How to Improve Your Breathing for On and Off the Water | Perfect Paddles

In Fresh Content, Health, Wellness by Daniel

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Check out these powerful breathing techniques to improve your health and your time on the water!

In this article, we discuss ten breathing techniques you can use every day to improve your health, wellness, and your stamina on the water.


Your breath is vital...

Whether you’re paddling long distances, catching waves, running the blacktop, or sitting on the couch, how you breathe affects the vitality and health of your body.

Most of us take small, shallow breaths throughout the day...

This is because we aren’t paying attention to the way we breathe when we’re lost in activities such as work, study, or even play.

In fact, Emma Ferris, a physiotherapist and breathing coach with the Breath Effect, says 80 percent of the population experiences breathing dysfunctions and has developed poor techniques throughout the years...

“And that can range from breathing through the mouth, breathing through the upper chest and neck muscles, having altered breathing rhythm and rate, or keeping the body in a stress state for long periods of time,” she explains.

The last suggestion she makes is often the reality for most people...

With short, shallow breaths our bodies are unable to enter a relaxed state. As a result, we’re in a mid-fight-or-flight response which elevates our heart rates, increases certain stress hormones, slows healing processes, and even ages us at a quicker pace.

All things we’d like to avoid or at least slow down...

SUP and Your Breath

When it comes to being on a SUP, your breath is just as vital.

If you hold your breath, your stamina decreases. In addition, you won’t gain as many benefits from exercise if your muscles are chronically deprived of important oxygen.

Understanding this, we take the approach to view SUP as a breath and movement practice...

When they are tied together and work in unison – full deep breaths combined with a proper paddle stroke – if you meet any duress, say for example, while paddling through the whitewater of the ocean, catching a wave, or being pulled under a breaking one, or even when you meet a boat wake or a strong wind on the water, you’ll be better prepared for any challenge.

Part of our SUP practice then is to always combine the breath with each paddle stroke...

However, you can’t spend all of your time on the water working on your breathing. To experience real change, it’s important to take the practice on land and into your everyday life.

To do this, we’ve compiled a list of the best breathing exercises below. In addition, we explain when and why to use each technique.

By understanding and using the techniques discussed below, your lungs will be better trained to increase your health and vitality, both on and off the water.

Ready to improve your breathing and your health? Let’s start with #1…

1. Deep Breathing Technique

One great way to improve your breathing for SUP is by increasing your lung capacity. To do this, you need to train your lungs to intake more air through each breath.

With more lung capacity you can elevate your cardiovascular health, increase your stamina, and hold your breath for longer durations when taken underneath the waves when SUP surfing.

How To Do The Deep Breathing Technique:

  • While standing or sitting, draw your elbows back slightly to allow your chest to expand
  • Take a deep inhalation through your nose
  • Retain your breath for a count of 5
  • Slowly release your breath by exhaling through your nose

breathing techniques

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

How many people do you think use their diaphragm properly with each breath? Not many! As we’ve already stated, most people take small, shallow breaths throughout the day.

But with the proper diaphragmic your body becomes revitalized and you gain more energy. You can use this practice throughout the workday if you start to fade. In fact, with enough practice, you can replace your midday coffee break with this breathing exercise for real, lasting, and healthy energy.

How To Do Diaphragmatic Breathing:

  • Position yourself on your back with your knees slightly bent and your head on a pillow
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the true movement of your diaphragm (maybe for the first time?!)
  • Slowly inhale through your nose feeling your stomach expanding into your hand
  • Keep your other hand as still as possible
  • Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your upper hand still
  • Feel the movement of your diaphragm to train yourself to take these deeps breaths throughout the day
  • The more you practice this type of deep breathing, the easier it will become!

breathing techniques

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique

Alternate nostril breathing, known as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, also aids in relaxation. The term loosely translates to, “Subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”

It has also been shown to increase cardiovascular function and lower your heart rate. But one interesting fact James Nestor discusses in his book Breath is that each nostril is linked to a different part of your brain and has a different function.

He states that the left nostril is linked to your right brain hemisphere and works to slow down your heart rate and decrease stress. The right side, however, is linked to your left brain hemisphere and will actually stimulate your heart rate and your blood pressure.

He explains further in this short video clip. 

