Stabilize Your “Wings”

Stabilize Your “Wings”

When we think of the word “chicken” in the gym, we naturally think of the term “chicken legs;” but how often do you think about your “chicken wings?”

By this I mean the muscles that promote good posture, the muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder girdle; and help to assist with breathing. Many of these important muscles, are often small, neglected and overlooked when discussing corrective exercise prescription. These muscles are the Serratus Anterior and Serratus Posterior groups.

Lets look at their basic anatomy and function.


Anatomy Breakdown of the Serratus Anterior:

The Serratus Anterior is a muscle that originates on the surface of the 1st to 8th ribs at the side of the chest cavity and inserts along the entire anterior length of the medial border of the scapula. Apart from the shoulder blade it also attaches to the thoracic segment of the spine. It’s main function is to act as a scapular stabilizer; in other words, when we do shoulder movements, particularly reaching over head, the scapula must get locked into place against the t-cage, allowing unimpeded movement, yet many people find this significantly challenging.

When this particular muscle becomes hypertonic it can cause the scapula to wing out, rolling the shoulders forward and can further cause unnecessary stress to the thoracic spine.
Anatomy Breakdown of the Serratus Posterior:

The Serratus Posterior superior muscle connects the bottom two neck vertebrae and the top two upper back vertebrae to the 2nd – 5th ribs and helps to raise the 2nd – 5th ribs to assist in inhalation. It’s primary function is to help in breathing mechanics, especially when we are forced to inspire (breathing hard).

Like all muscles, the attachment sites of Serratus Posterior Inferior determine its function. Its serrated strips connect from the spinous processes (the jagged topography of your spine felt through the skin of your back) of vertebrae T11-L2, and reach upward and outward to ribs #9-#12. It’s function is to anchor ribs #9-#12 downward toward its attachment on the spinous processes; to ensure that the ribs don’t elevate during the first phase of a complete inhalation.


When this particular muscle becomes hypertonic it can promote forward head carriage and rounded shoulders. It can also cause our breath to weaken in overall capacity. It is often a trigger point for hands on treatment.

Corrective Exercise Rx:


Most of us only use 25% of our lung capacity, and many have apical breathing (chest breathing); which weakens the diaphragm from its reflexive nature. A complete inhalation takes place in two phases to maximize lung capacity. Phase one secures the rib cage (enter Serratus Posterior Inferior). As the belly swells until the lungs are about 75% full. In phase two, we can “top up” the breath lifting the rib cage to upward, filling the lungs the remaining 25% of the way.

This is often taught in Yoga classes and in aiding to correct breathing dysfunctions. This rib expansion is also assisted by the diaphragm’s attachments to the ribs and thus allows you to expand the intercostals of the ribcage horizontally and laterally.

It is here we can see the importance of the Serratus Posterior Inferior and it’s role in bracing the ribcage to encourage a deeper release of the diaphragm.

Improve Your Posture:

They help us move our arms multi-dimensionally and with great speed. We may not necessarily rely on them for bipedal locomotion, but they help us move forward by increasing our arm’s distance from danger, keeping predators at an arm’s length away or drawing an imaginary boundary.

They also are a crucial scapular stabilizer in almost every inversion and arm balance and can help to reduce tension and stiffness in the neck and upper back by re aligning the relationship between the scapula to thoracic region of the upper quadrant.

The exercise I like to use is a floor press, or a wall press. I teach this exercise prior to a push up or a scapular pushups, because it reinforces the idea of the shoulder blades packing down into the back pockets. For those clients with neck or shoulder pain, it can be difficult to hold a push up position without additional stress on the neck; therefore a floor press is a great place to start.

The actual movement is called protraction of the shoulders, which is the exact opposite of retraction (pulling the shoulders back).

Wall Press:

Stand facing a wall, arm distance length, with palms shoulder height on wall. Lean forward with your torso toward the wall, without bending your arms, feeling the shoulder blades come closer together at the spine. Ensure that your pelvis is slightly tucked to encourage the core to also engage.

Floor Press:

Progression 1: Dandasana: start with legs extended out with  both sit bones on the floor. Place hands beside the hips on the floor. Create positive tension in the legs by squeezing them together, big toes touching, flexed up. Then press into the floor, as if creating space between your hips and the floor. Hold for a count of 4.

