How to Breathe Effectively - Step 1 to Performance Enhancement
Mindfulness training abounds, and I am glad, although I am uncertain as to how much depth is often passed on.
I am privileged to work in Elite Sport, the Business world, with Medical Professionals, and individually in therapy with the common denominator - the human mind.
In this blog, I will give an insight in to how to use the breath in the most effective way for real performance enhancement, and the beginning of mental strength training.
Everything begins with the breath. It is the building block of life, and to enhance performance (in any area), you must learn how to breathe effectively, and build your control of the breath proactively.
The breath is key in yoga, meditation, hypnosis, and clearly in life in general, so it is the key to learning to feel in control of your life.
When I ask people to show me how they slow down their system by taking deep breaths, it is evident that most learn how to breathe in a lazy, and inefficient way.
Learn to use the breath, and build control in 3 ways.
1. Focused training - Sit for 5 - 10 mins everyday in a comfortable chair and practice breathing in this manner.
Still yourself for at least 10 seconds. Fix your eyes on a single point and still every muscle and nerve in the body, not thinking about breathing, or not breathing, just stillness. This is difficult for many people to get used to, because in their busy lives, they don't relax very often.
Now initiate a long, and very slow intake of breath through the nose. There are a number of things to get used to in doing this effectively.
First, you must get used to using the right muscles. There is no requirement for movement in the face, nose, shoulders, arms etc, only in the diaphragm. People ask how they can tell if they are using the muscles in the diaphragm, and the answer is if you are not using any other muscles under your conscious control, you are doing a good job with it.
The only reason the breath is coming in through the nose, is because the mouth is closed. The vacuum is created in the diaphragm, and the air is literally being drawn in through the nose.
Listen to the sound of the breath. There is a real difference between using the muscles in the face and nose, and drawing in through the diaphragm. You know you are on the right track when the sound is much deeper, and you can feel the rush of cold air in the throat, rather than the nasal passages.
The intake of this breath should be very slow - this will get easier with practice, and it is normal for 1 breath (intake and exhale) to last around a minute if well practiced.
When you think you are at the top of the breath, keep expanding the lungs, and it is now that the movement becomes more evident as the rib cage expands under the outward pressure of the lungs expanding.
When you get to the top of the breath, experience a stillness again for a few seconds. This is different to holding the breath, which creates tension, you are literally becoming still with non-effort.
Now let the muscles in the diaphragm let go, and the air naturally expels, allow it out through the mouth, and release tension in the muscles as you exhale. Let the shoulders drop, and the arms and hands let go.
At the bottom of the breath, experience a stillness again for a number of seconds. This will become natural as you practice. In fact the breath, with focused practice becomes one cycle, rather than feeling separated by different parts.
Repeat this cycle 3 times, and on the 3rd exhale, close your eyelids down, and you can feel a dropping sensation physically, and mentally as you relax.
Now just sit, keeping your eyelids closed for 5 - 10 mins (you can use an alarm to alert you if required). Use little conscious activity, use your imagination to very gently become aware of pleasant scenes, or thoughts about you and your potential.
The benefits to learning to breathe like this, and practicing on a daily basis are huge, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and just some of the benefits are listed in the Mind Power Solutions System® graphic.
Physically, your muscles receive cleaner, warmer, and more oxygenated air because as the air passes in though the nose, it goes through filters. Nasal hairs filter the larger particles of dust, and then a thin membrane at the top of the nose filters smaller particles resulting in cleaner air.
Then, as the air passes through the top of the nasal passage, it blends with Nitrogen Oxide residing in the sinuses and cavities in the skull, which increases the oxygen content of the air by approximately 10 - 15% on every breath.
As the air is spending longer in your system, going through the nose, it is warming to body temperature, meaning it is used more efficiently as it reaches the lungs, and transfers to the blood, and then muscles to be used as energy.
2. Proactive breathing - breathe proactively in an effective way throughout the day.
When you breathe very deeply in through the nose, and release tension as you exhale, regularly throughout the day, you are reinforcing the relaxation training that your brain and nervous system are getting in your focused breathing training.
Do a few breaths like this every time you remember, or if you're serious about making a change to your nervous system relaxation response, set yourself a timer for every 60mins of the day, and do a few breaths each hour of your waking day.
Step 1 and 2 combined is building a real deep level of control of the nervous system.
You are breathing all of the time anyway, so why not breathe effectively.
3. Using the breath as a powerful psychological tool - When you need it, the breath now creates a powerful activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response), very quickly, allowing you to focus on whatever it is you are doing.
This could be as an elite sports person, preparing for the start of an event, or part of the performance, or anyone wanting to change feelings of tension they experience in their body.
If you use the breath in this way for a month, you will likely be very surprised at how you will feel different in healthy and beneficial ways, in many areas of your life.
This is simply the beginning of learning to use your body and mind for performance enhancement and psychological strength and resilience.
Feel free to comment, or ask questions, interaction is wonderful.
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