Take a few breaths. Notice if you are inhaling through your mouth or your nose. Pay attention to whether you are breathing into your chest or your belly. If you are in a relaxed state, most likely you can inhale through your nose easily and breathe into your belly. If you are a bit more stressed, you may notice your shoulders rising up and be questioning – it’s possible to inhale through your nose??
Nasal breathing can calm your nervous system down. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the involuntary side of the nervous system. It’s goal is to maintain homeostasis or balance in the body. As the ANS receives signals, it makes adjustments without us even realizing in many cases. This includes respiration or breathing. There are two branches of the ANS – the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” and the sympathetic or “fight or flight.” If you are anxious or stressed then your sympathetic nervous system is heightened. Breathing can help you calm this reaction and move more towards the parasympathetic side. Try taking a few breaths inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth or nose. You are sending a signal to your nervous system to relax and the stress reaction can diminish. This is not a cure for anxiety or stress, but it can be a helpful tool!
When we work out our breathing is often challenged. Either we are lifting heavy and maybe not breathing properly, or we are in a metcon and we are breathing heavy through our mouth and chest. Ideally, we want to breathe into the diaphragm and not just the chest. Inhaling through the nose can also help keep our nervous system regulated as our heart rate begins to increase. If you have ever tried nasal breathing during a workout or movement, you probably realized that you couldn’t move as fast (at first). Nasal breathing forces you to slow down the rate and depth of breath which can keep us towards the parasympathetic nervous system. Working out can easily push us to the sympathetic nervous system because you are stressing your body. So nasal breathing can help keep balance in the body – as the stress of working out increases, you are sending a signal to your body to remain calm. Over time, this can be a great tool to keep your nervous system in better balance.
Working out in a mask is not ideal for most of us. But I challenge you to use it as a time to work on nasal breathing. This can even have health benefits during this time when COVID is on everyone’s mind. Breathing through the nose and into the diaphragm brings air down into the alveoli of the lungs, increases blood oxygen levels,and filters particles to remove contaminants. Another benefit is the production of nitric oxide (NO) which is a vasodilator and bronchodilator with potent antimicrobial effects against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. NO is not produced in the mouth, and therefore mouth breathing cannot produce NO. These factors, along with the fact that nasal breathing can help control our stress response, are all evidence that nasal breathing can help us stay healthier. If we are stressed out, our breathing can change, and as our breathing changes, our body gets signals of stress. This can be detrimental if our immune system is low due to other factors. So bottom line…try inhaling through your nose!
As we move all our classes inside, it is really important to choose the best mask for working out (to go along with proper breathing). We have played around with every mask out there and our favorites are the style that goes around your ears but hangs down to your shoulders. Here are a couple of links to ones we have used.