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30 Days to Better Breathing by Al Lee and Don Campbell

Heart2h100For the entire month of July, health and fitness expert, author and motivational speaker Joe Kita undertook the evaluation of how much affect mindful breathing and the breath has on one's life. In his website column, One Small Change, he basically followed the principles of our book, "Perfect Breathing," to see if conscious breathing could help him sleep better, battle road rage, pressure and anger, perform better, and stay healthy (especially while traveling and especially in airplanes, those giant germ incubators).

His results helped lend significant credence to what we've been espousing for many years:

Learn to breathe mindfully and you take a huge amount of control over every dimension of your life. It's not rocket science, and pays huge dividends for those who strive to make mindful breathing part of their everyday lives.

What did Joe learn? Plenty. In essence he surmised that it takes practice, that it's low-tech (no need for expensive gym memberships or new Nikes), that it's a profound gateway to controling your body, that using the breath can help you fall asleep, perform your sports and activities better and alleviate rage from your diet, ward off illness, and that dropping your breath rate from an average of 15-20 breaths a minute down to 10 reaps big benefits for all of the above.

So, are you ready to try it?

We'd like to encourage you to basically follow Joe's exploration for yourself. Of course, we'd love for you all to have a copy of the book in front of you, but here's the basic plan, as Joe explored it:

  • Sleep
  • Game-Day Breathing
  • Breathe Better Under Pressure
  • Performance Breathing
  • Staying Healthy

Joe called it "Boot Camp." But it doesn't have to be that dramatic (though the results will be!).


How many of you aren't sleeping enough or getting good quality sleep? For the next month try a variation of the acient yoga breathing technique, pranayama. As Joe wrote, "Although breathing may seem like an unconscious mechanism, it is entirely controllable and, once tamed, can influence heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, hormone production, stress levels and many other bodily functions."

As we've written, the breath is the common denominator in everything we do. It touches every dimension of life. It directly and dramatically affects your health, your ability to heal, your emotions, your physical performance, your creativity, and it’s used by every spiritual tradition to help achieve deeper states of prayer, meditation and contemplation.

And it works to achieve deeper more beneficial levels of sleep. Try this:

  • Inhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Hold for a count of 3
  • Exhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Hold for a count of 3
  • Repeat this series 4 more times
  •  Next, inhale through the nose for a count of 6
  •  Exhale through the nose for a count of 6
  •  Repeat this series 4 more times.

Concluded Joe, "By the end, I was peacefully relaxed, despite having been previously wired from the demands of the day and a large Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. And after doing it a few more times, I actually nodded off. (And no, it wasn’t from lack of oxygen.) Since then, I’ve been using this exercise whenever I can’t fall asleep. I find it instantly quiets my body and settles my mind."

Game-Day Breathing

Joe plays on a men's league baseball team. He tried out our Game-Day Breathing exercise, to see if mindful breathing could give him a performance edge by enabling more focus on the task at hand, in his case, hitting a baseball. The technique is designed for whenever you need to quickly relax and draw your focus down to a specific task. Examples include shooting a free throw, standing over a putt, going for a PR in the bench press, walking to the podium to deliver a speech or, in my case, striding to the plate. Here's the exercise:

  • Close your eyes and draw attention to your breath
  • Inhale through your nose for a count of 2
  • Hold for a count of 1
  • Exhale through your nose for a count of 2
  • Hold for a count of 1
  • Continue breathing this way while visualizing yourself successfully completing the task.
  • Conclude with an affirmation such as “Let’s do it!”

Joe's result? "I did this prior to every one of my four at-bats in the morning game," he wrote, "and guess what? I went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and was voted our team’s MVP. Although it was difficult to divorce myself from the action of the game to close my eyes and breathe, it was exactly what I needed. By breathing deeply and fully oxygenating my body, my heart quit beating so fast. As a result, I was in less of a panic mode and a more relaxed and positive state of mind. I could let my training and muscle memory take over. And just like that, I got three hits."

Breathe Better Under Pressure

We've all experience road rage, blind anger, the stomach-cramping flight-or-fight response to a fearsome situation. Joe's was on a highway in a car with his family on a highway near his home, when a Lexus cut him off, just missing his front bumper. "My heart instantly starts hammering in my chest and ears, and when I glance in the rearview mirror to see if everyone is okay I notice my face has gone pale. When I take my hand off the steering wheel, it’s shaking, " he wrote.

"'Research shows that there are two pathways to the brain,” explained Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing. 'One is for rational or attentional thought, while the other is for emotions. The two pathways are inversely related. So when your emotions start heating up, your ability to think rationally diminishes. That’s why you have crimes of passion or road rage.'

"The key to retaining control in these situations is, as Lee explains, 'to focus on an attentional task that brings down the emotional side and lets you be more objective.' And researchers have found that breathing does this best.'

"Shortly after being cut off, I remembered Lee’s advice and started what he calls Pressure Breathing. Here’s how it goes:"

  • Exhale
  • Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds.
  • Purse your lips and exhale, while letting your cheeks inflate. Draw the exhalation out to a count of 10 or however long you can. Try to get every last bit of air out of your lungs.
  • Repeat until you’ve settled down.

Concluded Joe: "And the drill works. Within a minute, I was feeling myself returning to normal and realizing that it would be foolish to chase that idiot. Instead I slowed down (what’s the rush anyway?) and took solace in the fact that my family, dogs and pork-kraut roll were all safe."

