Breathing: A Gateway to ‘Flow State’ (Part 1 of 3) Introduction
Effort vs. Stress: Why it matters that you know the difference.
“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Breathing techniques have come to the forefront of our lives since COVID19. We breathe all day, every day in our lives, and now for the first time in history, we have an entire population looking for something TO DO to improve breathing efficiency and performance. So, have you ever wondered why then, when we must consciously breathe and regulate our breath, it seems so difficult. Why do we even need a breathing technique? Do we prioritize physical control, or mental control, or both?
Most breathing techniques and one that went viral recently, target performance of the lungs and discuss parameters related to deep inhalation and exhalation with holds. As an asthmatic myself and having had double pneumonia with the experience of living in an oxygen tent for two weeks as a 10-year-old, my life since then has been centered on all things breathing! So from personal experience, I know that if we push ourselves when doing breathing exercises for better lung performance, it is in those moments we are improving, that we may experience a discomfort and even a sense of suffering that can cause anxiety and panic. In that state, it makes it hard to assess if we are doing the exercise correctly. How do we discern between effort and stress?
BrainBodyVoice™(BBV) and BrainBodyGlottis* (BBG) science, based on doctoral research at the intersection of Sports Science and Opera Singing, has supported development of new training tools to put you in control of your breathing and mindset by conscious control of your central nervous system. The interventions based on this pioneering science help to further optimize an individual to the extent of being able to activate a ‘flow state’ or ‘getting in the zone’, whether in sympathetic mode (fight or flight) or parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). (NOTE: *Glottis is the space between the position of the vocal cords that can be optimized even without making sound.)
With BBV/BBG based interventions, because we can specifically target breathing via the nervous system, aside from improving lung performance, we can also in parallel improve postural integrity, joint performance, balance, coordination, core strength, and mental focus. This approach targeting the central nervous system (i.e. part of the bigger proprioceptive system) gets you to faster results due to a reduced trial-and-error process. The correct ‘feeling’ is affirmed by monitoring in real-time, something as simple as your heart rate and posture!
- Aerobic exercise involves continuous activity that builds endurance, such as cycling, walking and long-distance running. Anaerobic exercise consists of short bursts of intense activity, with a period of rest in between. Think weight training, high-intensity interval training or sprinting.
Although many people think that singing is an aerobic activity…it is actually an anaerobic activity. Breathing for singing has to be efficient for the vocal cords to function well when making sustained sound and is a learned technique that differs from everyday speaking.
The BBV/BBG connection is recalibrated and optimized with anaerobic-based exercises or movements and specified forced inhalation or exhalation breathing cues. This can be done in any position (i.e. standing, sitting, lying on back or on stomach) and without exercise equipment. The protocol starts with effortful slow motion (i.e. ‘tai chi’-like) actions that can progressively speed up to real time (i.e. ‘kung fu’-like) actions introducing the intention of ‘perfect practicing’ to imprint in as few as three (3) breath cycles, a new pathway. Spending more time doing ‘perfect practicing’, the individual will inevitably improve overall strength (power) and stamina.
We usually correlate ‘flow state’ with an elite level of action, from deep meditation to extreme sports. For example, my own personal experiences for being ‘in the zone’ or ‘flow state’ have come from expert alpine skiing and performing as a professional opera singer. Those activities take what feels like an OLYMPIC EFFORT with a combination of breath power, physical power, and mental focus. My goal with my research, was to try and simulate in a practice or rehearsal setting, the same level of ‘active flow state’ one achieves when in high pressure performance situations. Now with the KHARE SYSTEMS™ approach integrating BBV/BBG Science, that is possible.
For purposes of this article, most people when when they feel anxious or stressed when breathing, will trigger a sympathetic mode (fight or flight). So, I actually start by coaching them into that sympathetic mode by using binary (yes or no/pass or fail) forced breathing and movement cues. The individual is then guided to self-facilitate and feel how much effort they need give to ensure they have activated enough of the anaerobic muscle energy system to imprint a new and more efficient pathway. With BBV/BBG exercises, every single breath cycle matched to improve an action or skill, is ALWAYS optimizing to the extent of performance of the fine motor control of the voice/glottis as well. (Fun Fact: Your Voice is like a fingerprint, unique to you, and the whole mechanism is as small as your fingernail.)
Although I have had the opportunity to work with elite athletes, performing artists and active U.S. military to help them optimize peak performance under pressure, I have rarely made public, the work I do with people at the other end of the spectrum.
read next: Part 2 Fighting to Live…
read after: Part 3 COVID19…