Lowcarbezine! Archives

Lowcarbezine! 23 March 2000

Thought For The Day

Ever run across a new idea, and think to yourself, "Hmmm. That's either the most amazingly brilliant thing I ever heard of in my life, or the most ridiculous idea in the entire universe -- and I have absolutely no clue which."

This is exactly how I felt when I first heard about breathing exercises. I was flipping through the channels one day, and came across this woman on Home Shopping Network. She was saying this astonishing thing: she said that the important thing about aerobic exercise for burning fat was not the exercise itself, but the increased oxygen consumption, because fat only burns in the presence of oxygen. She said that by stoking up the level of oxygen in your blood with breathing exercises, you could burn fat without doing the running, jumping, stair-climbing, whatever.

I was, to say the least, incredulous -- but I knew from taking anatomy and physiology that she was right about fat needing oxygen to burn. I also knew that many cultures had strong traditions of breathing exercises, and felt that they were a powerful force for health. Still, one thing was for sure -- I wasn't going to shell out $40 to find out if she was right. I forgot about it for the time.

But several weeks later I ran across the same videos she had been selling that day at the local Play It Again Sports (a used sporting goods store), for cheap. I picked 'em up, took 'em home, and tried it.

Damned if it doesn't work like a charm. I've now been doing breathing exercises a minimum of 5-6 days a week, between 15-25 minutes a day, for just about a year -- for most of this winter, it was about the only exercise I got. And I can honestly say this is the best form of formal exercise I have ever found.

I haven't dropped another several sizes or anything. But I started losing inches very quickly -- noticeably within the first week. I did drop some more weight. But the weird thing is, I've been getting muscle development from it, too. I have muscle definition on my legs like never before -- more than I got from going the gym three days a week and spending 40 minutes on the StairMaster, and then some more time lifting weights. I also can see the division between my bicep and delt quite clearly! And I swear that I now have virtually no cellulite on my thighs!

There are less tangible benefits, too -- you know, stuff like energy, a clear head, a sense of well being, not to mention being able to sing better because of my terrific breath support! All told, breathing exercises are the best thing I've done for my body since I went low carb almost five years ago.

"All right, already!" I hear you cry. "What is the name of this fabulous exercise?! Where do I get the tape? Can you just tell me how to do it?" Patience. Here's the deal: I have now tried three separate systems of breathing exercises, not to mention messing around with ideas of my own. I haven't found a bad system yet. Each has its merits.

The first system, the one I originally saw advertised on Home Shopping Network, is called Body Flex, and the originator is Greer Childers. No question about it, she's tall and skinny and blonde and gorgeous. She says she was a size 16 when she discovered breathing exercises, and that in 6 months she got down to a size 4. My results, I must say, have not been that spectacular -- but then, I'm not about 5'10", either. (Nothing like having a whole lot more frame to distribute the weight on!) I also have the feeling that she wasn't fat as a kid, but had simply put on some weight after the kids came -- the longer someone's been obese, the more likely it is that they have a real problem with metabolism, and I've been fat since I was a kid.

Greer's Body Flex system is available on video, but not in wide, general distribution; you can't get it in stores, or at Amazon.com -- you might contact the Home Shopping Network. She does also have a book, called _Be a Loser_, which describes everything on the tapes, and is pretty easy to follow. I have only one complaint about the book, which is that she speaks disparagingly of people who are size 14 and 16, as if that were terribly, terribly fat. As a person who rejoiced when she got back down to a size 14, and who still hasn't gotten skinnier than a size 12, even using Greer's exercises, I felt a bit slighted by this. Clearly, this is a woman who was skinny most of her life. Nonetheless, the information is good. You can order Be a Loser from Amazon.Com in Paperback edition or Hardcover edition. If you want the videos -- and I do think that it's at least somewhat easier to learn from the videos -- you'll need to contact Home Shopping Network. There are two videos that come as a set -- one that teaches you the basic breath and the various body positions and stretches that go with it, and one that runs you through an actual 18 minute breathing workout.

Substantially similar to Body Flex is Life Lift, by Rashelle Haines, who claims to be the one who first taught breathing exercises to Greer Childers, which would certainly explain the similarity, wouldn't it? The basic breathing technique of Body Flex and Life Lift is the same, but many of the positions and stretches are different. The two women's' personalities are quite different as well -- Greer is sort of brisk, concise and no-nonsense, while Rashelle is sort of warm and fuzzy and nurturing. Depends on your own personal style which you'll prefer. Life Lift has only one video, which teaches you the basic breath and the various positions and stretches, but only one repetition of each. It's up to you to put together a work out and do it daily. You can get the Life Lift video from Rashelle Haines website at http://www.aerobicbreathing.com . The website also includes a rundown of the basic breath technique, but I'll explain it for you.

Here's the basic breath from both Body Flex and Life Lift:

  1. Purse your lips and blow out as if you're blowing through a straw. Blow out all the air you possibly can -- empty your lungs completely.
  2. Breathe in through your nose, sharp and fast, as if you were trying to take in all the air in the room at a single breath.
  3. Hold for just a second. You're not holding your breath for very long, here, just giving your lungs a second to absorb oxygen.
  4. Press your lips together, and then breathe out explosively through your mouth, with a sound like, "PAH!" It should sound a bit wheezy. You should empty your lungs entirely again. (Yes, you will feel like a big ol' goofball doing this the first several times. Persevere.) You may well find yourself coughing; that's good, it's your lungs cleaning themselves. You may also crack up the first couple of times, which is okay, too.
  5. Stop breathing, in the back of your throat, and, holding your breath, use the vacuum you've created inside your thorax to suck and roll your abdomen and all your organs in and up as far as you can! Hold for 8-10 seconds. This is called the "Stomach Lift", and does very good things for your gut. It also massages your organs, and increases your lymphatic flow.
  6. After that 8-10 seconds, open your throat and let the air flow in naturally.
That is one rep of the basic breath. There are a variety of stretching and strengthening positions that you do while you are holding your breath in the Stomach Lift Position. Body Flex has you squat a bit with your hands on your knees, sort of like an umpire, to get into the Stomach Lift. This bent forward position makes the Stomach Lift easier. If that position is hard for you, you could bend forward slightly and rest your hands on a table top to get a similar effect.

