Walking, meditation and yoga are healthy lifestyle choices that positively impact your overall fitness and mental well-being. Instead of trying to fit too many hobbies into a busy schedule, you can combine these three practices — into what’s known as yoga breathwalking — to save time and lose weight while having fun.
Here’s what you need to know about the basics of yoga breathwalking and how it can help calm your mind and reduce stress while you shed pounds.
HOW IT WORKS
The goal of yoga breathwalking is to synchronize your breathing with your stride during daily walks to calm your mind and improve your body’s conscious awareness. This moving meditation was developed from the kundalini yoga practice to link the body and mind for greater spiritual awareness.
Similar to yoga, an emphasis is placed on taking deep, full breaths instead of shallow ones. By focusing on your steps and how you breathe, you can put busy thoughts to rest instead focus on the present with a quiet mind.
“This method of breathing that’s a meditation creates a level of active calm,” says Dr. Jim Nicolai, who advocates the practice for his patients. “My main goal is to teach people how to breathe fuller, deeper and even take more breaths,” he explains. “The breath is the key to changing your state [of mind].”
The benefits of walking have been well documented, from improving cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness to reducing the risk of heart disease and managing conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. Meditation, on the other hand, has been shown to decrease stress, steady your emotions and improve energy levels and mental clarity.
Not only can meditation help prevent cognitive decline, it can also help with weight loss. One study found participants were less likely to choose unhealthy food after participating in mindful practice techniques like breathwalking. This is due to the increased awareness of the body, making the individual more conscious of how their choices affect the body and more likely to commit to healthy lifestyle choices.
Since stress can begin to accumulate when you may not even be aware of the effect it can have on your body, using a technique like breathwalking can help you stay on track and center yourself before things begin to pile up.
“Often when we breathe shallowly, we find ourselves into a state of anxiety, being overly alert, or too on,” Dr. Nicolai says. “Breathing fuller, deeper, and more evenly can give you a state of what I call active calm.”
HOW TO GET STARTED
Whether you’re looking for a calm recovery walk, a way to improve your hill-walking technique or just want to reduce stress and clear your mind, breathwalking can be a terrific technique to include in your weekly routine.
Here’s how to coordinate your breath with your steps:
Wave Technique The first step of breathwalking is called the wave. With this technique you’ll inhale through the nose with each foot strike for four steps. Try to practice breathing deep with the diaphragm while you walk instead of shallow, forced inhalations. After four steps, exhale for four more steps.
“I often tell people to breathe in through their nose, and out through their mouth,” says Nicolai. “To sync this with your stride, you’ll walk in cadence with your breath, so they both follow that rhythmic count. Four steps on the inhale, four steps on the exhale.”
Start by doing this technique for 5 minutes during your walk, taking breaks when needed. You can increase the length of time as you become more comfortable.
Stair Technique Once you’re comfortable with the wave method, you can try the slightly more advanced stair technique. With this method, one long breath is replaced by four shallow breaths.
“With stair breathing, you’re using a four-in, four-out pattern of breathing,” explains Nicolai. “Instead of one full breath in for a count of four and one full exhale for a count of four, you’re taking four small breaths in and four small breaths out. Stair breathing links each stride with a single breath.”
While it may feel unnatural at first, the more you practice, the more this way of breathing, counting and walking becomes rhythmic and feels like second nature.
Adding On If you want to up your breathwalking technique further try these two steps:
- As you count steps, make yourself more aware of your surroundings. Focus on the sun, the sky and the life around you.
- Choose a positive, self-affirming mantra to coordinate with your foot strikes and repeat it silently during your walk.
BREATHING THROUGH THE NOSE
While the breathwalking technique can be a great way to link your mind and body while you walk to relieve stress, you probably won’t want to use this technique for all of your walking workouts. During those times when your effort or duration might require more energy, you can still use some of the principles of breathwalking to your advantage. This includes breathing in and out through your nose while utilizing your diaphragm for deeper breathing.
Besides its calming effects, studies show nasal breathing decreases respiratory rates, the number of breaths per minute and the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide output. This means more oxygen can enter the bloodstream, which during exercise, can improve your overall endurance (meaning you fatigue less quickly).
This is because breathing through the mouth often causes quick and shallow breaths, creating hyperventilation that expels more carbon dioxide. Closing the mouth during your walks and concentrating more on nasal breathing helps you breathe deeper, be more relaxed and achieve some of these performance benefits even when you’re not actively practicing the wave and stair breathwalking techniques.
Originally published March 2019, updated with additional reporting
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.