Breathe Easy On Your Runs!


In my teens I was diagnosed with exercise induced, and later full-blown asthma. I thought I could just will my way through it, until I started honking like a freight train in races.

Even on multiple inhalers and pills, when the going got tough, my air passages would get inflamed, clamp down, and then it was day-over for catching my breath.

I learned quickly, I had to try and calm myself down fast, and back off (not great when the pack is leaving you behind) until I could catch my breath. It was frustrating, but also my inspiration, for I knew if I wanted to compete at the top, or simply keep myself out of trouble, I'd have to find a better way to breathe, and fast!

That's when I tripped across the book Breathe Play, a 1980's book that introduced me to the idea of controlling your breathing and that by making your breathe a conscious activity, you could expand, strengthen, and even heal your lungs.

I was told I had tiny lungs, and that there was nothing I could do about it. But working on my breath, I went from having teeny tiny lungs with only 60% of the average capacity, to something like the top 1% or better of lung capacity for all people out there my size! (A big surprise to my docs after they tested me!) I went from sucking wind in races, to having extra air. And I went from struggling to get up hills, to making them my forte.

I can remember when people would yell at me in races saying "Shut Up Michael, can't you tell I'm suffering." I just had so much air and was having so much fun, I just wanted to talk! By doing breathing exercises mainly during my workouts, but also on their own, I pretty much doubled my lung capacity, and got off of all the meds and their heavy side-effects.

I often talk about focusing on your breath. But what does that mean? First, it means breathing deep. This is something we're all unfamiliar with in the west. In fact, here in Hawaii, the derogatory term given to white people when they first arrived many years ago, was Haole, which means short breath. When Westerners first came to Hawaii, they were seen breathing with a very shallow ineffective breath. It's what we've all grown up with, but need to unlearn.

So we don't want to be Haole, we want to breathe deep. This means focusing on your breathing (this means shutting off the ipod so you can listen for a few minutes) both in exercises before, and while you run.

There are dozens of great exercises you can do. We'll be introducing many of our favorites in our upcoming Mindful Running Video series this fall. But the simplest, easiest, and perhaps most effective breathing technique you can do to get started is to focus on the exhalation.

We have a Tai Chi and Qi Gong, master who tells us "No one thinks of the exhale. They always say inhale. But it's your exhalation that is most important! When you exhale, you blow out unwanted CO2, you blow out the bad stuff, and you blow out the stuck energy. Then you can get more clean air in. The more you focus on the exhale, the healthier and stronger you will be."

We completely agree. When you run, blow out as much air as you can in each breath. Don't worry at all about the inhalation. It will take care of itself. In fact, try this now, while you're reading this. Take a good deep breath, then blow, blow, blow, blow, blow out all of the air you can as you watch, and feel your stomach squeezing in (if you don't see it, place your on your stomach to feel and help it along). Then relax, and let the air rush back in and see your lungs and belly expand. To your amazement, you'll find it took ZERO effort to get in all the air you just expelled. Even better, it's EASY to strengthen these muscles to move air fast, and breathe deeper.

When you breathe this way, you'll take more steps between breaths, and feel more oxygenated, or more powerful with each breath. Before you may have been running 2 steps inhale, two steps exhale, and now you'll find yourself 3 and 3, or even perhaps four and four. The number's not important, but it means you're getting more air in with each breath.

More air means happier lungs (less chance of the dreaded honk I used to experience), happier legs, less lactic acid buildup, a lower heart rate, less fatigue, and means you can go faster too!

Practice this each time you run. Concentrate on the exhalation, and watch yourself fly!

Side affect: You too may find people telling you to stop talking so much as you run together, as they're panting hard, and you're comfortably breathing deep. Don't sweat it, but feel free to teach this too them as well. Then you could have a conversation!