Animals are amazing. I think we can all agree on that.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be pet owners, I believe that if we take time and slow down our routines, we can witness this on a daily basis. My mother will tell you that at a very young age, I climbed up on the bathroom counter after a hot shower and wrote “The top 10 reasons why we need a dog” on the foggy mirror in our bathroom. I knew that every time my mom got out of the shower she would see my list and hopefully cave. Inevitably, she did and we got a dog. Since then - I think I was 8 or 9 - I have always had a dog, and whenever I talk to fellow dog owners, they all share the same sentiment about how important their animals are to them.
I know you are probably wondering what this has to do with breathing. I'll tell you. It wasn’t until recently that I began noticing this major difference between dogs and people - outside of the obvious tail and slobber. About six months ago, I got home from work and Abel (pictured above) was ready to go outside. Whenever I take him out, he wants to run. If we are at the park or up at Amanda’s parents property, he has the ability to run off leash at full speed until he is tired.
This has been the routine since day one, but I began noticing something after I started my own breath practice. When Abel is done running, his behavior changes in an instant. He begins breathing at a much faster rate, with full expansion of his diaphragm, and after a couple of minutes, he goes to sleep. That’s when it hit me. When Abel runs around, he is eliciting a sympathetic response physiologically - fight or flight (check out last weeks blog post if you are unfamiliar with sympathetic and parasympathetic). He continues at this break neck pace until he no longer has the energy to continue and at that exact moment his physiology immediately starts to down-regulate and recover, entering a parasympathetic state - rest and recover - via his breath.
I was quite amazed when I realized all of this, and couldn't help but think about my own training regimen. For the past several years, I have focused my training on the muscular and cardiovascular systems, and paid almost zero attention to my pulmonary system. To quote Rob Wilson from Power Speed Endurance, “Breathing is something we mostly take for granted. On average humans take 23,040 breaths per day, 8,409,600 breaths per year, and a whopping 600+ million breaths in a lifetime. Breathing is the fundamental life-giving force in our bodies. We can go weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. Yet, of all the nutrients, it gets the least credence. We are paying attention to how we move, how we eat, and our hydration (fanatically so at times in sport and fitness), but we give breathing a minuscule amount of psychological energy. We take it almost wholly for granted.”
This couldn’t be more true for myself, however it was the complete opposite for my dog Abel. In the coming weeks, I will talk about specific ways you can begin to cultivate your own breath practice, but in the meantime I challenge you to pay attention to your pets. Notice how they interact with the environment around them. You just might learn a thing or two.
Be sure to check out the the upcoming Art of Breath Clinic we are hosting on Saturday, February 25th, if you are interested in learning more about how to develop a stronger foundation in breathing and performance.