Give Me Oxygen and Give Me Breath

Leave the first response January 27, 2009 / Posted in Injury Prevention, Mindful Running

What your body an brain need first and foremost to survive is an element that is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. Oxygen. It has always been free for the breathing. If my brain is without oxygen for more than a few minutes there will be severe brain damage or death.

Several years ago on That’s Incredible, a Yogi contorted himself and got his body into a box a little over two feet square. He was able to stay there for over a hour. His feat takes real control of mind and body. It is this same concentration you need every step of your marathon training.

All of you have tried at one time to hold your breathe for as long as possible. As you reached your limit, there was no yogic serenity and tranquillity. You were aware of your entire body screaming out for oxygen. Your eyes seems to get bigger. Your thoughts exploded in a cacophonous roar of one word, “Breathe!” No longer able to hold your breathe, you gasp and once again feel yourself standing on an ocean floor of air. Your panting gradually slows as each breathe of air brings your back to normal.

For someone unable to use their own lungs to breathe, medical science has made a respirator to breathe for them. The sound of a respirator is so regular and consistent that it has a hypnotic quality. If you listen long enough to the pattern, its’ rhythm and steadiness can easily lull one to sleep or put one in a trance. The mind often will turn those sounds into words or chant like phrases.

Follow these directions for a moment. Breathe in slowly for a count of eight and then breathe out for the same count. Now, continue this deep rhythmic breathing as you continue to read the remainder of this tip.

Try this breathing while walking. You will be able to breathe in for 8 or more steps and out for the same amount. You will be able to breathe out for 16 or 18 steps and get enough air in 2 to 4 steps. If you practice for several days or weeks, you will notice that the amount of time or the number of steps increases and that your effort decreases.

What is interesting is that should you breathe in or out for too long or for too many steps, your body begins to tighten and tense up. Your breathing becomes very labored as you can get no more air in or out. You will notice that muscles of which you were unaware tighten as you use all your effort to get that last little bit of air in or out. You have now experienced what it means to “try too hard.” A few of you will have been enlightened through this experience. You have learned to always go to the edge of your “finite but unbounded” limits and expand that little bit. Effortless effort.

When the brain receives it fair share of oxygen along with the rest of the body, the mind/body feel no excess tension.

If you “try too hard” then you end up tensing other parts of your body that do not need tensing when breathing regularly. Those unnecessarily tensed muscles need oxygen to contract. By trying too hard, you have now taken oxygen away from the muscles needed to do the required work. You are now wasting energy on unnecessary tensing of muscles not needed in what you are doing.

To experience this unnecessary waste of energy : Open your hand as wide as you can. Leave it open and try to close it for 20 seconds. You have the experience of “trying too hard.” You have used muscles to fight each other’s purpose. Muscles are made to contract. It is so easy to close the hand and open the hand when the opposite muscles are relaxing. Muscles not moving efficiently will have to use more oxygen, waste more energy and gradually go into oxygen debt or become exhausted. Muscles working against themselves cause many problems which can make you over time more injury prone. It’s that situation where you tried harder and performed worse.

Mark Belger was telling me about a training session that he had with a fellow runner. His friend was helping him develop a training schedule and also timing his workouts. Mark was doing repeat 440’s. He was finding himself doing them in the 58 seconds and feeling himself straining. His friend told him to relax his arms and float through the next 440. Mark found himself doing the 440 yards and several more repeats in 52 seconds without any strain or effort. Less strain or effort with higher performance.

Observations on Breathing:

· Focus on the exhale and relax on the inhale.

· Breathe out with pursed lips to get a slight back pressure.

When someone has run by you gasping for air, the problem is often not getting enough air in. The problem is getting too little air out.

If you breathe enough air out, you can relax and get all the air you need easily and without effort. If you breath all the air out, then you have created a vacuum in your lungs. Mother Nature hates a vacuum. So she has atmospheric pressure, 15 psi (pounds per square inch) breathe you as you relax after exhaling. It’s a nice picture to remember on long runs especially during the last 4 or 5 miles. Running at bottom of an ocean of air, the pressure is breathing you (your inhalation) as long as you can get enough air out.

Blow out your air as if you are blowing out a candle. However, use just enough air to make the imaginary candle flicker. It’s just a slight pursing of the lips to create an ever so small back pressure. There is no sound or exaggeration of your breathe out. That little bit of back pressure assists you in getting more oxygen. So even as you exhale carbon dioxide, you continue to get a better volume of oxygen.

Over the next few months, practice finding the breathing sequences which work best for you. Play with different breathing patterns at different speeds. The main idea is to keep your brain well oxygenated so that it does not panic. Also to keep your muscles full of oxygen so that no unnecessary by-products build up in the muscle to slow you down.

On a slow training run you may want to experiment breathing in for 6 or 8 steps and out for 2 to 4 steps. Running faster you may want to try 4 steps breathing out and 2 or 3 steps for an inhalation.

The idea is to have such strong regulated breathing that like the respirator we talked about earlier, you are in control of your run and have enough oxygen to keep the mind and muscles calm and working effortlessly to do what needs to be done to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

The breathing sets the ground work for all other types of mental training. You are training the mind to run smart and the body to move effortlessly over the surface of the earth.

(Are you still practicing your rhythmic breathing or have you forgotten as you continued to read.)

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