The Zen of “The Zone” – How To Breathe The Right Way When You’re Working Out.

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Articles, Fitness

A few weeks ago, I experienced a personal revelation.

A revelation that has totally changed my workouts and the way I feel when I'm exercising.

And it all comes down to breathing.

Do you know how to breathe the right way when you're working out? It may seem trivial, but learned how to breathe properly (and the correct way to do this is going to surprise) has literally changed my entire exercise experience.

Let's delve in – and learn why I call this new breathing concept the zen of “The Zone”…


Meet Dr. John Douillard.

Dr. John Douillard, DC has written and produced numerous health and fitness books, CDs, and DVDs.  He has been teaching and lecturing internationally for 25 years and publishes a free wellness video-newsletter filled with the latest studies and research.  He was the Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets in the NBA and currently directs the LifeSpa- Ayurvedic Retreat Center in Boulder, CO, where he lives with his wife and six children.

During our interview, I ask John:

From a scientific standpoint, what is “The Zone”?

How can you reach the Zone when training and racing?

How should you breathe when training or resting?

body mind sport

What are the best breathing techniques or exercises for learning to breathe properly, while resting, running, cycling, etc?

Where does your concept of Ayurvedic typing play into this?

Resources John recommends in this interview include:

running on air bookThe Ayurvedic Typing quiz

Breathe Right strips

Body, Mind, and Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Health, Fitness, and Your Personal Best

During our interview, I also mention the book:

Runner's World Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter

Questions, comments or feedback about how to breathe the right way when you're working out? Leave your thoughts below!

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

33 thoughts on “The Zen of “The Zone” – How To Breathe The Right Way When You’re Working Out.

  1. Asta says:

    It’s great to breathe well in ritual-like running and sports. But what about taking the skill into daily living? A bit negative experience in a social security office, where they actually punish for breathing calmly “as if I don’t care”. How does a vedic “soldier” survive in bureaucracy, I mean breathing when it’s punished (i.e. an atmosphere where forced to do things in a stressful way only)? And are they doing wrong who force stressful way of living, or are they using some kind of Chinese Xingiquan (inner strong)/Darth Vader and it’s the new social norm?

  2. Sol says:

    Ben, great podcast as always. You and John are two of my heroes!

    I’m interested to know if nasal breathing can replace Maffetone heart rate monitoring? I.e. is it enough to exercise and breathe only through my nose and will that make my heart rate do the right thing?


  3. Edo says:

    Ben,article is great.I have no problem with nose breathing.When I reach zone state that is effortless perfomance phase as I understood what kind of running should I apply:Steady tempo run or Interval training or I just run as I feel.To be more clear I am asking if Zone is ultimate level or ve can use zone to create speed,strenght,interval,steady trainings within Zone??

    1. Yes, you can do speed training, strength training, interval training and steady-state cardio using the same method. Hope that helps!

      1. Edo says:

        Yes Ben it was very helpfull answer.I was confused where to put my intervals,in listening or perfomance phase or to give up fro intervals.Thanks for quick and clear answer.

  4. I really enjoyed the podcast. I found it interesting when he talked about the lower lung lobes and how your body responds to shallow breathing vs deep breathing. I learned a lot from that one. I am going start some of the exercises that he mentioned today. Also, I didn't realize it took 18 wks for your body to learn new movement pattern. Have a great week! Thank you!

  5. randorichard says:

    Silly question. How do I download one of your Podcasts for listening offline? Whenever I click on "download" it just plays it (using an iMac with various browsers). This one I do not see on the iTunes store.

  6. Lance says:

    Interesting podcast. I read his book a few years ago because I've studied some yoga, meditation, bodywork, etc. and thought he could add more. I didn't find ayurveda useful, and thought the nasal breathing was weird. I always thought breathing was related to heart rate/intensity. But since switching to Maffetone's 180 formula, I've found myself nasal breathing spontaneously at times. So I tried it on my most recent run and bike. It was a little awkward, especially as I approached MAF, but that saved me from staring at my HRM. Think I'll revisit the book and experiment some more.

  7. Gary says:

    Interesting podcast. I tried some nasal breathing as I was running/listening to the podcast and I can see what you guys mean about a calming effect. Does John have a breathing app or can you recommend one for endurance athletes?

    1. John doesn't have a breathing app that I'm aware of…but his book is good!

  8. Carl says:

    I enjoyed the podcast as I have been working on my breathing too. I have one thought tonight – the only time our body naturally breathes through the mouth is when we yawn. Based on what was said on the podcast about the benefits of nasal breathing, you'd think that yawning would be nose based. Does this book address this?

    1. The book did not address this Carl. I would imagine that yawning would definitely be a mouth based activity due to the amount of oxygen needed during a yawn to equalize pressure…

  9. Bree says:

    I'm interested in this book and the Runner's World one, but I find that I learn better through putting things into practice through audio lessons. Any good resources in that regard?

      1. Bree says:

        Yeah, the relevant books aren't available in audio format. Bummer.

