The Breath

Most of us taking breathing for granted. It just..happens. We don’t need to think about it, right? But our breath is important. Despite the fact that we waste it in arguments, hold it while waiting for something, and struggle to catch it when busy or exhausted.

The breath, breathing can be a very powerful tool. Controlling your breathing is a very useful skill to develop and use. Proper breathing is key in most forms of exercise, in meditation, sleep, and more. My first exposure to manipulating the breath for actual results was in yoga. Pranayama, which is the practice of controlling the breath, is the first thing you do in hot/bikram yoga. It facilitates what comes after.

Want to see how powerful the breath is? Take 6 slow, deep breaths. Inhale for about 5 seconds, exhale for about 5 seconds. Repeat. Six deep breaths. Feel better? You just: lowered your blood pressure, calmed your sympathetic(fight-or-flight) nervous system, and increased blood flow to your heart and tissues. And that only took about 30 seconds.

If this interests you, look into:

-Box breathing

-Holotropic breathwork

-Wim Hof method

-Valsalva/Frenzel maneuvers

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Deload

Deloading is a common aspect in many training routines. During a deload training is reduced in frequency, intensity, volume, or a combination of these dimensions. A deload will most often last a week.

 

Why

There are a few reasons for a deload period. The most common reasons are:

  • Avoid a plateau in performance: The concept of a deload is based on the principle of supercompensation. Simply put, the body is always trying to adapt. So after a certain amount of time/stress put on the body, it will begin to adapt and gains in strength or performance will plateau.
  • Avoid aggravating recurring injuries: If you have a past injury a deload week may be necessary to avoid another injury. A deload week is much better than months lost to injury
  • Physical and/or mental recovery: Physical recovery is an obvious reason for a deload. Recovery from fatigue is vital to improving strength, performance, and hypertrophy. Mental recovery is often overlooked. Pushing your body daily or even several times a week is draining on mental resources. Without proper recovery, those resources will deplete. A routine for improving strength will tax the nervous system even more so, so a deload week will help to maintain steady progress with these types of routines.
importance of deload for mental and physical recovery
Deloading allows for mental and physical recovery

When

For the most part, routines will have a deload week built in around the fourth or fifth week. Depending on your goal or the purpose of the routine (hypertrophy, strength, etc.) when the deload is scheduled may be different. However as a main reason for deload is to avoid injury and avoid plateaus, if you feel that you need to deload at week 3 so be it. And if you’re at week 5 and feel great, don’t feel you have to deload simply because the routine says so. Trust your body.

 

How

The way you deload matters on preference, goals, and how much you feel you need to deload. The different dimensions that can be manipulated during a deload are:

  • Frequency: Simple. If you normally exercise 5 days a week, reduce the number to 2-3 sessions a week.
  • Volume: Use the same weight and number of reps, but reduce the number of sets performed by about 60%.
  • Intensity: Using the same set/rep scheme, but with weight reduced by 40%-60%.
  • Exercise selection/modality: If you’re a hardcore weightlifter, try a week of cardio (running, swimming, biking, etc.) or vice versa. Body weight circuits is another good alternative to your usual lifting routine. Even exercise selection is a good way to deload. If compound exercises are your thing, try a week of machines, make a circuit out of it.

 

Another effective and fun way to deload is to try a whole different method of activity. For example, I discovered hot yoga during a scheduled deload last year, and have been going to yoga ever since. Get out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to try something new, you’ll be better for it. And when you do get back to your routine, you’ll appreciate it that much more and maybe have a new passion as well.

 

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Yoga

There are many ways to get the exercise your body needs. I recently took a month totally away from the gym and instead did hot yoga 3-5 days a week. My own experience was so positive and important for me, that I wanted to write a bit about yoga.

While its history is a long and winding one, yoga can be very simple. Yoga has many benefits, both physical and mental. Many of the benefits are obvious, some not as much. So we’ll start with the physical side.

While not necessarily the goal, yoga involves quite a bit of stretching. Aside from the obvious benefits of flexibility, muscle control, etc., the stretching done in most yoga also improves secretion of hormones and salivary immune function. Following yoga sessions, study participants secreted significantly: less cortisol (stress hormone) and more testosterone and immunoglobulin A (vital antibody). Regularly attending yoga also helps the brain. Participants were tasked with using a brain-computer interface to control a computer with only their thoughts. The participants who regularly (twice a week) attended yoga were twice as successful in doing the simple tasks assigned in the experiment.

Health, in a more broad sense is also positively impacted by yoga. Body weight and composition are improved with regular attendance of yoga classes. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is reduced and type 2 diabetes/blood glucose levels are improved with regular yoga. Lipid profiles, think cholesterol levels, tend to be better and incidence of coronary heart disease is lower. Even COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) sufferers were able to use medication less often and have an overall better quality of life.

There are also many seemingly intangible benefits of yoga, though they can outweigh the physical. Yoga is shown study after study, to reduce anxiety and stress. Not only during and immediately after, but in daily activities. Not only were “average” stress and anxiety levels reduced, but people with diagnosed stress, anxiety, and depressive disorders reported less symptoms when taking yoga classes.

There are so many different ways to do yoga that if you take a little time, you can find the one that works for you. From the physical to the mental, yoga is a great way to get exercise, meditate, generally increase your quality of life, and be happier.

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