When we lengthen the exhale, we’re better able to find our power and invite a sense of relaxation to high intensity movement. Longer exhales cause the vagus nerve to send a signal to your brain, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and easing the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze). The technique I share below is one that I practice when engaging in strenuous physical activity and training.
This practice has been instrumental in helping me find my flow. With a longer exhale, I find I can do hard things over longer stretches of time and build my overall endurance in my movement practices, whether that be hitting laps on the stairs, running, hiking, climbing, or a high intensity workout.
How to Breathe Into Challenging Movement with a Long Exhale
Practice the Power of the Long Exhale
- Take a few deep breaths in and exhale fully through the mouth, with the intention to get present as you begin your movement practice.
- Focus on your breath as it passes through the nostrils, and then try exhaling the air from your lungs with pursed lips.
- Begin to take intentionally longer exhales to get used to the feeling and sensation of what this could be like: Breathe in through your nostrils for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out with pursed lips through your mouth for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and (if you can) 6. Be mindful of your capacity so that your next inhale is not a big gasp of air to compensate for over-exhalation. Aim for smooth transitions of inhales and exhales.
- Once you feel in rhythm with this breath count, you can go deeper into your movement activity. For example, at this stage I might transition from walking to running, or pick up the pace of going up stairs, or increasing the repetition of weights, etc.
- Over time, work toward a 2 to 1 exhale:inhale ratio.
- When you are ready to finish your movement practice, start to slow your pace and breath down. Be sure to give yourself a few moments of stillness or stretching with slow belly breathing, to let your heart rate go down and to honor your practice.
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