Cue: Think about placing your shoulder blades into your back pockets, and keep head neutral over the spine.

Progression 2: Cross Legged Floor Press: Sit on the floor, legs crossed. Place your palms on the floor by your hips, with arms straight. Press you body away from the floor, till you can feel space between your hips and floor. Hold here for a count of four and gently release. For those who have limited flexion in the spine and being seated on the floor is difficult, you can also use a set of kettlebells or a bench. This offers you more space to work with. Much like the start position for a trice dip, you either hold the horns of the bells or the edge of the bench, directly beside your hips, and then press down, ensure your “get tall” through the spine. Keep knees bent and in line with the hips, feet rooted to the ground. Hold for a count of 4.

Cues: Think about placing your shoulder blades into the back pocket, and ensure you keep your head AND hips in line with the spine. Your hips should “dangle” off the floor. if this is too challenging, using a blocks under each hand can offer your spine the space to stay long.

This will help encourage better posture, reduce stiffness and tone in the neck and mid back, as well as strengthen the stabilizers of your shoulder girdle.

Happy Pressing!

Corrective Breathing Un Covered

Corrective Breathing Un Covered

Breathing is one of the most complex things we do all day. It is both a conscious and subconscious task. Proper breathing is the root of all healthy and functional movement. Think about the current popularity of muscle activation, meaning simply just because you create activity in a temporary isolated situation,  does that re setting carry over into other things, after the corrective exercise?

As coaches we spend most of our day “activating tissue,” we work on getting the glutes to fire, or the core to engage, but what about breathing. Do you consider breathing as part of someone’s health and fitness?

The same is true for a breathing exercise, we can use it to activate the breathing mechanics, but it too has to relate back to function’ which means carrying over improved movement or breath to other tasks; not just the one you are currently working on. The FMS screen can be used as a tool to look at opportunities to re-coordinate or reconnect breathing to improve health.  As a healthcare professional my first responsibility is to start with health, not necessarily performance or fitness.

First things first, assess risk and catch the red flags; this can be done 2 fold;  (1) identify if poor breathing is structural or (2) identify if poor breathing is situational. This directly relates back to the biopsychosocial model we looked at in as well as understanding the different kinds of BPD (breathing pattern disorders).



Identifying if there is a structural problem, an obstructed airway, a deviated septum, a closure of some kind thus can alter breathing and will be key in your program design and standard operating system for screening.  When people have horrible postures, rounded shoulders, forward head carry it could be because of an anatomical dysfunction. This can increase anxiety, cortisol levels, reduce adrenal function and increase likelihood of paradoxical breathing. Often called “reverse” breathing, occurs when the abdomen contracts during inhalation and expands on exhalation. Paradoxical breathing associates with the expectation of exertion, sustained effort, and resistance to flow, and stress. Clients with chronic airways obstruction also show in drawing of the lower ribs during inspiration, due to the distorted action of a depressed and flattened diaphragm As a result, this pattern causes very rapid fatigue.

Now what if that posture is where the airway is the largest and by telling our client to stand up straight reduces the client’s airway? If your airway is compromised… the body will resort to the path of least resistance – compensation.

Did you know: Three out of four Canadians report sleep apnea (75%) were 45 years and older. On average, these pauses in breath during sleep can last for 10 to 30 seconds, until the brain reacts to overcome the problem. With each episode of apnea, blood oxygen levels are reduced (hypoxia), and sleep is disturbed as the sleeper must wake briefly to resume breathing. In daily life, the person is restless, anxious and usually very fatigued.

Let’s take the airway out of the equation and move onto situational.


The first place to start is assess the risk. During my consultations I will ask clients the following questions to gain a deeper understanding if altered breathing is a concern. Then I move onto the FMS screen.

Pre-screen questions for risk:

  • Do you have seasonal allergies?
  • Do you cough often?
  • Do you have episodes of bronchitis or chest congestion?
  • At higher threshold training do you resort to hyperventilation breathing?
  • How is your sleep? Do you have problems staying asleep? Do you have problems falling asleep?
  • Do you feel anxious or fatigued?
  • How much stress would you say you have in a week?

