A few days ago, I asked my son about his breathing technique when he plays football. “How do you breathe when playing?” He replied, “Just as it happens”. That prompted me to ask, “How do you know if you are breathing effectively?” He paused, and replied, “Well, I can run when I play”. His replies had me thinking about breathing. We arrived in this world breathing, and paid little attention to how our respiratory system worked.
And I recall puffing and panting when doing my first few hikes. I was out of breath and shamelessly hid it by walking away from the rest to regain my oxygen levels! This led me to find out how I can improve my breathing and reduce my all too frequent out-of-breath situations.
Our lungs primarily make up our respiratory system. It functions as we breathe in oxygen, and we expel carbon dioxide. How do we use our breathing to get the most out of our hikes?
When I started hiking, I realised my breathing was busy and chaotic like a ‘pasar malam’ (night market). In some instances, I breathed fast; others times, slow. I was not consistent in how I paced my breathing. Then I realised I needed to breathe calmly and steadily. After doing this, I felt it became easier as oxygen was entering my lungs at regular, paced times than previous.
Breathe and Step
One method I learned is how to align my motion or steps with my breathing. Oxygen is pumped through our bodies to our muscles to deliver energy. I thought that by holding my breath and climbing for a few steps, I would move faster. But I was gasping for air after! I felt I needed an oxygen chamber. I learned the technique to time my movements when I inhale or inhale. This method allowed me to regularly breathe in and hold my breath, and not merely suffocate myself as I hike. A friend of mine whom is an accomplished yoga instructor told me that the method is commonplace among martial arts exponents and yoga instructors.
Try Breathing Practice
You can try out a simple exercise to help steady your breathing. Practice will consciously help you if your breathing is making a difference - gasping for air or you are controlled in your breathing:
- Do push ups. As you go down, inhale. As you come up, exhale. Do this five or ten times. In the next five or ten pushes, change the breathing pattern by breathing out when going down, and inhaling when coming up. Similar to the earlier mentioned Breathe and Step method, our breathing is best aligned to the motion. And not after the motion has completed.
- At this point, your heart will be pumping slightly faster. Slowly stand up and further practice your breathing. Inhale and ensure your belly is coming out (not your chest tightening), and exhale. Do this ten times in a paced manner. Then repeat the push ups and downs followed again by standing up and breathing. This simple exercise will help you to consciously be aware of your breathing techniques, and gradually improve your lung capacity.
To improve your lung capacity, be conscious and consistent in your hike. You will find your hikes becoming less strenuous and you will enjoy the walking much more. Have fun breathing!