How to Breathe for Better Walking

How to Take a Full Breath

Breathing woman
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Have you paid attention to breathing while walking? You can learn breathing techniques that will enhance walking. You can make walking more energizing and improve your performance. You can also breathe better to make your walk more stress-relieving, and even make it a spiritual experience.

You've Been Breathing Wrong

You've been able to walk and breathe at the same time most of your life. But chances are that you aren't getting a full, deep breath. You may not even know what it feels like until you practice it. It can be a little odd at first, but you will see that it has benefits.

The breathing cycle should start in the belly. Drawing the belly out brings the diaphragm down, inflating the lungs. Next, the rib cage is expanded to draw in more air. Finally, the shoulders and clavicles (collarbones) are drawn back to bring in the final small increase in lung volume. To exhale, it is the reverse.

Many people keep their stomachs sucked in and tight continuously, thereby depriving themselves of the belly-expanding major portion of each breath. As a result, most people breathe very shallowly using only the shoulders/clavicles and the rib cage for inhalation and exhalation.

While shallow "paradoxical" breathing will keep you alive, it becomes a large detriment in situations where you need more oxygen, such as when walking at a moderate pace. Athletes of all kinds are coached to learn to breathe with their bellies to get a full inhalation and exhalation.

Practicing a Full Complete Breath

Here are the instructions for breathing the right way, from the belly, through the rib cage, and up to the shoulders.

  1. Suck in your stomach, drawing your belly button towards your spine.
  2. Exhale.
  3. Next, expand your belly button outward, drawing in your breath.
  4. Then, allow your ribs to open out
  5. Finally, draw back your shoulders and clavicles (collarbones).
  6. To exhale, first allow out the air at the top of your chest.
  7. Next, draw in the rib cage.
  8. Finally, draw the belly button back towards the spine.
  9. Repeat for a few minutes each day to retrain yourself to normal full breathing.

Breathing and Walking

Consciously attend to your breathing for a few minutes during each walk. Concentrate on complete breaths from belly to chest to clavicles and back. This technique can be especially helpful when tackling a hill, giving your body the oxygen it needs to fuel your effort.

After a week of using the breathing the technique for a few minutes, gradually lengthen the time you attend to your breath during your walks. With ongoing conscious practice for a few minutes, soon you will find that you are using good breathing technique through more of your workout without having to concentrate.

Good breathing cleanses the lungs, allowing the blood to take up oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Your blood can deliver the oxygen to your muscles so you are able to walk farther and faster with less fatigue. All good things come to those who breathe well.

Improving Your Breathing Ability

Now that you know how to breathe, it's a good time to work on your walking posture. Poor posture while walking doesn't allow you to open up your chest and take in a full breath. Your chin should be parallel to the ground with your eyes up and looking towards the horizon. You should have a straight line rather than lean forward or backward. It can help to think of a string attached to the top of your head pulling you straight up from your hips.

Your shoulders should be relaxed and your chest open. You may need to do a shrug to ensure you are releasing the tension in your shoulders. If you don't, it can inhibit taking a full breath. Use arm motion back and forth in opposition to the movement of your feet, opening up your chest with each step.

You also need a strong core for maintaining posture and doing the belly breathing technique. If you've been neglecting your core, it is good to add some abdominal exercises to your routine.

Beyond a Complete Breath

The breathwalk program by Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. and Yogi Bhajan, Ph.D. teaches a variety of breathing techniques combined with walking. They use breathwalks to produce a variety of effects including mood control, energizing, stress-relief, mental sharpness, and feelings of connectedness.

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