Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Art of Breathing

I'm just home from booting it up the Silica Street hill, two-and-half blocks of an incline that challenges any kind of biker and also serves as the lung efficiency test for the household, especially when it's done with a backpack full of groceries. It was back in the spring of 2000 that this slope began to make me wonder if my wind was falling off, which set me up beautifully to give Dr. John Douillard's ayurvedic researches a very attentive and grateful ear. (I must be writing for Americans. They're always more impressed by that Dr. thing. Or perhaps it's just that I really do want people to listen up. We owe it to the health system.)
Anyway, by the time I'm into the last block I notice that my breathing is very easy, and it's not because I'm dawdling. In fact, having begun the day with a very leisurely 300 cals on the Concept 2000, and just finished a three mile walk with my not-quite actually retired yet other half, split by a coffee on Baker Street before she headed for the museum, I've definitely got that "I'm in the ZONE" mood that JD has studied so thoroughly, and I feel as if I could go on for hours. I'm increasingly confident that I finally have the handle on my own personal best fitness methodology, thanks to the Seahorse - mind and body and spirit have finally become a true trinity, seamlessly harmonious - and now the fat will really take a hike.
And then I notice that my lips are sealed. Not even a hint of having to open them now and again to catch up on the air. Three steps in, three steps out. Then I try two steps in and three out, and that too is comfortable for most of the last part of the block. I've written earlier, months ago, about how I finally realized that by insisting on sticking rigidly to the shut mouth I was creating tension problems in my chest, so I've changed my routine, focusing on making sure I exhale for the full count. The real priority is not actually nose or mouth. The real priority is time for the oxygen to be fully processed in the alveoli at the bottom of the lungs. But the more the nose is involved, the more accurate the read on what the system is really doing, with a lot less chance for being fooled by temporary euphoria or the often false information we get from being fairly well warmed up.
The nose pings when the oxygen supply is actually inadequate - or at least mine does, basically the right nostril - and this simple little indicator warns us not to go too fast too soon. This always means at least ten minutes of relaxed and easy warm up, something we should have learned by watching all those professional baseball players out of the field before the game, except that I don't have much confidence that they were taught anything about the rights and wrongs of breathing.
Part of today's breathing discovery might have had something to do with the fact that because this morning's was my fifth straight rowing session - with an extra 200 c's thrown in yesterday afternoon - I was for once in the perfect mood for taking my first 100 at a 450 cals per hour pace, a rate I stopped thinking about after the first couple of weeks on the erg, and I never really got up to 550 until the third century. And then only because I was crowding MT's slot, and thus, oh gaffe of gaffes, delaying breakfast.
But even at 450, I tell myself, I'm melting more lard than I would get from the same amount of time walking, by up to 50 percent. I can walk at four-and-half miles per hour, but not nearly as easily as I can row for the same result on the scales.
But I was going to speak about the best rhythm for breathing. I've never actually studied the manufacturer's advice, but MT told me they recommend exhaling on the pull, inhaling on the release. Thus out, in, out,in, etc.
This may be necessary at the end of a race, perhaps. But it is not sound advice for genuine conditioning, according to Ayurveda, Dr. Douillard and my own experience. Getting the lungs to work comfortably and honestly at full potential has to be a priority of any fitness process. I like to inhale on the pull, because the chest is naturally open, exhale on the release, then virtually rest from deliberate breathing on the second set of pull and release. This makes for a four-stroke engine as it were, with only one stroke committed to taking in oxygen.
This is probably easier to say than do at the beginning, but I'm convinced it's pretty much the way the biology works the best.

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