In This Article
Enjoy Exercise for the First Time Ever!
Ayurvedic exercise is about creating the awareness in your body of knowing at what exertion level you perform optimally and when you have strained those boundaries. Taking gasping, shallow breaths through your mouth can trigger an emergency response that produces adrenaline to save you from a potentially life threatening situation. Though this is a wonderful coping mechanism that our bodies have developed to save our lives, we are not meant to live everyday as if we are in an emergency. Breathing through one’s nose is the first step in learning to exercise effortlessly with Ayurveda. This can create a place of meditative calm where exercise can become effortless and you perform at your personal best.
Twenty years ago, roughly 20 percent of Americans exercised regularly. Today, that percentage is the same. With all the hype, new fancy equipment and overwhelming research on the benefits of exercise, why don’t more of us do it on a regular basis?
Just Say No to “No Pain, No Gain!”
A few years back I did research on how to take the work out of the workout for my book, Body, Mind and Sport. I was in search of that elusive euphoric state – the zone or the runners high. It is a state where athletes say things like, “My best race was my easiest race.” Billie Jean King, who did the forward to my book along with Martina Navratilova, explained her experience in the zone: “I would transport myself beyond the turmoil of the court to a place of peace and calm.” This place of peace and calm allows one to perform at much higher levels and allows you to enjoy exercise for the first time ever!
Benefits of Exercising While in a State of Calm
Benefit 1 – Balance Your Weight
Most people think that we have to exercise hard and kind of beat the weight off to lose weight during exercise. Many in search of weight loss via exercise quit because they find themselves exhausted, craving carbohydrates after the workout and actually gaining weight. Depressing!
Contrary to popular belief, studies that I site in my book show that we actually burn less fat the harder we exercise and burn more carbs. It is well documented that if you want to lose weight permanently by burning fat you should exercise moderately, not vigorously.
Kenneth Cooper MD, who did the original research still posted on most health club walls, initially said that you must exercise between 60 and 80% of your maximum heart rate to achieve any cardiovascular benefits. Recently he said that according to new research, “if you want health and longevity benefits from exercise you should exercise at a heart rate below 60% of your maximum heart rate.”
So, are the days of “no pain, no gain gone?” Yes, they are! The question still looms though, exactly how much exercise is good, and how much more is harmful?
Benefit 2 – Take the “Work” Out of the Workout
In Body Mind and Sport, I presented our original brain wave research that explains these benefits. The technique we used (which I outline below) can reproduce this state of calm, the “runner’s high,” while in action. We compared nose breathing with mouth breathing during exercise and saw unprecedented results. During vigorous mouth breathing exercise, which most people do, the brain waves revved up into a very fast and stressed state of beta brain wave activity. When the same subjects did the exact same workout while breathing through the nose, the brain waves became calm and coherent. The brain went into an alpha state, which is usually seen in deep relaxation states like meditation.
Imagine right now that though you are walking, running or biking as fast as your legs can go, your nervous system is responding to this exertion as if you were in a deep meditation. This was the first time in 50 years of brain wave research that we could find that alpha and coherent brain waves were found during exercise. It seems we have mapped out the “runners high” and succeeded in taking “the work out of the workout!”
Benefit 3 – Yoga in Action
For me, the most exciting benefits of nose breathing compared to mouth breathing during exercise is when we measured the autonomic nervous system. This nervous system controls the sympathetic nervous system, which causes fight or flight, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of repair.
During conventional mouth breathing exercise, the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system goes way up and the parasympathetic system goes way down. During nose breathing exercise this didn’t happen. Instead, the fight or flight response only went up to 50% of its capacity and the calming parasympathetic nervous system – which normally goes way down – increased by 50%! The opposite nervous systems were co-existing!
This was a state of “yoga” – the union of the mind and body – during conventional vigorous exercise. The experience of “the zone” is the co-existence of opposites where the athlete is running as fast as they can and totally engaged in dynamic activity while simultaneously the nervous system is in a neurological state of peace, calm and repair. During this state of exercise the mind learns how to cope with stress from a calm place and the body learns how to engage in dynamic physical activity while repairing itself at the same time.
Benefit 4 – Supports Breathing Disorders
Most of us breathe like rabbits all day long by taking only little shallow breaths into our upper two lobes, rather than using all 5 lobes of our lungs. Because very few of us breathe into the lower lobes of the lungs, we never experience full respiratory efficiency.
