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Without our breath we die, and with it we thrive. We only need to hold our breath for more than 30 seconds to see how important it is to us. It is present in everything we do; yet rarely do we actively focus our breath.
Typically, we expect our breathing to function at a level of perfection, all day, everyday. Our breath reacts and changes, depending on our emotional, mental and physical states - if we are scared it increases in frequency, if we are relaxed it decreases in frequency.
On the flip side, the mind and body will have a physical, mental, and emotional reaction to the change in our breath. This is why many performers use the breath to manage their states.
Fear is excitement without the breath - Fritz Perls
The breath is often referred to as our centre in many disciplines. It keeps us grounded, acts as our anchor for our well-being, and can be used to overcome the most challenging situations. Through breath we can overcome pain, change fear into excitement, and even stop an amygdala hijack (fearful body paralysis). Free divers, like World Record Holder Erez Beatus (one of our ambassadors), are masters at using their breath to help concentrate blood flow towards vital organs in their body whilst experience extreme stress at great depths. When holding his breath for over 8 minutes Beatus explains:
"I find the space between two breaths to be a powerful one- it enables me to tap into my fullest potential and be in a state of real flow." - Erez Beatus (world renowned freediving expert)
To begin harnessing our breath we first need to become aware of it.
When we change the rhythm, speed and depth of our breath, we will quickly notice distinct differences. By simply increasing the length of our in-breath and out-breath to 10 seconds each, in only a matter of minutes we can reduce our heart rate from a stressed 120 beats per minute to a resting rate of 60 beats; unbearable nerves and knots in our stomachs to feeling at ease within our body.
Our change in heartbeat has an immediate effect on our nervous system, which dramatically affects the way we feel, think and act. The Heart Math Institute, an organisation dedicated to understanding the role of the heart, have heavily linked our heart rate control with performance.
Intriguing are the dramatic positive changes that occur when techniques are applied that increase coherence in rhythmic patterns of heart rate variability. These include shifts in perception and the ability to reduce stress and deal more effectively with difficult situations.
"We observed that the heart was acting as though it had a mind of its own and was profoundly influencing the way we perceive and respond to the world. In essence, it appeared that the heart was affecting intelligence and awareness." Heart Math Institute
These significant changes can be magnified through training to achieve incredible feats. For example, in October 2012, Stig Severinsen broke the world record and held his breath, not for 3 minutes, nor 10, but 22 minutes! Navy seals use a technique known as box breathing, where they breath-in/hold/breath-out/hold for equal amounts of time, in order to manage their states during training and combat. Jerath et al (2006) showed that Yogic Pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders. In short, there are a range of proven breathing exercises that we can utilise in our daily lives, to help us accomplish a variety of benefits, like maintaining an optimal performing state.
"Once I'm geared up I'll double-check, triple-check everything, and make sure I'm cool. When it is time to go, generally, I'll be freaking out - you've got to turn that negative fear into a positive fear - that's when I'll take three deep breaths to calm myself and gain control of my neurology to choose a state of flow over fear, and throw myself into the unknown." Chris Douggs McDougall (World Record Holder Base Jumper)