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Ask the Trainer: Taking Time to Breathe

By Billy Locke
Published: Friday, March 13, 2009, at 06:32PM

Hello and good Friday to everybody. With all that is happening here in Los Angeles with layoffs, the dismal American economic forecast, as well as the world economy, I though this week's Trainer Tip was appropriate. My topic is…..breathing.

First, It has been a month and a week since we started the blogdowntown sponsored 12-week Body Makeover Contest. One of the lucky contestants is going to win:

  • 4-month Free membership at Downtown’s The Nine Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness Studio on Flower street
  • Fitness evaluation
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Workout program specifically designed for you.

All you have to do is for one month (between March 12 and May 6):

  • Email us a log of your workouts
  • Include what you did and for how long, on the day that the workouts occurred
  • Send 5 different pictures of you working out on separate occasions

The person who most consistently emails us with their workout log entries will win. Signup ends on April 6, so you will have from April 6 to May 6 to complete the competition.

Now back to breathing. Since it is an involuntary act that we are fortunate enough to not have to think about, most of us do not. That's a big mistake and a missed opportunity.

The missed opportunity that I am speaking about is the foundation for our health. In fact, the first and last thing you will ever know in your life is your breath – think about it.

There is an old story -- and I’m paraphrasing it -- where a young boy who is studying in a monastery under a great Master to become a monk. The boy’s day, as it turned out, was dreadfully routine. He awoke at sunrise and was instructed to immediately practice mindful meditative breathing as he dressed. At breakfast he was reminded to eat with mindful meditative breathing. This was followed by morning meditation, where he sat legs crossed for 7 hours breathing mindfully. He then ate a simple bowl of beans and rice with vegetables, while being mindful of his breathing. His day ended with evening meditation where he practiced being mindful of his breathing, followed by bed.

After 12 months of this simple but monotonous schedule, the young boy could not contain himself any longer. He approached his Master in an awkward but forward manner and announced that he was bored beyond belief. He said he could not understand why everything they did was done while practicing mindful meditative breathing.

The Master, without saying a word, reached over and cupped the young boy’s mouth and nose, cutting off his oxygen supply until the struggling boy lost consciousness. Upon regaining consciousness, the Master, who was standing over the boy said, “Now, do you understand why breathing is so important?”

This story helps to illustrate just how important breathing is to us. Still, few people grasp the true importance of mindful breathing and the tremendous benefits derived from it.

Benefits of Breathing Mindfully

  • Influences the involuntary bodily functions (sympathetic nervous system) that regulate heart rate, circulation, blood pressure and digestion
  • Prevents heart disease and deters plaque from forming on the arterial walls
  • Increases nutrient absorption and promotes weight loss
  • Reduces stress and promotes the feeling of relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system)
  • Provides you with more energy, increased clarity and mental focus
  • Helps to prevent headaches and reduce duration once they occur

On the other hand, by not breathing properly (shallow breathing), you could overstress the body, resulting in chronic stress. In the short-term, shallow breathing causes stiffness, loss of elasticity and the weakening of the rib cage and surrounding muscles. This leaves the chest unable to fully expand causing stale air to remain in the lungs and prevents fresh oxygen from reaching the blood stream.

What happens from long-term shallow breathing? This causes the sympathetic nervous system to become over-stimulated, which can lead to inflammation, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, muscle pain, sluggishness, anxiety, to name a few.

Give yourself a quick test to see what type of breather you are:

Put your right hand on your chest, and your left hand on your belly. As you breathe, see which hand raises more.

If your right hand rises more, you are a chest breather. If your left hand rises more, you are an abdomen breather.

Abdomen breathers have more efficient distribution of oxygen throughout the entire body, which helps to relieve stress and anxiety, as well as all the other benefits discussed above. Chest breathing only fills the middle and upper parts of the lungs.

Abdominal Breath Exercise

The following exercise is a simple way to deepen breathing and cleanse the lungs. This exercise will also increase energy and decrease tension.

  • Lie flat on your back
  • Place small pillows under the neck and knees
  • Place the palms of your hands on your stomach just below the rib cage, with middle fingers barely touching each other
  • Take a slow deep breath
  • As the diaphragm pushes down, the stomach will slightly expand causing the fingertips to separate somewhat
  • This movement makes full use of the lungs, resulting in a truly deep breath, rather than the chest puffing up

Perform the abdominal breath exercise two times a day, before you go to sleep and before you get out of bed in the morning for 5 minutes a time. You will be amazed in time, how much more relaxed you have become.

Downtown Exercise Spots

Be sure to go and check out at least one of this weeks’ Downtown workout spots or past mentioned if the mood strikes you:

Aikido Center of LA / 1211 N. Main St. / 323.225.1424

24 Hour Fitness / 505 S. Flower St. / 213.683.1400

Check back next Friday as we continue to spotlight more workout spots Downtown and I promise we’ll answer another email from askthetrainer@blogdowntown.com.

Til next time—Exercise More, Play Hard, Work Smart.

Billy Locke


Extreme Natural Fitness Trainer

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