November 5, 2020

Breath in... Breath out and get to the core

Dear Tribe,

Welcome to the second @Xthebar post, todays post will be about breathing and more specifically the relationship between breathing, stress, core stability and mostly how to improve your current breathing pattern. Breathing is something we tend to not really think about, you just do it, this is a shame. Because many of us myself included have a breathing pattern that is insufficient and leaves lots of room for improvement. Right now as you are reading this, take a second and focus on how you breath. Don’t change anything, just breath in and out and see what you find. Besides the difference in breathing in and out through your nose there are two different ways of breathing, shallow chest breathing and diaphragm breathing. When not in a stressful situation you always want to use the diaphragmic breathing, which one are you? When you find yourself breathing very shallow and only through your chest, don’t worry there is no need for panic so let’s go over the difference between the two.

Basically the difference is that you are supposed to use diaphragm breathing when relaxed and shallow chest breathing in times of stress. Only there is a catch, triggers and meaning of stress have changed. Way back when we were Hunter Gatherers stress was easy to recognize because it could be anything that could threaten our lives, a lion attack, other hunter gatherers wanting to fight etc. Today’s form of stress comes in many different forms, culture, environment we grow up, social media, movies, deadline at work etc. This is a problem, because for many of us this means that we start using the shallow chest breathing as a standard and don’t come back to diaphragm breathing. The results of that happening are that you find yourself in a vicious circle of stress, and never truly relax or recharge. Another reason for wanting to go back to diaphragm breathing is that it stabilizes your core.

When I say core I don’t mean one specific type of muscle in particular, I mean your entire abdominal wall (Front and sides) including your lower back and your pelvic floor so a true 360 with top (diaphragm) and bottom (Pelvic floor). Because we humans stabilize our core from the inside out and our diaphragm has a very important role in this. Because when we breath in and actually use our diaphragm we use that air to push against all inner walls, think about the belt that weightlifters put on when hitting their max lift. They put on this belt to create a stronger outer core wall so when they breath in they can create more pressure and thus more stability for the lift. Now let’s look at babies and toddlers, some of you will actually have one running around in your house right now. The funny thing about toddlers and babies is that they breath pure and unbothered exactly the way we are supposed to breath. Their bellies are round and barrel shaped and they use their diaphragm for breathing, they do this instinctively. And what this does for them just like the weightlifter is that it stabilizes their core which helps them to roll over, sit up and eventually walk. So when you are in your workout you want to think about wearing a belt around your waist and every time you inhale you use the air taken in to push against the inner walls of your (360 degrees) core and when you exhale you maintain pressure by squeezing actively.

If you recognize yourself in the shallow breathing and you always have your lower back ache, no worries. Just like many other things concerning the body this can be trained. One way to do that is to start being mindful about how you breath and put in conscious effort to change your current pattern. As an experiment for this blog I have done a breathing session including ice bath with our very own Coach beard (Jeroen van der Most van Spijk) and his current company @Fullviss to see if I could also apply the diaphragm breathing whilst being in a stressful situation, being the ice bath. Starting the session we talked a little bit about how and why I was doing this and then we went into the breathing part. With the music on meditation mode and my eyes covered we were ready to go. What I found was that breathing, very much like a handstand, snatch or muscle up, is a high level skill that has many stages to it. It was extremely helpful to have Coach beard on my side guiding me through all the different stages of what is practically meditation. After this meditation/ breathing session it was time to get changed and ready for the challenge.. The Ice Bath. Beforehand I was very nervous about the ice bath and it had already kept me busy for that entire morning, how cold it was going to be, how much it was going to hurt and how uncomfortable it would make me feel. It was time to step into the water and take a seat after 3 long and deep inhales..1…2…3 and drop. The first response my body had was shock and my breathing was extremely shallow and fast, but after about 10/15 seconds I got control over my breathing and I started to feel myself heat up from the inside out. My mind was literally blown when Beard told me I could come out because 2 minutes had past, I felt like I could have sat there the whole day. And as soon as those two minutes were up my focus was gone and I immediately started to shiver. For me this was a very elevating experience and I was so excited about the power of the mind and breathing. Besides the health benefits of dumping yourself in ice cold water it resembles an external stressor just like in your daily life and that with mindful breathing you can overcome it and get yourself in a state of perfect calmness and harmony.

So dear members , if you experience a lot of stress or anxiety and you have a shallow breathing pattern. Not to worry. Just start by breathing more mindfully and if you can not get there yourself, we have a coach in the house that can help you start your journey. Thanks to Coach Beard for hosting my experiment. Until the next one!

Wouter Laurens