Performance Breathing

As we get older we forget how to breathe, and therefore forget to exercise a couple of extremely important muscles: the diaphragm (the large muscle below your lungs) and the intercostal muscles (that attach to your ribcage). Joe quotes Al again: "'If you don’t exercise these muscles, they atrophy, just like any other muscle in the body,' explains Al Lee, a breath expert and the architect of 'For most adults, their breathing has slowly moved higher and higher into their chest over the years, so they’re taking little sips of air into the tops of their lungs and are barely using the diaphragm. In fact, if you’re not actively exercising it, the older you get, the more difficult it is to get it unstuck.'”

We also forget muscles need oxygen to perform optimally. Joe tried out our Performance Breathing exercise, which works best for any endurance sport that involves repitition, like running, cycling and swimming. As Joe writes, "It’s designed to help you find that sweet spot where the energy coming in balances the energy being expended, and you feel that tireless high so many athletes strive for. Here’s how to do it:

  • Inhale through the nose for 2 seconds
  • Hold for 2 seconds
  • Exhale through the nose for 4 seconds

The important part is to synchronize this breath with your activity. For instance, if you’re walking or running, inhale for 2 steps, hold for 2 steps, then exhale for 4 steps. Similarly, if you’re cycling, inhale for 2 pedal strokes, hold for 2 pedal strokes, then exhale for 4 pedal strokes.

Joe concludes, "I tried Performance Breathing during a 20-mile bike ride over rolling terrain, and it was challenging to maintain. In cycling, your cadence changes so frequently that it’s difficult to find a consistent breathing pattern that doesn’t eventually leave you gasping. But I’m confident that with practice it will come, because I’ve had a similar experience in ashtanga yoga, where the breath must be controlled through a series of flowing poses. Although it seemed impossible at first, I can do it easily now.

"Performance Breathing is more instantly adaptable to walking, backpacking and running. It’s kind of like the military Hut! Hut! Hut! in that it helps put you into an almost hypnotic rhythm.

"'The whole approach is counter-intuitive,' adds Lee. “When we demand more of our bodies, we instinctively start breathing faster to get more oxygen. But the opposite is actually true. If we slow down our breathing, studies show that runners, cyclists and rowers all become more efficient. The trick is finding that sweet spot where you’re breathing slowly but not so slowly that you’re out of breath.' I plan to keep working on that."

Staying Healthy

We'll just let Joe tell this: "I’m sitting deep in coach between a fidgety three-year-old with a runny nose and, across the aisle, a middle-age woman with a frightening cold sore who for some reason keeps smiling at me. I’m trying to focus on my newspaper and not worry, but the lead story is about an outbreak of swine flu on a cruise ship. I’m doomed, I presume. Just about every time I fly I catch a cold or flu, and this time will probably be no different. Unless…."

We've all been a position that may likely compromise, or at least severely test, our immune systems. We offered Joe the Healing Breath:

Here’s how it’s done:

   1. Inhale through your nose and visualize your breath coming in through the top of your head and follow it down to the bottom of your stomach.
   2. Hold it there and imagine it as a ball of energy.
   3. On the exhale, imagine your breath as water coursing down from your stomach and out the balls of your feet.
   4. Hold before inhaling again. Repeat a total of 3 times.
   5. Inhale as in step 1.
   6. Hold as in step 2.
   7. On the exhale, imagine your breath as water coursing from your stomach, around and up your spine, down your arms, and out the palms of your hands.
   8. Hold before inhaling again. Repeat a total of 3 times.
   9. Inhale as in step 1.
  10. Hold as in step 2.
  11. On the exhale, imagine your breath as water coursing from your stomach, around and up your spine, up and around the top of your head, and out through your eyes.
  12. Hold before inhaling again. Repeat a total of 3 times.
  13. Inhale as in step 1.
  14. Hold as in step 2.
  15. On the exhale, let the breath permeate your entire body and imagine it seeping out of your skin.
  16. Hold before inhaling again.

Joe's initial comment was that it sounded "out there, and I worry that ll the extra inhaling might actually bring more germs in." But his result? "Although it may be coincidence, 10 days later as I write this I have none of the anticipated sniffles or scratchiness from the trip. In fact, I’m intrigued enough to have written the drill on the back of a business card that I tucked into my travel briefcase. I intend to experiment some more the next time I’m at 30,000 feet."

Ready? Begin!

Now you're ready to try your own 30-day experiment. Utilize each of these simple exercises over the next month. Keep a diary or jot down your results. You'll be amazed at the results. To read Joe's complete account go here, and start with Joe's "Take a 31-Day Breather." The trick is to stay with it for the entire month. Put reminders in your computer's calendar or Outlook program, leave yourself little yellow stickies by your desk or on the refrigerator, or any other method to remind yourself every day to practice mindful breathing. You can also receive our daily Twitter feed at remembr2breathe (

Good luck and let us know how you're doing. If you have questions email us at .

Don Campbell and Al Lee are the authors of Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath At A Time (Sterling Publishng/2008) and write, speak, train, and blog tirelessly on the subject. Discover more ways you can improve your health, performance, and wellbeing at Reach them at  or call1-888-317-6718 (toll-free).

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