Monday, July 25, 2011

Ujjayi Breathing and Running

With this recent heat wave in NYC all last week, my running and yoga practice took a back seat to sitting in my air-conditioned apartment and drinking a bottle of wine with my husband. As most runners find, the humidity and extreme heat make it difficult to run and can be very draining. One skill that I have picked up in yoga class that has helped me through these types of runs is ujjayi breathing, the ancient yogi breathing process to help calm the mind and body.

Yoga encourages the practice of controlled breathing, known as pranayama, to help create balance and calm. It is the practice of filling the lungs up by breathing through the nose (all yoga breathing is done through the nose) to your lungs full capacity and then emptying the lungs completely. When breathing out, you want to restrict the back of your throat (like you're drinking from a straw) and create an "haaaaahhhh" sound to the breath coming out (think Darth Vader). The way I've heard it best explained is to breath out of your mouth as if you're trying to fog a mirror, then close your mouth around the sound and continue to exhale your breath in the same manner but out your nose. Additionally, you want the breaths to be consistent and even. Don't inhale nice and slow just to exhale the breath out quickly.

In yoga, the breath helps you flow from one posture to the next, as well as creating that balance and calm mentioned above. For runners, it has a host of benefits. The main benefit, and one that I have found most beneficial, is the improvement in my lung capacity. The consistent practice of filling the lungs to capacity and emptying them completely improves a runners ability to run longer and harder, even in the extreme humidity. Also, by having even breaths it is easier to run at a steady pace and avoid those dreaded cramps and stitches in your side due to the constant supply of oxygen reaching your muscles.

Below is a link to a video that I found that explains yogi breathing. I encourage any runners (especially those training for a marathon) to begin this practice, whether it be via a yoga practice or simply incorporating this breathing technique in to your runs. It may seem daunting at first, but if you stick with it you'll see improvements, and fairly soon, in how much farther and longer you can run!

Yogic Breathing Technique

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