Used in conjunction, you will experience a cleansing effect, calm energy, and a feeling of vitalization.

How To Do Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique:

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Lift your right hand toward your nose, pressing your first and middle dingers down towards your palm and leaving your other fingers extended
  • After your first exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril
  • Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers
  • Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril
  • Inhale through your right nostril and then close it
  • Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side
  • This is considered 1 cycle
  • Continue this pattern for up to 5 minutes
  • Be sure to finish your session with an exhale on your left side

breathing techniques

4. Wim Hof Breathing Technique

In case you haven’t heard, Wim Hof Wim Hof, known as The Iceman, is a Dutch motivational speaker and extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand low temperatures. He’s also become popular in the online space for his breathing technique.

The Wim Hof Method combines breathing, cold therapy, and commitment to help you connect more deeply to your body. It involves powerful inhalation, relaxed exhalation, and prolonged breath holds.

Proponents say the technique can lead to:

  • increased immunity
  • better sleep
  • reduced stress
  • heightened focus

It has become popularized through social media and people around the world tout its benefits for their health and wellbeing.

How To Do The Wim Hof Breathing Technique:

  • Take in a strong inhalation through the nose
  • Let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth
  • Repeat for 30 breaths
  • On the 30th breath, exhale to 90 percent and hold for as long as you can
  • When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 seconds before releasing

Do this for three consecutive rounds to experience the best immunological and physical benefits.

5. Humming Bee Breath Technique

To do this technique, you’ll have to find a private place where you’ll be able to make noises. The unique sensation of this breathing technique creates calmness throughout your body and is especially soothing around your forehead. Some people use humming bee breath to relieve frustration, anxiety, and anger.

How To Do Humming Bee Breath Technique:

  • Choose a comfortable seated position.
  • Close your eyes and relax your face.
  • Place your first fingers on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale gently press your fingers into the cartilage.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, make a loud humming sound.
  • Continue for as long as is comfortable.

6. Lion’s Breath Technique

Speaking of energizing breath, our next technique comes from the ancient practice of yoga. This type of breath is said to relieve tension in your face and chest while at the same time producing a wellspring of energy throughout the body.

How To Do Lion’s Breath Technique:

  • Come to a comfortable seated position – either sitting back on your heels or cross-legged
  • Press your palms against your knees with your fingers spread wide
  • Inhale deeply through your nose
  • On the exhale open your eyes wide looking towards the ceiling (or sky), bring your tongue out long and towards your chin, and make a “ha” sound
  • Opening the mouth open wide will relieve the tension you might carry in your jaw and the deep inhale will increase your energy
  • Try it at least 3 times for the most benefit

7. Box Breathing Technique

Want a powerful stress relief tool? Try this breathing technique. Used by many people around the world from U.S. Navy Seals, police officers, nurses, and people in other high-stress positions, it’s a great way to center yourself, shed off anxiety, and relax.

In addition, according to the Mayo Clinic, there’s sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

It can also be a great tool if you have trouble falling asleep at night.

The process is simple. It involves counting to a certain number while inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding. Each position of the breath is held for the same duration of time.

How To Do Box Breathing Technique:

  • Get into a comfortable position either seated or laying down
  • Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4-6 seconds (your choice)
  • After the inhale, hold your breath for the same amount of time
  • Then, exhale for the same amount of time
  • After the exhale, hold the out breath for the same amount of time

For example, inhale for 6 seconds. Hold the inhale for 6 seconds. Exhale for 6 seconds. Hold the exhale for 6 seconds. And repeat.

You can do this technique as many times as you’d like though 4-5 is typically adequate to receive the benefits.

8. Sitali Breath Technique

This yoga breathing practice helps you lower your body temperature and relax your mind.

Slightly extend your breath in length but don’t force it. Since you inhale through your mouth during Sitali breath, you may want to choose a place to practice that’s free of any allergens that affect you and air pollution.

How To Do Sitali Breath Technique:

  • Choose a comfortable seated position
  • Stick out your tongue and curl your tongue to bring the outer edges together
  • If your tongue doesn’t do this, you can purse your lips
  • Inhale through your mouth
  • Exhale out through your nose
  • Continue breathing like this for up to 5 minutes

9. Pursed Lip Breathing

This might be the most simple technique on our list. Due to its simplicity, it’s easy to practice anytime and anywhere.

