A whole list of problems, including:
a softening of the jaw line
a narrowing of our nasal passage
high blood pressure
diabetes type 2
This now makes sense to me as to why I would fatigue quickly and be exhausted during training early or even one or two hours after a run. I would become foggy, lethargic, and oddly enough crave food for a boost or a nap.
Once you consciously make the decision to switch to nasal breathing you will soon reap the health benefits, improved energy levels and not to mention a great night sleep. If you are leaning towards the performance end of the spectrum, then watch out for improvements in your aerobic capacity, VO2 max, your ability to focus under pressure and confidence levels soar with energy levels at an all-time high.
I easily decided to make the switch and began restoring my breathing habits. I now understand the importance of respecting breathing physiology, I want to be in tune with my body, what works for my overall health and wellbeing.
The best way I found to make the switch is to treat nasal breathing as a high priority in your week. The breath should be at the top in priorities. Give yourself time to check in with your breathing. Train exclusively with nasal breathing, even if this means you must slow things down for a few weeks. As I ran, I kept a pace to suit my nasal breathing capacity. There were a few times when the air hunger became too strong, I needed to make a few adjustments. I slowed the pace, relaxed my body and connected with my breath in rhythm and control. Over time it became noticeable I was running more smoothly, breathing with my body, my aerobic endurance improved, I was very calm in the process enjoying the scenery and soaking up the benefits.
I have been guilty of not respecting my breathing as much as I should at the beginning but as I stayed consistent, I began to realise and learn it’s playing the most important role in your day to day, mental health, and wellbeing. Now I can adapt the nasal breathing to my everyday tasks. My breathing rate has reduced dramatically, and I feel calm and focused. I still work on the awareness of my breath daily it won’t leave me not until my time comes so why not embrace it and love your breathing.
“That breath that you just took…
That’s a gift”
I hope you enjoyed reading why I run and why you should too! If it inspires you to start your own journey with breath training, then reach out to Leo and start the Breath Coaching for Health Coaching. It's well worth the investment.
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