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Curious effect of pranayama before aerobic exercise

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New-born freediver
Aug 1, 2003
Hi all,

Lately I've been observing a curious fact:
As a warm-up I usually do a little bit of Pranayama (3x60 Kapalabhati 'shining skull',
and 3 rounds of 4:16:8 alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma)) and some Sun Salutations to get the juices flowing and avoiding bone cracking :)

So, after this warm-up I feel really energized and loose. I begin my swim/bike/calisthenics/run/whatever,
and magically my pulsometer goes 10 beats per minute below the usual rate. Same times/lap, same perceived effort. In other words, my body is doing less effort to acomplish the same task.

I removed the Sun Salutations from the warn-up and still get the same results. But if I quit any of the two Pranamayas, dont get the effect.

Any comments, suggestions, explanations about this curious fact?

Cheers, Oscar
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Kapalabhati usually has such on effect . But be careful, too much of it and you will get hyperventilated.
I have noticed an even greater effect, but it can't be due to hyperventilation, because I didn't do any kapalabhati.

There were three times in my life when I was doing very intensive alternate nostril breathing (anything from 10:40:20 to 16:64:32).

Strangely, it was during those EXACT three periods when I could perform aerobically better than any other times in my life. I didn't realize this until MUCH later, years later, actually.

The first time was in 1994, when I used to run around the block, around one mile. My usual times (after 2 years of doing it) were around 6:30 to 7:00 (lots of hills). Then, one summer I started daily pranayama at 10:40:20, and suddenly my times on the same route fell to 5:49 to 5:55. I tried years later to reach the same time without success (and without pranayama).

The next time was in summer of 2002. I had a 5km personal best which I had set years before and could never even come close to. I had been doing 16:64:32 pranayama for about 3 weeks. I tried running a 5km, the first one in about a year, and had an incredible time. On the 2nd attempt I broke my pb; years earlier it had taken three solid months to set the pb (without pranayama), and this time I broke it on my 2nd run!

The next time this effect occurred was in summer of 2003, when I was doing the 'grouse grind' hike; again I broke my pb when in a pranayama phase.

The next time this effect occurred was this winter, of 2004. I was skiing several times per week. My condition and performance was not good. I tried going to the gym, it didn't help much. Then, I began doing bhastrika sets (2 minutes of fire breathing then one cycle of alternate nostril at 20:250:40, with full bandhas, 5 cycles per sitting). Suddenly my skiing performance became inhuman, and this is both an aerobic and anaerobic activity. I stopped the bhastrika and my skiing performance degraded to what it had been before. At the time I couldn't understand why my skiing was getting worse, then I remembered I had stopped the yoga.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I remember a long discussion in some yoga forum about wether yoga provided enough cardiovascular benefit or not. Using classic (occidental) thought, i.e: it doesn't provide cardiovascular benefits because.... it's not a cardiovascular exercise!, we understand it doesn't. (We are not talking here about the Asthanga Warrior Series, which, by the way, gets my heart up to 140-150 bpms!! even some 155 spikes!!). In the thread there
was an ex mid-distance competitive runner in his 40's, who quit the sport after a knee injury. He did 1 hour a day classic (I think it was sivananda 12 basic asanas, but don't remember exactly) yoga + pranayama. His 5 km time at the discussion time, was the best of his life! He told he doesnṫ even train... once a month he puts on his trainers, go to the track and clock his time. It keeps getting better. Never in his life he had this time (I think it was around 15-16 minutes, so he was a world-class-athlete)

Last winter, I've noticed the effect we are talking about, too. In fact my 5km PB is also
from that time. I did yoga everyday, plus pranayama and sun salutations before the run. It felt like I never went anaerobic,
no breathing pattern change if I went hard,
no need to warm-up throughly, and it was like there were only to running speeds: on and off. Of course the 'on' speed was a race speed, but without the after effects asociated with it. My HR was around 175 and felt like a kid, definitively running, not jogging. From that point till now, I've been replacing yoga with weights and cardio.
I'm real far of my 5km PB... and I'm not overtraining b/c my resting HR is stable everyday: 45 bpm.