  10. susie says:

    Hi Ben,
    A very timely podcast for me. I am very interested in the whole breathing correctly issue as I have been a mouth breather my whole life. I have two kids under 10 in early intervention orthodontics so that they dont have all the issues i still have at age 43. I had teeth extracted and braces which only addresses straight teeth and even that is questionable. As a result of this I have a narrow face, sinus issues, hayfever and of course breathing issues. I have been reading up on the Buyteko breathing techniques, (which I find really difficult!) and am also reading Carol Van Der Stoeps book Mouth Matters which I though may interest you and your readers too if you haven't heard of it.
    My Dad was a chronic mouth breather and snorer and I suspect apnea too and I think it is no coincidence he died from pulminary fibrosis. It is great people like you and John are bringing the importance of nasal breathing to everyday people as the more I learn about it, the more I am convinced it is one of the most important things to do right. I could go on, but I wont! Love your podcasts, I've learnt some great stuff from them.
    cheers Susie

  11. Eric Shadden Ŧ says:

    I really enjoyed the podcast. I found it interesting when he talked about the lower lung lobes and how your body responds to shallow breathing vs deep breathing. I learned a lot from that one. I am going start some of the exercises that he mentioned today. Also, I didn't realize it took 18 wks for your body to learn new movement pattern. Have a great week! Thank you!

  12. Pommie says:

    Hi Ben. Enjoy your podcasts/articles. I recently started changing my breathing when I kept getting stitch to a 3-2 or 2-3 patten, number of steps to inhale/exhale and more belly breathing rather than chest, if that makes sense. Seems to have fixed it quite well. Only thing now is that I have started to get a numb left quad near the knee after about 16kms of running. Stop and stretch and it's ok for another km or 2 and then have to stop and stretch. Not ideal for marathons. Is there anything you think that may help or can suggest?

    1. Consider it can take 18 weeks for your body to learn a new movement pattern (such as changing foot strike patterns due to breathing) part of this would be patience. The other part will be reading the mobility article I'm publishing soon.

  13. Meg says:

    Great podcast! Just started doing the Buteyko breathing exercises a couple weeks ago — I think it’s helping with my running efficiency but it’s probably too soon to tell. Look forward to trying out the nasal breathing exercises next time I’m on the treadmill. On another topic… can you send me the SuperHuman Food Pyramid? The twitter-bot in charge of sending it out is having trouble finding my tweets for it. Thanks a bunch!

    1. You can text the word FITNESS to "411247" and that's another way to get pyramid free!

  14. Dan says:

    I read “Body, Mind, and Sport” a few years ago, and tried the nasal breathing techniques to help my Exercise Induced Asthma / breathing issues.. And it helped tremendously! I haven’t been able to meditate, but on a few occasions during my trail-runs, I literally felt like I “woke up” after a few minutes and barely could remember anything…. I had a feeling of hovering through the woods, which was intense when looking back.

    I’ve been recommending it to others for quite some time now, and I also have had this book in my “My List” for Books. Great podcast/interview!

  15. Brian S says:

    Great podcast Ben. He had my attention when he said he went from being a mediocre triathlete to a good one. I am sick of being middle of the pack all the time, so I am definitely going to give this a try. Thanks!

  16. Morris Brossette says:

    I met Dr. Douillard in winter 2008 while he was speaking at my nutrition school in NYC. I did a few phone consultations with him thereafter. After about 4 weeks of deep nasal breathing I was able to run more efficiently, and by the summer I was doing 400 repeats at the track all breathing through my nose.

  17. Matt Firestein says:

    Ben, I recently did a half light Triathalon. I am very ignorant to biking and just bought my first triathalon Bike a Scott. What I noticed was most of the guys who looked experienced had their seats quite a bit higher than mine. Can you recommend a website to have the proper fit for a triathalon bike or could you give me ur experience. Seat height, frame size , etc. Thanks love your web site !!

    1. I recommend you do a Specialized Body Geometry Fit, a Retul fit or a F.I.S.T. fit. You can find a directory of any of these by googling them! Also is good if you want to do it online.

  18. Jordan says:

    Great podcast.. I've seen his book around but never felt particularly inspired to read it. Didn't think there was any possible way to get enough oxygen through nasal breathing alone, but he sounds quite knowledgeable and I have had positive experiences with Ayurveda in the past. I wonder if nasal breathing is better suited to training LSD/Lydiard style (he mentions 'the zone' in regards to ultra marathoners who tend to train this way) or if it would also work with HIIT which is what I respond to best. It's hard to envision getting enough oxygen through the nose while running short intervals but I'm still intrigued. Maybe I'll just have to read his book. Thanks for the interview.

    1. I've been using it quite a bit. You obviously can't go full on Anaerobic with this approach, but for aerobic workouts or for "dialing you back" during a race, it's amazing. Used it some during Wildflower…

  19. I've always wondered. Is there a huge difference between "belly breathing" through your nose and through your mouth? I just wonder because the air goes down the same pipe regardless of if it enters through a person's nose or mouth.

    I've always thought the real discussion should be belly vs chest breathing.

    1. Definitely a difference. There are both cognitive and filtering benefits that happens when you shift things nasally. An actual change in the nervous system response to breathing…

    2. martin says:

      Good point, Skora. Unfortunately, not much of what comes out of Ben’s air pipe has much to do with science or reality if there’s an Amazon affiliate buck at stake.

      Call me next time the lead pack of a major marathon runs past with their lips firmly sealed.

      1. susie says:

        Read Close Your Mouth by Patrick Mckeown.

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