Manage training intensity through breathing

So you finally walked the last mile to the martial arts gym, did some serious training, a few armlocks here, a few rolls there. Now you feel winded down and you barely have the motivation to start your car and drive back home. “Shouldn’t have got carried away with the sit ups”, you think. Then your mind goes into this rationalization phase “you know what, this just isn’t for me. There should be a balance, you know. I do a few push ups and crunches after waking up and that oughta be enough. Why do I need to go through this grind?” and then you quit.

Breath has become a much abused facet when it comes to workout and different forms of physical training with everyone trying to control, harness or do something equally flowery with the flow of breath. Let’s put aside everything you have learned about breathing till now. Come back to the basic fact of life, breath flows. You don’t breathe. Your body has learned over billions of years of evolution how to breathe in the most efficient of ways under the most pressing circumstances. This brings us to the first technique.

Stop holding on to the breath. Let go.

Yeah that’s all. You don’t have to look all calm and stoic like a zen master if you feel your heart is about to burst. It is okay to exhale through the mouth. At least in our classes. There’s no guru smirking at your inability to remain frigid. Be breathed. Observe how your face relaxes, the pressure around your chest drops when you do this simple little thing.

Listen to your heart. Catch up.

As new agey as it sounds, it’s very important. When you are gassed out, you can definitely feel your heart pounding. Use this awareness to your advantage. Feel your carotid pulse with the index, middle fingers and at the same time start taking short, shallow breaths in the same rhythm– in through the nose, out through the mouth as the air fills up just around the cheek and not inhaling any deeper. Continue till you feel your pulse calming down and your vision getting brighter. This makes you very skilled with your breath.

Connect the feeling of breath with a sense for muscular tension

The best way to let breath flow uninhibited through the body is to start becoming aware of all the stiff places. With every exhalation, feel these places becoming more fluid which simply allows the next inhalation. You can do this sitting down, standing up or lying down. Relaxed awareness is the key. With increasing skillfulness, start applying this even as you are walking, running, lifting a heavy weight, talking to an already tense person etc. Basically in every aspect of your life.

The Golgi Tendon Organ gives you a sense of muscular tension. The release in tension occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated through the relaxed breath and the body’s relaxation response kicks in. Read up more on these two to know what’s going on inside you.

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