So Eric , have you noticed same effects through Qi-Gong or another breathing-isometric-isotonic form of 'exercise'? I mean, I don't belive in magic :).
There must be something rational to it.
Could it be one of these factors or a combination?

- Increased lung elasticity
- Changes in blood parameteres: buffers,
PH, hematocrit, hemoglobin (SP?)
- Enhanced range of joints or movility

Or must we believe in the 'prana' (negative ion supercharging) theory??? :)

Oh, and another curious effect about pranayama: the internal heat. In mid-december I was able to just wear a t-shirt in the street after morning pranayama, where everybody was wearing even feather-filled-ski-jackets. Adrian has witnesed this one :)

Each day I live, I'm more surprised with the
intuituve knowledge inside this old discipline, yoga

Cheers from the next revolutionary
Search Engine labs (I'll keep the name secret hehe) ,

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Very interesting.

When I was actively sporting I did not believe all these breathing theories. Some small studies showed no big effect of different breathig styles DURING training and races, which confirmed what I felt myself so interest in it stopped and I just did what felt good.

However when I started freediving a lot of the breathing preparation is saw and had to learn I already knew a lot of :) . I already used big parts of the breathing techniques in my sporting days because they felt good before and during exercise. I recently saw some really good swimmers and they also naturally used a good breathing technique before and during training, just like I used to.

Last year I found the link www.breathplay.com/aboutbp.html which made me think that correct breathing can indeed be a factor in aerobic sports like running, biking etc. From a sceptic standpoint you could perhaps believe that if you do it the wrong way it could have a negative impact on performance. You would "just" have to know what are good and bad breathing techniques.:confused: There could be (small) differences from freediving just like some use different breathing techniques for static, dynamic and constant ballast.

What I found out is very important during sport (especially races) is relaxation. Durig the streneous activity you must just like freediving only use the parts of your body that are necessary and relax the rest. This is where meditation could play a role. Many sporters feel that exercising relaxes their mind and gets rid of the stress of the day. Some athletes (especially long distance runners) find a race is very similar to a meditation exercise.

So both breathing and meditation could play a role.

What breathing routines did you use: how many minutes did you do what breathing exercise.
my routine is very simple.

First, "Kapalabhati'
60 breaths in a "fire breathing mode" (around 30 secs). rest 1 minute. Repeat this set 3 times.
Then, just one "Bhastrika" cycle
20 inhale/exhale cycles, full lungs, with active exhale and passive inhale. After that,
a 2:30 seconds breathold.
After this, my resting heart rate sits somewehere between 40 and 50 bpms. Apnea induced bradycardia

Then, anuloma viloma, which is a 1:4:2
(i.e: x seconds inhale, 4x seconds retention,2x seconds exhale) pattern alternating nostrils. I do 3 sets (very mild actually) of 5:20:10 or 4:16:8
After that, I feel my heart beating slow, but strong and my lungs feel very very elastic.
Then, I begin my run. Normally,. as I've said, my HRM goes 10 beats down (which is a huge improvement) with same times. Effort also goes down accordingly. If you dont understand some terminology, just ask :)
Another thing I've noticed (related to breath-exercise performance issue) is:
When I do apnea running (in which i suck: I can only do 10 to 15 minutes of 20 secs apnea, 40 seconds running ventilation series), after I stop apnea and continue running in the cool-down.. I fly!! But I understand that If I have been running 15 minutes in a low O2/high CO2 breathing, when I return to the natural running, my body feels like out of that apnea cage!!

Also, from my own experience: The day after a hard yoga and apnea sesion, I fly on the bike. Its like my anaerobic threshold is much further than it use to, and my lungs are bigger than ever. I've broken severe psychological limits (hard and long inclines) on the bike the day after apnea/yoga sessions. To me, seems like apnea exercise helps a lot in tradicional aerobics, the reverse not being true

I agree also in your lastpoint. In a long 1 hour run, after 30 minutes from the beginning, I enter a meditative state... the one in which your lungs, your heart, your diaphragm, your legs and your arms are fully synchornized and doing their work 'on their own' while your mind simply observe them. It is often said that short distance athletes are the 'bon-vivant' types (hedonists) and long-distance are generally more mystical-easy going people :)

This week I'll do a test, which is after pranayama and a 10 minute apnea running, try swimming 50 meters all-out. Maybe I get some surprises. I'll also do a 800 meters swim or a 15 minutes aerobic test

If this thread keeps interesting... My boss is going to slap my face!! :)


Sorry to butt in - just had a quick question - I am a newbie and keep seeing figures like the ones mentioned here:


What do they relate to ? inhale / exhale / hold ?

