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The Power of Conscious Breathing by Hayley Parlen - CrossFit Journal

In Rest Day/Theory

December 15, 2010

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Breathing is the most basic human activity, but Hayley Parlen says doing it “properly” can help you in the CrossFit box.

The other day I set out to break a PR for pull-ups. Shortly after I jumped on the bar, I noticed a tiny battle going on in my mind. When I got to about six, I heard this voice pop up: “You aren’t going to make it.”

And so began the fight.

Right after I heard that voice, another chimed in, “Come on! You can do it! Keep going!”

The two voices went on for a few seconds until suddenly, without my having to do anything, everything felt really quiet inside of my mind, and all my attention and focus went straight to my breath. It was as if my breath had a voice of its own, yet it did not have any words to speak. It was just there as a very loud, audible sound, kind of like Darth Vader, yet in a strangely peaceful way.

As the breath got louder and louder, my brain felt quieter and quieter, as if I had just dived down to the bottom of a lake. All I could hear was my breath, and then suddenly it was just my own breath, my body, the pull-ups and me. I was completely immersed in the present. I felt no resistance in my mind. My body felt loose, and before I knew it I was on my 20th pull-up.

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10 Comments on “The Power of Conscious Breathing”


I really like this article. I noticed this happening today. I went for a 1K row. I wasn't going for a PR, in fact, being slightly injured I was just trying to do anything to get my heart rate going. Turned out after passing 450 m I started to really notice nothing but my breath, probably b/c I could see it in my cold arse garage, but also just knowing the breath was there. It started getting labored and I became more aware of it. I controlled it. Turns out I PR'ed, on two 1K rows!

Thanks. Cool article. I like that CF is expanding the horizon of athletic training to the mind...


wrote …

Completly agree 100% the first time i did yoga and focused on my heart beat and my breathing I followed it with a wod, and focused of drowning out the voice. this was the very first time went into the place where my mental pain did not slow me down at all and my body tingled. Yoga and meditation+crossfit=winning


wrote …

I am estatic to read about the breath connection with concentration and PRs. When I'm on rings, focus goes to what I feel; my breathing. I am aware for the pain and pleasure of that pain and breathe through it. I focus on what I need to adjust, hold, calibrate, move or relax. I'm breaking in my KSOs and I find that breathing brings me back to focus creating the mid-foot strike instead of over-pronation.


wrote …

Fantastic article Hayley!! This is bringing CrossFit to a new level. People need to hear this. Thank you!


wrote …

I am loving the yoga content on the journal lately! Keep it coming, please.


wrote …

This was a great article. I'd love to see more on the mental/cognitive aspects of CrossFit. The mind is so incredibly powerful, but sadly, that power can often work against you.

Thanks !


wrote …

Something sits heavily in my stomach with these yoga articles and videos. I really enjoyed Tony's summary of evidence based fitness in CF Radio Ep 37:

"Which aligns your shakras better: Yoga or Pilates? Well we don't know because how do we measure that?"

My conjecture on all this is that much has been and will continue to be made of yoga, breathing, visualization, and the like. But my basic questions are:

1) How do we measure what impact these factors have on performance and can they predict future performance?
2) Are these athletes' data a very natural and understandable response to why they failed relative to their competitive expectations, i.e., "I didn't visualize enough/as good as my competitors, so I lost", when the answer is simply: a) they did not train hard/smartly enough, and b) did not have the same genetic potential?


wrote …

I actually tried this today after I read this article. During a workout when I normally would have quit I just started thinking about breathing. My body automatically kept going and I finished out the set and went on to the next movement. My focus didn't stay long but every once in a while I could break through it and just think about my breathing, no matter how erratic it was.

However, only downside, you totally lose count of your reps. If you're gonna do this, and it does work, you need to have someone counting your reps. It's hard to keep track of your progress and focus on breathing at the same time. Unless you come up with some system where you try to align your breathing with the movement, and then count the breaths.

Good article.


wrote …

Nice article,

I agree with the comment about the rep count, I really need to practice breathing, this comes very handy when the mind tells the body that it hurts.



wrote …

This is great! Since taking yoga classes I have been trying to focus on my breath as much as possible. I know it takes training just as well and its great that subjects like this are being presented in the article.

I was curious about Heather's question on exhalation.
This little tid bit answered my question

As well as the article,

Inside-Out Breathing, Getting the Air You Need, CrossFit Journal December 2005

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