Before you prescribe an exercise – you must know the WHY!

Breathing changes movement; but lack of movement can also change breathing; therefore, take mobility off the table first. Key points you should consider; mobility, then stability or motor control. Remove the negatives and mobility restrictions, this frees up space for the mechanics of breath to work efficiently.

When looking at breathing, look at the mobility of the neck, the shoulder girdle, the thoracic spine, or how about the hips? When performing the FMS screen I can usually pick up breathing red flags  because the first two things we look at in the Functional Movement Screen for their influence on breathing are shoulder mobility and the active straight-leg raise. Both of these restrictions can help restrict authentic breathing.

Shoulder mobility is more than just looking at the shoulders; it addresses thoracic extension and flexion. Can you actively extend your spine?

The active straight leg raise showcases active symmetry and the ability to lift one leg in an unloaded position and it tells us a lot about a person’s hip and core function.

If mobility restrictions are taken off the table and there is no risk of structural concern, then some of the below breathing coordination exercises can encourage the resetting of authentic breathing.

Breathing Corrective Exercises:

Seesaw breathing: Reversal breathing (paradoxical breathing). see-saw breathing is a way to de-emphasize chest breathing and improve abdominal breathing. Start by identifying the 2 main cavities of your upper body, your chest cavity and your abdominal cavity. Find and settle into a comfortable breathing rhythm. Observe where your breath naturally goes, and which cavity naturally changes shape. Just observe. Now, as you inhale, allow the abdominal cavity to change shape and expand while keeping the chest cavity still. Exhale. On the next inhale, allow the abdominal cavity/belly to remain still while allowing the shape change to occur in the chest cavity. Exhale. And repeat for 5 mins.

Crocodile Breathing: Crocodile breathing is another way to illicit bio feedback, it gives a different sense of feedback than seesaw breathing where the belly expands both side-to-side and pushes into the floor, lifting the low back. Lie face down with your forehead on your hands. Breathe into your stomach. Of course, the air doesn’t go into your stomach, but the idea is to breathe deeply enough so that a person standing beside you would see your lower back rise. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.

Check out this video from Barefoot Running, Charlie Reid:

In the FMS level 2 courses we look at crocodile breath as a great example of screening the breathing. As a corrective movement coach, corrective exercises should be a temporary measure of re setting and re-educating your clients, but also so you can pull the new thing you gained into other activities, so that it becomes functional. You’ll breathe better the next time you run. You’ll breathe better the next time you lift and you’ll breath better when you sleep and recover.

Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns: Breath Changes Movement

Breathing is the primer to all human movement. When breathing is altered due to stress or prolonged periods of stress, the cycle of anxiety and poor breathing can significantly alter a person’s well-being.

BPD – Breathing Pattern Disorders:

Breathing pattern disorders (BPD) – the most extreme of which is hyperventilation – are surprisingly common in the general population. Dysfunctional breathing is described as chronic or recurrent changes in breathing pattern causing respiratory and non-respiratory symptoms that can impede performance and optimal movement. Most often it is an umbrella term that encompasses hyperventilation syndrome and vocal cord dysfunction; which can be further broken down into specific dysfunctions.

Diagnosed dysfunctional breathing affects 10% of the general population. However, we see a high number of the general public with altered breathing patterns due to stress, poor postural habits and pain. Despite decades of research BPDs, together with a range of the resulting pathophysiological biochemical, psychological and biomechanical effects, remain commonly under-recognized and under addressed by health care professionals as contributing to pain, fatigue and movement dysfunction in general. The physiological consequences of unbalanced breathing can be profound. The body starts to adapt both structurally with a range of systemic symptoms (raised shoulders,  upper chest breathing, jaw tension, headaches, chest tightness and reduction in thorax expansion); as well as physiologically (the body struggles to maintain chemical balance, deep sighing, restless sleep, exercise induced breathlessness, frequent yawning and hyperventilation, and fight or flight reactivity).  Both mind and body are affected by ‘poor breathing’.

Some of the most common dysfunctional breathing patterns are hyperventilatory, apical, thoracic, paradoxical, periodic, respiratory alkalosis, hypocapnia and hypoxic.  These may appear exclusively or in combination depending upon the state and level of the individual’s respiratory dysfunction.

