Stress is not a bad thing and the correct dosing of stress is beneficial. Hormesis is a phenomenon in which low dosing of stress or toxins creates a favorable biological adaptation. The problem falls on chronic stress, and more importantly, the mismanagement of stress. Stress creates a shift in physiology as a mode of survival.
When this shift in physiology is not removed over time, the body begins responding and adapting negatively. The brain starts to be hardwired through neuroplasticity to strengthen the neural pathways that create anger, depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. The chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system creates a malfunction of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis works as a feedback loop in which peptides sent from an associated organ generate a response that affects the signaling organ. A malfunctioned HPA axis will constantly create hormones responsible for cortisol until the adrenal glands eventually collapse. Adrenal collapse can cause blood sugar imbalance, low libido, and cardiovascular disease. The most detrimental effect of mismanaged stress is mitochondrial dysfunction. The mitochondria are the energy generators for every process in the body. When these cell parts sense stress, they dump energy from the inside to the outside of the cell to aid the immune system. This is great in times of emergency or tissue energy. Still, when the mitochondria are constantly allocating power towards crisis, performance is hindered, and this can cause fatigue, poor cognition, muscle atrophy, accelerated aging, autoimmune disease, and even cancer.
It is time to stop falling as the victim of stress and take control of your biology. The key to mastering your biology is controlling the autonomic nervous system, the command center for all bodily processes. Out of all the autonomic nervous system functions, such as heart function, digestion, and elimination, the only one you can have conscious control of is breathing. This is why mindful breathing techniques have been utilized for thousands of years. By mastering your breath, you control the mind and remind the body who is in charge. Below you will find some of my favorite breathing techniques.
Mindful Breathing Techniques
- Box breathing
I discovered this style of breathing from navy seal Mark Divine in his Kokoro Yoga program. This technique helps to stimulate the vagus nerve to elicit a parasympathetic response. You perform this breath by inhaling at an 8-count and holding for a 4-count, followed by an 8-count exhale with another 4-count hold. I recommend repeating this pattern for 6 rounds. I perform this technique whenever I am aware of feelings of anxiousness or worry.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing
The alternate nostril breathing is derived from the Kundalini yoga practice. I use this practice whenever I need to increase my focus. By alternating breathing between nostrils helps improve the communication between the right and left brain hemispheres. Perform this breathing exercise by closing your left nostril with the thumb of your left hand and breathe in through the right nostril. After a full inhale, close the right nostril with the index finger of your left hand and exhale through the left nostril, and then repeat the exercise with an inhale through the left nostril. Complete for 6-20 rounds.
- Decompression Breathing
Dr. Eric Goodman created this style of breathing for his Foundation Training program. When taking breaks from sitting or during my lunch break, I perform this breathing style and Foundation Training. To perform decompression breaths, you stand tall and take in a breath that fully expands the abdomen, rib cage, and chest. You will then maintain the expansion of the chest and ribs while you continue to take diaphragmatic breaths. You can try this out with Foundation Training by following along here: 12-Minute Foundation Training.
- Breath-hold Walks
I perform breath-hold walking while taking my dogs for a stroll. During the walk, I use telephone poles as a landmark, take normal breaths from one telephone to the next, and then hold my breath as I walk to the next telephone pole.
- Paul Chek’s Kite String Breathing
Paul Chek is the Gandolf of the health and fitness industry. Paul Chek has trained hundreds of professional athletes and noticed that not a single one could breathe properly. By teaching optimal breathing patterns to athletes, they have been able to increase performance and reduce injury. The initial step is to take a kite string, then take an exhalation breath, and tie the kite string tightly at the level of your navel. Wear this bite string under clothing for 120 days at least, and focus on expanding your abdomen against the string with each breath. Paul Chek has even more breath training available in this video: Paul Chek’s Breathing Exercises.
- Wim Hof Breathing
Wim Hof (aka. The Iceman) is a superhero from Holland. Wim has trained his mind to perform the supernatural. He climbed Mt. Everest without a shirt, completed a Marathon in the desert without consuming water, and sat in an ice bath for over 2 hours while maintaining a resting core body temperature. The most impressive feat he has completed was in a lab where he consumed E. Coli, and within hours, his body eliminated the potential pathogen. The key to performing the impossible is what has been termed the Wim Hof Method. To take Wim Hof breaths, you breathe in and out for 30 breaths, and on the last exhale, you hold your breath for 1-2 minutes. Once you are unable to hold your breath any longer, you inhale and hold for 15 seconds. This is then repeated for 3-4 rounds. I usually complete this morning and night to deliver energy by following this Wim lead video: Wim Hof lead breathing.