Without a doubt, two major issues Jiu Jitsu practitioners face today are:
- Recovering effectively after training, and
- Dealing with competition anxiety
Luckily, the effects of these two common issues can be alleviated with a simple practice, which I guarantee you’re doing already and are no doubt doing right now.
Shaduuuuuup and tell me what it is already!!!!
Whoa! I mean, wow! Where did that come from? Ok, it’s breathing, I’m talking about breathing.
Yeah, no shit Sherlock, I breathe every day!
Hey! One thing: stop interrupting me; second, it’s not the normal shallow crappy breathing you normally do that I’m talking about. No, my oddly aggressive and impatient friend, we’re talking about creating a practice of slow, deep and focused breathing.
Recent research suggests deep diaphragmatic breathing has been linked to physiological and psychological improvements in a range of people, from athletes to everyday Joe’s like you and I (c’mon admit it, you’re a Joe too. Yeah, you know you’re a Joe).
Today, we’re going to cover some of the benefits associated with quality breathing practices and provide you with a simple routine you can start right now to improve your health, recovery, and mental state.
Not too sure about that salty attitude of yours though.
Benefits of Slow, Deep and Focused Breathing
(Screenshot: The Incredible Hulk)
Reduced Oxidative Stress and Improved Immune System Function
Diaphragmatic breathing has been linked to a reduction in oxidative stress in athletes exercising to an exhaustive state, aka Tuesday night’s roll till death class.
One study found a group of athletes, who practiced diaphragmatic breathing after exhaustive training, had a superior defence to oxidative stress compared athletes in the control group. It is suggested that these effects may be a result of an associated decrease in cortisol and an increase in melatonin. (1)
The key concept of this study relates to the converse relationship cortisol shares with melatonin and the positive effect increased melatonin has as an antioxidant.
A practice of meditative breathing has also been suggested to beneficially alter immune system function. (2)
This is promising as, if you’re anything like me, solid back to back training often leads to an immune system that’s about as reliable as the elastic waist band on your oldest pair of undies – I mean, you know it’s there, but do you have any faith in it?
Anxiety and Changes in the Brain
Another study on diaphragmatic breathing practices suggested it may also reduce anxiety. This study relied on Beck Anxiety Inventory and biofeedback tests to gauge its results; measuring metrics like peripheral temperature as well as heart and breathing rates. (3)
A practice of mindfulness based stress reduction has also been linked to physical changes in areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal and hippocampal regions, which are associated with emotional regulation. It is suggested that growth in these areas may contribute to cultivation of positive feelings and emotional stability. (4)
This could mean the practice of focused breathing and meditative stress reduction may aid rational thinking and the ability to disempower the negative self talk plaguing your mind prior and/or during competition.
Disclaimer: You will hopefully have noticed my careful use of the words “may”, “linked to”, “associated”, “suggest”, etc. Please don’t think that a new breathing practice will cure you of all physical and physiological ailments, as the studies in this article can only go so far in terms of their research. Correlation between practices and positive (or negative) effects should never be confused with causation, unless the data is absolutely undeniable. That being said, the evidence does suggest it’s possible a better breathing practice may help (not cure) your health and well-being.
A Simple and Easy to Do Breathing Practice You Can Start Today
Try this exercise in the morning, or before bed, to help clear your mind. I personally find performing the following exercise, immediately after training, provides me with assistance in my recovery by down regulating the sympathetic (fight or flight) response.
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent at a 45° angle with your feet flat on the ground.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest
- Close your eyes and focus on the breath as you inhale
- The hand on the belly should rise first followed by the chest
- As you exhale, the hand on the chest should lower followed by the belly
- Spend 5 to 10 minutes doing this uninterrupted
- Ensure that your belly rising on the inhale is a result of the breath and not because you’re manually pushing it out. If you're finding it difficult not to push your belly out, tense your abdomen a quarter of the way through the inhale. You should now feel an expansion to the side and back of your body as a result of the tension in your abs. This is what’s called circumferential breathing and it’s a good practice for controlling the breath in athletic performance.
- Really focus on the sensations of the breath and when (not if) you get distracted, acknowledge that you have done so and return to the sensations of the breath. It’s ok when (not if) you get distracted. It’s normal; don’t get frustrated when (not if) it happens.