One Small Change
Welcome to Breathing Bootcamp
Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman has trained Navy Seals, British SAS, Green Berets and federal agents. Plus, he claims to have spoken with more people who have been in life-or-death situations than anyone alive. His books, On Killing and On Combat, outline his philosophies.
But why, you ask, is a guy like this on CorePerformance.com? Because the chief lesson that he’s learned and what he teaches his lethal charges is the importance of breathing. That’s right—not how to handle a Glock or lay a trip wire, but how to breathe. It is the simple physiological key—the “conscious dynamic,” as Grossman puts it—to not only defusing a pressure situation but also controlling yourself as you approach one.
When you think about it, we are all at war daily. Stress, anxiety, the jerk who cuts us off in traffic, nagging love handles, pesky injuries, our propensity for laziness…these are all ongoing battles we fight. But in doing so, we are overlooking a potent weapon.
“I work with a lot of military pilots and bomb techs who need ice water in their veins,” Grossman explains. “They must have absolute calm, and breathing is how they achieve it.” Here’s how you can, too:
Leash your dog brain.
Your brain has two parts: the human brain and the dog brain. The dog brain is the survival brain, the one that controls heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and all the other automatic functions of life. But there is a leash on that puppy, and it is the breathing process. Right now, you’re breathing unconsciously, letting your dog brain automatically pump those lungs in and out. This is the unthinking state in which most of us exist. Now take a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe in some more. Hold it. Hold it. Now let it all out. Do this a few more times and you’ll not only have taken conscious control of your respiration but also many other “automatic” functions. For instance, your heart rate and blood pressure will have instantly dropped. Appreciate the power of that.
Stop behaving like a baby.
The next time you’re around an infant, try this experiment. While the little bugger is lying there, clap your hands. His head, shoulders and hands will instinctively come up as his diaphragm sucks in. This is the startle response—or “Condition Red,” as Grossman puts it. It’s the body’s instinctive way of preparing for whatever happens next. The problem is, most of us live in this ready state, breathing shallowly from our chests. To start correcting this, practice pulling your head and shoulders back as you inhale, while letting your stomach expand like a balloon. Breathe in through your nose for a 3- or 4-count, hold briefly, then breathe out through your lips for another 3- or 4-count as your belly collapses. This is the resting state of breath that we belong in.
Feel the effects.
By leashing your dog brain and addressing your childish behavior, you’ll suddenly realize two things: First, no matter how out-of-control you may feel in a pressure situation, whether in the gym or the urban jungle, you really are in charge. And second, by relearning how you’re designed to breathe, you’ll enjoy better performance internally and externally.
So this is the foundation upon which I’ll be building this month’s One Small Change experiment. Between now and the next blog, I’ll be focusing on building awareness of my breathing and relearning how to do it properly. To remind myself to practice periodically, I’ve put a Post-It note on my car’s dashboard and have taken to doing the 3- to 4-count breath exercise outlined earlier every time the phone rings. For you techies, there’s a Twitter reminder, @remembr2breathe, (follow @CorePerformance while you're at it) and even an iPhone/iPod app called Breath Pacer.
Next blog, we’ll meet two experts who will supply specific breathing drills for making a pressure putt; getting to sleep with less tossing and turning; running, swimming or cycling longer with less effort; easing stress; lifting more weight; beating food cravings; healing injuries; and even having better sex.
You get the feeling Lieutenant Colonel Grossman would salute all that.
About The Author
Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.