Improve your breath hold and lung function, and improve your freediving. The Breath Hold Optimisation Classes are based on the programme Emma devised for Olympic and Paralympic athletes across cycling and swimming, and have been used successfully since 2010. The exercises are designed to teach you how to breathe fully and efficiently, improve CO2 tolerance, increase breath hold capacity, increase Vital Capacity, decrease Residual Volume and improve diaphragm flexibility. Emma’s program uses techniques from yoga, freediving and the Buteyko method, and have been proven to improve lung function and performance.
Please read the following important information below if you have not attended a breathing optimisation class before:
IMPORTANT: If you have not yet attended an online breathing class then please read the below before your class.
- It is important to do these classes on an empty stomach. make sure you time your meals to be after the classes, and avoid fizzy drinks or drinking a large volume of liquid before the class.
- One of the core exercises in the breathing optimisation classes is called The Pumping Breath, also known as Kapalabhati. It usually requires practice before it can be done correctly.
How to do Kapalabhati
Sitting on a chair or on the floor with your spine straight, close the eyes and inhale deeply into the belly and then exhale gently. Do this two times and then inhale deeply and begin the pumpings:
Contract the abdominal muscles quickly, causing the diaphragm to move up into the thoracic cavity and pushing the air out of the lungs forcefully. The rest of the body (particularly the throat) should be completely relaxed.
Then relax the abdominal muscles, allowing the diaphragm to descend. The effect of this will be to draw air back into the bottom of your lungs without any effort. Do not actively inhale.
Repeat for the count specified, (out and in counts as 1). At the end of the count, exhale fully, pushing out every last bit of air. Then inhale deeply, exhale gently, inhale deeply and exhale completely.
Then (if doing a retention), inhale to ¾ of your full capacity and hold your breath for the time specified. After the retention, do 3 relaxed breaths and then start the next round of pumpings.
When you first begin your practice, start with 3 x 20 pumpings and 20 second retentions. Keep the pumpings slow to ensure you are doing them correctly. Slow is better than fast! Then build up to a practice of 40 pumpings followed by a 40 second retention, 50 pumpings followed by a 50 second retention and then 60 pumpings followed by a 60 second retention. When this is completely comfortable you can slowly build up the pumpings and retentions. Just always make sure that you are doing the exercise correctly.
More breathing videos
A note on breathing exercises
We can never increase our total lung capacity (i.e. what we are born with), but we can improve how we use our lungs and increase our vital capacity (the amount of air that can be inhaled and exhaled). Emma’s ability to use her lungs to their full capacity meant that during an HSE diving medical she over-performed so much on one test that it skewed the results for the following one, giving the feedback that she had chronic asthma despite never having suffered in her entire life.
We spend our lives not being aware of what the diaphragm does, many of us not using it at all as we breathe predominantly and inefficiently from our upper chest, yet most of the time our diaphragm should be responsible for three quarters of our breathing.
The first way to become aware of your diaphragm is simply to breathe slowly in and out, as much as you possibly can. It is easier to do this lying on your back with your legs bent and knees flat on the floor by your bottom. Start by placing one hand on your tummy and the other on your upper chest. Begin breathing only into your belly, seeing if you can expand it like a balloon up to the ceiling without the upper hand on your chest moving at all.
When you’ve mastered belly breathing, breathe in and out in the middle part of your chest, activating your ribs at the front, side and back of the body. Then practice breathing into the top of your chest around your collarbones (this can be very tricky to isolate on its own). Then put it all together, breathing very slowly in, filling your lungs as much as you possibly can, and then breathing slowly out, squeezing every last drop of air out of your lungs.
A good trick to try is to sit up, place your hands on your ribs, and then, whilst holding your breath, move the ribs out and in. We are so used to thinking that the movement of our ribs is entirely connected to breathing that we don’t realise how much we can move them independently from the breath.
Once we’ve mastered control over how we breathe in and out, utilising the diaphragm as it is meant to be used, we can work on the strength, tone and flexibility of the diaphragm. The most famous exercise is the one children often do in the playground to amuse their friends, the Sanskrit term for which is Udiana Bandha and is the one where our tummy disappears…
How to do Udiana Bandha
For safety, this exercise should be done on an empty stomach, bladder and bowel. Take it very gently as it is easy to injure yourself and strain the heart if you do this exercise aggressively.
Sit on the end of a chair, or cross-legged on the floor and bend forward slightly, placing your hands on the tops of your thighs for support. You can also stand up, however your legs must be bent and you must lean forward, placing your hands on your thighs as above
Take a deep breath into your belly and then exhale all the air out of your lungs. When there is no air left, hold your breath and pull up your diaphragm to make a space under your ribs.
Hold this for a few seconds and then gently release the diaphragm down and breathe deeply and gently to recover. To start, do this no more than three times. You can slowly build up the time that you hold the stomach in, up to 30 seconds to begin with.
The second stage to this exercise is to roll the tummy out after you have pulled it up and repeat until you stop the exercise and breathe in. It is also possible to roll the tummy and make a line with the abdominal muscles that you move from side to side although the first two stages of this exercise are the most beneficial.