The goal here is to slow down your pace of breathing by applying deliberate effort in each breath. This slows down your heart rate and helps to place you squarely in the present moment by concentrating on your breathing (bonus!).

How To Do Pursed Lip Breathing:

  • Relax your neck and shoulders
  • Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts
  • Purse or pucker your lips as though you are going to whistle
  • Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of 4

You can use this breathing technique in the gym when lifting, walking upstairs, or catching a midday break at your desk.

10. Focus With The Breath Technique

Since we’re on the subject of presence, let’s dive right into a powerful technique that focuses on this benefit of breathwork.

This technique uses imagery, focus words, or phrases in conjunction with your breathing.

You can choose a word that makes you feel good, relaxed, or even neutral.

Examples: peace, love, let go, relax, or if you have a favorite you can use that.

In addition, it’s good to use a timer for this exercise. Start with 10 minutes and work up if you’d like to.

How To Do Focus With the Breath Technique:

  • Sit or lie down. Make sure you are in a comfortable position
  • Bring awareness to your breathing without trying to change the rhythm
  • Alternate between normal and deep breathing a few times noticing the difference between each.
  • Practice deep breathing for a few minutes
  • After you become comfortable, place one hand below your belly button and notice how it rises and falls
  • On the exhale, let out a loud sigh
  • Then, combine the practice of deep breathing with your chosen imagery or focus word or phrase to support your relaxation
  • Imagine each inhale brings a wave of peace and calm while mentally saying your chosen keyphrase
  • Then imagine each exhale washes away tension and anxiety
  • Do this practice until the timer sounds and feel how incredibly relaxed you are now feeling

Which One Is Right For You?

If you’re a paddler, then you’ll want to focus on the techniques that increase lung capacity. These would include deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, Wim Hof breathing, and alternate nostril breathing.

Through regular practice, you’ll be able to increase the amount of breath you can intake which in turn will increase your stamina and ability to paddle for longer durations.

Off the water, use any of the other techniques to rest, relax, and unwind after exercise. These are great for recovery.

With that said, there are a few oddities about the breath you should know about to increase your knowledge and better your health. These are taken from James Nestor’s book Breath – an excellent read on how our face shapes have changed over the years due to poor dietary standards leading to chronic disease and how it applies to our breathing practices.

1. Our faces are changing.

Through processing and cooking food, we started chewing less, which resulted in our jaws getting looser and weaker. This, in turn, changed the shape of our faces. Learning to speak dropped our larynx and pushed our tongues back, creating too much space at the back of our throat, meaning that we are the only mammals and the only sapiens that can choke. We even do that in our sleep; through snoring and sleep apnea.

This changing shape of our faces has led to breathing problems and even worse - teeth problems costing us large sums of money on dental work. This leads us to point number two…

2. Always breathe through your nose.

James states in his books, “Mouth breathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Therefore mouth breathing begets more mouth breathing.”

And this mouth-breathing, especially at night, increases our risk of cavities by drying out the mouth, and snoring and sleep apnea with some studies showing that sleep apnea and snoring lead to things like bed-wetting, ADHD, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers. The Mayo Clinic now says that chronic insomnia is actually a breathing problem, not a psychological one.

To breathe through your nose at night, you might use medical tape (a small piece) to keep your mouth shut at night. But always consult your physician before doing so.

3. How to breathe better.

As you might have guessed, the best way to start breathing better is to make sure you are doing so through your nose. Even when exercising. This is going to take some practice. But through time and awareness, you will be able to catch yourself breathing through your mouth and correct it.

And as mentioned earlier, ask your doctor about ways you can make sure you’re breathing through your nose at night, not through your mouth.

Through increased awareness and by practicing the techniques above your breathing and your health will improve

SUP and Breath

SUP is a fantastic tool to practice mindful breathing. As well as increasing your lung capacity. By connecting your breath through each paddle stroke, you’ll be well on your way to better breathing and better health.

Questions? Comments? Want to learn more about the SUP lifestyle? Head to for everything you need to know when it comes to health, SUP, and a lifestyle on the water.

About the Author


Daniel is a travelling author with a passion for exploring new waterways and sharing his experiences with the world.

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