The rib cage has what is called elastic recoil, which means that your rib cage squeezes down onto your heart and lungs with each of the 26,000 breaths you take every day. If you are only taking shallow rabbit-like breaths into your upper lobes all day, you miss 26,000 opportunities to massage your heart and lungs, process CO2, and calm your nervous system.
The problem with taking shallow breaths is two-fold:
- The upper lobes of the lungs are loaded with emergency stress receptors. You may be triggering an emergency response with each shallow breath you take, which most of us do when under stress, exercising, or not paying attention to our breath. Triggering those emergency stress receptors creates a fat-storing, disease-producing, and degenerative response. This adrenaline response is depleting to our nervous and immune systems and leaves our body thinking we are fighting off an emergency everyday of our lives. Our body in turn creates stress fighting hormones called free radicals, which are toxic, to mitigate against this stressful lifestyle created by breathing improperly.
The majority of the calming and reparative parasympathetic receptors are located in the lower lobes of your lungs. Few of us breathe into the lower lobes of our lungs because most of us breathe through our mouths and because the elastic recoil of the ribcage can feel restrictive if we aren’t use to breathing deeply.
- Nose breathing exercise (nasal breathing exercise) drives air through the nasal turbinates, or turbines, which are engineered to drive the oxygen into the lower lobes of the lungs where the calm nerves can be activated even while under stress. Though mouth breathing fills the upper chest quickly, only a little oxygen penetrates into the lower lobes of the lungs.
Benefit 5 – Detoxification
Many of us do not realize that our breath is an important detoxification tool. The lower lobes of the lungs are loaded with 60-80% of the blood-filled, oxygen-rich alveoli that are dispersed through all 5 lobes of our lungs. Alveoli exchange oxygen for CO2 and efficiently remove the CO2 waste.
When you start to huff and puff through your mouth during exercise it is because the upper lobes are less efficient at removing the CO2 waste. Though the upper lobes can provide enough oxygen for exchange into the blood, they can’t remove the CO2 waste as well. The way to do this efficiently is to breathe deeply through the nose during a demanding activity like exercise.
Benefit 6 – A Major Lymph Mover
The ribcage is a dynamic series of levels with elastic recoil that massage the heart and lungs during breathing. When breathing through the nose the entire ribcage moves. When breathing through the mouth, only the upper rib cage moves, which forces shallow and inefficient breathing.
With deep, efficient nose breathing during exercise, the ribcage acts as a lymphatic pump designed to move toxic waste out of the heart and lungs and pull toxic lymph from the Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue or GALT.
Proper breathing pulls lymphatic waste from various parts of the body, such as the:
- digestive system – belly fat and bloating
- legs – cellulite
- feet – arthritis
- reproductive organs – hormonal problems
I have received numerous emails from folks who have seen dramatic improvements in all these areas just by following the nose breathing principles in my book, Body, Mind and Sport. In addition, they have experienced an overwhelming improvement in mood, energy and sleep.
There are many more benefits that I discuss in Body, Mind and Sport that are too numerous to cover in this article. Let’s just say that I never thought the results from such a simple technique would be so amazing!
How Do You Do It?
Steps to Learn Nose Breathing (Nasal Breathing):
- Start nose breathing by going for a walk. Walk intentionally slow for 5-10 minutes while you breathe deeply in and out through your nose. During this phase we are “exercising the lungs first.” While you are doing this, tune into the rhythm of the deep nose breathing and notice the natural space or link that exists between each breath.
- Next, begin to increase the pace of your walk. As you walk faster, watch the rate of the nose breathing.
- As soon as the breath starts to shorten or you lose that spacing between each breath, slow your walking pace down to the pace you started with. This process resets the breath rate to the original pace, or perhaps even a deeper, slower rhythm.
- Once the breath is reset, start to walk faster again while watching your breath rate. Typically, you will find yourself walking faster than before, but your breath rate will stay slow and stable while maintaining the natural spacing between each nose breath.
- At some point, as you increase the walk/jog pace, the breath rate will shorten and you will need to slow down to reset the original slower and deeper breath rate. Then increase the pace again.
- Repeat this process and start enjoying exercise gains without the strain.
- Are you having difficulty breathing through your nose? Check out the herb Shilajit. You may also benefit from using Nasya Oil in your nose before exercising.
The goal is to reach a level of respiratory efficiency which allows you to increase your pace while slowing your breath rate. The body will choose longer, deeper and slower breaths as you increase the pace of the workout.
This is “the zone” – a place where you feel both the freedom to move dynamically in your body and a total sense of peace and calm in your mind.