Exploring the Volumes of the Breathe

“Now take a deep inhale:” the infamous words of many yoga teachers, but what exactly does that mean? Are all deep inhales the same? Are they fast or slow? Are they deep in the torso or high in the chest? Are you taking the biggest breath you can? Or a significant amount of air in a short time?  There are so many moving parts when performing any skill; it should be broken down into pieces, and that takes repetition, time, patience, attention, and focus. When we tell someone to take a deep breath, it is like telling them to deadlift a heavy barbell off the ground and giving no other instructions.

In this article, I would like to create a more detailed map to the different parts that make up a full breath; I want to take you on a journey through the various layers (volumes) of the breath. I will give you three different practices, each describing a separate volume. It’s like creating a drop-down menu of more areas you can explore to expand the capacity of your breath and, as a result, your nervous system. When you can break down a larger complex movement or internal action, it will affect the process as a whole. When working with the breath, the changes and progressions can be subtle, but with the right questions coupled with a mindset of exploration, the feeling and definition of a "deep breath" will change over time. As you accumulate experiences, the capacity of your nervous system has no choice but to expand.

 

Before I introduce you to the pieces of a full breath, I would like to remind you of the principle of spectrums. (I love applying principles and spectrums!) It is a balance between the two polarities (fast to slow, big to small, intense to subtle, etc.) that allows one to achieve tremendous progress in all directions. If we stay on one end for too long, there will be a ceiling on growth. It is the ability to expand in both directions that allow our spectrum of experience to broaden. We are always testing the limits of our physical strength, the capacity of external actions. But what about the current boundaries of our internal experience? The inner experience is the other end of the spectrum. Let's begin to dive deeper to feel our internal capacities and get to know ourselves a little better.

The 'deep inhale' can be broken down into layers or volumes of the breath. There is the tidal volume, exhaled volume, inhaled volume, and residual volume (which is always there and keeps your lungs from sticking together when you fully exhale). Each volume has many different areas to explore with many different exercises. You can work several aspects, such as length of breath, speed of breath (rate of force development), or different levels of tension, to name a few. I will be introducing you to the basic exercises I show my clients when they first begin a Daily Coding practice. Please keep in mind that a breath practice or the path to a deeper breath is a beautiful journey and is different for each person, so do not compare your capacity or ability to others’- only to your own.

The most important tool when beginning a breath (and movement) practice is the imagination. Where are your thoughts focused? How does it feel? When you first try a pattern, it may feel weird- that is normal. If you continue to have thoughts that are getting you down for not being able to do something, it will hinder your progress. Stay positive. If you have never paid attention to a specific pattern before, of course it is going to feel weird, but when you can begin to imagine what it would look like and feel like, the breath and body will soon adapt to this image. If you continue envisioning or thinking that it is wrong, the pattern will not change, and you will just get frustrated. So be patient! And use the gift of imagination to envision progress.

Let's start with the most subtle layer, the Tidal Volume. At this very moment, you are using your tidal volume to breathe. The tidal volume should consist of about 4-6L of air per minute. When an individual has a large tidal volume or over breathes, it can result in ailments such as anxiety, panic attacks, obesity, sleep apnea, and hypertension, to name a few. The Buteyko Breathing method has used an individual's current tidal volume and CO2 tolerance as an indicator of health and oxygenation of the tissues and organs for the past 30 years, curing the ailments resulting from over breathing. The focus is on breathing less and reducing the number of breaths taken in a minute, and focusing on holding the breath at the bottom of the exhale. By breathing less you will shift the body to a calm (parasympathetic) state, so that you may explore with less tension, giving the body more room for expansion.

When a teacher asks you to “watch your breath,”  you are observing the tidal volume. This is potent for healing and fine-tuning focus, and it can also be challenging to observe and not control. Think for a moment about other areas of your life to which this principle of control and observation might be beneficial. Knowing when to apply either is a skill that takes practice. When we apply a principle to one area of life, it will usually cascade into other areas as well.

In this practice, you will make an effort to breathe less, and learn to stay calm even with the urge to breathe more. This will take time to adapt. Be patient, if it is challenging keep practicing. When the practice becomes comfortable, you will experience a sense of calm and warmth throughout the body. Every time you practice with an intention, it is a mark on the spectrum of experience, over time you will begin to notice the pattern changing and observe progress.

Here is an example of a tidal volume exploration practice.

