Change Your Breath, Change Your Life | Lucas Rockwood | TEDxBarcelona
This video is part of the Mindfulness Incubator video series. (11/16)
So what if I told you that there was an exercise that was so powerful that it could change the pH of your blood? It could make it more acid or more alkaline in minutes. What if this same exercise could boost your digestion, lower your heart rate, lower your cortisol levels, and help you go to sleep at night? What if the same exercise, practiced in an extreme fashion, could create LSD-like experiences, out-of-body experiences?
This exercise I’m talking about is something you’re doing right now without even thinking about it. My name is Lucas Rockwood, as Jose mentioned, I’m a yoga teacher. What I’m talking about here are breathing exercises, and breathing exercises done correctly, done safely, are one of the most powerful ways to control your mind and your body, your nervous system, your endocrine system. But if you practice them recklessly, they can cause a whole bunch of problems. You can black out, you can disrupt your digestion, you can have anxiety attacks as well.
Breathing, for most of us, is something that’s just totally automatic. In fact, it’s controlled by our autonomic nervous system; it happens all by itself. For example, you’re crossing the street, and a car swerves into your crosswalk and almost hits you. My question to you is, what do you do? Do you inhale, there? Do you exhale? You inhale; you cover your heart; you cover your crotch, and you get out of the way, right? Fight or flight. It’s a sympathetic nervous system response.
Now, many people, in fact, many of you, are breathing this way as if you’re about to be hit by a car all day long. Now, imagine what that does to your mind and your body and your life. Now, on the other side of the spectrum, let’s imagine that you’re out on a romantic date with that special someone, and after dinner, she leans over and whispers those three magic words. She says, “I love you,” right? What do you do? Do you inhale or do you exhale? Exhale. You open your heart; you open your crotch; you fall in love, right? Parasympathetic nervous system response.
Now, here’s the sad thing: many people, in fact, many of you in this room, you haven’t felt that. You haven’t breathed that way in a really, really long time. Imagine what that does to your mind and your body and your life. Just as a little side note here, if the last time you fell in love, you inhaled and covered your heart, I have some bad news for you, my friend: run, right?
I’m sharing with you these examples tonight because it’s important that you realize you already understand the autonomic part, the automatic part, right? Inhale, fear; exhale, love. Inhale, excited; exhale, peace. You understand that part. What you probably don’t understand is you can override that part, meaning you can take control over your nervous system. And that’s what I’d like to share with you this evening with three simple concepts: water, whiskey, and coffee. Water breathing, whiskey breathing, and coffee breathing.
So, water breathing, as the name suggests, just like water, it’s always good, right? Early morning, late at night, feeling stressed or not, whatever, water is always a good option. It’s your go-to practice. Come back to it again and again, but it has to be trained. You’re not doing it now; we’ll get to that in a minute.
Now, whiskey breathing, as the name suggests, a little bit of whiskey now and then, no problem, right? You fall asleep; no big deal. But if you overuse it, too much, too often, you’ll get sick; you’ll get groggy; all kinds of health problems. Same thing with whiskey breath. We primarily use it as a sleeping aid.
Last but not least, we have coffee breathing. And again, as the name suggests, a little bit of coffee once in a while, no problem, right? You have a long drive; you need to stay up; you have jetlag; you need to overcome it; a little bit of coffee, no big deal. If you overuse it all the time, you can completely screw up your digestion; you can have overwhelming anxiety; you get that kind of wired but tired feeling that none of us are looking for.
These are the three practices I’d like to share with you today. But let’s set aside the theory for a moment, and if you’d be so kind, we’ll jump right into some practices which hopefully will allow you to actually feel those in your body. And then, we’ll step back to the theory. If I could, I’d ask you to sit back in your chair, place your hands on your legs, relax your face, relax your shoulders, and close your eyes.
