Understanding why we do anything is sometimes the hardest part of any training plan. Setting a goal and working towards that goal demands persistence, consistency, and dedication. Hearing these words is nothing new to any one of you who is reading this, but if we peel back a few layers, I think we can shed some light on a topic that is usually overlooked; adaptation. Whether we are training for something specific inside or outside of the gym, sitting in a classroom learning, or taking time for ourselves to practice mindfulness - we are in some way, shape, or form adapting.
In my seminar about breathing I started the discussion with: "why breathing?" I took a few moments to ask the group, “why should we take time to learn about breathing? Or why should we take time to work on improving our breathing?” In my opinion I think those are two valid questions, and it took me a considerable amount of time to answer those myself. Oddly enough those two questions were the biggest road blocks I faced when trying to put together a consistent and well-rounded message about breathing. But after taking quite a bit of time to sit with those questions I came up with an answer that I think helps to lay the groundwork for everything that is to come: we breathe to seek or achieve an improved adaptation to our current environment or stimulus, moreover we train so that we can improve upon our sport, craft, or well-being.
What is adaptation?
Adaptation is simply a dynamic, evolutionary process. An adaptation is a trait with a current functional role that is maintained and evolved depending on an organisms environmental stimulus. So let’s think about this for a minute (and all of you biology majors out there I welcome your feedback), our bodies prioritize traits that are functional and have a direct relationship with our environment in regards to our survival. It is important to note here that there are three types of adaptation:
1. Behavioral - categorized as a RESPONSE
2. Structural - categorized as a FEATURE
3. Physiological - categorized as a PROCESS
Now we can dive into specifics that would be most advantageous for each of the categories, but for time and singular purpose sake, we will focus on the physiological adaptation process. When we train our breathing, we our enhancing our physiological adaptations as it relates to our pulmonary system and gas exchange (primarily O2 and CO2). Focused breath practice has so much carry over from quality of life to sport, and it is the easiest thing to do because you literally need zero gym equipment.
Week 2 - "Where do I start?"
If you would have asked me this question a year ago about where should I start my breath practice I would have answered Wim Hof. I spent about half a year using Wim’s method of breathing as my only means of breath practice. At first I was enamored with the effects of super-ventilation and the calm that you can achieve from inhaling O2 and buffering off your CO2. However, it became very apparent to me one day when my wife pointed out to me that “the point of meditation is not to win meditation”, that I realized I was only replacing my "in the gym training" for longer breath holds. I realized that Wim’s method (although there are numerous benefits with we will get into later) was great, it wasn’t setting me out on the right path. I need something that was going to help me down regulate, calm my mind, and tell my body it was time to heal.... enter apnea training and cadence breathing!
Last week I asked all of you to spend some time just observing your breathing while you lie on your back. I wrote “observe your chest rise and fall when breathing”. Did any of you happen to notice whether or not your belly was rising or falling? I bring this up because learning to breathe with our belly is the first step in learning diaphragmatic breathing (I have written plenty on diaphragmatic breathing so if you need a refresher just look back a few weeks).
This week I want you to start out with three minutes of calm focused breathing (still on your back and observing your stomach rise and fall). At the end of three minutes I want you to sit up and begin a simple 1 (inhale).1 (breath hold).2 (exhale) .1 (pause with no air) cadence breath practice for 7 to 10 minutes. The counts I want you to try are between 4 to 6 seconds (6 second inhale + 6 second breath hold + 12 second exhale + 6 second pause with no air) repeat that cadence for 7 to 10 minutes. Make sure the numbers you choose are comfortable and you don’t feel to much overexertion while training. Feel free to update me on how it is going this week, and next week we will add another step!