Do you know how to read your state? You may be asking yourself, “What does “state” even mean?”
“State” is commonly referred to when describing the condition of our nervous system. Reading our state involves engaging with our body’s cues, breath, the tension in our muscles, heart rate, and gut feeling. Do you know what happens in your body when you are stressed? Even before the wild stories start rolling in our heads, our breath and heart rate increase, palms start to sweat and our chest, gut, and shoulders tighten. This is a result of our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) activating the fight or flight mode. The SNS is vital to keep us alert, alive, focused, and ready to act. However, if we can’t turn it off through rest and recovery, the SNS runs in overdrive, leading to anxiety, fatigue, sleep issues, digestive issues, and cognitive impairment.
To the contrary, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is the “rest, relax, digest, and procreate” side. This is where we should be 90% of the time and is vital to optimizing our recovery and health. However, it is a balancing act and getting stuck in the PNS state can lead to depression and lethargy. We won’t want to speak to others and feel we must hide.
Learning how to read the cues in your body before they manifest out of control is vitally important as it allows us to regulate our state. It will allow us to act when we need to and recover when we need to. We will be in a rested-ready state, excited for the challenges of the day.
One aspect of regulating your state includes breathing. You cannot stop an anxious or depressed mind by “thinking” your way out of it. You must use your body. If used properly, the breath can put you in a calm, focused state, improving our mental clarity. With practice, our breath can help us improve in many aspects of our life, including but not limited to: (1) using our breath to handle the stressors of life in a more relaxed manner; (2) giving you a quick pick me (similar to a cup of coffee); and, (3) quickly putting you to sleep. All you need is some training on how to utilizing this free tool to trigger these benefits for the rest of your life.
Breathing is the only system in our body that is autonomic yet under our control. It is the first and last thing we do in our lives and it keeps us alive without having to think about it. Respiration is priority number 1 for our bodies. In addition to all of this, God, nature, a higher power (whatever your belief), gave us breath as a tool to change our mental and physical state. Most of us in western cultures were not taught this tool or have any idea it exists until an outside event brings it into view. Most believe that breathing happens naturally and why would we ever need to learn to breathe? However, for thousands of years, some cultures have used their breath to change their psychological and physiological state. Science has confirmed that this is possible and is a skill that can provide major benefits to humans. This is a skill that we all have inside us; we just need a little guidance to bring it out.
There are many types of breathwork you can utilize depending on the circumstances and response you are seeking. Examples of these include Wim Hof breathing, holotropic breathwork, pranayama, and techniques such as Oxygen Advantage. All of these have their purpose and are designed to do different things to your nervous system. These are the spectrums of the breath (check out the graphic below). They affect our nervous system in different ways and you can learn to use them to regulate your state how you see fit.
On average, we breathe roughly 10-14 breaths per minute at rest. On one end of the spectrum, we slow our breathing down, and our heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, heart rate variability (HRV) increases, and puts your CO2 and O2 in a more balanced state. All of this puts your nervous system in a more parasympathetic state, which is the rest, relaxation, and digestion state we were designed to be in the majority of the time.
At the other end of the spectrum, we increase our breath rate to 20+ bpm, increasing our heart rate, sympathetic nervous system, blood pressure, and the fight or flight response while decreasing HRV, CO2, and O2 efficiency. The decrease in CO2 changes the alkalinity in the blood, which is why you might get light-headed, or your hands begin to tingle while practicing breathwork. This practice is called super-ventilation and is a great way to train your respiratory muscles and elicit a positive immune response.
These techniques have their different functions and can be used to help achieve desired goals throughout the day. For example, if you are trying to fall asleep or calm down, incorporate breach techniques on the spectrum’s left end. If you are trying to energize yourself before a workout or bring a euphoric feel to your body, focus on incorporating techniques from the right end of the spectrum.
If you are new to breathwork, the first thing you want to do is make sure you are breathing properly
, which is through your diaphragm. The faster pace breathing methods are more advanced and if you are not adept at proper breathing, you can lay capacity on top of dysfunction, resulting in more harm than good in the long run.
To Sum it Up
Learning to read and regulate your state can dramatically impact your health and performance and provide you with a deeper understanding of what drives you. You can do this by taking control of your breath and training your body to breathe properly. It provides you with the tools to change your state on demand. You will become more efficient using oxygen, resulting in more energy and mental focus.
Like any practice or skill, the more reps you do, the better you will get and the quicker you will be able to change your state and maximize your human potential. This powerful tool and the breath techniques discussed can be utilized for a lifetime.
Change your breath and change your life!