The power of your breath

Written By Coach Chloe Honacker

This year has been particularly uncertain and stressful. We’re navigating these unprecedented times, and with the influence of your coach you’ve hopefully been able to manage the things you do have control of: staying physically active, exercising, managing your diet, and staying hydrated. We know that the remedy for a healthy lifestyle isn’t one-size-fits-all… and you probably know that too, since you’re with us at OPEX Morgantown. You’ve witnessed how your relationship with your coach has helped you stay accountable and growing towards your goals. You’ve seen how your coach builds a program to support your needs, and tailors that program to whatever life throws at you.

We are with you sorting the pieces, trying to find what is missing from your wellness puzzle. And we know there are several dimensions of wellness to consider. OPEX Morgantown aligns exercise with holistic lifestyle and nutrition programs, to make sure every facet of your life supports your fitness goals.

We want to offer you another tool to support you on this lifelong journey of wellness. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, athlete, businessperson, student, or all of the above, we want you to do something today, and tomorrow too.

That something is… to BREATHE. Not the “I just rowed 3k” type of breath, or the “I’m late for work and forgot my phone at home” type of breath. Not even the “Its Sunday and I haven’t left my couch for 8 hours” kind of breathing. We want you to breathe to support your nervous system. We want you to breathe in a way that allows your body to recover from the fight/flight state that we often exist in.

We aren’t asking you to sit on the ground and become a yogi who meditates for 2 hours a day. In fact, we aren’t asking you to do anything other than show up this very minute and take a deep breath. Perhaps the deepest breath you’ve had all week, and maybe even all year.

Why? Because stress in unavoidable, and necessary even. Exercise itself is a stressor to your body. Too much unwanted stress, however, presents a myriad of side effects. Interrupted sleep patterns, GI distress, fatigue, and irritability, are a few examples that we’ve probably all experienced.

We are human, after all. And part of being human is adapting to the stress that life throws at us. Like everything we do at OPEX, we don’t want you to tune out and fight or flight your way through life. We want you to tune in and find ways to feel more balanced and in control of everything that you do.

Before we offer you practical tips for managing stress, lets first lay out some facts:

1) Our breathing patterns shift over time as a reaction to environmental stressors

2) Even at maximum exercise intensity, we only use 70% of maximum lung capacity

3) Shallow breathing signals stress to your nervous system—i.e. fight/flight response

4) Fight/flight or acute stress response is a mechanism in our body to keep us safe and deal with threatening situations

5) Fight/Flight response elicits physiological changes in our bodies like increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased stress hormones, slowing blood flow to major muscle groups, and slowing digestion

The bad news is that none of us are exempt from experiencing stressful situations, especially not in the year 2020. The good news is, our bodies’ parasympathetic nervous system functions to counter stress and allow your body to reset to its natural state. The catch is, because of our fast-paced world, our sympathetic system (stress response) oftentimes overpowers our parasympathetic system (rest/reset). That’s why it’s crucial to incorporate a few conscious, deep breaths into your day.

Here are some tips to help your body reset/recover from daily stress:

1) Prepare for stressful situations when you know they are coming.

If you know you will soon face a stressful situation, whether this be a tough workout tomorrow, giving a pitch at work, homeschooling your kid, or going to a family event, take the steps to be prepared. Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, remind yourself why you’re facing the stressful situation, how it is essential to your growth, and make a plan to be as successful as you can throughout the situation. What can you do to feel more prepared?

2) Become aware of your breathing habits.

This is especially important to consider during a stressful situation. Because breathing is automatic, we don’t always realize what our breathing patterns look like. Our breathing patterns shift over time as a response to stress and habit. Does your breath feel shallow and short? Is it hard to take a deep breath in? When was the last time you noticed your quality of breath?

3) Start incorporating slow breaths into your routine.

Breathing more isn’t always better. To activate the reset response in our body, we need to breathe long and slow. Start by adding 3 slow breaths into your routine. You can do this when you’re drinking your morning cup of coffee, driving the kids to school, or when you have a few moments of peace in the shower. There really is no wrong time to take some slow breaths. Where can you add 3 deep breaths into your routine?

4) Remember your lung capacity is like your muscles: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Enhancing lung capacity doesn’t just look like crushing a 20-minute workout or 3k row. I’ll say it again—breathing more isn’t always better. Like most other things in the gym, a full breath is something that requires practice. We have spent most of our life breathing unconscious shallow breaths, and this has formed our breathing habits. Just like any other habit that we aim to change, it takes continual practice and progression to breathe more fully.

5) Start right now.

You make being healthy a priority in your life. Why not take the time right now to give your body a big thank you for all your hard work?

We are happy to be with you on this journey and help fill your toolbox with ways to be more successful. Remember today to take a deep breath and tune in. If incorporating a breathwork practice into your routine is something that interests you, reach out to your coach to discuss a practice that best suits your needs.

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