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Effortless Joyful Exercise: Take the Work Out of Workout
Many years ago, while driving a famous Ayurvedic doctor to a conference on a humid day in Washington, DC, we saw from our window a sweaty, gasping, grimacing runner keeping up with our car as we navigated uphill traffic.
Dr. Triguna asked me in shock, “What is that man doing? He is going to die!”
I embarrassingly told him that the man was jogging for exercise, to be healthier, as I questioned the sanity of my response.
Sadly, the tendency for folks with a busy schedule is to work out with the same intense, mind-over-matter, get’er-done mentality they use at work. Yes, the no-pain, no-gain credo is still alive and well.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness (and Yoga’s Benefits) into any Workout
The ancient practice of yoga offers the exerciser an opportunity to destress while still getting a good workout. Many complain, however, that yoga does not deliver the cardiovascular benefits or muscle gain they desire, so they amp up the yoga and/or crosstrain with weights and cardio.
In the process of morphing workouts to get-em-done, unnecessary levels of stress can be incurred, causing injury and burnout.1,3
Yoga means union, not mind over matter! It creates a harmony between mind and body, where the body is engaged in a dynamic flow of flexibility and strength, while the mind remains still. This approach mimics the power of nature, where the eye of a storm represents a calm, self-aware mind and the winds represent the intensity of the workout. In nature, the bigger the eye of the storm, the more powerful the winds, suggesting that our workout potential and enjoyment is dependent not on how hard we push, but on how calm and self-aware we can be while exercising.4-6
These principles of yoga can be incorporated into any exercise activity. Slowing down and being aware of the body during a lift or stretch allows the mind to attend to those muscles, which can increase blood supply, lymph drainage, and replace a potentially damaging fight-or-flight response with a rejuvenating parasympathetic response.3-6
Let Your Breath Guide Your Workout
One of the most powerful tools of an effortless joyful workout is following your breath. According to our early studies, nasal breathing during a workout flips brainwaves from a stressed beta wave to a meditative alpha state. Our research shows nasal breathing exercise increases brainwave coherence, boosts endurance, slows breath rates, and significantly activates the joyful, calm, rejuvenating parasympathetic nervous system.4-6
Nose breathing is the governor of an effortless joyful workout. Imagine running your fastest, while your brain and nervous system respond from a meditative state of peace and calm. Nose breathing slips the brain into a meditative alpha wave state during vigorous exercise, while mouth breathing triggers beta brainwaves and a stress response. With nose breathing, we take the work out of the workout and replace it with some joy.
Most of us have a tight cage-like ribcage, making it difficult to breathe into the parasympathetic receptors of the lower lung lobes. Nose breathing during exercise is engineered to drive oxygen into those lower lobes, activating composure in the brain and allowing for enhanced self-awareness and mindfulness.4-6
Joyful Exercise Tip #1
Nose breathing takes some practice. Start by counting how many steps you can take with each nasal inhale and exhale. Slowly build up to 10 steps on the inhale and 10 steps on the exhale. From there, slowly lengthen the exhale while maintaining your maximal (but comfortable) inhale.
Make your goal a 10-step inhalation and 15-step exhalation, with a natural pause at the end of the exhalation. Learning how to slow nasal breathe, or extend your breath, is the definition of pranayama, which means to pause or extend the breath.
Working out harder employs the “break the body down to build the body up” philosophy, where the body must recover from major workout stress to prepare for the next assault. Yes, it works—but the body is limited in how much stress it can endure.
An effortless, joyful workout uses nose breathing as a monitor of how much exercise is good and how much may be harmful. When the mouth opens during a workout, the upper chest “gasp” lung receptors are activated, triggering a degenerative emergency response.4-6
Joyful Exercise Tip #2
Establish a comfortable, slow nasal breathing rhythm in the beginning of your workout and try to maintain that throughout your practice. Give it time! It will take about three weeks of nose breathing to begin to run the same pace or lift the same weight as you did before as a fight-or-flight mouth breather.
Slowing down nasal breath during a workout allows us to become aware of the breath. It takes longer to fully inhale and exhale during nose breathing, which creates a baseline of calm—the eye of the storm. Don’t rush, but be aware of the body breathing and feel each muscle contracting and relaxing with each rep and stretch.
Joyful Exercise Tip #3
Breathe deep in and out through the nose with each rep on the weight machine and lengthen your nasal breathing during cardio. Try to maintain a breath rate of about six breaths per minute, which is a five second inhale and five second exhale.
This rate has to be comfortable and will vary based on your developing nose breathing skills. Notice that with a slow nasal rhythm, there is a natural pause between each inhale and exhale. As soon as your nasal breath rhythm begins to speed up and you lose the space between the breaths (way before your mouth opens to breathe), slow down and reestablish a comfortable rhythm of nasal breathing, with space between the breaths.
Once the breath has been reset, begin to increase intensity, letting the nose breathing set the pace. Each time you reset the breath, you should notice the ability to increase intensity with the same long, slow, comfortable rhythm of the breath through the nose.4-6
The goal is to maintain a comfortable rhythm of nasal breathing while maintaining a comfortable natural pause or link between the inhale and exhale. As soon as the space between the breaths is shortened or lost, slow down and reset your nasal breathing rhythm.
Effortless, Mindful, Sustainable Exercise
The good news is: you don’t have to be the suffering guy running up the hill. In fact, you will get more out of each workout if you learn to approach exercise from a mindful, sustainable, joyful place. Nose breathing is the way to get there!
4 thoughts on “Effortless Exercise: Drop the Struggle, Keep the Benefits”
Super surprised you don’t mention rebounding here. Maybe you don’t know about it yet?
David Hall is an excellent and quick way to find out all the science about it’s benefits.
And talk about highly effective, low impact, and joyous!
What do you think about Ujjayi breathing while jogging?
Thanks for all your many years of help. Your book (which I read when it was first published and use continually as a reference guide) changed my whole sense of “exercise“!
How could one apply this while swimming?? I have been trying to increase my lung capacity swimming and it felt difficult.
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