Running with the Breath

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A couple of years ago, I ran a 10K for MuckFest MS. My group, “Dirty Naked Axons,” had novice runners and athlete runners. I somehow ended up in the athlete group. It was tough keeping up! However, I learned how to use mindfulness breathing while running.

MuckFest MS was held at a ski resort so you can imagine all the hills. I remember running up a steep part of a deeply wooded hill. It was steep, rocky, and muddy. I was getting tired, and I wanted to give up and stop. But then I decided to connect with my breath. I was breathing deeply, but my breath was light. I focused on the lightness of my breath rather than the heaviness of my body. Once I was mindfully running, I realized that the breath transformed my effort. I finished the race – with the athletes.

Another breathing technique that I use for exercise, Yoga, and to help me fall asleep is called Ujjayi. In Sanskrit (Iyengar, 1966), it means “expanding victory or triumph.” It is also sometimes called “oceanic breath” because of the sound ebbs and flows like the sea. The Ujjayi breath is created by constricting the laryngeal muscles and partially closing the glottis in the throat (Brown, 2005). This slow breathing is 2 to 4 breaths per minute. Increasing airway resistance produces a longer inspiration and expiration. Several physiological effects that make the practitioner feel calm and alert. Zope et al., (2013) stated that the nervous systems shifts to a parasympathetic state via vagal stimulation and increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA).

Ujjayi breathing has been shown to induce sleep (Brown, 2005). Many people who suffer from depression experience insomnia. According to Brown (2005), “Many patients find that an extra 5-10 minutes of Ujjayi breathing while lying in bed at night with the lights out will help induce sleep” (p. 712). Ujjayi relaxes the body, reduces obsessive worry, and creates mental calmness conductive to sleep (Brown, 2005).

How to perform Ujjayi breathing (Iyengar, 1966):

  • Start to breathe in and out through your nose naturally.
  • Empty out all the air in your lungs. Then take a slow, deep breath through both nostrils. The passage of the incoming air is felt on the roof of the palate and makes an oceanic sound (sa). The sound is audible.
  • Exhale slowly, deeply, until the lungs are empty. While exhaling the passage of the outgoing air should be felt on the roof of the palate, and the air should make an aspirate sound (ha).
  • Repeat the cycles for five to ten minutes.

Using mindfulness and the Ujjayi breathing technique help to ease the mind and body. Breathing techniques are tools to help us in challenging moments. I finished the MuckFest MS race because I ran with my breath.

Namaste, world.

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References

Brown, R.P., & Gerbarg, P.L., (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of  stress, anxiety, and depression: Part I – Neurophysiologic model. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 189-201.

Brown, R.P., & Gerbarg, P.L., (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II – Clinical applications and guidelines. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1966). Light on yoga. New York, NY: Schocken Books, Inc.

Zope, S.A., & Zope, R.A., (2013). Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health. International Journal of Yoga, 6(1), 4-10