Day four: breathing with intention

I had a rather profound thought while running today.

I don’t always have profound thoughts when I run. The most impressive thing I’ve dreamed up recently was the blueberry-chocolate-chip-walnut combo that I fantasized about last Saturday and proceeded to turn into a stack of pancakes when I returned home. Delicious? Yes. Profound? Not particularly.

Today, however, was profound.

I’ve been trying to follow the advice of No Meat Athlete’s Matt Frazier when it comes to my breathing. Matt encourages careful attention to one’s breathing by pacing it with your steps. He also advocates breathing through your nose, but I’m not going to talk about that (yet).

Here’s the deal: you pick a number of steps. Three works well for me. And then you breathe in for three steps and out for three steps. In for three, out for three. Three in, three out.

It sounds simple, and it is, but it makes a huge difference. When I breathe like this, I run better. Way better. My running is smoother, quicker, more efficient, and easier on my body. My throat doesn’t tighten or get gunky. My pace and steps are consistent. It feels easy and natural, just because of my breath.

Breathing like this requires intention. You have to plan and commit to keeping your steps and, in turn, your breath steady so your body gets enough oxygen. You have to commit to return to this breathing pattern right away if a hill, a road crossing, or some other obstacle throws you off. More difficult is the attention, I find. If my mind wanders (usually to the type of pancakes I’m planning to eat upon my return home), my breathing falls apart. I usually regress to a rough two-two pattern, which is too ragged to keep my lungs nourished and too short to provide any structure to keep my running smooth and strong. My steps get sloppy and my joints and pace both suffer.

This type of breathing – this ragged, bare minimum, absent-minded panting – is technically enough to get me through my run, but it’s not enough for me to flourish. But when I run and breath with intention and attention, I fly.

Here’s the profound part that came to me while I ran: breathing with intention is like living a life mindful of God.

As I ran, I thought about how I live differently when I have God on the brain. I’m much more patient and forgiving, I smile more, and I seek the company of people I love and admire. I pray about my questions and concerns rather than ruminate on them, and I trust God without question to lead me in the right direction. I am at my best. I breathe with intention.

But the minute I let slip, the minute I wander away from God, everything changes. I am easily frustrated and quickly grow impatient with those around me. I get judgmental. I get more sullen. I get anxious about my future. I fall back into my ragged default breathing. Will it get me through? Technically yes. But it’s sloppy and random and unstructured and doesn’t sustain me for very long. I’m forced to cut my run short.

Am I good at breathing or living with intention? Do I do it all the time? Do I remember to focus on my breath, to focus on my God? Of course not. I forget. I stray. I don’t feel like it. But I come back. Because in the long run, it feels better. It feels stronger, smoother, gentler. It feels right.

And then it feels like you really earned your pancakes.

Live with intention. Breathe with intention. With God.

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