Open Water Swimming Breathing Techniques that Relax, Restore, Power and Invigorate

Ocean Breath – How to find yours . . . . .

“Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” George Carlin

Swimming is the only sport where the coach yells at you for breathing, for actually taking in air or energy. Ocean water swimming can be breath taking and some of the destinations literally can take your breath away, but how do you make the most of your air while you are swimming out in the sea?

Applying Yoga Principles

Prana is the Sanskrit word for life force. Prana enters the body through the breath. Ayama in Sanskrit means to draw out. So Pranayama techniques in yoga can teach you to lengthen your breath. The same techniques can be applied to swimming

The techniques can be used to create the following effects:

  • Invigoration
  • Relaxation
  • Restoration

To invigorate, lengthen the inhalation and shorten the exhalation. Make the breathing rapid. To relax slow down the breathing using an equal 3 part “yogic breath”, having the inhalation and exhalation equal, breathing first into the chest, then abdomen and finally all the way to the lower abdomen. To restore, lengthen the exhalation, while keeping the inhalation the same.

Coach Bobby Patten, cofounder of the Dallas Aquatic Masters, former Waikiki Rough Water winner, says “You’ve got to remember to exhale especially at the beginning of a race when you are nervous. We never forget to inhale, but when we are stressed we hyperventilate and forget to exhale and let go.”

Three breathing techniques to try are:

  • Reverse Ujjayi Breathing
  • Density Breathing
  • Disciplined Breathing

The Ujjayi Breath

The Ujjayi breath is another breathing technique, it is also known as the Conquers’ breath, Victor’s breath, but more commonly as the Ocean Breath. It is an audible breath. Think of it like the sound that your scuba regulator makes. To make this breath, inhale through your nose, slightly close the back part of your throat and exhale through your mouth. It is used to maintain rhythm and stay present while doing the asanas (yoga poses).

I have found that a reverse Ujjayi breath is helpful in swimming. When I am nervous I turn my head and breathe in through my mouth and then put my head back shut my mouth and exhale through my nose. This automatically restores my composure and changes my breathing pattern so I am no longer breathing every stroke. It is not only easier but I can make my breath last longer.

Density Breathing

Another useful breathing technique for swimming is Density Breathing; this technique is not used in yoga but can be used in swimming when

  • There is a big discrepancy between the water and air temperature
  • In rough or choppy seas

To practice Density Breathing, fill the bottom of your mouth with water, now leave the water there and subtly pull back just the air. If the water is warm and the air is cold the water in your mouth with help warm the air before it gets to your lungs. If the seas are Rough and each time you breathe you get hit with water, you will be able to learn to keep the water in your mouth and pull back on the air alone.

Disciplined Breathing

Breath early in your stroke and be disciplined about it. When your right (or left) arm enters breath with your sternum lifted. Be ready to take in air when you turn your head. Make sure you have finished your exhale. Breathe in the front quandrant of your stroke. Do not linger breathe (still inhaling on the recovery part of your stroke).

Be Conscious of your breathing . . . . .

By practicing conscious breathing you will be able to extend the life of your breath, and be mindful of the changing surroundings in a race and remain in present time consciousness.


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