  1. Hyperventilatory: is the state in which breathing occurs in excess of metabolic requirements, leading to an acute reduction in partial pressure of carbon-dioxide (PaCO2) and a predictable set of physiologic changes. This rapid-breath pattern uses accessory muscles and restricts diaphragmatic movement being predominantly situated at the thorax.
  2. Apical Breathing:  It refers to a pattern of breath that contains most movement to the upper chest. Breathing plays a major role in both posture and spinal stabilization. Some of the symptoms with this pattern can exhibit chest-raising that elevates the collarbones while drawing in the abdomen and raising up the diaphragm. Those who are “open-mouth breathers” attempt to increase intake by breathing through the mouth vs nose, but this provides minimal pulmonary ventilation resulting in the accessory muscles used in this pattern consume more oxygen than it provides. In exercise, these individuals fatigue quickly. Bio mechanical compensations can include rib head fixations or classic lower/upper crossed patterns of muscular imbalances.
  3. Thoracic: Closely related to apical breathing, these “chest-breathers” typify aggressiveness. This pattern lacks significant abdominal movement, being shallow and costal. Enlarging thoracic cavity creates a partial vacuum by lifting the rib cage up and out through external intercostals muscles. When our breathing movement is kept to only part of the chest or thorax, fewer muscles are engaged. Those muscles that are used have to undergo more stress and more movement to facilitate breathing rhythms. This reduces pulmonary ventilation, since the lower lobes receive the greatest blood volume due to gravity.
  4. Paradoxical: Often called “reverse” breathing, occurs when the abdomen contracts during inhalation and expands on exhalation. Paradoxical breathing associates with the expectation of exertion, sustained effort, and resistance to flow, and stress. Patients with chronic airways obstruction also show in drawing of the lower ribs during inspiration, due to the distorted action of a depressed and flattened diaphragm As a result, this pattern causes very rapid fatigue.
  5. Respiratory alkalosis: This involves a rise in pH of the blood, from its normal levels of ~7.4 due to excessive CO2 exhalation during rapid breathing. An immediate effect is smooth muscle constriction, narrowing of blood vessels, the gut etc, as well as reduced pain threshold and feelings of anxiety, apprehension (Leon Chow 2014)
  6. Periodic: This pattern demonstrates rapid-shallow breathing, followed by a holding of breath, followed by a heavy sigh. It is an over-responsiveness to CO2 concentrations in the bloodstream. This “airy” panting “blows off” or flushes out the CO from the bloodstream, which causes the brain’s autonomic system to shutdown respiration until the CO2 level raises to appropriate gas mixture. In the Periodic pattern, this cycle perpetuates. This pattern can be created through sustained anxiety, or by post-traumatic stress syndrome (Sonnon 2014).
  7. Hypoxic: Otherwise known as breath holding. This is often seen in swimmers, as well as clients who push too hard and cannot control breathing through exertion. This results in a reduction of oxygen (O2) supply to tissue, below physiological levels. Preparation of perceived exertion, this pattern comprises an inhalation, withholding of exhalation (breath retention) until the perceived exertion concludes. Holding the breath dramatically increases intra-thoracic and intra-abdominal pressure, causing health risks such as, fainting associated with Vagal nerve stimulation, increase in blood pressure, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). (Sonnon 2014)
  8. Hypocapnia: Deficiency of Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood resulting from over-breathing/hyperventilation (HVS), resulting in increased pH, respiratory alkalosis (Naschitz et al 2006). (Leon Chow 2014)

Changes in Breathing, Causes Changes in Movement:

As a clinician or doctor diagnosing this would be your specialty, but as a movement coach, this is outside our scope of practice. However, most often through screening breathing techniques, I can most often determine if someone’s is an apical breather, if their diaphragm is dysfunctional, and or most often, using more of one side of the rib cage or the other. In association with this there are two major areas affected by dysfunctional breathing; they are optimal thoracic spine mobility, and optimal lumbo-pelvic control. In BDP the thorax and hips most often becomes stiff. Why?