The next point of exploration is the exhaled volume. With the exhaled volume you do not even need to take an inhale. The exhale is active, and the inhale is passive. It is the volume we use when we cough or sneeze, to expel air from the lungs. When working with the exhale volume the abs/core engage to remove air from the lungs (think laughing so hard your abs hurt). As you release the contraction, the air will flow in without much effort. You can train the exhale in many different ways. For this article, we will focus on creating a long and smooth exhale, carving a tool for calming the nervous system.

There are many benefits to having a smooth and long exhale. The second that we begin to exhale our heart rate decreases and over time the blood pressure decreases, improving heart rate variability (HRV). When we exhale, the body enters a parasympathetic state (rest and digest), putting the brakes on the sympathetic system (fight or flight). When we acknowledge this space, it will allow us to create a more natural, soft, quiet and efficient inhale, relax and release tension from the organs, strengthen the core, reduces pain, and will help to remove tension and toxins from the body.

In the next practice, you will be learning to lengthen the exhale by using a humming breath. Learning to control the amount of air that leaves the lungs and creating space for the inhale. As you practice remember first to notice and do not judge what you feel, each repetition may feel different. Be patient and have fun!

Here is a breathing exercise that will help you explore the exhale volume

The final exercise to complete a full breath is the exploration of the inhaled volume where the inhale is active (without tension), and the exhale is passive. A refined inhale will assist in releasing tension from the neck and back, strengthening the intercostals (muscles between ribs) and the diaphragm. In my experience, this tends to be the volume people use the most, but instead of allowing the ribs to expand, most people breath upwards, using their neck and shoulders. The inhale volume is used the most during exercise or times of stress, and if these muscles are tight, then our efforts in a sympathetic state will be much more challenging than they need to be. The benefits of a freer inhale include, reduced pain and tension in the neck and shoulders, decreased anxiety or breathlessness, and releases tension in the thoracic spine (mid-back), and an increased physical capacity. It is essential to spend time re-learning how to inhale without tension and without using the neck and shoulders, this will create a better and more natural tidal volume.

When we inhale the heart rate will increase, and the sympathetic system will be activated. This can be a positive experience. Remember the sympathetic state is neutral, emotions such as fear, excitement, anger, joy, are all held under the category of sympathetic emotions. If a sympathetic emotion arises in practice, stay calm, observe and continue with the pattern or take a few natural breaths to relax, remember you are in control.

Here is a practice to create a smooth and relaxing inhale.

As we close out the first of many maps, many journeys through the aspects of the breath, remember, it is not about rushing to the next exercise as soon as it is easy. When it becomes easy you have carved out the tool, it is about repetition over time, not progressing to the next exercise. The more we practice a pattern, the more mileage we have, creating a broader spectrum of experience, and with this, you can notice the subtle changes each time you practice.

Think of the sum of this article as just one map to exploring your breathing capacity. Sit down with intention and practice, observe your current ability, image what it will look and feel like when it changes, no expectations, no judgments. I promise you won't regret it. :)

 

Featured Article: How to Mediate

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Last month I was one of the experts interviewed by Victor Allard of the Barbers Surgeons Guild for an article about meditation. We talked about a few ways to start a meditation practice and what you may experience. The practice that I share with him is something that I do each morning, full body shaking. This is a simple exercise to experience the spectrum of feeling from action to stillness. check out the article HERE! 

 

 

A Journey Back to the Self

A lot of people ask "what I do," and I feel that the definition changes each day, with each client, and this is not what people want to hear, they want a specific definition so that they can judge whether "what I do" is of value to them. I end up saying "I make people strong, in all the ways," and this just usually leads to more questions. Society desires a specific definition so that I can market to a specific audience, make money, sell a product, blah, blah, blah... While all of that is part of the process of expanding my platform, and necessary at some point (I think?); I don't do it to win a popularity contest, or to make money. I do it because it is what I was born to do, born to be, I assist people back to the self, sometimes through breath, meditation, reiki, and other times through movement, strength, and mobility, all of the other things are a result of my efforts. It is when clients like Gina find me, that I truly begin to uncover not "what I do," but "what I am capable of."

Like most clients who will be with me indefinitely, she found me. I was told that a young woman was going to call me and that she had recently been to the ER because she felt like she couldn't breathe. I felt the weight of her worry, yet was excited to meet her and assist her on her journey back to self.  She fully trusted me and my intuition from the very beginning and for that, I am truly grateful. Here is her testimonial. 

