Do you feel vibrant and energised after exercising, or dull and tired?
It’s all too easy just to go through the motions of exercise; that way you’ll likely gain some benefit, however it’s as if you’re treating your body as a machine rather than a living organism.
What brings life to your body? That’s a tricky one to answer, but we do know that as long as you live you breathe continually. From a Western perspective the breath provides oxygen which is circulated via the blood to all your cells. From an Eastern perspective, the air you breathe in contains vital energy (also known as chi, prana or life force) which moves through invisible channels known as meridians to revitalise the whole body.
For the past three months I’ve been practising Psychocalisthenics first thing each morning. It’s a short routine which promises to exercise all the main muscle groups, and give a flash of vital energy. I was keen to achieve both benefits!
After a few weeks my body certainly felt physically better – more solid and well exercised. But where was the energy boost? Why didn’t I feel ‘more alive’ as expected?
I read the book again (Master Level Exercise: Psychocalisthenics, by Oscar Ichazo), and realised that, although I’d been correctly linking my breath with the movements, I hadn’t been making full use of my breath. As soon as I started to pay more attention to my breathing, really fill my lungs with each breath, and visualise myself receiving life force I achieved that energy boost. What a great start to the day!
Whatever form of exercise you do, it’s likely you can gain more vitality by paying attention to your breath.
How to put the breath of life into your exercise
1. Recognise there’s life force in the air you breathe
Two ancient practices recognise and draw on the life force in the air around us. Yogis developed a whole series of breathing exercises (pranayamas) to use the prana in the air around us. In Qigong chi is collected from the air through movement to be stored in the Tantien to promote health and vitality.
Try visualising life force coming into your body as you inhale.
2. Breathe fully
Many of us have become ‘chest breathers’ – only allowing our chest area to expand and contract as we breathe. To make full use of the lungs we need to allow the abdomen to expand as we breathe in, and contract as we breathe out. This is a very different experience to chest breathing. It requires clothes which are loose around the waist.
3. Focus on the out breath
When you breathe fully it’s easy to take too large an in breath, and after a couple of breaths end up feeling out of breath. I’ve found that focusing on the exhalation – breathing out as fully as possible by contracting my abdomen – resolves this problem. Following a full exhalation your body will automatically refill your lungs without you having to think about it.
When I used to jog, I found that focusing on the exhalation stopped me feeling out of breath. Similarly when I climb hills I focus on the out breath and get into a steady rhythm of breathing as I walk.
4. Link your breath to your movements
Some types of exercise ask you to relate your movement to the breath. For example in yoga we usually move on the out breath. On the other hand in Pilates and Psychocalisthenics most movements are made on the in breath. For swimming I found the breath fitted naturally into the stroke, particularly for those strokes where my head was under water for part of the time.
For many types of exercise there’s no instruction about the breathing.
I suggest you check whether there’s a recommended to breathe for your exercise.
If not, experiment to find a way of breathing that feels comfortable with the movements you’re making.
5. Practice and notice
While breathing fully and linking your breath to your movements may seem strange at first, with practice it will start to flow with ease, and bring life to your exercise.
The Delicious Nugget: bring the breath of life into your exercise by breathing fully and linking your breath to your movements.