Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (working title) Better Breathing In Freestyle.
…no matter how skilled or not you are in breathing, before you can correct and control any of your breathing errors, you have to become aware of what breathing your body is doing on it own, with or without your conscious control over it. Awareness, in this context, is the ability direct and hold your attention to some point of the body, and to sense the information coming through your nervous system from that point. Awareness is the foundation for any attempt to change or improve an undesired habit. The stronger your ability to maintain awareness on some point, the better is your position for affecting a change to it.
I know that is bad news for some who lament (or brag) about having a short attention span or no awareness of what’s happening inside your body. Perhaps tuning out has been a useful defense mechanism, but it is not a good mode to stay in most of the time. The metaphorical fact is you are the pilot of your vessel, and the pilot needs to be deeply in tune with your vessel to ensure the safe, smooth, timely delivery of your precious cargo. There is no way around this aspect of training in an improvement-oriented program. You need to improve your awareness in order to improve your control. Whether you are starting with a great ability to focus attention or a poor one, any improvement you make from there is going to serve your interests in breathing easier and swimming better.
The first step is to develop a daily habit of frequently checking in on your breathing throughout the day in order to notice its origin and characteristics in that moment. This can be an informative exercise, at times discovering that your breathing is unusually intense when you think it should be calm and vice versa. These observations alert you to other things influencing your body state that you may not have been aware of until this moment of your breathing examination.
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