This yoga breathing exercise could be the key to improving workout performance

Pranayama breathe training helps you relax, but controlling oxygen intake has other benefits too

Woman outdoors doing yogic breathing exercise
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Breathing is essential to our lives, but it's not something we usually think about. Instead, this process is performed by our central nervous system, which takes care of many of our body's functions without conscious effort. 

We could happily pay it no attention, but there's growing evidence that controlling your breath could improve your health, sleep, and post-workout recovery. You can complement the practice with some aromatherapy by using one of the best diffusers for essential oils in your home. 

Although we're only just starting to understand the science behind these techniques, they have been a core part of most forms of yoga for hundreds of years. Known as Pranayama, yogic breath training is designed to relax your body and calm your mind. 

For similar reasons, focusing on your breath is one of the most important parts of learning how to meditate. These benefits are backed by science, too, as a systematic review of published studies found that slow breathing techniques were linked to improved emotional control and psychological well-being.

If you're new to pranayama breath practice, it's worth learning the technique from an experienced teacher, like Adriene Mishler. Her popular Yoga with Adriene YouTube videos offer a free and easy way to get started with many yogic practises from your own home. 

Watch Yoga with Adriene's Pranayama Potion breathing practice

Learning how to breathe isn't only about relaxation, though. According to one study, the way we breathe also influences how we move objects. The researchers found that we inhale significantly just before lifting, suggesting that the increased oxygen intake is a key part of weights training.

When your workout gets particularly intense, you'll recognize the burning sensation caused by lactic acid build up. This is a byproduct of anaerobic respiration, which happens when there isn't enough oxygen delivered to the muscles.

Researchers have found how your body regulates this switch from aerobic (with oxygen) to anaerobic respiration. There's a particular enzyme, known as FIH, which keeps your muscles using oxygen for as long as possible before making the transition.

All of this confirms what you may have thought already; oxygen plays a vital role in our health and well being. By learning to control our breath, we can selectively activate areas of the nervous system to relax, but also increase oxygen intake for more effective exercise.

Whether you're new to yoga or just want to try out Yoga with Adriene's Pranayama practice, it's worth investing in one of the best yoga mats for a slip-free, comfortable base. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.