A while back I wrote about how to reduce asymmetries in your gait and improve your endurance by alternating which foot you breathe out on. I teach this to my clients and in my online running camp, and some runners tell me they absolutely love the way it makes them feel. Others, however, tell me it’s hard to count their footsteps and hard to get used to the breathing pattern. They just keep getting confused.
I was out for a run the other day — my foot is finally healed enough to run again, hooray! — and found myself reflecting on the mysterious effects of this breathing pattern, which somehow makes running more rhythmic until it’s almost as if your body were running by itself. Or another metaphor: perhaps it’s like riding a train with a soothing, old-fashioned clickety-clack, clickety-clack as you look out the window at the landscape gliding by.
In other words, the effect is very meditative.
And that realization suggested a solution for runners who find the breathing pattern confusing and difficult. A common meditation technique is to pay attention to your breath, and to repeat a mantra, or repeated words or phrases, to help you do it. Examples include this one from Thich Nat Hanh and this one from Deepak Chopra.
Using a mantra can also help you find a groove that connects your breathing with your footstrikes in alternating fashion and even heighten the meditative effect of using the breathing pattern. I’m currently running at seven footfalls per breath cycle, so I made this little mantra to help me know when to breathe in and when to breathe out, and I repeated it silently in rhythm with my footfalls:
Now I breathe in,
Now breathe out.
That’s four syllables in the first line, matching up with four footfalls, and three syllables in the second line, matching up with three footfalls. Then I start immediately on the first line again on the very next footfall.
You could use this or, if you’re running at five footfalls rather than seven per breath cycle, try this one:
Now breathe in,
Three footfalls per breath cycle could be:
You could make up one for nine footfalls per breath cycle as well; I like to run at that pace though I haven’t been doing it lately. If you’re doing MAF training you’ll likely want that one, and though you should verify it with a heartrate monitor that might be an effective way to keep yourself in your aerobic heart rate.
You can also make up your own breathing mantras with things that matter to you, like maybe,
That’s seven footfalls.
Let’s make a list to inspire each other! Next time you go for a run, try out different phrases and share ones you like in the comments.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.