Stiffness and sloppiness alternate when we consider the joint by joint approach. It is a present and observable phenomenon producing many common movement pattern problems. Often if you don’t have the necessary core stability, the T-spine will get stiff and this also works in reverse. If the T-spine is too stiff, the core stability will be compromised. Logically we must make sure these areas are mobile, because if the hips and T-spine aren’t mobile, the lumbar stability we create is synthetic and it will not stick outside the session. Most of us make the mistake by assuming sloppy knee, stiff ankle, stiff T-spine without considering the potential problems above and ­below.

How about the diaphragm? How often do you assess breathing? If the posterior aspect of my diaphragm attaches to my pelvis and I do not breath well, or I apical breathe… my hips and lower back can become tight, thus, my hip flexors can become tight because they transverse through my diaphragm. Or how about blood flow to my lower limbs? The aorta also transverse’s through the diaphragm. Breath is critical to well-being.

It can work either way. It’s not about finding what came first, the chicken or the egg—you have to catch both or you can’t manage either.

Corrective Strategy:

I always start by addressing and screening a client’s breathing, as well as addressing their stress. Most often clients are told to breath deeper or practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, and in some cases this can improve proper breathing mechanics as it does encourage the biochemical release of relaxation hormones. However, most often this can result in a client feeling anxious, dizzy, nauseous etc.

Why? We often incorrectly attribute this to O2 saturation, when actually the ratio of CO2 to O2 permits the release or retention of O2 from the blood (Sonnon 2014).

Changing your breathing pattern is critical to optimal health and wellness.  Increasing CO2 retention, can utilize more O2 from each breath, which in turn leads to better circulation and oxidation for tissue health, as well as prevention of disease and injury.

Screen the breath first I usually will screen in standing, supine or prone,

Supine: have the client lay on their back, knees bent and if possible, place your hands on either side of the ribcage. Ask them to breathe normally, and then into your hands. This a great way to see if a client breathes more with one side vs the other.

Prone (crocodile breath): Client lays on the floor on their stomach. Place one hand on their lower back and upper back and ask them to breathe into your hands. Watch for rises in just the chest, both hands should move together.

Standing: I ask the client to close their eyes and breathe normally. I place on hand on the upper chest and one hand on the back. As the client breathes I lower the hand in the back to the mid back and then lower back to determine if they breathe fully. Then I place one hand on the belly to see if the client can belly breath.

I use all of these when screening, especially if I feel breathing is compromised.

In the first early stages of coaching, address exertion and watch a client’s physiological adaptations. With the help of a team, working with other health practitioners, below is a list of suggestions for re training proper breathing mechanics:

1.     Reduce the synergistic inputs to the pain process (i.e. modify adaptive demands)

2.     Deactivate trigger (or tender) points

3.     Remove noxious input from scars

4.     Enhance spinal and general joint functionality

5.     Improve muscle recruitment, strength, flexibility

6.     Pay attention to exacerbating factors in diet, lifestyle and habits (sleep, exercise, posture, balance, breathing)

7.     Consider emotional/psychological factors and lifestyle stressors

8. Your corrective strategy should include breathing techniques and corrective exercises to help strengthen the diaphragm and re pattern/re train the ribcage for adequate activation of breathing mechanics.


Additional Sources:

Gray Cook –

FMS – Functional Movement Systems –

Scott Sonnon – 6 Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns –




“Your ability to adapt is directly related to your ability to control breath in movement.” – The Jamieson Mantra

breathing 2

The average adult takes 12,000 to 25,000 breaths per day; most of which is habitually taking place high their chest. In effect, this places great stress on the heart and nervous system.

Breath in it’s simplistic nature, is what keeps us alive; without the breath, all organs, tissue and senses diminish and ultimately perish. Does it not make sense then, to include breathwork and conscious intention to breathing patterns as a primer for re conditioning healing and restoring the body’s precious structures.

When we learn to master and apply healthy breathing techniques, we can immediately begin to better adapt  and transform our structure (inside and out). As we begin to feel better by breathing better, we start seeing the reflection of this optimal way of life in all other areas; our relationships, our livelihood, our creativity, our physical and mental fortitude etc.

Breathing Patterns Are Like Fingerprints

Every physiological, biochemical, emotional, psychological, and physical state has a corresponding or associated breathing pattern or quality to it; which works in conjunction with all the other systems. The way we breath when sitting calming, meditating is different than the breathing patterns we use for solving a problems or making decisions at work and our breath changes when we go for a run in a steady state vs lifting heavy objects at the gym.

