Ever since I discovered the power of breath work through the Wim Hof Method, I have been learning as much as I can about breathing, the effects of breathing on the body and how to Optimize Breathing for health and performance.
Breathing is something that we do every second of every day. It’s what gives us life and what will end it one day when it stops. Breathing, although immensely important and powerful is largely overlooked as a tool for health and performance. For most people breathing is an automatic function that is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Breathing is something that happens to us instead of something that we control.
Taking control of our breathing through some simple exercises opens up a world of benefits, both physically and mentally. Through controlled breathing we can influence our mind and body. We can prepare our body for action or calm it down ready for rest. We can do the same for our mind and emotional state. Our breathing is the remote control to our brain, emotions and the chemistry of our body. If we learn how to use the remote correctly, we can have a great impact on our mental, physical and emotional well being as well as performance.
Why did I do that?
Have you ever done anything that you regretted when you were angry? If I think back to the things that I regret in my life and examine my state of being, I am angry in all of them. I can’t remember an instance that I regret, where I was calm and serene. There is a very simple reason for that, when we are angry, we are in “sympathetic nervous system” activation a.k.a “Fight or flight” (FOF). When in FOF our body shuttles blood away from our brain to our heart, muscles, eyes and lungs, we secrete adrenaline to give us energy and we prepare to fight or to flee. When we are in FOF we are less capable of making rational decisions because we have less blood in our brain and we are more likely to react impulsively. That is why, if not managed, things can quickly spiral out of control.
Slow Down, Calm Down, Breathe
Our FOF response is intricately linked to our breathing and vice versa and if we can catch ourselves getting angry and tune into our breath, we can consciously slow it down and bring ourselves back into para-sympathetic or Rest and Digest (R&D). Slow nasal breathing is linked to the R&D system, so next time you feel yourself getting angry, stop, and take three slow deep breaths.
Breathe in lightly through your nose into your stomach and then up into your chest.
Then breathe out slowly through your nose.
If you can, take a 5 second inhale then a 5 second exhale.
Repeat this three times or as many times as you feel necessary to calm down.
I guarantee this will help you feel calmer; how long that lasts is another story but at least you know that you have the technique at hand for when you need it. The hard thing is catching yourself while its happening and taking the time to slow down, calm down and breathe. If practiced, over time this will become almost automatic and you will suffer from less anger, anxiety and impulsive behaviour. You have to practice it but don’t expect that you will remember about the technique when you most need it, especially at first. Luckily, you can integrate this breathing technique very nicely into your daily life. I use it to help me get to sleep at night. Slow deep nasal breathing, 5 count in, 5 count out, over and over again. It clears my mind of the daily happenings, especially if there is something I am ruminating on, kicks in the Rest and Digest system and allows me to fall asleep quickly.
Controlling mood and getting better quality sleep are just two of the many benefits that can be experienced as a result of breath work. I work with three different systems that have varying applications:
Wim Hof Method (WHM)
The WHM allows us to influence our autonomic nervous system, reduce systemic inflammation, improve depressive disorders, improve immune function, calm auto immune conditions, asthma and allergy symptoms, deal with chronic pain and fatigue, strengthen the mind body connection and re-adapt our body to cold.
The Oxygen Advantage teaches us “how to breathe” in our daily lives, how to improve athletic performance through CO2 tolerance training, real altitude simulation training (not training mask) and breath hold training.
Art Of Breath
I have just come back from London where I attended the Art of Breath Clinic. These guys are really at the forefront of breathing for performance and the Art of Breath Clinic gives you a deep understanding of how you can use your breath to wake up, slow down, speed up, warm up, open up, perform at your best and recover faster.
If you are interested in new and powerful ways to improve your health, lower your stress, take control of your emotions and increase your performance, be it in athletics or just life in general, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer personal training in Mallorca and different workshops in Breathing, Training and Nutrition, for more info visit http://optimalhealthmethod.com.
This week – join us on May 24th and May 27th to take control and learn the art and science of breath work. Contact us to sign up!
Written by Luke Wills
About the author
Luke Wills has over 7 years experience in the Fitness Industry and is a pioneer in Spain in disciplines such as Kettlebell Training, the Wim Hof Method and The Oxygen Advantage.
The Optimal Health Method is the combination of environmental conditioning, breathing techniques, optimal nutrition coaching and personalized exercise routines, forming a truly unique and effective method that gives real results, because health is so much more than just exercise.
Luke lives in a self built, off grid house in the country side of Mallorca with his wife, baby, dogs and chickens.