A Wonder Weapon You Possess

But Are You Using it?


by: Marilynn Preston

Summer’s here. Time to kick back, take a deep breath... and focus. Slowly inhale through your nose; hold it for a couple of seconds; then exhale, also through your nose. Then do it again.

Why? Because whatever your favorite summertime sport—running, swimming, biking or daydreaming on a sun-dappled porch—you’ll do it better and spark more joy if you develop this skill, which you already have but may not have the habit of using.

Call it “conscious breathing” or “performance breathing” or “breath awareness”—yogis call it “pranayama” —or don’t name it at all. It’s a semi-secret teaching that’s been around for eons, and not only can it transform your relationship to exercise; it moves you down the path to better heath, faster healing and meaningful stress management. It will also give you a better grip on your emotions, which, in tense times, may not be enjoying the lazy, hazy, crazy  days of summer.

“When you are focused on your breath,” says Al Lee, co-author of a breakthrough book called “Perfect Breathing,” “you become intimately in touch with your mind, body and very much in the moment.” When that happens, your emotional intelligence gets a boost and so does your sense of well-being.

Sound too good to be true? Lean in, dear reader: It only gets better. The research is clear: Performance breathing sharpens your focus and deepens your concentration, and with that double whammy, your workouts will never be boring.

Performance breathing also delivers more oxygen to working muscles and cells. It makes your respiratory muscles stronger and more flexible so you’ll have greater endurance. Plus, it comes free with every set of lungs.

So, what are you waiting for? Instruction!
Al Lee’s book is a good place to begin. He says that just five minutes of breath awareness practice a day can make it a habit in 30 days. (Let it take the time it takes.) Another good resource is his website, www.al-lee.com, where I just watched a couple of his short free videos explaining the power and simplicity of the six-second breath.

Even before you start to practice performance breathing, or any of its equivalents, Al Lee wants you to follow these four basic guidelines:

1) Clear both nostrils. A good nose blow will do it.

2) Practice your breathing exercises in a quiet and comfortable environment before you incorporate it into your sport.

3) Breathe in and out of your nose only.

4) Keep the rhythm of your breath smooth and unhurried. Finding your own relaxed pace will help you slip more easily into that meditative space known as The Zone—and once there, performance bliss will happen naturally.

OK. Now for Lee’s core instruction:
The introductory breathing cycle is divided into three parts:

1) Inhale for two counts

2) Hold your breath for two counts

3) Exhale for four counts.

That’s it. Nothing crazy. Nothing weird. Practice it sitting still until you’re comfortable with it. If your mind wanders during the count, simply begin again. (Judgment or blame would be so  counterproductive.) Once you’ve got the 2-2-4 rhythm down, apply it to your own sport.

If you’re walking, for instance, inhale for two steps, hold for two steps and exhale for four steps. If you’re cycling, you replace pedal strokes for steps; if you’re swimming, replace strokes for steps, etc. If you’re a tennis player or golfer, use the breathing cycles before a serve, or a putt, to put yourself in a state of intense calm.

Feel free to experiment with higher counts as the 2-2-4 cycle becomes second nature, but keep the same ratio. For instance, try to inhale for four counts, hold for four counts and exhale for eight. Advanced practitioners may try 6-6-12.

I’ve practiced breath-control techniques for years —off and on—and it doesn’t just improve focus and enhance my racewalking routine; it’s a wonderful way to bring on sleep at night. Really! Just lie there in bed, let go of tension from head to toe (ha-ha-ha), and start the count: Inhale for four beats; hold it for four beats; exhale for eight; and see what happens...zzz...zzz...zzz.

“I believe in our unbounded potential and am somewhat obsessed with seeking out
the conditions that unleash it.”
- Al Lee -

Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being” is available now. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com. ©

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