What is “belly” breathing method? 腹式呼吸とは如何に？ (Part 1)
We all know that breathing is important and many karate instructors tell you so. At the same time, not too many people know that we can improve our breathing. As a result, we can improve our health in general. Funakoshi sensei left us with Hangetsu kata which is supposed to be teaching us the relationship of the kata with the slow and deep breathing method. It is unfortunately true that only a few sensei teach this. Many sensei do not know nor care how to do the method of breathing exercise and to control the breathing system.
There are many different exercises with breathing. One of them is fast breathing (called fire breathing in yoga performed by Rickson Gracie) which is excellent for strengthening your internal organs. However, today, I will share with you another breathing method which is a simple one. Though it is simple, it is not too easy. However, by mastering it, I am sure, will improve not only your karate training but also your daily health.
First, let me ask you this. Do you know how many times you breathe in a minute? Have you ever measure it before? If you have not, I suggest that you do so and you will know the simple but yet very important data of your physical functioning. It is commonly believed that adult respiratory rate is on average 12 to 18 times per minute. If you are an athlete or a black belt in karate, you are supposed to breathe less frequently than that.
The important hint is that it is better to breathe less or slower, which means you will have a longer breathing process. Rapid and shallow breathing is not a sign of good health unless it is done intentionally (i.e. fire breathing). I am sure you have seen a sick and obese person breathing in this manner.
The Zen meditation works with slow breathing, and it serves to improve both mental and physical health. If you have gone to classes of zen meditation or yoga, I’m sure you have learned how to perform a slower and longer breathing method. Today I am not asking you to incorporate the meditation part in your breathing practice. Once you become more comfortable with a slower breathing and with an emphasis on moving the diaphragm, you can easily add the meditation part if you wish. We call this breathing method 腹式呼吸which literally means stomach or belly breathing. Of course, the stomach has nothing to do with the breathing but it was named so as the belly moves due to the diaphragm expansion and relaxation. We will call it Yoga breathing for this article.
OK let us go into how to exercise this Yoga breathing method. First, you sit in a comfortable chair or on the floor. Then, count how many times you breathe per minute in a normal way. You may discover that you breathe more than ten times per minute. Your number is too high if it is more than four time per minute. I am proposing you to breathe one cycle (inhale and exhale) by spending 30 seconds to breathe two times per minute. It is true that two times per minutes is awfully difficult, so you may want to start with four times per minutes. What you want to do is to match the time you spend for inspiration and expiration. You will spend between 7 and 8 seconds to inhale then the same amount of time to exhale. See if you can breathe comfortably with a four times per minute cycle. If you can keep going for an hour or more, then are ready to reduce to three times a minute, and finally twice. Is two times per minute the ultimate goal? No, the ultimate goal would be once a minute.
When you inhale, be sure to do this through your nostril and not through your mouth. Tense your diaphragm and push it down to “suck” in the air. While you are inhaling you will not try to expand your chest (though it will naturally) but rather to such the air down lower into your belly area so your belly may expand noticeably. Another thing that is important here is that you will inhale slowly at a constant speed. When you exhale, you will simply relax your diaphragm but with control so that you can exhale at a slow and consistent rate. You can exhale through your nose but mouth is preferred as you will have a better control of your exhalation. After fully exhaled, it may be difficult to inhale slowly. Do not suck in too much air too soon. You must spread it out to 7 to 8 seconds (for 4 cycles). Well, that is precisely what constitutes the exercise and training to control your breathing.
I also suggest that you will hold the breath for a few seconds if possible after each time you complete both inhalation and exhalation. Again, holding your breath when your lungs are full is easier than when they are “empty” (the last word is used only figuratively, as the lungs will collapse if they become anywhere near empty). After holding the breath for a few seconds with “empty” lungs, it is also more difficult to inhale slowly at the steady rate. Once again, trying to control your breathing is the exercise itself. Try not to jump to an extremely long cycle as you will fail. Find out a comfortable pace then try to stretch it out gradually.
This is a simple and relatively easy exercise so I hope you will include this in your daily training menu. You do not need to spend too much time for this exercise even if you are very busy. Before going to sleep is an excellent time to implement this exercise. It will help you to sleep too. You can also practice this exercise while you are driving. A longer breathing cycle will relax you better. You will certainly be less tired from driving. If you like reading books, then long and slow breathing is perfect to accompany your readings. You’ll enjoy reading more and your eyes will not tire as fast as before. Also if you have to work in front of a computer for a long period, it will help your concentration and you will be less tense. The benefits are almost limitless. A wonderful thing about the breathing exercise is that it is not only free but also you can practice it almost anytime and anywhere. Once you get used to this exercise in your daily life, it will help you in your karate training and also improve your general health condition.
I hope you will take this exercise seriously. If you have not exercised the Yoga breathing before I hope you will try it out today. I also hope that you will come back and tell me about your success stories. Of course, just one day of training will not result in any noticeable benefit. If you can continue for a several months, I am sure you will be able to feel the significant difference and its tremendous benefit.
Part 1 written by Kousaku Yokota
Proof read by Leroy O’Neill
I am happy to announce that Part 2 of this article will be written by Dr. Ashraf Ragab, Faculty of Pharmacy Cairo University Egypt and also a Karate Examiner of Egyptian Karate Federation.