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The Art of Belly Breathing

Ever experienced a sharp, stabbing pain in your lower ribs while running?  This is known as the “side stitch”.  Felt as if your lungs couldn’t get enough air?  These pesky and painful side effects could be the result of how you’re breathing…

For the past 3 months, I’ve been training for my first sprint triathlon, which is coming up Sunday, September 9th!  This week on my last brick workout before the race, I experienced a side-ache with less than a half mile to go in my run – it was so annoying!  My workout pal, Shannon, told me about a Runner’s World article she had read about belly breathing, and coordinating exhalations with your left foot hitting the ground, to help prevent the ever-so-annoying side stitch.  Turns out my yoga buddies, Katrina and Ashley, came across this article too!  Who would’ve known my yogi belly breathing would come in handy to run?

Yogis have long understood the benefits of belly breathing, a.k.a diaphragmatic breathing, as this is one of the primary breathing techniques practiced.  Belly breathing helps build heat internally, regulates the nervous system and reduces stress, while breathing from your upper chest, which is normally too shallow, can actually fatigue your body.

The easiest way I’ve found to start practicing belly breathing, is lying supine (flat on your back).  You can lie in shavasana with your legs straight out, or in supta baddda konasana, a diamond shape with the bottoms of your feet touching.  I place my left hand on my chest and my right hand on my stomach just above the belly button.  On inhales, the goal is to inflate the belly like a balloon.  On exhales, deflate the balloon, sinking your belly button down to your spine.  As you get into a rhythm of feeling your belly rise and fall, you will feel calm and relaxed and notice fuller, deeper breaths.  This is a great technique to begin meditation.

Elite runners and trainers admit that “chest breathing” is a hard habit to break, but practicing this technique off the road, track or treadmill, will improve your ability to carry this skill over into your runs.  If you have an office job, try some belly breathing while sitting at your desk – mix things up in your work day!

Side Stitch Prevention
While doctors are still unable to determine the exact cause of the side stitch, there are a few things you can do to help prevent them!

  1. Do not run on a full stomach. You shouldn’t eat or drink large amounts of water 2-4 hours before exercise.  Dehydration can cause cramps as well, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day regularly.  Take small sips if necessary during intervals or in hot temperatures.
  2. Breathe Deeply. Implement the belly breathing technique, and open your mouth when you breathe.  Your mouth is more effective at taking in oxygen vs. your nostrils.  Decrease your pace if necessary, as your breathing will become more labored as your intensity increases and you near maximum speed.
  3. Pre-Stretch. Do side bends and torso twists to warm up your core. Check out ISport.com for instructions and pictures of various yoga side bends; I particularly like gate pose and reverse warrior.  I also like to stand with my feet hip-width apart, and gently twist my torso from side to side with my arms out like wings or hands at my hips.
  4. Abs of Steel. There are several abdominal and lower back exercises that will not only improve posture and stretch tight muscles, but strengthen your diaphragm as well.  Try incorporating the Pilates “Hundreds”, yogi bicycles or intervals of cobra pose in your next core workout.

So practice often and perfect the art of belly breathing – it will help you in many aspects of life, on and off your yoga mat!

Peace. Love. Namaste.


About Jamie Inn

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