Principle 1 – Breathing

Breathing might be my favorite subject of discussion of the last few years. The day I learned to start thinking about controlling my breathing, and making a conscious effort to be mindful of the process, my whole life changed forever. The techniques I have embraced for the purpose of Biohacking Paintball are:

Box Breathing – The first technique I discovered came from a book called The Way of The Seal, by retired US Navy Seal Commander Mark Divine. Mr. Divine teaches us that combat stress can be lessened or alleviated by being mindful of the breath during times of extreme stress. Paintball is simulated combat, so the parallels are pretty easy to draw here. To perform the Box Breath, you will inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold your lungs in the empty state for a final four seconds. Of course, this exercise can be performed at any time, not just under duress. Mark has also created an App that guides the user using visual and auditory cues.

For more information and techniques with less paraphrasing, visit UnbeatableMind.com

Система – My next adventure into the breath arrived a few years later when exploring Martial Arts. The Russian Martial Art of Systema, or “The System”, struck a chord with me because the first lesson they teach is about breathing. Systema practitioners follow a few basic principles.

  • First, the breath must be constant; in through the nose, and out through the mouth. This is the optimal way to maintain relaxation and fluidity of movement. If you feel a pause from being frightened suddenly or an event that surprises you, exhale immediately to restore your breathing.
  • Second, the breath must be incorporated into every movement an individual makes, so much so that they refer to it as “Breath Leading”, which implies that whatever your movement might be, whether it be walking, running, or snap shooting, the breath must be intimately entwined in the motion.
  • Third, and most missed in paintball, is that you must make a conscious effort to relieve the pressure from your lungs when you are moving in a way that impedes their function. When you dive into the snake, or crouch down to play a low bunker, you are impacting your lungs and must relieve the pressure by exhaling.
  • Fourth, when your heart races from an internal or external stressor, you must use Burst Breathing to bring your pulse and your breath under control. This is performed by rapidly inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth the way a dog would until relaxed breathing can be restored. Lastly for this discussion, Systema teaches us that tension is the enemy. Everything movement we make must be relaxed and free from unnecessary tension, because if we are under tension, it is very difficult to react to new stimulus and change direction if need be. So when we land in our primary bunker alive, we must take action immediately to restore a relaxed state so we can have our best chance at winning the point, the game, or the tournament.
  • Lastly, in order to train ourselves to remain calm in an oxygen-deprived state, we can exercise using Breath Holds. In an anaerobic environment, and without proper training, upwards of 60% of your available oxygen is used up by the brain as a physiological response. This leaves less than half of that oxygen for your body to use to escape, evade, or counterattack. However, by using Breath Hold training, we can change this dynamic to keep the mind from robbing us of oxygen, and keep calm when oxygen availability is less than ideal. When the stakes are high and the time winds down in the Finals, we need to be sure that our mind and body have been prepared for the stress that will inevitably ensue.

For more information with less paraphrasing, visit the home page of Systema

The Oxygen Advantage

In my most recent exploration into breathwork with applications for paintball, I have discovered techniques that World Champions and Olympians have leveraged.

  • Nasal Breathing – The Oxygen Advantage approach teaches us that mouths are for eating and talking, and noses are for breathing and smelling, and the two should never cross. Specifically, exhaling through the mouth allows too much CO2 to escape, and inhaling through the mouth is far more likely to pick up allergens and pathogens because they cannot be easily filtered out. There are tons of benefits to nasal breathing to be found!
  • Taping your mouth closed during sleep and exercise – Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I have weirded out my co-workers and neighbors with this one. If you really want to re-train your body to breathe exclusively through your nose, take your mouth of the equation altogether. However, you should pace yourself, as it may take some getting used to!
  • High Altitude Simulation – There is a ton of evidence to credit the fact that athletes who train at high altitude have an edge over those who are breathing more pressurized oxygen down here at sea level. To combat this, we can incorporate breath holds into our nasal breathing to condition the body to tolerate higher levels of CO2, as well as tolerate a drop in oxygen saturation in the blood. In competition, this will result in more efficient oxygen utilization.
  • Breathe Light To Breathe Right – Cellular respiration is an exchange. O2 comes in, CO2 goes out. I was brought up to believe that CO2 was not our friend, but modern science has convinced me otherwise. Exhaling through the mouth results in Overbreathing, where too much CO2 is released. Because respiration is an exchange, if we let too much CO2 escape, we cannot take in as much O2 no matter how hard or often we breathe. We must train the body to be comfortable in a sort of “Oxygen Hunger” in order to maximize all of the Oxygen we are taking in. Our breath should be inaudible, almost invisible, and you should breathe so lightly that the hairs in your nose are not disturbed. The long term effects of this excite me greatly!

For more information with less paraphrasing, visit OxygenAdvantage.com

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