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Reverse Breathing

October 3, 2006 01:30 PM

Not too different from Pavel's method of 'Power Breathing' found in Power to the People! and Bullet-Proof Abs, the following technique of Reverse Breathing is taught to martial artists for several reasons that include stronger and faster strikes.

To begin, stand with your feet shoulders wide, relax your shoulders into their sockets and "swallow" your chest (swallowing your chest is believed to stimulate the thymus gland which aids in the immune system). Tilt the pelvis up and touch your tongue lightly to the roof of your mouth. Tuck the chin in a bit and you're ready to start. Expel all your air and push not only your stomach out, but also your sides and lower back (like that spare tire we've all gotten rid of through KB training is still there).* Inhale slowly through the nose and pull your stomach in while lifting the perineum (that no-man's land that separates the front from the back ? just another way of working the anal lock or the squeezing and lifting of the anal sphincter and sex organs). Exhale through the mouth and push the stomach out. Let the breath lead the stomach in and out and try not to force it with too much muscle. Also on exhalation, relax the perineum/anal lock. The best way is to just forget about the lock and not really push the relaxation of it. It is said that Yamaguchi, the late head of goju ryu, would push too hard on the exhalation during sanchin kata thus creating massive hemorrhoids. Avoid this just by forgetting. **

Check yourself in a mirror at first and makes sure when you inhale that your shoulders are not lifting and the front of your chest isn't expanding too much. The sides of the chest seem to expand more doing this (which is good. A seasoned martial arts knows when you hit someone as they are inhaling it hurts a heck-of-a lot more. If your attacker can't see when you inhale they will never be sure when to attack).

The way its been explained to me is this method of breathing allows for more air in the lungs and greater expulsion of the air that's in there. Normally, when breathing high in the chest the diaphragm and lungs get hooked up on each other ? preventing either from full capacity on inhalation and full drainage on exhalation. Not expelling that air totally causes the lungs to carry around stale air. Doing proper reverse breathing forces the diaphragm to expand in a way that creates a vacuum in the lungs, filling them from the bottom up. Now both diaphragm and lungs are allowed to expand to their full capacity. Exhaling properly expels more air more efficiently, thus saving the lungs from carrying around that stale air.

Using reverse breath in your martial training is essential. As I mentioned above, hitting someone as they inhale has a lot more effect. Learning to use reverse breath powerfully while exhaling actually helps protect the body. Basically, as you inhale the capillaries and like structures of the body collapse somewhat, as you exhale they expand. Reverse breath, along with the pelvic tilt also keeps your diaphragm from bouncing around which causes that getting racked feeling from setting in after a good hit. That expansion can be used as a sort of cushion to protect your body. So learning to breath more effectively will certainly help your body's resistance to a blow. Another martial benefit would be in your striking ability. The faster you can exhale the faster you can move. You must learn to coordinate your technique and breath and as each grows, it aids the other. Finally, the more air you expel the harder your hit. This works much the way power breathing does in helping you press that last rep overhead. Exhale like a shotgun blast (one of the ideas behind the kiai) gives you that speed and power. Be sure to hold onto about 25% of your breath as a reserve. If you exhale everything you won't be able to protect yourself from a strike and it will take longer to "reload" yourself.

I would stick to Pavel's power breathing while doing heavy lifts, but if you want to make some of your kettlebell exercises more ballistic and learn to explode them out - learn reverse breath. For instance, the boxing exercises in one of the PTP Newsletters would be good. The one and two arm swings, snatches and cleans would all be good exercise to use reverse breath with explosively. Exercises like windmills and one leg deads can be done with a slow, even reverse breath matching the timing of the movement with the breath.

It is difficult at first to get the right feeling (if it was easy, everyone would be doing it) and it feels like you're not getting enough oxygen. This is because the diaphragm needs some practice relaxing in the proper way. But steady practice will bring about great results. Practice reverse breath while sitting at your desk, stopped at a traffic light, watching TV, etc. before using it during a workout. Before long your brain will pick up the idea that this is how you want to breath now and will start doing it naturally.
Slow and easy at first but once you are accustomed to breathing this way, you can do it explosively. Enjoy!

Tim Heuertz has been a martial artist for 23 years, the last 13 he has been practicing the internal martial arts of xingyi, taiji, and bagua.

* Pushing the obliques out in deadlifts, squats, the lowest point of kettlebell swings and snatches, and similar drills helps to prevent the spine from flexing. ?Pavel Tsatsouline

**I insist that you employ the sphincter lock all times when lifting.