Art of Breath

Joseph Pilates and his breathing device

Joseph Pilates and his breathing device

                  If I were to tell you there’s something that will improve your digestion, healing, circulation, mood, cognitive function and movement, and that it is free and it is accessible to nearly everyone, you would think I was lying, or trying to sell snake oil. What I’m talking about here is your breathing. Humans have been using breathing techniques for thousands of years to tap into different levels of consciousness and to improve their overall being. Yoga, tai chi, and various forms of meditation have incorporated breathing into their practices. Indeed, the venerable Joseph Pilates recognized the importance of breathing. In his book, Return to Life Through Contrology, he wrote “breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing, it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the art of correct breathing.”  If you thought he was holding back on what he really felt, here’s another quote from his book: “Lazy breathing converts the lungs, figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying, and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs.” Unfortunately, Joseph Pilates was a visionary in this regard. Dysfunctional breathing is increasingly common as we spend more time sitting and less time exercising. Dysfunctional breathing can have insidious, detrimental effects on the body ,mostly brought on by autonomic dysfunction.

    The autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These are also referred to as the “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” systems. These primitive systems are there to keep us alive. The sympathetic nervous system, AKA the “fight or flight” system, is meant to protect us from immediate danger, such as in the case of running away from a predator. This system is active when people display superhuman feats of strength during emergencies, such as lifting a car to save a crushed victim. Unfortunately, this system has been hijacked to work overtime in today’s day and age because of the things we PERCEIVE as deadly, including project deadlines and offensive tweets. Shallow breathing contributes to this heightened sympathetic state. Luckily, we can utilize our breath through intentional breath work to promote an increased parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for healing and digesting, and it helps us obtain restful sleep so our brains can recover from the trauma of being awake. I don’t want to totally bash on the sympathetic nervous system as it is responsible for getting your body ready to exercise and helps us react effectively in times of danger. Most people I see tend to live a “petal to the metal” lifestyle and could benefit from learning how to promote more parasympathetic tone in their bodies.  For a thorough and more articulate explanation of the autonomic nervous system, check out the lecture given by Robert Sapolsky in the linked video.

    This past weekend, I took a course in San Diego to learn how to specifically manipulate breath patterns in order to tap into these nervous systems. The course was called “The Art of Breath” and held by Power Speed Endurance. You can learn more about them here: https://powerspeedendurance.com/. I highly recommend the Art of Breath course. I’m looking forward to utilizing the protocols I learned in order to help clients decrease pain and improve their movement patterns. If you haven’t partaken in manipulating your breath, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you try. Slow breathing promotes relaxation while a faster, more powerful breath can promote alertness. Below I’ve outlined a protocol to help promote a restful state. There is some breath holding involved in this protocol so it can be overwhelming for some people. Always remember you are in control of your breath and you can decide when to breath.

RELAX PROTOCOL

This protocol will have a 1:2:1 ratio of inhaling, then holding your breath, then exhaling. How long you decide to inhale, hold and exhale is arbitrary. For beginners, I would recommend a 2 second inhale, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 2 seconds. Repeat the breath 5-10 times. For an even more relaxing breath pattern, try extending the exhales. For example, try a 1:2:3 ratio such as a 2 second inhale, a 4 second breath hold, and a 6 second exhale.  Breath only through your nose for the entire duration of the protocol.

I recommend finding a comfortable sitting or lying down position, and I’d encourage you not to do it lying down in bed. Part of the benefit of intentional breathing is gaining better awareness of the way your body feels and responds. So, try to stay awake during the exercise and feel the changes you create in your body.

Doing this protocol once or twice won’t change anything in your body, but if you start to make this a daily practice, you’ll start to notice changes. If there were a pill that could help you sleep better, heal efficiently, decrease your pain, make you feel happier, allow you to think clearer, boost your athletic performance and even heal chronic pathologies, you’d take it in a second. And no – an ambien, alcohol, Xanax, hydrocodone, Adderall, cortisone, marijuana, or any other medicinal cocktail or elixir won’t be able to give you the same, long-lasting benefits of a regular intentional breath practice. I don’t know about you but knowing that I have the choice and ability to give my body all those benefits without a drug or depending on someone else is very empowering.  All it takes is learning a few techniques and actually practicing them.

If you have any questions about other breathing protocols, please feel free to email me at sandyvojik@gmail.com.

FULL PROTOCOL (with arbitrary times) 1:2:1 ratio

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 2 seconds

FULL PROTOCOL (with arbitrary times) 1:2:3 ratio

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds

Inhale 2 seconds - hold 4 seconds-exhale 6 seconds