High intensity workouts are a fantastic way to keep you in shape. However, what these workouts also do is put a lot of stress on our Central Nervous System (CNS); adrenaline and cortisol are released in order for us to able to lift that weight, or to push ourselves harder to get that extra rep. Because these are both hormones which are released when our body is under stress we need to find a way to release them once the workout is complete, or else we’d never relax or sleep. Serotonin and melanin are needed for this to happen. We need a state of “rest and digest” to reduce the levels of adrenaline and cortisol which will in turn allow us to sleep.
Now I come from a background of performance, yoga, as well as high intensity workouts. All of which have enlightened me into understanding more about the power of breath.
When you lie down and chill at the end of a yoga session…you feel amazing! This is because of the breath – you’ve just used your breath for 50 minutes then chilled for 10 minutes, with a deep diaphragmatic breathing pattern… DREAMY.
Actors (and musicians) understand the art of breath via the voice. Warming up the voice involves a lot of breath control before any sound actually travels along that breath. It is also responsible for the sound around your vocal folds, along with projection, articulation and support of the voice.
Actors also use breath work to deal with the emotions, stresses, and hormones that get released into the body during performance. It is both physically and emotionally draining. You will certainly sleep well if you are doing a long stint of a show or a tour.
Your sympathetic nervous system is connected to your prefrontal cortex – aka emotion central. So when you are breathing up high in your chest, you are more likely to react emotionally. An example of this is when we snap or cry when we’re feeling tired.
Speaking of tiredness/sleep: if you are one of those people who thinks they can deal with 4 hours sleep, but find yourself craving more sleep on the weekend – then you definitely aren’t getting enough. Don’t try and kid yourself! Getting that little sleep means you are not getting rid of all the adrenaline and cortisol which means you aren’t relieving the CNS of stress.
Ultimately you will compromise your immune system, your health, and you’ll end up storing more fat, as your body is in a constant state of alertness so it thinks it needs to keep hold of it.
So in essence, breathing : yeah, it’s pretty important.
Here are some breathing top tips:
Lying in supine (on your back with your knees up to the sky and feet planted flat on the floor), arms fall down to your side. Relax your shoulders.
Make sure your spine is neutral – lower back heading towards the floor (no massive gap!)
Start to notice your breath.
Where you are breathing from.
Your chest? Or your belly? Can you feel your rib cage expanding? Is it hard or easy to breathe?
Just notice first of all.
What we want to see on inhalation is fully belly expansion, the rib cage moving up and out, the muscles around lumbar spine expanding, and the diaphragm contracting to make a vacuum **you can’t see the diaphragm…
On exhalation your body compresses using the abs, obliques, back and pelvic floor to send the air upwards. Diaphragm relaxes.
If you put your hand on the belly and the rib cage sometimes will help you feel all of this happening.
Push to the end of your breath cycle. Maximise the out breath and in breath, your body will naturally use the belly.
Give it a go for 10-15 minutes a day and see how you feel.