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Take A Breath… And Think About It

By Gavin Buehler

It’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance, and in today’s world there is a plethora of accessible content to help us find those routes.  You can find a “hack” for just about anything.  The funny thing is that we put a lot of effort into finding these “hacks.”  Once they are found and we try to apply them, we usually find out that they are not so much a “hack” but just a different way of doing something.  So, did we really save any precious time? 

Sometimes the best hacks are starring us right in the face but we’re too busy looking elsewhere for a solution.  Let’s look at our health and wellbeing for example.  How many kinds of “hacks” are there to help us on that subject?  You’re probably reading this article now because you’re trying to glean such information.  What are the first things that come to mind when we hear those words?  Exercise? Nutrition? Sleep? stress management?  The usual suspects, but we completely overlook the most essential thing.  It is so crucial that we can’t live without doing it, and so we take it for granted as our bodies automatically perform it for us.  Nothing is more vital than breathing.  

Take a breath, and think about it

When was the last time you gave your breath a thought?  Here is something that is repeated an average of 22,000 times a day!  Can you think of anything else that you need to do more than that?  You have the gift of 22,000 opportunities a day to impact your health and wellbeing without having to do anything else other than what you are already doing.  You just have to think about.


What kind of an impact can that actually have?

Breathing is considered part of our autonomic nervous system, meaning that it is automatic.  Physiological functions that are thought to be involuntary such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion fall under this umbrella.  These are our vital functions that are the most important for our health and wellbeing and thought to be out of our control.  These are also functions that can be manipulated with physical or emotional activity.  You go for a run and your heart rate increases and your breathing gets heavier.  You get nervous or excited and the same responses can occur.  We’ve learned that we can affect these vital functions through exercise, nutrition… the usual suspects.  But those interventions are indirect pathways that create a reactive response from those systems.


The Power of Breath

The powerful thing about breathing is that we can control it.  We can take bigger breaths, we can hold our breath, we can vary how we breath on a conscious level.  That is a direct manipulation of an autonomic function!  And if we can control one autonomic function, it can affect all autonomic functions.


This isn’t new knowledge but has become overlooked.  It’s so simple, that it is disregarded.  There is on ton of old scientific literature that has shown the powerful effects that can be attained from manipulating our breath, but for some reason or another, it has fallen by the wayside. 


Fortunately, with the help of a crazy dutchman named Wim Hof and social media, breathing and mindfulness practices have become popular and now newer scientific research to back up this ancient art is becoming more prevalent.  If this information sparks your interest, I highly recommend the book Breath by James Nestor.  It is a fantastic overview of the science and history of breathing packaged in an easy-to-read story.


Looking for a drug free way to reduce stress?  You might find Dr. Andrew Huberman’s study on the physiological sigh interesting, and his tutorial on what it is and how to use it here.

As always I hope this information finds you well. I'll leave you with a quote from the man who neutralized a deliberate injection of an E. coli endotoxin using breath and then trained 12 other people to do it as well (study here), "Just breathe Mother F*cker!" - Wim Hof


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