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January 21, 2014

The Ultimate Workout: Learning to Breathe Better

By Ingrid Skjong | Fitness

The Ultimate Workout: Learning to Breathe Better
Courtesy of WILLSPACE

Taking a breath might seem like the simplest thing in the world to do, but according to Dr. Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and breathing expert, 98 percent of us do it wrong—a statistic she is determined to change with her comprehensive Breathe classes at the private West Village gym Willspace.

“Breathing is the single most important thing you do,” says Vranich, who has finessed the inhalations and exhalations of everyone from convicts to corporate types. “Oxygen is cell fuel. People are running on fumes, then wondering why they are so fatigued.”

The drills are intense and specific, concentrating on two-part belly breaths that work the body’s midsection. (Shallow breathers tend to inhale from their upper body, forgetting about the underused diaphragm and surrounding core muscles.) While active meditation is included—and the studio is dim and comfortable—the work is serious. During our session, Vranich (pictured above, left) didn't allow us to lose focus during the surprisingly fatiguing drills, prompting us to power through as we would any challenging exercise routine.

The influx of oxygen might leave you a bit tingly (some people cry in response, others laugh), but by the end of the class we were more cognizant of what our lungs were doing and breathing effortlessly—freer, looser. Vranich has seen enhanced breathing improve anxiety, sleep, GI issues, energy levels and athletic performance. And while a certain amount of discipline is needed to change old habits, much of the transformation has to do with simply knowing your body—and that is as basic as it gets.

“It’s not about finding another doctor, another medication or just living with discomfort,” she says. “I want people to feel empowered and delighted that they can heal.” Call for class schedules; 254 W. Tenth St.; 212-929-1800; willspace.com.