In preparation for a race, we might spend hundreds of hours training. While yoga increases strength and flexibility of the body, it also does this for the mind.
Pre-race nerves can affect both new runners and seasoned racers. One way to help combat this anxiety is with pranayama (breathing exercises). The word pranayama is translated as; prana, meaning life force, and yama, meaning control. We take, on average, about 17,000 breaths each day, generally without them ever crossing our mind. Pranayama teaches us to become consciously aware of our breathing through various breath exercises, helping connect our mind and body.
Before a race, pranayama is a great way to promote relaxation, ease stress and agitation, and to calm a racing mind.
Here are three types of pranayama you can try the night before or the morning of your race:
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Abdominal breathing
- Ujjayi, the ocean’s breath
To begin, sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair or cross-legged on floor. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders. Poor posture such as rounding your spine and hunching forward will inhibit effective breathing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Take your index finger and middle finger of your right and fold them down so they are touching your palm. If this feels uncomfortable, fold the ringer finger down so that your index, middle and ring finger are folded down to your palm. Your hand will be making the “surfs up” hand.
- Use the right thumb to close the right nostril – Inhale in through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your ringer finger or pinky finger, exhale through the right nostril.
- Keep the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril
- Close the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril
Repeat these steps, alternating nostrils after each inhalation. Try and work up two minutes.
Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on your back with your legs slightly apart. Place you hands on your abdomen or resting on the floor to either side of your body. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose, drawing air into the lungs and letting the abdomen rise. Exhale through your nose, letting your abdomen fall. Settle into a slow and relaxed tempo keeping the length of inhalations and exhalations equal. Once this feels comfortable you can add a short pause between each inhalation and exhalation. Follow this breathing for at least two minutes.
Sit in a comfortable position and draw your navel in, gently engaging your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Hold your right palm two inches away from your mouth. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth making a ‘haaa’ sound in the back of your throat. You should feel your breath on the palm of your hand, as though you are trying to fog up a mirror. Inhale again through your nose but this time close your mouth and exhale through your nose, making the same ‘haaaaa’ sound in your throat. Feel the breath across the back of your throat on both the inhalation and exhalation. The sound created in the back of your throat should resemble the ocean (or Darth Vader). Try this exercise for at least two minutes.