We’ll start with water breathing. It’s a very simple practice. It’s a four-four count. You inhale to the count of four; you exhale to the count of four. Don’t worry; you don’t have to count; I’ll count for you. So, you relax; your eyes are closed; your face is relaxed, and off we go. Inhale through your nose: one, two, three, four. Now, exhale through your nose: four, three, two, one. Inhale through your nose: one, two, three, four. Now, exhale through your nose: four, three, two, one.
You keep breathing; I’ll explain what’s going on here. This balance breathing, the most important thing is the rate. We’re at four to six breaths per minute; it’s about half your normal rate. So, we’ve taken your rate that you walked in off the street; we chopped it in half. We’re at four to six breaths per minute, and this is where we get that balancing effect on your nervous system. If you’re up, it’ll bring you down; if you’re down, it will bring you up. Really, really powerful. This is our go-to practice. I’m telling you, you’re not good at this; you have to practice this again and again, just like water. Many of you are carrying a water bottle with you this evening; you want to carry this practice with you as well.
Next, let’s take a look at whiskey breathing. Now, whiskey breathing, as we mentioned, we use it with care, primarily; let’s just think about this as it puts me to sleep without alcohol or pills, right? This is what I will use this. You come home from work, and you’re agitated; your phone’s lighting up with notifications; your head’s buzzing. I’d like you to lie down in bed, count inhale for that four count and exhale for that eight count, inhale for that four count, and exhale for that eight count. You can do that for ten rounds, or just keep going until you fall asleep. That works really well as well.
Last but not least is coffee breathing. This is the one people get most excited about, but we want to use it the most sparingly. Coffee breathing is very different than the other two practices. To do it, we focus just on the exhale, and we don’t worry about the inhale at all. We just push the air out, and it looks and feels just like a sneeze. I’ll show you what it looks like. Hey, why are you laughing? So, we exhale through our nose, make a sharp shooting breath. You do your best to try not to move your face, your shoulders, your chest; try to make all the energy happen from down here, in your lower abdomen. It’s an unusual way to breathe; remember, we don’t inhale; we just exhale. We’ll do 20 rounds together; I’ll count you down; close your eyes so you don’t look so funny.
Body’s relaxed; shoulders are relaxed. Three, two, one, we exhale. Exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Eyes are closed; body’s relaxed; breath is normal. Eyes are closed; body’s relaxed; breath is normal. Some of you weren’t participating; let’s try again this time. Shoulders are relaxed; chest is relaxed. Again, it’s a sneeze; it feels like a sneeze. Just remember, forget about the inhale; just exhale. Three, two, one, we exhale. Exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Eyes closed; body’s relaxed; breath is normal.
Try to keep your face still this time; shoulders still; all the work’s happening in your lower abdomen. It’s a funny way to breathe. We’ll do one more time. Three, two, one, we exhale. Exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale. And ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Eyes are closed; body’s relaxed; breath is normal.
Let me explain this practice to you. This fast, rapid breath stimulates your sympathetic nervous system. This is your fight-or-flight response; this is the clean-the-house and-answer-emails nervous system response that we’re looking for. We want to use this very, very sparingly. If you do it too much, too often, you can get really agitated. But what we’re doing here is cranking up our body, and we want to use it with care.
So, what we’ve just done here: water, whiskey, and coffee. The technical name for this is a yoga speedball, right? We basically mixed all of these things together; you wouldn’t normally do this. We did this for the sake of learning. In our normal life, in our everyday life, we’d break these three practices up, and we’d do them at different times, at appropriate times of the day.
So, when is the appropriate time? Let’s break it down. Water breathing, like the name suggests, always good; anytime you need balance in your life, come back to water breathing. It’s four on the way in, it’s four on the way out. Stressful day at the office, actual commute, whatever it is, you sit down; you take ten breaths, count four on the way in, four on the way out. And again, it’s just like taking a sip of water.
When you look at whiskey breathing, primarily, let’s just think about this as it puts me to sleep without alcohol or pills, right? This is what I will use this. You come home from work, and you’re agitated; your phone’s lighting up with notifications; your head’s buzzing. I’d like you to lie down in bed, count inhale for that four count and exhale for that eight count, inhale for that four count and exhale for that eight count. You can do that for ten rounds, or just keep going until you fall asleep. That works really well as well.
