Mindful breathing is the magic trick
Many who have just taken to running complain about getting breathless soon into the run. You may, in fact, wonder if you will ever be able to run non-stop even for short durations like 5-10 minutes.
The trick is to slow down and do mindful breathing. After long years of being inactive, your body isn’t efficient enough in oxygen consumption, especially for muscles that are being overworked because you are simply trying too hard.
Learn to take long deep breaths in, hold for a second or two, then slowly breathe out. That should be your simple plan while running. That will help you run optimally as a good amount of oxygen will get into the body and carbon dioxide will have the time to come out.
If you start taking fast breaths either consciously, or when you’re breathless, your breathing will be shallow and inefficient. This will limit oxygen and carbon-dioxide exchange, leaving you tired too soon. In an effort to get more air in, your breathing will become even faster and shallower, leading to very inefficient breathing. So focus on easy, not forced, breathing.
Breathing out is as important as breathing in. Once your lungs are empty, they will be able to take in air again.
Whenever you feel you’re becoming breathless, go back to the basics of breathing mentioned above. You might need to slow down, perhaps even walk. For beginners, I recommend a walking break at regular intervals. This way, you’ll enjoy your run for far longer.
When you become breathless while trying to run, your body panics, trying to get more oxygen, and starts hyperventilating, i.e. increasing the frequency of shallow breaths. It’s a totally inefficient action, caused by the fact that the body has forgotten how to address such a situation.
Here are a few basic tips.
Practise mindful breathing while sitting: Sit tall on a stable chair, one without wheels. Put your hands across your chest as if you are hugging yourself. Take a long deep breath, feel that air go down your windpipe and your chest expand. Hold it for a second or two. Exhale slowly. You will again notice your chest collapse. Repeat this mindful breathing for 1-2 minutes to start with. Do this every 30-60 minutes. Doing this while sitting will make it a habit. And it’ll come naturally when you go out for a run.
Once you’ve got used to the idea of the chest expanding with each long breath, you don’t need to keep your hands across your chest. You can simply do the exercise anytime, anywhere, without anyone else noticing.
Mindful breathing while running: When you go running, start your run with a gentle walk. Start taking long slow breaths in and out. Maintain a tall posture at all times. Walk for 2-5 minutes and once you feel that your breathing is under control, try to run for a minute or two. While running, do the same, take slow deep breaths in and out. Take a walk break again and be totally in control of your breath yet again. Your walks are meant for you to recover and be ready for the next bout of running, so catch your breath. If you don’t control your breathing, it will control you and leave you breathless soon enough.
As for the walking-running schedule this week, start with a 3-minute walk, followed by a 3-minute run. Repeat four-six times. Do this four-six days a week.
This is the third in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way. For the complete series, visit here .
Rajat Chauhan is a sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High, held in Ladakh. He has authored The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.