Breath for Life
How much do you know about breathing? You do it every moment of every day. You’ve done it since you were born. We all know that we must breath in order to live. It is so necessary we do not even need to think about breathing for it to occur. Think of how inconvenient it would be to have to remember to breath! In this article I will discuss the correct way,yes there is an incorrect way. Before we proceed I need you to take a moment and observe how you breath. This will be difficult, but here are some example questions you can ask yourself.
- Do I breath in through my mouth or nose?
- Do I exhale through my mouth or nose?
- Do I hold my breath between breaths?
- Do I inhale and exhale in a consistent cycle?
- Does my chest rise and fall?
- How quickly do I inhale/exhale?
Have you answered these questions? Good, this will give you an objective point to start from. Reading the article and then answering the questions will be difficult as you probably have no preconceived idea of how you breath, having never thought about it before. This is typical for most things the Karate student experiences, they are learning about their bodies and how to control them.
Imagine you are a pilot in a futuristic airplane. The airplane is completely computerized and always fly on autopilot. This means you the pilot have sat in the pilots seat for your entire career but never actually flown the plane. You are just along for the ride. Now imagine that either the auto-pilot failed or out of curiosity and boredom you turned it off! Do you actually think you would be a competent pilot? If you answer anything but No you need a reality check! This is the way of the Karate student. While we think we are complete control of ourselves and our bodies the exact opposite is true. Only until we realize this and accept it can we take control and begin to learn to ‘pilot’ our own bodies.
Back to the lesson at hand. Now that you have an idea of how you breath let us examine the proper way. Very few people breath the correct way as adults. Everyone breaths the correct way as an infant. Yes, we actually forget how to breath correctly. I do not know the reason we forget but the majority of us do forget. So the moment of truth, the correct way to breath is through your diaphragm. The correct term for this is Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is not a guarded martial arts secret, however, I believe the discovery of it’s importance is founded in the martial arts.
To determine if you breath through your diaphragm refer to the questions you answered above. Does your chest rise and fall when you breath? Yes, then you do not breath through your diaphragm. When breathing through your diaphragm your stomach should rise and fall, not your chest. So why is this the Right way to breath, you ask? There are a number of reasons. One of the most important reasons is the increased amount of oxygen you get when breathing this way.
Your diaphragm is the muscle that runs across the base of your rib cage and separates your abdominal cavity (intestines) from your chest cavity. The diaphragm exerts pressure against the lower lobes of your lungs. To demonstrate the effect of this pressure, think of pressing a glass upside-down into a container of water. The glass is filled with air, as you push the glass into the water the glass fills with some water however can never completely fill with water. The only way to fill the glass in this position is to put a hole in the bottom of the glass so the air can escape. In the human case the only way to relieve the pressure is to extend your diaphragm.
Before we proceed I want to detail the benefits of learning to breath through your diaphragm. First and foremost, more oxygen. The increased capacity of your lungs increases the amount of power you can produce when practising Karate, especially when you Kei! Diaphragmic breathing massages your kidneys, increases blood flow, and purification of the blood. You expend less energy to breath. Your lungs retain less stale air that gets trapped in the upper lobes when breathing through your chest. The diaphragm is more efficient since it is an ‘internal muscle’ and does not need to work against the rib cage.
Given all of these benefits with NO negatives diaphragmic breathing is the only way to breath! So how do you learn to breath through your diaphragm again? One way is through practice and conscious effort. This is difficult and can take considerable time given that when you are not thinking about it you will probably revert. There is a simple ‘quicker’ way to train yourself to breath diaphragmically. This should also not be attempted alone in case you pass out or have other breathing difficulties. When you are home take a belt and tighten the belt around your rib cage just below your Pectoral Muscles. You want to make the belt tight enough to restrict breathing into the upper lobes of your lungs, but not so tight that your rib cage cannot expand at all. With the belt in place begin to consciously breath through your abdomen (diaphragm). You should find this is the only way you can get enough oxygen into your lungs without feeling you are running out of oxygen. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH, keep your breathing smooth and rhythmic. Remember you are reprogramming your way of breathing so do it right. Keep the belt on for approximately an hour at a time. If you do this periodically and consciously try to only breath through your diaphragm you should be breathing diaphragmatic-ly by the end of a week.
You are now on the road to increased power and stamina in your karate training. Your body is also on its way to being healthier and more productive. Check you progress periodically to make sure you are breathing the right way. Remember your breathing is the foundation of your power, clarity, and strength without it we are powerless to advance or control our lives.
The more you know the better you will do.
- Here are some useful links on the subject:
- Ohio State School of Medicine
- Breathing Wisdom
This article is written by: Mitchell Saba, WKC senior member and instructor.