If you’ve ever taken a group exercise class or worked out under the guidance of a personal trainer, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard these three words uttered at least once: “Exhale on exertion.”
It’s not a bad cue, by any means, and it certainly has its place when it comes to some styles of training. However it’s not a cue that you’ll typically hear delivered by an Animal Flow instructor. Instead, what you can expect to hear is the instructor breathing audibly, and variably, as they demonstrate the style of breathing that best works for them. We refer to this as ‘breath mobility.’
Simply put, breath mobility refers to the ability to inhale or exhale during any phase of any movement.
In my experience, it can be common for those who are new to movement (or new to a particular skill) to hold their breath without even being aware of it. So when that person begins their Animal Flow journey, their first goal is basic yet challenging: just breathe. We don’t enforce a specific strategy for respiration. We just want you to inhale and exhale in a physically comfortable way that allows you to be heard.
It’s normal to feel a little self-conscious and unsure of yourself as you start to practice breathing out loud. The intention is not to ‘be good at it’, it’s purely to start to explore how you use your breath during movement. That said, a Flowist who has a good degree of ownership over the way they breathe during movement will also usually demonstrate a high level of proficiency in the way they perform physically.
The main role of breathing is to transport the oxygen to the cells in your body and then clear out the resulting waste product, known as carbon dioxide. At its most fundamental and vital level, breathing occurs so that you can stay alive.
Yet its importance goes further; there is a growing body of evidence highlighting the role that breathing plays in cognitive function, emotional regulation and stress management. Breathing not only tells you what is happening in your body but also provides valuable insights into your current emotional state. Controlled and intentional breathing is an incredibly powerful way to change both your physical and psychological states.
As you get deeper into your Flow practice, I also fully encourage you to get deeper into your breath practice. There is an integrated relationship between the two. The way you move can influence the way you breathe and the way you breathe can influence the way you move.
For instance, when you find the Peak Position (or highest point) of a Crab Reach, your ribcage is optimally positioned for an expansive inhalation. As you return to Crab, it may be more advantageous to exhale. It’s certainly not the only way, though, so it can be beneficial to explore various patterns.
By contrast, the intention behind the way you perform a move can be supported by your breath. Bringing your energy to a halt (known as an ‘energy break’) in a Front Kickthrough could be matched with a sharp breath, whereas a slow deceleration during a Full Scorpion could be paired with a softer, extended exhale.
In the video below I demonstrate a Side Kickthrough drill that provides a simple and effective way to bring attention to breath mobility in your Animal Flow practice.
My personal interest in breathwork really began in earnest about five years ago, to the point that it became a regular part of my meditation and movement practices. I’ve explored a number of different forms but what I’ve come to believe is that there truly is no one perfect style.
The most magical thing about breath is that we can use it to change the way we move and the way in which we experience our current state.
Find more drills and tutorials to help you start or develop your practice at Animal Flow On Demand. From just $19.99 a month, you’ll have access to more than 90 instructional videos, 60+ classes and over 140 Flows from Mike Fitch and the Master Instructor team. Get started with your 14-day free trial today!