At the most primal level, our ancestors understood that they had to attune and synch their breath to the hunt or for basic survival. If chasing after an animal, they needed to tap into a steady state of breath to correspond with long bouts of persistence hunting and stalking their prey, while at other times they required quick burst of energy to either flee from an area that posed a threat, or at the end of the persistence hunt, catch their dinner. This required multiple breath patterns that need to switch on and off and control the rest of our physiological systems.

DID YOU KNOW: The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid 20′s? As they continue to age they lose between 9% and 25% of respiratory capacity for every decade of their life! The findings resulting from a 5,200-person clinical study group observed over a 30-year span showed that the way a person breathes is the primary measure of potential life span. (From Framingham study)

Eustress Vs Distress: Stress Resilience

For instance; under conditions of imminent, unanticipated, or rapidly changing threat, activity in the thinking brain is shifted to the reactive brain, which generates the individual’s emergency response—fight, flight, or freeze. In TacFit this is called freeze, flinch, force or flow. Specific patterns people adopt when facing high levels of stress. These patterns (both breath patterns and brain patterns) can set in motion a series of stress related cycles in our body, even well after the threat is no longer there. The emotional trigger is; and therefore, establishing higher levels of resilience and instigating more positive coping strategies can greatly improve your ability to cope under stress and anticipate using breath work as a means to control your internal systems in times of stress.

Not all stress is bad, but when we do not know how to cope or adapt to the changing landscape, it can do more harm to us, then we realize.

In most psychology journals, psychologists describe four types of stress – hyopstress, eustress, episodic acute/ hyerpsress and chornic/ distress:

  1. Hypostress: insufficiently low stress
  2. Eustress: sufficient, adaptable stress, positive stressors
  3. Episodic Acute /Hyperstress: recoverable, high stress, “A” type stress
  4. Distress: excessive, unadaptable stress, inability to recover or cope

Stress tolerance is the power to endure stress and much of the tension we feel during these periods can be tolerated, diminished and re structured for positive outcomes, when we control the breath. When we breath we begin to build, what I call “Stress Resilience.’ This is the ability to anticipate stress, cope and adapt to the changing landscape while remaining neutral and calm through the use of breath work.

In a more therapeutic sense; with practice, you can ultimately accomplish the same things that great yogis and Taoist masters can. You can control the function of your immune system, your endocrine system, your cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous system, by mastering the art of breathwork. Strength and inner harmony is not something you get from improving mere strength, applying load and force to the body or popping a pill, or rolling out a mat – it is through conscious intention, breath and easing the mind of distraction. This is called Conscious Breathing.

Conscious breathing techniques have been utilized in ancient Buddhist/ Taoist traditions to master the capabilities of the mind and physical body to find inner and outer harmony. As we become more aware of each breath, we are reminded that we can indeed, control the outcome and our responses to uncontrolled forces. Can you imagine that in any challenging situation, in any stressful moment, at any given time you had the tools and power to shift your life, adapt and transform?

This can be quite profound.

DID YOU KNOW: According to the ADAA, and the CMHA anxiety disorders are the most common illness in North America; affecting 40 million adults in the US ages 18 and older (18% of the US population), and 1 in 10 Canadians. When we breathe with shallow, constricted breaths, we are adopting one aspect of the emotional posture of anxiety.

The Inner Breath and the Outer Breath

Breathing has two levels: the outer breath and the inner breath. The outer breath is  air: oxygen and carbon dioxide. The inner breath refers to energy. This subtle element in the air is often called “spirit,” or “the breath within the breath.”

For example, the physical level has three levels of its own: getting breath into and out of the lungs; getting breath into and out of the blood; getting breath into and out of the cells. Our blood needs to be nearly saturated with oxygen if it is to supply life to all the tissues and organs and systems of the body, and the trillions of cells that require movement and contraction/response.

DID YOU KNOW: The body goes to extreme measure to maintain an optimal level of pH (7.35 – 7.45 in the blood). The most powerful system for removing acidic stress & keeping the body pH optimal are the lungs.

