Breathe Like Your Life Depends On It

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Do you breathe?

Breathing is a part of everything we do, from Sudoku to weightlifting.  In some activities, how we breathe is far more important than in others. Breathing a certain way will generally not improve your performance in Sudoku, but it is absolutely crucial when you hit the weights.

In the realm of self-defense, breathing is always very important. Most martial systems put a strong emphasis on how and when to breathe. Marksmanship for both pistols and rifles relies on a slight respiratory pause prior to breaking the shot.

 One thing that often gets overlooked in most self-defense circles is how your breathing impacts your state of mind. When you breathe in, your mind and body tends to be in a weak state. When you breathe out it is in a strong state.

 Inhaling causes your lungs to fill with air. Your center of gravity rises, and your mind is less focused. Your reaction times will be slower than if you are exhaling.

 Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? This can only happen when you are full of air. This is yet another reason that we want to spend less time breathing in.

 We naturally tend to breathe in when we are startled. You have probably experienced this walking around a corner and crashing into someone, or reaching for a door handle as someone walks through from the other side. You are startled, you breathe in, and your mind scrambles to recover and regain control of the situation.

 In the office, being startled like this has relatively little cost to our well-being other than a bruised ego perhaps. On the other hand, reacting this poorly to being startled on the street could be the fine line that separates life and death.

 To combat this, we want to build a reaction of exhaling when startled.

 Practice exhaling

 Practice responding with an out breath on some sort of stimulus. When you exhale, you want it to be controlled and forceful. Think of this as an immediate dump of all extra oxygen in your lungs. There is a finite beginning, middle, and an end to our breath. It should end abruptly.

 Reinforcing

 Once you have some practice with this type of breathing, a great way to reinforce this is on the street or in the office. I used to work in an office building that had many blind corners, and plenty of people who would always cut these corners closely, even on the “wrong side” of the “road”. This led to many startling near-collisions and created the perfect environment to practice reacting calmly. When startled in this type of situation, an out breath and some smooth footwork allows you to regain your composure and continue on unimpeded.

Training your body to react calmly and decisively when startled will improve your likelihood of survival on the street. Most of the time you can avoid the situation entirely by being aware of your surroundings. When this isn’t possible, how you react to the unexpected can be the difference between life and death.

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