Yoga (Ujjayi) Breathing in Running

Runners/walkers of all levels get abdomen cramps, or a side stitch. Using yogic breathing, you can learn to increase your oxygen intake and prevent stomach pain.

Whether you have been running for years or just starting out, you may find yourself halfway through your run struggling against a side stitch. This obstacle can cause discouragement and tempt you to quit. Adopting a yoga breath control technique into your routine can help you overcome the burning cramp you encounter in your abdomen.

The cause of this hindrance has been up for debate stating common influences as weak or tight stomach muscles and eating heavy foods prior to the run. But even runners who do all they can to deter these causes, may find themselves in pain. More recent research explains the cause as a stretching of ligaments between the diaphragm and internal organs. Quick, shallow breathing prevents the diaphragm from having enough time to relax and therefore pulling on the adjoining ligaments.

The remedy sounds easy enough - slow deep breaths. But remembering to take deep, full breaths during a high-energy cardiovascular activity is more difficult than it sounds.

Yoga Breathing Techniques

The practice of breath control within yoga is called Pranayama. An intention of yoga is creating balance; breathing techniques are an important in order to achieve a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the body.

How Ujjayi Can Help Runners
One type of technique is Ujjayi breathing, also called “ocean breathing” because it is audible. It is commonly associated with Vinaysa yoga, a practice characterized by continuous flowing movements led by the breath. In this breathing practice, yogis will breathe deeply while restricting the back of throat to create a low humming sound. The sound should resemble that of ocean waves (“ocean breathing”). The sound, and feeling, will help you concentrate on the synchronization of breath and body position.

This technique can be virtually applied to any activity, affecting your running in the following ways:

  1. Taking deep breaths will slow down your breath allowing your diaphragm to fully relax and therefore reducing the strain on your ligaments.
  2. Creating a steady internal rhythm, such as a humming in the back of your throat, keeps mind focused — even if you run with earphones.
  3. The distraction will act as a distraction from any pain you might feel in your body, for example a side stitch.
  4. Ujjayi breathing fuels the “internal flame” energizing the body.
  5. Full breaths will maximizing your oxygen intake supporting your engaged muscles and cause you to maintain a strong back and posture (increasing your core strength).

Learning Ujjayi Breath

When practicing your Ujjayi breathing control, you must prepare to clear your mind of thought. To begin any breathing exercise, you want to sit in a comfortable position with crossed legs and a straight back. Slow your mind and body by taking long deep steady breaths, pausing slightly after each inhale and exhale. When you have settled into a steady breathing pattern, begin to constrict the back of your throat creating a soft purring sound. Begin with the inhale and when you are comfortable with it, apply it to your exhale as well. Become familiar with the feeling this will create before attempting to apply it to your running.

There is one difference between breathing during the two activities. Ujjayi or Pranayama breath teaches you to breathe in and out through your nose, while it is recommended for any high-level cardio activity to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (if you follow the Ujjayi method, make sure you bring a tissue when running in the cold).

Read more at Suite101: Yoga (Ujjayi) Breathing in Running: Preventing a Side Stitch with Yoga Breathing Techniques 

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