“Breathing is the first thing we do when we are born, and the last thing we do before we die.”
Breathing should seem be the thing we just naturally do. Our heart is still pumping, brain is still functioning, and we are still moving around after all.
It's something we do more than anything else in a day, yet we pay very little attention to it. And in our society, we are actually not doing it very well.
One of my mentors, Nationally renowned coach Joe Di Stefano says in a Ted Talk he gave about Breathe, "If you are breathing suboptimally, dysfunctionally, or flat out wrong, it's almost impossible for your body to reap all the benefits from even the best diet, or the best hydration or exercise program...
What happens when we combine these 2 elements?
We start to tense our shoulders up and forward,
We grip our hands,
We freeze, and
We breathe in our throat and upper chest (shallowly).
Have you ever gone through the day and then all of a sudden felt the need to take a really deep breath or realized that you’ve been holding your breathe?
I want you to take a minute, close your eyes, and picture something that really gives you anxiety. If you need an example, I’ll share some of mine.
-I feel scared when I’m watching one of those stupid people that film themselves standing on the top of a huge skyscraper and they are getting ready to do a handstand on the edge.
-I feel stressed when I’m trying to leave on time, but my toddler can’t find his shoes, and then locked me out of my room. Now I have 5 minutes to get to school to pick up my 6 year old on a trip that normally take 15 minutes and the person in front of me is taking their sweet time and I just got stopped at your 4th stop light….. (seriously happened today)
- I feel anxious at the starting line of a race
Now write down how you felt. Did you hold your breath? You probably had the same response that most do. Our natural response is to hold our breath, or to breathe more quickly in anticipation. This is our fear response, our response to danger, our response to events happening beyond our control, or our anticipation that we need to be protect ourselves.
We call this our fight or flight response, and it occurs as a protective mechanism so that when we are in danger, we can be alert and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. It makes sense, right?
However our lifestyles are unintentionally keeping our bodies in this stress state based on the amount of stress that we feel, the diets we consume, the extremes of either no exercise or way too much exercise, our lack of sleep, our childhood trauma, or any combination of all of the above. We pump out the stress hormone, cortisol, like there’s going to be a tiger attack at any moment and our body starts to feel like its in a serious survival situation. Our bodies are amazing and extremely adaptable, but we seem to have found its limits in the past few decades.
When we breathe normally, we called that relaxed breathing. The muscles around our rib cage contract as we breathe in, and then relax as we breathe out. When we are stressed, we use more effortful breathing when those muscles become active and forceful on the exhale as well, and get overworked as they are holding air in anticipation. As you can imagine, the latter is really tiresome and stressful for the body.
So we’ve established that when we feel stressed, we lose our normal breath. What happens when our body doesn’t get enough oxygen?
It slows down the metabolic process. The metabolic process is what happens when our blood picks up oxygen in the lungs, and then delivers it to the rest of the body via the bloodstream. It then picks up carbon dioxide and other waste materials from the body including toxins and junk your immune system is clearing out. Your muscles badly need this oxygen to recover. Think of the last time you did something that pushed your fitness level. Did your muscles feel weaker the longer you went and the harder it was to breathe? Did they run out of energy? When we aren’t breathing, this is what we are doing to our bodies. What happens to stroke victims when they don’t receive oxygen to the brain? They lose the ability to move parts of their body. When we slow our blood flow, we lose the ability to function at a normal, higher level.
This entire program is designed to reduce stress in many different ways. This is Key: We can’t heal or recover from sickness/ injuries/ workouts if we are constantly being bombarded by stressful situations. And When our bodies are exposed to stress for too long, It starts to feel like your life is in danger and certain body systems start to suffer.. If that body system isn’t essential to keeping you alive, your body downgrades that system.
When we can keep our stress hormone, cortisol regulated, it keeps our bodies in a state of healing and recovery. We have this one easy tool that has been shown to automatically lowers this stress hormone. It’s free, it’s easy and convenient to use, and it works. We are going to start Breathing for real.
Throughout the next 2 days, I want you to write in your journal every time you feel stressed, anxious, or catch yourself not normally breathing. It’s important to identify what in your life is causing you stress, and will help you with the next step in your program.
Did it happen around someone in particular?
Did you feel that way right when you woke up?
Did you feel stressed about work or something that you have to do that day?
Did someone say something to you that made you tense up?
Did something on social media cause you to feel depressed?
Did something that happened make you remember something stressful from your past?
Deep Breathing Techniques-
Our Goal with breathing is to get EXTRA oxygen into our system, reduce stress, and get into a meditative state. If you have plenty of oxygen in your system, then your body will have a ready supply to draw from when it gets stressed, when you workout, and throughout healing and recovery. Also, using mindful or focused breathing can lower stress levels in most situations.
Here are a few you can try, find which ones work best:
Breathe in through nose for 10 seconds, hold your breath for 4, breathe out for 10
2. Breathe in for 10 seconds holding one right nostril closed, breathe out through the left nostril, breathe in through left, out through right
3. Stimulating - Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose while keeping your mouth close for 16 seconds..
4. Breathe in slowly through nose for 4 seconds, pushing the air down into the belly, hold for 7 seconds, slowly exhale audibly through nose. This is similar to what is practiced in yoga. Place your hand on your belly and focus on expanding it with the breath.
5. Use visualization as you breathe. Warm, peaceful, healing air enters in - Cold, stressful, sick air exits out
A side note for those with chronic fatigue. This exercise might make you feel sleepy, and that’s ok. I would recommend using a stimulating breathe as a way of starting your journey back. This can act as exercise for a while, which means that your body and your nervous system will get stronger and more resilient over time. The most important thing to remember is that studies have shown that if someone with chronic fatigue believes they can not get better, or that something is going to be tiring, then guess what. You can’t get better, and it will for sure make you tired. I am NOT saying that chronic fatigue is caused by the part of your brain that is conscious, but your conscious thoughts can definitely affect your healing.
Your assignment this week is easy, but it helps if you do it consistently. I want you to find something that you can put on your wrist to remind you to stop and take breaths. It needs to be something you can see all the time. You can tie a ribbon or yarn, or you can buy one a little fancier.
Here’s one for a dollar. https://www.bohowraps.co/products/just-breathe-wristband
Or look on etsy for some fancier ones.
When you notice it I want you to do one of the breathing exercises. Get Breathing!