Breathing is a huge part of being alive. Just think about it: the average person takes between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. For math purposes, let’s say 16. That’s 960 breaths an hour, 23, 040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 breaths a year. And if you live to 90, that’s 756,864,000 breaths. You’d think that after all that breathing, we might have learned to master it, right? Well, here’s a perfect example of deliberate practice, what Geof Colvin wrote about in his book, Talent is Overrated, what separates world class performers from everyone else. We go through life taking breaths, over and over again, never really trying to deliberately breathe!
In martial arts, the first and most obvious way we control our breathing is through the Kiai. It’s an expression of the breath to force the martial artist to exhale when performing movements. In Aikido, Kokyu, or the way of the breath, is the most fundamental technique and is incorporated into all of the other techniques.
But how does that help you in daily life? Do you have to be a martial artist to understand how to harness your breathing to improve your life? Well, I’d love to say yes, you have to sign up for my class at the Texas Rock Gym, so that you can learn and master the way of the breath, but that would be a blatant lie. Breathing exercises are pretty much an important part of all high, physical, and mental level activities.
Let’s take Rock Climbing as an example.
So, how do you go about learning to focus on your breathing? It’s pretty easy, and there are tons of videos out there, each with its own technique and method, but the science behind it, the one that says focusing on your breath has overall positive effects on both your mental and physical health, is pretty sound.
To start off, just sit down, relax, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe out for 4 seconds, and repeat. This is called box breathing. If you wanna make it more difficult, then try breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds, hold for 10 seconds, breathe out through your mouth for 25 seconds, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat. When you’ve mastered that, watch my video about this breathing exercise. I’ll link it in the description. I made it a while ago and will probably update it one of these days.
Anyway, what does focusing on your breathing do for you:
It activates the Relaxation Response: Deep, controlled breaths send signals to your nervous system, triggering the release of calming hormones like serotonin and GABA. This puts the brakes on the fight-or-flight response, lowering your heart rate, easing muscle tension, and inducing a sense of tranquility.
It Sharpens Your Focus: When you focus on your breath, your mind naturally quiets down. Distracting thoughts fade away, replaced by a laser-like concentration on the present moment. This allows you to approach stressful situations with greater clarity and composure, preventing them from spiraling into an anxiety vortex.
And finally, it boosts Your Wellbeing: The benefits of regular breathing exercises go beyond mere stress relief. Studies have shown them to improve sleep quality, enhance mood, and even strengthen the immune system. Essentially, you’re giving your body and mind a mini-vacation every time you take a mindful breath.
Remember, consistency is key. Just like any skill, mastering your breath takes practice. But with a little dedication, you’ll soon find yourself navigating the daily grind with newfound calm and resilience. So take a deep breath, release the tension, and let the ancient wisdom of martial arts guide you towards a more peaceful you.
Bonus Tip: Pair your breathing exercises with mindfulness meditation for an even greater stress-busting effect. Simply focus on your breath and sensations without judgment, allowing thoughts to come and go like passing clouds.
Now go forth, breathe warrior, and conquer the chaos within!