How Are You Breathing?


Yogis know how essential the breath is to any activity, and especially
to staying present and focused moment to moment. When we head into a
workout, though, we sometimes forget everything we learned on the mat.
As our exertion ramps up, our breathing grows erratic and shallow or
doesn't suit the task at hand. We miss the opportunity to use the breath
to stay relaxed and on task. Happily, we can change this with a simple
question--How are you breathing?--and a simple trick: paying attention
to the breath throughout the workout.

How are you breathing
during your training sessions? What is your breath-to-step ratio, for
example, when you are running easily? How many steps do you take on an
inhalation when you are running a tempo pace? On an exhalation? How
about when you are running all out? Which foot hits the ground when you
start to breathe in? Out? How do you breathe when you toss up the tennis
ball for a serve: are you inhaling, exhaling, or neither? When you
climb a rock wall, are you breathing in or out as you lift yourself up?
These are very simple questions, and it takes only a few minutes to
research the answer. But when I ask these of athletes at workshops, I
often get shrugs--except from the swimmers, who know intimately how many
strokes they take between breaths, as they must be intentional about
each breath.

Knowing the answer to the question "How are you
breathing?" is critical to your success as an athlete and to your
development as a yogi. Once you see how the breath is moving, you can
determine whether you might refine it in some way: slowing down,
speeding up, changing the rhythm. Once you know the breath's default
pattern, you gain valuable insight into the state of your nervous
system. Are you working too hard? Do you have more to give?

plays out on the mat, too. The state of your breath reflects and affects
the state of your nervous system. A quiet breath can indicate a calm
mood or can work to calm it. And just as you keep coming back to your
breath on the mat, you can continuously return to your breath during
your workouts and throughout the day. Once you've learned to pay
attention to your breath, you need never be bored or dreading the
workout ahead again! And when you know how you are breathing, you'll be
more fully in the moment, whether you're on the field, on the mat, or on
the freeway.

Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at Yoga Vibes.