Better Breathing for Better Diving
That breathing and diving go hand in hand is unlikely to be news to anyone who has tried the sport. But that we can become better divers by training our breathing techniques is perhaps not universally known.In this series, we’ll help divers who what to work on their breathing techniques while diving, beginning with the basics below.
The first step in working with your breathing is to become more aware of it. Because breathing is so natural, many of us pay very little attention to it. But attention is the first step toward improvement.
A breath isn’t as singular a thing as many people assume. A breath actually consists of four phases: 1) inhalation, where you draw your breath in, filling the lungs, 2) post-inhalation pause, the pause between drawing breath in and letting it out, 3) exhalation, where we empty our lungs, and 4) post-exhalation pause, the pause before the next inhalation. The two pauses may be very short, hardly even noticeable, or they may be considerable, such as when we “forget” to breathe.
As an exercise, one you can do almost anywhere, try sitting with your eyes closed, breathing normally. Simply breathe and observe. Don’t try to change your breathing or breathe in a “correct” way. The purpose of this exercise is simply to make you aware of the four phases in relation to your own breathing, and how long each phase is. Next, lie down on your back, placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Continue breathing naturally, but notice where the air goes. Is it your chest or your stomach that expands? Repeat these exercises a few times over a few weeks to really get the feel of your own breathing. Also try to be aware of your breathing in everyday situations: at work, in the car, while showering, etc.
Now you’re ready for the next step, where you start working with your breath.
For your first exercise, lie down on your back and again put one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Now breathe, but focus on making just one of these areas expand. Start with your chest. Try and make the chest hand rise up as you inhale, and sink back down as you exhale. Then do the same with your stomach hand.
Next, try and work with your four phases. Try and make your inhalation and exhalation phases equally long, and the two pauses equally long, so for instance, try a four-second inhalation, a two-second post-inhalation pause, a four-second exhalation, and a two- second post-exhalation pause. Repeat.
For your third exercise, try to minimize the two pauses, to the point where they’re almost non-existent. Breathe in slowly and deliberately, perhaps maintaining a four-second inhalation or increasing it to six seconds, then, as soon as your inhalation ends, start the exhalation, and make this as long as in the inhalation.
For the fourth and final exercise, try to vary the amount of air you take in. Start with taking the deepest possible breath, first expanding up your stomach area, then your chest, and finally feeling how your lungs expand all the way up under your clavicle. Then try a shallow breath, still starting with your stomach area, but keeping the air intake minimal. Vary between these two for a few breaths.
These exercises, as simple as they sound, go a long way in creating more awareness of your breathing, and also in helping you take control of it. And in fact, simply taking a few deep breaths has been proven to reduce stress symptoms significantly.
In our next piece on breathing, we’ll explore how these techniques can be used during diving.