Breathwork 101

When were you last aware of your breath? Unless you’re a daily mindfulness meditator, you may not remember the last time.

Diet, exercise, and all the other aspects of healthy living are closely tied to oxygen and breathing. Incorrect breathing can undermine your results and health. In this email I’m going to teach you:

  • The simplest breathing exercise (you can do it immediately)
  • How to breathe correctly all the time
  • Performance-enhancing breathing techniques

First of all, the simplest breathing exercise is to become aware of your breath in the first place. Breathing is so essential yet we often take it for granted. 

Instead of changing your breathing pattern, just pay attention to what is already happening. Notice the sensation of breathing in your nostrils, airways, chest, and belly. For me, this awareness instantly unlocks a sense of peace, gratitude, and acceptance.

If you’ve got a moment, try it, then come back to this post. You may notice that you feel more calm and centered even if you do it for less than a minute— and the beautiful thing is you can do this any time, anywhere.

Breath awareness is also important for more “advanced” breath techniques. But before you get advanced, you need to know the fundamentals of breathing correctly.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • Relax your shoulders, chest, ribcage, and abdomen
  • Breathe gently through the nose (if possible), allowing your abdomen to fill with air
  • Your belly should expand and your shoulders should remain still and relaxed
  • Don’t try to breathe deeply or control the speed or rhythm of breathing

This style of breathing allows you to use your powerful diaphragm muscles, maintain good posture, and obtain the perfect amount of oxygen. And because you’re not forcing deep breathing, it allows CO2 levels to build up in your bloodstream, which actually allows your blood vessels to expand and deliver oxygen more effectively to your muscles, brain, and other organs[1][2].

When you practice proper breathing every day, it becomes an automatic habit that can benefit every area of your life.

The #1 performance-enhancing breath technique is to be aware of your breath when you’re active. A BJJ black belt practitioner once told me he can tell who’s winning a grappling match by simply listening to who is breathing harder — the person who’s gasping for air is wasting energy.

As you train or compete, notice the relationship between movement quality and breathing. See if you can move efficiently and avoid getting out of breath.

If you want to calm down, feel less anxious, and focus better on mentally demanding tasks, try slowing your breathing way down without intentionally breathing deeply. Taking as few as 3 breaths per minute (one full in and out breath per 20 seconds, using a clock or stopwatch to track time) is associated in studies with more alpha brain waves that can increase focus and concentration. If you can’t breathe that slowly, try 6 full breaths per minute (a full in and out breath every 10 seconds). Pausing after exhalation is also fine if it feels natural — count it toward your total breathing time.

For best results, use extremely slow breathing for 10 minutes or more, but you can also get results in as little as 1 minute[3].

We live in a culture of distraction. But if you made it to the end of this post, you’ve probably got enough focus to spend a minute on being aware of your breath or using slow breathing to chill out and feel more centered.

The Science