Want to become a better runner? Learn to breathe better! You will be able to run longer distances and feel great. Most runners already know that yoga has many benefits that include flexibility, strength and injury prevention, however, pranayama, or breathing techniques and one of the eight limbs of yoga, is seldom given much thought.
I ran a half marathon recently, and I did a little pseudo-experiment. The first month of training I had a steady practice of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and kapalbhati three times per week. I felt great. I was running faster than ever and longer than ever. I then stopped this practice during the second month and my progressed decreased. In general, I feel stronger, more capable with larger lung capacity when I regularly practice breathing techniques.
Many of us our shallow breathers, which means there is a lot of potential to increase the flow of oxygen to our lungs. Breathing techniques teach you to breathe deeper, even when you are not focusing on it.
What is pranayama?
Prana means life force and ayama means to draw out or extend, together it is the control of breath with the goal to teach the practitioner to breathe better, completely and slower. It is believed that slower breath gives you more life.
Whether or not you believe in prana or life energy, the practice of pranayama has many benefits including a calm mind and larger air capacity back up by scientific evidence and observation.
How can it be practiced?
There are many different techniques. Here are a few to get started. Give them a try and practice a few that you enjoy regularly, each time count slower or extend the amount of time you are practicing. If you feel any tension or light headedness you should slow down, switch techniques or stop altogether.
Full Yogic Breath or Complete Breathing
Before continuing on, you should learn to use your diaphragm to fill your lungs to capacity and empty them fully. Lay on your back in a comfortable space and place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your rib cage. Inhale slowly and completely while noticing that your belly rises first, then your rib cage and finally your shoulders will move towards your head just a little. Exhale the same way you inhaled but in reverse: shoulders, rib cage and then belly. When you think you are finished, push out just a little more air. You will notice this becomes easy and more enjoyable as you continue. Repeat the cycle of inhaling and exhaling completely 15 to 20 times.
There are four parts of breathing: inhaling, holding air with your lungs full, exhaling and holding air with your lungs empty. Each part can be energizing or relaxing and can rise or low your blood ph level (depending on oxygen levels), which makes it a balanced technique great for improving lung capacity. To practice, simply breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of four, exhale to the count of four and hold your breath to the count of four. Repeat this four times.
This is an energizing technique, which cleanses the respiratory system, massages the abdominal cavity, increases oxygen in the lungs and improves the elasticity of the lungs. Begin in a comfortable seated position, on a chair or crossed-legged with a straight spine. Begin full yogic breathes until you are ready, inhale to about 80% capacity and begin to breathe quickly by using your diaphragm. Force the air out of your lungs quickly and let them fill back up again with minimal to no effort. Repeat 20 times, or until you want to stop, more experienced practitioners can do up to 36 quick breaths. Return to full yogic breathes and repeat. Do at least three rounds of this.