Practical breathing tips & techniques to improve performance & create better health & well-being

September 10 2023

Elevating your awareness of your breathing is critical to improving performance and creating better health and well-being with nasal breathing prioritised over mouth breathing.

The nose connects to the diaphragm, while the mouth aligns with the chest. Notably, no medical textbook attributes breathing to the mouth. Nasal breathing targets the diaphragm, the primary respiratory muscle intertwined with emotions. Conversely, mouth breathing activates the fight or flight response, causing shallow upper chest breathing.

Rapid chest and shoulder movements indicate insufficient oxygen intake, likely due to mouth breathing. On the other hand, calm chest and shoulders with a rhythmic abdominal rise and fall signify efficient nasal and diaphragmatic breathing, enhancing oxygen intake.

Nasal breathing promptly elevates blood oxygen levels, promoting its delivery to cells and fostering relaxation and efficient breathing. This physiological state closely ties to mental well-being. An agitated mind often results from fast, shallow mouth breathing, impacting emotions, sleep, and overall health.

A simple starting point is to regularly assess your breathing, favouring nasal breathing. A practical exercise involves placing one hand on your chest and another on your stomach. Observe the stomach hand rising on inhalation and falling on exhalation, while the chest hand remains steady.

Incorporate nasal breathing during physical activities, acknowledging the initial oxygen challenge. Over time, research suggests improved oxygen regulation.

A six-month study with amateur athletes prescribed nasal breathing revealed a 22% reduction in ventilation while maintaining 100% work intensity. Dispel the notion that heavy mouth breathing during exercise equates to improved fitness.

Sports anxiety management often centres on physiological control, emphasising slow diaphragmatic breathing akin to meditation and yoga.

The immediate benefit is evident. Stress-induced acceleration of heart rate and shallow, erratic breathing diminish with deliberate, slowed breaths, cultivating calmness and control.

Sigh Breathing serves as a valuable intervention under pressure, redirecting focus and fostering constructive thinking. Athletes using controlled sigh breathing experienced benefits in preparation and during competition.

Between rallies, employ 2-4 rounds of sigh breathing:
Close your mouth.
Inhale sharply through your nose twice.
Hold briefly.
Exhale audibly through your mouth, relaxing neck, shoulders, and rib muscles.
Sigh breathing confers physiological advantages by lowering heart rate and swiftly oxygenating the blood. It also quells the amygdala, the brain's fear centre, while activating the pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, associated with rational thinking and memory.

Elliott Kipchoge's marathon feat offers inspiration. His poised, relaxed demeanour with closed mouth throughout most of his races exemplifies the benefits of nasal breathing, ensuring optimal performance.

Practical Tips:
Heighten awareness of your breathing, especially during moments of repose. Prioritise nasal breathing.
Practice the chest and stomach hand exercise multiple times daily to establish nasal breathing as the default.
Implement nasal breathing during physical exertion, allowing adaptation.
Embrace 'sigh breathing' during practices and matches, enhancing diaphragmatic involvement.
Incorporating these techniques can substantially enhance performance and well-being.