In the last post I challenged you to begin breathing through your nose. How did it go? If you have some structural issues or if mouth breathing is your go-to breath, breathing through the nose can be downright difficult.
Does it really matter how you’re delivering oxygen to your body?
If you’re like most people, it’s easy to get amped up or feel butterflies in your stomach. The breath is the magic switch to turn down your stress level.
Breathing through the nose activates the side of your nervous system responsible for chilling out, recovering from exercise and achieving deep, restful sleep. It also allows you to utilize nitric oxide, a gas that helps dilate the nose and blood vessels, which also combats high blood pressure.
This gas is only produced in the nasal cavity. If you’re not breathing through the nose, you’re missing out!
Mouth breathing tends to keep you stuck in the fight or flight side of the nervous system. This is an awesome system to have on your side when we need to lift a car to save a baby or find the legs for that final sprint. But living with the switch turned to 11 all the time, as so many of us do, is problematic and drains our ability to perform at high levels over the long run.
Ideally, we need a balance of both sides, but in our caffeinated lives where stress is everywhere, it can be tough to find this balance. Sympathetic dominance can open the door to chronic inflammation, frequent sickness, insomnia and overall irritability.
Then we pound ourself through hill repeats and our body doesn’t have the resources to recover well. We arrange our lives like a stack of Jenga blocks…Deadlines at work, remove a block. Fight with spouse, remove another. Fast group ride, little sleep, money, current events….and then we slowly crash and burn, sometimes through injury, sickness or our fitness begins to tank.
Even our thoughts can keep us in a stressed-out state, causing our body to respond to a perceived danger that isn’t even real.
The key is to find balance. I know what you’re thinking: I can’t quit my job and move to a Buddhist Temple. And you’re right.
But you can control your breath, which sends a huge signal to the body that it’s okay to chill.
Learn how to shift your breathing. You can do this anytime, anywhere. Ideally, get the hang of it lying down first.
Start by placing one hand on your belly, the other on your upper chest.
Take note of which hand is moving the most.
Gradually try to shift your breathing to the lower hand, keeping the upper hand still.
You don’t need to accomplish this by taking a giant, deep breath. Just focus on the amount of breath needed to shift the breath to the belly.
Imagine that you’re slowly filling a glass of water from the bottom to the top.
Repeat this any time you need to defeat stress or are having trouble sleeping.
In the next post, we’ll dig into how our thoughts play into this stress response. Hint: Learning how to tame your monkey mind also has positive effects on your performance. Hack your mind, hack your performance. I’ll show you how.