 Breathwork can mean strengthening, toning and coordinating the breathing muscles to improve ventilation; which in turn improves systems integration. We use 3 diaphragms when we breath; vocal, respiratory, and pelvic.  This second step in respiration depends on the partial pressures of gases,, the infusion of blood vessels in and around the lungs, and of course, cardio-vascular health and the ability to understanding that regulation and balance of intra-abdominal pressure through breathing stimulates our ability to engage and facilitate our core!

Over-Breathing is just as stressful as Under Breathing:

You have heard me talk a lot about “deep breathing” and the hyper around “breathing to stimulate the nervous system.” For example; many people are told that you can “super-oxygenate” your cells through deep rapid breathing. This is incorrect and can do more harm than good. Your blood is already 90% saturated with oxygen, so the likelihood of getting more O2 into your blood is slim.  In fact, hyperventilation can actually reduce the supply of oxygen to your cells, because in the process of “over-breathing,” you blow off too much carbon dioxide.  In turn, this can cause constriction of the micro-vessels, which prevents blood flow to the tissues and cells itself. The goal is to synch breath with movement and to learn how to put all of these puzzle pieces together to improve all systems, not just those involved with breathwork.

DID YOU KNOW: Studies show you can reduce the supply of blood, and therefore oxygen, to the brain by 40% in just one minute, by hyperventilating. Deep rapid breathing is good up to a point, but beyond that point, you can actually starve your body of oxygen.

This is a great seg-way into how to breath with strength and conditioning.


Breath Controls Heart Rate:

Once of the benefits to working with a coach, is the opportunity to put breathwork into real time action.  In order to adapt through our workout from warm up, to peak to cooldown, the first step is getting air in and out of the lungs; so that it can signal the rest of our systems to react; which involves muscular, anatomical, structural conditions and dynamic response. It is here where work can be done to increase lung volume and respiratory capacity.  Many studies prove that the greater your lung capacity is, the longer you will live, the longer you can tolerate stress (both positive and negative) and the healthier you will be.

The most important factor in a clients success; whether they are training for a marathon, a fight in the ring, preparing for active duty or merely overcoming the obstacle of substantial weight loss – is HRV.  Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon where the time interval between heartbeats varies. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. We can use this as a bio marker in training, but we must first distinguish between the Autonomic and Voluntary (or Somatic) nervous systems first.

In the TacFit Certification Course Manual 2013, page 36, Scott Sonnon describes this perfectly.

  • Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls the bodily functions necessary for survival  (includes breathing, digestion, heart, blood pressure, organ function etc)
  • Voluntary Nervous System (VNS) involves the consciously controlled daily functions like exercise, work, sport, yapping etc.

He then offers the sub divisions or “sub-branches:” of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems which exist to better respond, control, adapt to our fight or flight, primitive patterning, genetically coded in our DNA.

  • Sympathetic System (SNS) controls the “fight or flight” reflexes. When we encounter stress, it increases physiological performance, from slow release drip when we perceive skills equal to the task, which gives you access to what sport psychologists call “The Zone” or “Flow-State.” Or it triggers a fast-release dump when it perceives your skills re ineffective or insufficient, what combat psychologists call “The Vortex or “The Suck.
  • Parasympathetic System (PNS) balances the SNS alarm system’s of “fight or flight. This system dictates how much we recover from training and stress. This is the yin/yang in constant flux, which is a primary factor in regulating our health.

Heart rate changes with every breath .When we exhale our PSNS sends signals to slow the heart rate, and when we inhale, that PNS signal dissipates and the SNS tone returns, causing the HR to increase yet again. It is a constant cycle.  This ebb and flow offers us a look a the state of our autonomic nervous system.

FACT: “When the “rest and digest” PSNS response triggers, we find a higher HR variability; but when “fight or flight” reflexes usurp our ANS, then HRV is lower. That variability accurately reflects your current degree of adaptive recovery from the sum total stress you are facing and the threshold you’re currently able to accept.” – TacFit Certification Course Manual, Page 36

tacfit 1

Strength, combined with focused breath = evolution

For instance, in Movement Coaching and Corrective Program Design, I find higher degrees of flow-state” and improved movement patterns when the client understands this methodology. In my S&C hours, I find better results and performance when the client understands that the transition from exercise to exercise and recovery breath is just as important as the lift of drill itself.

