On Learning and Breathing
Fragment from imaginary dialogues
“I’ve come to consider breathing an essential practice. I want to MASTER it.”
“What’s your approach?”
“I’m reading three books on the subject (at the same time):
My practice evolves as I’m reading them. Whenever I encounter something I can implement, I immediately add it to my practice.“
“What does your practice look like in its current form?”
“From Just Breathe I got an essential piece of the puzzle. I learned what the fundamentals of breath-work are:
Breath Awareness: Becoming aware of your breathing without trying to control it in any way
Conscious Breathing: Controlling certain aspects of your breathing for achieving specific ends
I found this information immensely useful. I’d read a lot about breathing before, from various sources, and all were focusing only on the latter. Breathe in this way, or in that way. But none mentioned the importance of just observing your breathing. As Dan Brulé beautifully puts it:
BE the breath.
Now both are an integral part of my breathing practice, and Breath Awareness has become my default-practice.
From The Oxygen Advantage I learned the importance of breathing only through your nose.
I learned that there’s such a thing as overbreathing. Counterintuitively, getting in more oxygen by inhaling a larger volume of air has diminishing returns. Our blood already has a high oxygen saturation. To increase performance, you don’t need more oxygen; you need a way to deliver the oxygen more effectively to the muscles and tissues.
A big idea I got from the book was that carbon dioxide is not just a waste product. Carbon dioxide plays an essential role in releasing the oxygen from the red blood cells. This is called the Bohr effect.
The better your body is at managing carbon dioxide, the better it is at using its stored oxygen. And you can make your body better at it through holding your breath, thus simulating high-altitude breathing. While you hold your breath, there’s a build-up of carbon dioxide in your body. This is what causes you to gasp for air. Through consistent breath-hold practice, you increase your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide.
There are various breath-hold methods described in the book, and I haven’t gotten to them yet. I have however already implemented the most basic of them during my morning meditation: the BOLT test. This is basically a test for assessing your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide.
The test is simple:
1. Take a normal breath in through your nose and allow a normal breath out through your nose.
2. Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
3. Time the number of seconds until you feel the FIRST definite desire to breathe, or the FIRST stresses of your body urging you to breathe (eg need to swallow, constriction of airways, involuntary contractions of your breathing muscles in your abdomen or throat).
4. Release your nose, stop the timer, and breathe in through your nose. (Your inhalation at the end of the breath hold should be calm.)
The goal is not to see how long you can hold your breath, but how long it takes for your body to react to a lack of air. Athletes can easily reach 40 seconds in this test.
From Heart Coherence 365 I got the practice which is encoded in the very title.
– 3 times a day (first thing in the morning, at any time throughout the day, right before sleep)
– 6 breaths per minute (5-second inhale, 5-second exhale)
– 5 minutes duration
“Is it the BREATHE pattern we’ve talked about before [<link] which produces heart-coherence?
“Yes it is.
I’ve only started reading those books, and they’ve already greatly enriched my breathing practice. There’s a lesson in that. It illustrates a fundamental principle of learning:
Apply what you learn.
“You’re also illustrating a powerful learning strategy:
Learn by teaching.
“I guess I am.”