[Before we dive into her journey I want to preference that air hunger is the feeling that you always need more air, are continually yawning, tired, trying to take deeper breaths, it is a typical reaction to a larger breathing volume and a very over-stressed nervous system.] 

"The day I met Kristina, I was not feeling very well. I had been experiencing severe air hunger for months at that point, and breathing was an everyday struggle and obsession. I was introduced to her at a gym and was told she might be someone who could help me with my breathing problems. I expected to have a quick, superficial chat with her and talk about scheduling a session for some vague time in the future- but it became immediately clear that that is not the way Kristina works. She listened sympathetically as I found myself unloading onto her about reasons I thought my breathing had become such an issue- she immediately felt like someone I could completely trust; but in a way that no healer, doctor, or therapist I had yet encountered had been. She was proactive and sensed that I was at my wit’s end, and sprang into action at our very first meeting, teaching me about the box breath right then and there and guiding me through some exercises for a whole hour. Her energy, passion, and knowledgeability struck me from the get-go.

We started meeting bi-weekly, Kristina creating a custom program for me. In each session, she made time to listen to my feedback and thoughts on our work, while also fully lending her expertise to everything we did. As my breathing pattern became more stabilized and I grew more comfortable playing with her suggestions on my own, it was then our sessions opened up beautifully. Kristina guided me into a new lifestyle of strength building and movement practice that I would never have found without her. She has created a tailor-made circuit and breath practice for me that I genuinely love experiencing every day, and has profoundly changed my relationship with my body. 

Before we met, I was desperate to talk to anyone who might have ideas about what was “wrong” with my breathing and how I might “fix” it. I had no idea that day I met her, that I was in for a life-altering journey with a true master of her craft, a passionate and inspiring teacher, a trusted friend. To work with Kristina is to take your health, happiness, success- whatever it is you value most in your life- and amplify it in a way you might not have even known was possible.

Whether, like I was, you are actively struggling with breath and with your relationship to your body, or whether you simply want to gain new awareness and improve your daily existence in countless unexpected ways, making the time and space to work with Kristina will be transformational. I am thankful every day that we found each other!"

- Gina, 23

The Body Talks, Learn to Listen

There is one language that is universal across the whole human race, the language of the body, the nervous system, the self. It does not discriminate against ethnicities, gender, age, but it is the golden thread that connects them all. It is a language without words, and the conversation is always happening, but it is up to each of us to choose to listen or ignore the glaring signs. If we do not learn the language, we may spend our lives wondering why we are always getting aches and pains, why we are depressed or anxious, why the thousands of dollars on tests and therapies are not working, and the “ailment” returns, each time with a vengeance.

This language is in each sneeze, cough, the butterflies in our stomachs, yawning, tingling, snoring, sighing, these are feelings, not words. Each sound attached to a message, telling us we are tired, sick, nervous, happy, sad, safe or unsafe. Our conscious mind then translates these feelings into words based on what our experience has taught us. We can take medication to suppress the conversation or heal the injury or sickness. But what about chronic pain/sickness? Why do some ailments persist? Sometimes the body’s message to us is more powerful than medication could ever be, so our job is to listen or be stuck in the “pain” of conversation. 

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What many of us do not yet understand is that we can talk back. We can create the sounds, movements, signals, to our “other brain”- the gut, our parasympathetic system. Enabling us to re-code and create new messages, better feelings, a more efficient and managed mind/body. Many ancient practices that have been doing this for millennia.

We must create a polarity to the current intense physical practices our culture is obsessed with and sloooow down, listen, and EXPLORE. There are many spectrums of exploration. The one I am referring to is one of subtle experience. When we move too quickly, there are many meaningful conversations and messages that we may not hear. 

Exploration is not a tool that is taught or given freely in current culture.  We expect to be given instructions so that we can mindlessly complete a task. I am sure we have all said it, “just tell me what to do, and I will get it done.” We want a detailed description of the outcomes, what to expect, and what we will experience. We want the prescription that leads to healing, but most are not willing to put in the work to complete the process. After a workout, many people go home and wonder why they still feel chronic pain and are anxious or depressed. It takes more than meditation, an exercise class, or even seeing a healer or practitioner.

With all of these things, we are searching outside of ourselves for assistance instead of looking within. Looking within completes the path to healing, and it takes practice, repetition, focused thought, and attention. Everything else will assist the process. Modalities outside of ourselves are necessary, but we must also acknowledge that we must do our part to focus our attention, with the right intention, to complete the process. 