For example in Movement Coaching: breath enables stabilizers to be more efficient in facilitation. When your stabilizers efficiently align your joints, there is crisper coordination and crisper contraction. Sometimes it’s not that you become stronger in your prime movers, you became more efficient in your integrity of movement and breath. And efficiency is another way to get stronger.

In S&C (Strength and Conditioning): When load or stress is applied to the officer or athlete; immediately, the elicitation of SAPS,  fine and complex motor skills deteriorate, . The mind starts to get distracted and lose focus. When a client rapidly approaches HRmax, they become winded and out of gas, breathing rate increases. This is an evolutionary survivable reflex, but only useful for gross motor control, not fine or complex motor control. Therefore, training the client from “survival breath” to “recovery breath’ technique is vital. This enables the client to anticipate HRmax and to apply this technique; which trains the client to recover the inhale (which switches off the reflex of hyperventilation) and then reclaim the exhale. (refer to Scott Sonnon’s “Breathing Gift” for techniques). This allows the client to start mentally focused, adapt to the work load, start responsive to technique and coaching cues and have better recovery leading into their desired set.

Breathing Techniques

During your workout, there will be various techniques you should use to ensure you receive optimal results, recover more effectively and use as little energy as possible in good form with higher levels of effective training. We can recover and become stronger if we are able to increase this understanding. The five sequence technique of “Resilience Breathing” cannot be described as a singular technique, as it involves a series of techniques strung together to produce a synergistic effect. They address the challenge of reclaiming breath from involuntary reflex back to voluntary control while counter-acting the reflextive breathing elicited by distressing situations.

For more information on Resilience Breathing and techniques please download this free gift from Scott Sonnon and Rmax International:

DID YOU KNOW? When given an optimal diet and exercise program, the respiratory system is responsible for eliminating approximately 70% of our metabolic waster materials! The remainder is eliminated through perspiration (19%), urination (8%) and by “going number 2’ (3%).

Now, that’s a great note to end on isn’t it! Moral of the story: “master your breath”


The Exposed Afterglow

The cast of Sex and the City

“Hi honey, I’m home,” Amy calls to Jon as she walks into the house.

“Uh, honey. You look different – like really good and glowing. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were just having amazing sex,” Jon says cautiously.

“Ha, of course not,” Amy replies, “but I did just have an amazing yoga class.”

We yogis are familiar with this look. Completely relaxed, eyes softly open, skin glowing, bodies refreshed, mind present. The afterglow of yoga is quite frankly, similar to the afterglow of sex. There are several parallels between each activity.

So what creates this serenity we feel after both yoga and sex?

Poses: Both yoga and sex involve holding certain positions to reach a certain state of mind or nirvana. The movement that first comes to mind is the strengthening of our pelvic floor, our Mula Bandha. We engage these muscles in yoga and in sex and by doing so, we can hold a pose longer by gaining stamina which  makes both practices more enjoyable. (

Presence: We tend to always look better when we are thinking clearly. When we’re not interrupted by what happened at work earlier or what tomorrow will be like, but focused on the now.  Being fully and completely present wipes the look of worry, frustration, confusion, resentment, sadness, anger (the list continues) off our faces and allows us to share the look of just being. To reap the benefits of both yoga and sex, we must be present.

Relaxation: Being at ease in yoga. Calming the lines in our faces. Just letting ourselves go, most of all in Savasana, is an alternative to having that glass of wine before or after sex. Arising from Savasana may feel similar to arising from the bedroom, accompanied  by the eyes’ soft gaze, messy hair, and a subtle, low voice. (

Breathing: The deep, long inhales and exhales during yoga and sex creates space in our muscles and cells, which helps soften and relax every part of our body and gives us more energy. (

Sweating: That sun kissed look we get from wiping the dampness away from our faces. The healthy, refreshed glow that comes from the removal of toxins and the release of endorphins. Sweating, whether during yoga or sex, makes us feel and look better than we did prior to engagement. (

So the next time you try and bust your glowing, refreshed, messy haired friend for not telling you who she’s sleeping with, think again – she may have just been to one of Vancouver’s many incredible yoga classes.

Do you know of more similarities between yoga and sex?

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