Learn to breathe? Who needs to “learn” how to breathe? Didn’t we figure that out about three seconds after emerging from the womb?
Well, yeah, but, not really.
You learned to breathe to survive, not necessarily for optimum efficiency. Possibly, some knucklehead gym teacher along the way taught you puff out your chest and suck wind out of your upper lungs — which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Or maybe you were told by someone to “take a deep breath” to relax, which is only half-right.
Luckily, breathing correctly is simple, will take almost no time to learn, and can be performed accurately with just a little practice and paying attention. Why is it worth the effort? Because by breathing properly, you will get more air to your lungs, in turn getting more oxygen to your muscles, and allow your body to move more efficiently. Good breathing will also relieve any tension in your muscles and mind. And anyone who has played baseball for any length of time will tell you that it is a game that is best played tension-free.
On with it already — how to breathe.
1. Breathe through your nose, taking in long, even breaths of air.
2. Breathe air into your stomach — never your chest. You should be able to see your belly expanding as the air is drawn in.
3. Keep drawing the breath in until just before the point of discomfort — fill that belly with air completely.
4. Once the belly is full, hold it for a moment, then exhale slowly — as slowly as possible — through either your mouth or nose.
Easy, right? Now there are two things to understand. First, you’re not really breathing into your stomach, but into your lungs (duh). But it’s easier to explain by saying “breathe into your belly” (other instructors might refer to it as “breathing into the diaphragm”). Secondly, you’re not going to be breathing like this all the time — for example, your breaths are likely to be shorter when you’re running. However, you should try to breathe this way anytime you need to relax, and any other time you find yourself conscious of breathing.
Proper breathing relieves tension, which makes it a good idea to take those deep breaths and long exhales just prior to an at-bat (if you’re a batter) or before making a pitch (if you’re a pitcher). For relaxation purposes, the emphasis is on the exhale — too many people take a good deep breath, but then let it all out too quickly, and thus null the full effectiveness of breathing. Make sure you exhale slowly and with length, and you’ll be certain to release all the tenstion in your body.