The Power of Breathing Well
I saw this article in the Sydney Morning Herald today and I just thought it was such a wonderful story that I had to share with you because it’s been the focus of so much of so many of my podcasts and it’s also a feature of my book [A Life Less Stressed: the five pillars of health and wellness] and our wellness online wellness program, Unstress. So I just thought I’d wanted to share it with you.
It’s a story about world champion surfer Mick Fanning, a wave wizard an easy breather. The air is there for therapy. If you’re looking at this on YouTube, that’s great. If you’re not, I’ll share it with you. If it’s what some people think of as weird hippie stuff. But learning how to breathe better may just be the most underrated tool we have at our disposal, one that can reduce anxiety, pain, stress and improve your physical performance.
Mick Fanning laughs at the thought of himself starting out as a professional surfer and someone suggesting he work on breathing. Many people’s reaction, by the way, is that they just kind of think breathing is breathing, but there’s so much more he imagines he would have asked for what? Today, however, the three-time world champion believes it’s a key component of his success, and the reason I’m bringing it to your attention because it’s a key component of every single one of us. Our success breathwork is critical, says the 39-year-old, who recently announced his professional surfing comeback.
The better you breathe, the better you perform
You can change your mood, your thought patterns, just by concentrating on your breath. Fanning was introduced to breathing techniques at 19, trying to manage the pain of scoliosis in yoga classes. He learned to slow down his breath during deep stretches. He focused on using his breath to create more space between his ribs and spine and found the pain in his back began to subsidize. Just as an aside, chronic musculoskeletal pain is a huge problem in our society.
Here is another aspect to that management. Later, he incorporated different breathing techniques into his training, using them alongside visualization and meditation. Meditation one of our Thought Pillars, I felt that was one of the key parts of my success, Fanning says. It’s something that I still use today by concentrating on my breath. You can bring yourself down or can get yourself excited.
In fact, what the breath affects. The fact that the breath affects us on both mental and physical levels simultaneously is part of what makes it so powerful, says Dr David Farmer, an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne. When we breathe involuntarily, a group of cells in our brain is working in synchronicity to make a rhythm where the breathing evokes a physical or mental response.
It’s very hard to separate the two Farmer says yes, breath can control your mood. That’s a revelation to some people. When we then use our breath in specific ways, we can start to control that rhythm and in doing so, elicit certain physical and mental responses. In this way, it’s an absolutely unique tool, Farmer says. I would totally agree with this.
The only system over which we have direct motor control, which is essential for our survival, is our breathing. Fanning’s personal coach Nam Baldwin says breathwork is the foundation of mental and physical performance. It’s one of the only natural ways to regulate the nervous system, the behavior of the nervous system when it comes to stress. That’s why I include breath as a separate pillar, often breath is rolled up into sleep but I think it because we breathe for the other 16 hours a day when we’re not sleeping, it’s equally important.
He and Fanning practice different breathing techniques depending on what you are trying to evoke. They use it as regulating tool in high-intensity training sessions in the pool to give him greater breath-holding capacity as a way to recover. They use basic rhythmic breathing as part of their psychological preparation for competition, Edith Cowan, University biomechanics Professor Tony Blazevich says, the benefits of using breathing techniques are available to us all, not just elite athletes, manipulating the speed and depth of breathing is one way to create physical and mental shifts.
In his 2020 book, Breath The New Science of a Lost Art
James Nestor says breathing through your nose doesn’t just humidify and filter and remove foreign particles, it can boost nitric oxide. This is something we’ve talked about a lot on this podcast, and I would recommend that you go back and listen to my interview with James Nestor. It was fantastic to hear a journalist discovered the power of breath. At the same time, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to Dr Rosalba Courteney’s podcast, which is also about breathing.
Now, Rosalba is an osteopath with over 40 years of clinical experience, and she went back 10 years ago and did a Ph.D. in breathing. That’s how important breath was. And also my interview with Roger Price and going back even further to Patrick McEwan in the Buteyko technique, which was one of the early podcasts I did, We’ll reissue those I think they’re worth listening to again. Nitric oxide is one of the reasons we can absorb 18 percent more oxygen than just by breathing through our mouths.
Not only is a nitric oxide such an important body regulator because of its effect on smooth muscle, but also it’s antimicrobial, which is particularly relevant in today’s world. Nitric oxide has been shown in a 2005 study to disrupt the reproductive cycle of the Corona one virus, and presumably, it’ll do that for the corona two viruses but nitric oxide, 60 percent of the body’s nitric oxide is produced in the paradisal sinuses only when you breathe through your nose.
The power of breath is huge. Counting the breath and visualizing the cool air coming in also slows down our breathing and engages areas of the brain that are involved in processing anxiety and pain. Now, anxiety, mental health, depression, chronic pain. See how the breath can have a powerful impact. When we are counting and visualizing our breath, our brains can also process the pain at the same time it takes practice, Blazevich says. But when someone decides I’m going to use my brain for some other reason, they get good at breathing and beating anxiety.
They get good at beating pain, they get good at beating whatever by using these breathing techniques. Over many weeks of training, you can go back and take an MRI of someone’s brain and amygdala. That part of the brain associated with emotions and anxiety will literally become less active. The breath again and we’ve talked about hormesis and intentionally stressing the body and changing our nervous system and this is what we do when I do the ice baths with Dr. Lewis Ehrlich.
The work of Wim Hof, on the one hand, is challenging the science of how our breath can impact the nervous system. I wanted to share this article with you because there was so much in it that reinforced so many of the podcasts we’ve done.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.