Last but not least is coffee breathing. This is the one you get most excited about. I need to throttle this; you’ve got to be really careful with this one. Use it sparingly. Here’s your prescription: three rounds of twenty in the morning, three rounds of twenty right before exercise. Right, sympathetic nervous system response gets cranked up to start moving. And three rounds of twenty at three o’clock in the afternoon, when normally you’ll reach for a sugary snack.
When we look at health and wellness, there are so many different things we can optimize for, right? There’s diet, and there’s movement, and there’s sleep optimization; all of that stuff is wonderful. But none of that stuff is as powerful or as immediate as breathing. Remember when you were born, when you came into this world? You probably don’t remember, but when you were born, when you came into this world, the very first thing that you did was you inhaled, right? And when you leave us, when you die, if you die peacefully, you will die on an exhale. And between that first breath and that last breath, what most of us do is our nervous system just gets bounced around, bang, back and forth. We’re responding to our environment on autopilot all day long.
So, my challenge to you, my question for you, is how could the quality of your life improve if you stopped being on autopilot and started taking control of your mind and your body and your nervous system using these three simple practices we’ve done today: water, whiskey, and coffee? Thank you.
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the power of something as basic as breathing. We often take it for granted, letting our bodies operate on autopilot. But what if I told you that the way you breathe could impact your health and well-being in profound ways?
Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I recently came across some fascinating insights from a yoga teacher named Lucas Rockwood. He talked about how simple breathing exercises, when done correctly and safely, can be incredibly powerful tools to control our minds and bodies.
Rockwood explained that our breathing is usually controlled by our autonomic nervous system, meaning it happens automatically. For instance, when we face a sudden danger, like a car swerving towards us, we instinctively take a deep breath and prepare for action. This is our sympathetic nervous system kicking in, the so-called “fight or flight” response.
However, many of us live in a constant state of alertness, as if we’re about to be hit by that proverbial car all day long. Imagine the toll it takes on our minds and bodies when we’re constantly on edge.
On the flip side, there’s the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Think of it as that warm feeling you get on a romantic date when someone whispers, “I love you.” It’s the calm and peaceful state we often forget to experience.
Rockwood pointed out that many of us have forgotten how to breathe this way. We’ve lost touch with the ability to relax and let go. So, he introduced three simple concepts: water, whiskey, and coffee breathing.
Water breathing is the foundation, something you can do anytime you need balance in your life. It’s a gentle practice, involving inhaling and exhaling to the count of four. Like taking a sip of water, it’s refreshing and always a good option.
Whiskey breathing, as Rockwood humorously puts it, can help you “fall asleep without alcohol or pills.” It’s perfect for those agitated moments when you need to calm your racing mind. Lie down, inhale for four, and exhale for eight. It’s a recipe for a peaceful slumber.
Now, here comes the kicker – coffee breathing. This one’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s like an espresso shot for your nervous system, cranking up your energy. But use it sparingly, as overdoing it can leave you feeling wired and tired.
Rockwood shared a prescription for these practices: three rounds of twenty in the morning to start your day, three before exercise to get energized, and three in the afternoon when the snack cravings usually strike.
So, why should we pay attention to our breath? Well, Rockwood made an interesting point. Breathing is the very first thing we do when we’re born, and it’s the last thing we do when we peacefully pass away. In between, most of us bounce around, reacting to life’s challenges on autopilot.
The challenge he poses is to take control of our minds and bodies by mastering these simple yet powerful breathing exercises. By doing so, we can step off autopilot and truly enhance the quality of our lives.
In a world filled with complexity, sometimes it’s the simplest things, like the way we breathe, that can have the most profound impact on our well-being. So, let’s raise a metaphorical glass of water, whiskey, or coffee to the power of mindful breathing. Cheers to a more balanced and fulfilling life!