I talk frequently about how breath work helps to balance and control your fight or flight response and engage your rest and recovery response. Today I want to talk about how that effects our training. We need to activate that fight or flight response when we train, especially in combat sports.
So why would we want to do something that may bring us into rest and recovery?
Both branches of the nervous system are functioning when you are training, not just fight or flight.
There are very appropriate times for us to be chill in our training. In between rounds. In between sets. And post training. This improves our ability to be offensive, be defensive, and capable of understanding new techniques as well as processing information.
On the flip side we want our sympathetic system in the driver seat to control our responses and reactions to things happening to us during our training, this keeps us safe. That is often called lizard brain, or instinct.
“A psychologist raised a glass of water and asked “How heavy is this glass of water? She replied "Weight doesn't matter. The weight doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water."
Mental and emotional stress effects all areas our life. We often create coping mechanisms to deal will these side effects. Many of us, and the clients that I work with, revert to overtraining or just overdoing things to combat stress. However, this only adds more stress. It is like filling the glass of water that you are carrying up more and more. If our body/mind are not processing stress appropriately or you are relying on unhealthy outlets, then it will slow you down in training and risk of injury is increased.
This is not just something that happens in athletes. You could look at your everyday life and see how you take on more than you probably should to combat uncomfortable emotions that you might be feeling like anxiety, heartache, lethargy, sadness, anger, or even happiness. What we are talking about here is the problem with everyone feeling like they always have to be doing something to validate their existence so they pack in the busy and hard work overwhelming their nervous system creating external validation.
Breath work takes some of that mental and emotional stress and processes it with very little of our own participation. By taking time to intentionally breathe we are exercising our nervous system. (Basic breath work can make a difference, but specific practices designed for how you are feeling in that moment is the most amazing thing).
Breath work is akin to your mental emotional landscape like weightlifting is to your muscles. We exercise silence, patience, and challenge in our breathing techniques so that we can (more appropriately) deal with our stressors internally and externally. By facing the challenge of silence, discomfort, and patience in our routines and practices we become mentally equipped for the stressors that everyday life, and training, will offer us. As you do this practices and overcome the challenges of being still with your emotions you will find the there are patterns to the way that you think and feel. It is in the identification of these patterns that your whole world will start to change. Internal validation will come, and external validation will be needed less and less.
This may sound like it is not linked to your recovery and training, but once you are aware of the the mental noise, you will begin to see differently. And especially so if you have a whoop strap and log your stress and breath work practices.
Breath work gives us what we need, sometimes regardless of the practice's intention. It is aimed to create balance in the system and that can look like an energetic practice making us feel sleepy or a relaxing practice making us energized. Your nervous system knows what to do and when you take that glass of water, drink it all, and set the cup down your body will process for your best possible outcome.