(semantically confused)

Very interesting thread - used to do yoga in Japan but following the instructions was haaard - might take it up again.
Yes portinfer those are breathing patterns, measured in seconds/heartbeats/whatever (but constant) makes you more comfortable

inhale time/inhale hold time/exhale time/exhale hold time

Usually, exhale hold time is 0, so it desappears from the line--> 10:40:20
is 10 seconds inhale, 40 seconds full lungs hold, 20 seconds exhalation (0 seconds empty lungs retentions)
What is important is the proportion, not the seconds. So If you are not comfortable doing 10:40:20 (the sympton is: you cannot hold the air for that amount of time or your exhalation is quicker than the prescribed duration), do 9:36:18 or 4:16:8 or even 2:8:4.... the trick is that you must mantain the cycles without effort and without discountinuing.. so begin with low numbers and build your way up :)
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Can anyone suggest other sources of info on pranayama(i.e books, websites, etc..)?

I practice yoga in a heated room (102F), and we start with a type of pranyama breathing exercise (don't know what it's called) where you clasp your hands under your chin and butterfly your elbows out as you breath in, and bring them together as you breath out. They claim it increases lung volume up to 33%. I have experienced an increase (although not 33%) after several months of practice.

I think we have much to learn from yogis who have practiced pranyama. The practice of kumbhaka or breath retention, has a long history in yogic tradition. One yoga master wrote:

"The best cobras have the subtle pranic breath . . . There are three kinds of breathing: inhalation, retention, and exhalation. These processes are internal with nothing taken from the outside."

I think that the idea is that during Kumbhaka, the yogi enacts an inner breathing (subtle breath) that renders "normal" breathing, or the "dream breath" unnecessary.

A friend claims to have seen a yogi at an NYU experiment who could stop his heart for a minute. Anecdotal as it is, still holds promise for those of us who are just beginning to understand the power of our minds.

Off topic, had a question: I read that chlorophyll (from wheat grass) is so similar in composition to hemoglobin, that the body can use it to oxidate the tissues. Anyone else heard this and found that regular consumption of wheat grass improves performance.

Also off topic, I was reading about the acid/ alkaline balance in the blood, with respect to blood buffers. It said that one can go into alkalinosis by hyperventilation. Does that mean that one can hyperventilate too much before a static, and if so, what are the signs that one has hyperventilated excessively?
Sorry LeeYoder for the delayed response:

The best two books I have seen about the subject of Pranayama are:

Andre Van Lysebeth - Pranayama
B.K.S. Iyengar - Ligth on Pranayama

I like better the first one, but I think is harder to find.

In fact, any good book about Yoga would cover Pranayama basics

Good luck with it!

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work!
Pranayama cleanses the lungs. Most people do not take deep breaths. To avoid allergy and lung disease, do pranayama in three steps. First, do Kapalbhati, then pulse refinement, and after this do Bhastrika Pranayama. Kapalbhati cleanses the lungs and cleanses the stomach with digestion. Reduces frozen fat on the stomach. Pulse purification pranayama serves as the communication of vitality. It purifies the pulse that carries blood to all parts of the body. Laziness, tiredness, and sadness will go away and you will feel energetic.
The time of Pranayama is before six o'clock in the morning. Do it by sitting in Padmasana, Siddhasana or Sukhasana. After every pranayama, take one or two deep long breaths and release slowly and relax the breath. Do not do pranayama if your breath is extinguished. If there is a disease, do pranayam only with the advice of a specialist. Do not do heart disease, stomach surgery, ulcer patients, and pregnant woman pranayama. Do not do Kapalbhati and Bhastrika Pranayam in periods.
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