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How to Breathe for High Performance

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
5 Magic Minutes

I'd like to give you a tool that can literally improve your health, calm your stress, and increase your mental clarity within five minutes. I'd like to teach you how to breathe. Does that sound boring?

Let me share a story.

Two monks, master and student, walked along a path, returning to their monastery after several hours of meditating high in the Himalayan Mountains. The student complained to his master, saying, “Breathing is so boring!” Without a word, the master grabbed his student by the neck, pulled him over to a nearby stream, and plunged the student's head beneath the rushing water. He kept him under water for several seconds, as the student kicked and squirmed. Finally, the master yanked his student’s head above the surface and asked, “Now, what do you have to say about breathing?"

Obviously, as the master reminded his student, breathing is critical to life. But proper breathing is also critical to physical health, emotional well-being, and mental clarity. It is crucial to the process of re-wiring your brain. Our ultimate goal in learning to belly breathe is to be able to take 1 or 2 full belly breaths and instantly feel relaxation fill your body and clear your mind.

Okay, let’s get started.

Without consciously changing how you breathe, place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. Notice which hand moves more as you breathe. If you are belly breathing, the hand on your belly will rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. If you are chest breathing, you may find the opposite to be true.

Without consciously changing how you breathe, place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. Notice which hand moves more as you breathe. If you are belly breathing, the hand on your belly will rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. If you are chest breathing, you may find the opposite to be true.

Stand with your knees slightly bent and relaxed and hold your tailbone slightly tilted forward. If this is difficult then sit with your back straight (not stiff) and use a pillow to support your lower back with feet flat on the floor. Sit tall with your chin slightly tucked in. You may even lie down if sitting is uncomfortable.

Relax your jaw and allow your tongue to gently touch the roof of your mouth—this is a great tool for your jaw clinchers when under too much stress.

Relax your belly. Just let it be.
Often our desire for a firm tummy or a fear of a “Buddha belly” may make it difficult at first to just let it fall naturally.

Now, bring awareness to your breathing. I invite you to close your eyes—this will help you focus inward and quiet the world outside.

Notice any tension you feel.

With your hand lightly placed over your belly button, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the bottom of your lungs. Imagine the oxygen filling your lungs. Your hand on your belly will rise with each inhalation. Your chest should move only slightly as your belly expands. It may feel awkward at first. Don't worry. Just continue until you feel your belly expanding with the inhale and collapsing with each exhale.

When you feel like you're getting the hang of it, take a full breath in through your nose to the count of 4. Imagine the oxygen filling all lobes of your lungs.

Exhale slowly and fully through your mouth so that it lasts 6 counts. Feel your breath being released from your body and feel your hand on your belly lower.

Now…pause briefly at the end of the exhale.

Never tighten your belly in order to make your exhale last longer… Keep it relaxed. Simply slow down your exhales.

As you exhale allow your whole body to let go and relax. Visualize your arms and your legs going loose and limp like a ragdoll.

Breathe 10 slow balanced deep belly breaths: 4 counts on the inhale and 6 counts on the exhale. Keep your breathing smooth and regular, without gulping in a big breath or letting your breath out all at once. Smooth and balanced.

If you feel light headed or anxious during this practice, stop for a 30-60 seconds and then start again.

Let’s begin breathing:

Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3
Inhale: 1…2…3…4, and exhale: 1…2…3…4…5…6…pause…1…2…3

How do you feel right now?

Since belly breathing may be new to you and because your body is taking in more oxygen then it is used to, you may feel light headed or even intoxicated at first. Your body is adjusting to the greater amount of oxygen. You can try again in 30-60 seconds after the feeling has subsided and start again.

Now, open your eyes and stretch your whole body as you feel your body refreshed, rejuvenated, alert and fully alive.

You can extend this breathing exercise by doing 2 or 3 sets of belly breathing. Five full minutes of
belly breathing will have a profound effect on reducing the feelings of stress and anxiousness and allow you to experience increased energy, creativity and mental clarity.

Practice this. Most of us find that our breathing shifts back to shallow chest breathing when we become doubtful, anxious, fearful, or when our minds go into mental overdrive. But practice makes permanent! Thus, when you notice you are entering one of these negative and distracting emotional/mental states, check your breathing and shift to the deep, calming, and energizing state that results from belly breathing.

If you haven't already signed up for my newsletter, please do so and download an audio recording of me taking you through the above practice!

Wishing you focus, fitness, and flexibility in body and mind!

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