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

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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

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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”


About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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