Once you’ve read the title of this article, you’re probably wondering why you need someone to tell you the benefits of breathing. The type of breathing we’re talking about here isn’t your every day, involuntary muscle movement. We’re talking about breathing techniques where you focus on the movement itself and how your body reacts to it. If you’ve ever had a session with a gym instructor of some sort or read about an exercise online, you’ll probably notice that they say to inhale at a specific moment and exhale at a different one. While it may seem weird and pointless initially, we’ll explain the science behind that below.
What Do We Mean by Breathing?
Here, we’re referring to deep breathing. This is a relaxation technique whereby you concentrate on your breathing and how your muscles move with each breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose and let your stomach expand as your lungs fill. As you inhale, your diaphragm contracts, intra-thoracic pressure decreases, more blood is brought to the heart, and, consequently, your heart rate increases. Slowly exhale through your nose or mouth, whichever is more natural for you. Now, the pressure decreases, which in turn slows your heart rate.
Stretching is what you do when you’re trying to get your muscles to relax and elongate, especially after workouts. If done properly, stretching can relax the body, increase circulation, and help to rid your body of lactic acid buildup (which builds up after physical exertion). However, breathing properly during your stretches is key to achieving these benefits. If you don’t do it properly, you’ll probably have sore muscles screaming for you to leave them alone.
Breathing & Stretching
Now, let’s explain what we mean by watching your breathing as you stretch. When you inhale, prepare to stretch your body. Lean into the stretch as you exhale. If you’re holding the stretch or the exercise for a relatively short period of time, inhale as you hold the stretch. If you’re holding the stretch for longer than you can hold your breath comfortably without straining your muscles, breathe in and out steadily in the manner we outlined above while you hold your stretch. Basically, inhale before, exhale going into it, and inhale while holding it. Every time you want to push deeper into the stretch and push your muscles a bit more, exhale while you do so. It might feel a bit odd at first, but stick to it and it’ll become a wonderful way to relax and unwind.
Benefits of Breathing as You Stretch
When you exhale during a deep-breathing exercise, new blood floods your system. This new, oxygen-rich blood helps to develop the elasticity and flexibility of your muscles. Using deep-breathing techniques can help you steadily increase the intensity of the stretches. Inhale while you hold the stretch, and exhale when you stretch more. What you’re doing here is basically training your muscles and nerves to tolerate more of an extension before your stretch reflex kicks and warns you that you’re about to damage them. Remember not to force your muscles into doing too much and straining them!
Breathing & Stretching are two key ingredients for living a longer, more fulfilled, flexible, and enjoyable life physically, mentally and spiritually.