There are a few problems I know of that this variety of breathing exercise can entail. One is that for the first week or so, it gave me nasty headaches. I found that keeping my chin tucked hard, especially during the facial exercises in Body Flex (which do very good things for the jawline, by the way) helped some, and the problem went away in about a week. Also, because of the breath-holding, I don't think I can recommend this form of breathing exercise for folks with high blood pressure, glaucoma, or other health problems having to do with pressure of various sorts. Also think you probably couldn't/shouldn't do it while pregnant. And because you suck in your gut very hard, you must do this form of breathing exercise on an empty stomach; Greer Childers recommends first thing in the morning before breakfast.

The third system is very different from Body Flex and Life Lift. It's called Oxycise!, and it's the brainchild of a woman named Jill Johnson. The basic breathing technique of Oxycise! is totally different; no breath holding, no making funny noises, although you do make a moderately silly face while doing it. On the other hand, I think being a little silly is good for the soul, don't you?

For the Oxycise! basic breath you need to be standing with your feet shoulder width apart, knees soft (slightly bent), butt tucked. You show your teeth in a great big grin while breathing in through your nose (the grin opens your nostrils wider, and helps your jawline get exercise). You breathe in as far as you can, and then take three more sniffs, to make sure you've got all the air you possibly can. You lift your abs (pull them up and in), then purse your lips while holding them flat (instead of puckering them out), and blow out, and when you're entirely empty, you give three final puffs. Going through this four times constitutes one "rep" of Oxycise! breathing.

Jill Johnson has put together a good series of videos here -- and there is a series, with new and more advanced positions and stretches as you go along from tape to tape. This is one of the things I really like about Oxycise! -- it gives you a way to keep progressing without adding more time to your 15 minute workout. Also helps prevent boredom. Johnson is a good, clear instructor, quite easy to follow. She also has an audiotape to be done while driving, called the Commuter Workout -- you do the breathing technique while doing simple things like pulling out on the steering wheel. It's quite possible to do on an open highway, especially if you have cruise control, but don't try it in around-town traffic! There is also an Oxycise! book.

Since this version of the breathing exercise doesn't involve holding your breath, there are no extreme internal pressure changes, making this safer for those with high blood pressure, glaucoma, or who are pregnant. And you don't have to have an empty stomach, which means that you can do Oxycise! pretty much any time.

You can get Oxycise! through Amazon.com -- here are some links:
Oxycise! Level One video
Oxycise! Level Two video
Oxycise! Level Three video
Oxycise! Level Four video
Oxycise! Abs and Upper Body video
Oxycise! Buns and Thighs I video
Oxycise! Buns and Thighs II video
Oxycize! The Book

So, do I have a clear favorite? Not really. I probably split half-and-half between the two techniques -- my husband much prefers Body Flex, so if we're doing it together, that's what I do, although we've modified Greer Childer's original workout with some positions from Life Lift, and one I made up. On the other hand, left to my own devices, I generally do Oxycise! these days, because I can move on to new levels. All the systems have the huge advantage of letting you get in an effective workout in less than 20 minutes, without a lot of equipment, or even messing up your hair. About the only preparation is that you'll need to be wearing comfortable clothes. I've done my breathing while camping, as a house guest, in hotel rooms -- it's a workout that it's really, really hard to find excuses not to do. And it's so fast that even if you don't feel like it, you're done practically before you know it.

Also, since the increased oxygen consumption, not the positions, is the most important part, you can get a good effect out of these breathing exercises even if you are disabled. (Rashelle Haines claims to have worked with folks in wheelchairs.) If you're seriously out of shape, have sore knees and a bad back, this is a kind of exercise you can do, to help move you toward greater fitness.

By the way, the effectiveness of these breathing exercises has inspired me to be more conscious of my breath during other sorts of exercise, and I recommend this very highly. In particular, when I go for a walk now, I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, as deeply and fully as I know how, taking in all the air I possibly can. Feels wonderful! And when I was doing this last summer and fall, before the winter set in, I got down to the smallest size and lightest weight I've been since I came down from 190 lbs. I put on a few pounds over the winter, but now that the weather is nice again, I know exactly how to get those few pounds off! I also use my breathing far more consciously when I do aerobics videos -- why not get the greatest effect possible?

My only caution would be that all three of these teachers say that if you do their exercise, you don't need to watch what you eat. You know how I feel about that! Doing even the most effective exercise is no excuse for eating a lot of garbage.

This is very, very good stuff, folks. I have contacted the local university (IU, Indiana University) to see if I can get some testing done by the department of exercise physiology; this may give me a few more answers as to whether one system or another has an edge. (Jill Johnson has testimony from a Dr. Robert Girandola that when tested she was burning 140% more calories when doing Oxycise! than test subjects burned pedaling a stationary bicycle. Very impressive! Especially considering how much I hate stationary bicycles!!) But they're all good. They're all worth doing.

So breathe!

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