Breathing Exercises with Laird Hamilton

Photo: Benjamin Thouard

Photo: Benjamin Thouard

Breathing Exercises with Laird Hamilton


We tend to overlook the importance of breathing because it’s something we do instinctually. We don’t have to do it consciously. But when you bring consciousness to breathing, it will improve your fitness tenfold, which is beneficial for any athlete. And we just might learn something about ourselves.

Personally, I do a lot of nose breathing, incorporating it into my exercise. One of the best ways to work on breath is to only breathe through your nose. You absorb a higher percentage of oxygen and you filter the air. You can’t get the volume of air you can through your mouth so you learn to pace yourself and be more efficient.

Next time you go for a paddle (or a bike ride or run, for that matter) try breathing only through your nose. Go for as long as you can before breathing through your mouth. Switch it up by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. You can do this with pushups, sit-ups or any exercise with repetition to create a rhythm. Regulate your tempo. Don’t go full speed because you’ll burn more oxygen than you can consume.

You can work on your breath even when you don’t have time to exercise. Whenever I take a flight, I try to nose breath throughout. Try this drill: breathe in through the right nostril and out through the left and focus on your breath while clearing your mind of everything else.

Awareness of your breath on a daily basis—it’s a big part of living. You become fully oxygenated, which helps fight disease and that awareness of breath relieves stress in daily life. Anytime you’re focusing on your breath, it brings you into the present. You don’t think about anything else but where the oxygen is coming from. It’s amazing how much it can help with mental focus.

Breathing drills can be implemented into everything we do and can also help make a game out of training. If you’re jogging on a street with telephone poles, take a breath at one pole and run to the next one before you exhale. Take a breath (or two) and hold again when you reach the next pole. Do it with lifeguard stands if you’re running along the beach. And don’t be afraid to try it for 10 or 20 second intervals while you’re paddling either.

Think about it: if you’re holding your breath for 10 seconds out of every 20 or 30, when you breathe freely, all of sudden you’re feel like you’re getting free air. Your breathing efficiency will expand and you can go a lot harder and faster.

Concentrating on these types of breathing exercises has enhanced my endurance and performance levels and it has definitely calmed me down. It takes the angst out.

We, as humans, are in the breath business. Oxygen is a key to life. My awareness of breath came as a process. I started to understand it better with yoga, and then getting worked on after injury, being forced to breathe through the pain. There wasn’t any one monumental moment when I came to this awareness. But having finally come to it, I definitely find calmness in it.

There’s a calmness when the surf’s big. After training all summer, being mindful of my breath, and then stepping right into heavy conditions and getting held under, my stress level isn’t quite what it would be otherwise. It makes the benefits easy to see.

An important part to remember about working on your breath is that it leads to a better understanding of yourself. If you’re doing these types of breathing drills, you’re going to learn a lot about you. Each of us is different and if we go through the process of breathing and working on mental awareness, we’re going to have a better relationship with ourselves.


This article originally ran in our Summer 2013 issue.

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