Ailments are the body speaking to us; the more intense they are, the longer we may NOT have been listening. Also acknowledging that sometimes illnesses are part of the lessons, we must endure in this lifetime, not necessarily a cause of our lack of awareness. Think about the ailment(s) that brought you closer to yourself, caused you to ask more questions, and find the person, place or thing that you would have never imagined possible and brought you to that/this moment. 

Naturally, the next question is how do we learn to listen? To speak back to the self, to complete the circle of healing and understanding of the self? To activate self-awareness? 

WE MUST START WITH THE BREATH. Now, we have all heard this before, “focus on your breathing” along with a long list of Instagram quotes about breath. With Primal Coding the goal is to assist in creating a more detailed definition, a drop-down menu to this thing we call breath. It is NOT about just “taking a deep breath” or “just breathing.” 

When we THINK about the breath, we activate a part of our brain called the medial prefrontal cortex. This part of our brain regulates/activates self-awareness.

When we become conscious of our thoughts and the feelings that are connected, it creates a pathway to our subconscious. It is one of the quickest paths to self! People figured this out a long time ago, science and modern day culture are just catching up. 

Before I go any further, I would first like to remind all of you that there are no WRONG breathing patterns just improper application and lack of awareness. It is about exploring your current systems, capabilities, ranges, boundaries. Then once they become clear, they may be expanded, and efficiency of mind and body is improved. 

The best place to start with your practice of exploration is to say hello to the four corners of the breath.  The inhale, hold, exhale, hold. This breathing pattern is the very first step to learning the ABC's of the self. I know it seems simple and some will think “ok, I know about the box breath (eye roll), what’s next?” Well, honey, that is it. That is the principle pattern, the foundation of ALL the things. Get comfortable and explore. When we repeat a pattern enough times things will start to change and when we get comfortable with the breathing pattern that means we have finally CARVED the TOOL so that we can have a more detailed conversation with ourselves. I use this exercise EVERY DAY. Repeat the pattern, slow down and listen. Your body has a story to tell. 

The practice: I want you to set a timer for 3 minutes. 

You will inhale for 4 sec, hold for 4, exhale 4, and hold for 4. 

Let the breath go where it naturally wants, do not force it anywhere and allow it to be as natural as possible. Notice what happens in your transitions. 

Ask yourself, Is the breath pattern difficult at first? Are you able to make it comfortable? Are any of the transitions more challenging? Do the 3 minutes feel like forever or just a few seconds? What is your mind telling you as you practice? Is it distracted? NOTICE WHAT IS HAPPENING!

All of these things allow you to carve out a mindset of exploration. Once you can drop into this pattern with ease and feel a sense of calm, not distraction, then you have paid the entrance fee and have created the tool to calm the nervous system anytime, anywhere.  With time the box breath will become the magnifying glass of exploration. 


 

An Interview with Dr. Nikki Noce, MD

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the wonderful Dr. Nikki Noce! Check out her site Here. In this interview you will begin to understand how the breath is our tool to accessing our true strength. 

The breath is a vital tool for life, the management of stress, and maintaining our health. In this interview with Kristina Macias, creator of Primal Coding, a breath work program, which she teaches to firefighters, policemen and other service workers to help them increase their capacity for stress.

Let Stress Be Your Guide To Stillness

Society tells us that we must remove stress from our lives. Leading us down a vicious cycle. We spend time trying to remove stress from our lives, and then stress out even more when the exact opposite occurs. What if stress was good? What if, instead of removing it you are able to increase your capacity to manage the stressors that are currently in your life, as well as the surprise challenges that occur at the most inopportune moments?

What is Primal Coding

We all desire to live up to our fullest potential. The only thing that is stopping us is the way we think and breathe. These two almost automatic responses to living (notice, I said almost) are what fuel our realities. Our breath follows our mind and our mind controls our bodies. When we THINK of something stressful, or put our bodies under physical stress (working out), our breath shortens and our bodies get less oxygen. When we THINK about calming and lengthening the breath our bodies receive more oxygen and results in a more efficient mind and body.

Primal coding is using the breath to take control of our body and mind. I utilize certain breathing techniques, corrective exercises, and primal movements/stretches to release tension and expand your capacity for stress, because lets face it, as the years go by the stress in your life will most likely increase. Why stress about stress when you can increase your capacity...