To Breathe or to Breathe Fully, LFSB

Intense Seated Forward Bend
This pose is great for taking breath into the backside of the body. Even so, there must still be breath going into the front side of our body as well.

Breathing exercises, that utilize long, full, slow breaths (LFSB), provide benefits that enhance the gains obtained from conventional, western exercise. LFSB, as is encouraged through the practice of yoga, tai chi or meditation, allows for maximum oxygenation of the blood and the ensuing, corresponding development and exhalation of carbon dioxide. During exercise, the actions of skeletal muscles, and associated physiological processes, require that fresh oxygen (O2) constantly replace carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs. O2 supplies fuel for the bodily processes that supply energy.

Some of the benefits of LFSB include:

  • Slows the heart rate – the heart rate slows when the parasympatheric nervous system is operating.
  • Full diaphragmatic breathing increases the ratio of O2:CO2. Normal inhalations result in a 1:1 ratio. Full diaphragmatic inhalations create a 5:1 ratio. Thus, more O2 can be absorbed into the blood.
  • Normalizes blood CO2 levels – full exhalations facilitate CO2 build up in the blood. This triggers and facilitates maximal uptake of O2 from the following inhalation.
  • Reduces blood pressure – Dilation of venous-blood vessels decreases venous-blood pressure. This allows a slower heart rate and more efficient blood flow/O2 transfer.
  • Reduces stress – Breathing deep, full inhalations and exhalations, synchronizes CO2/O2 blood levels and produces a natural autonomic relaxing effect.
  • Increases the health of lung tissue – The lungs are completely expanded and contracted during deep breathing. This maintains the elasticity of the lungs, especially as we age.
A very relaxing pose. Good for relieving tension in the ankles and for taking breath into the front of the body.
This pose requires hip flexor length and good opening in the knees. It is a great pose for allowing breath into the front of the body.

Conventional exercise (Running, Tennis, Basketball, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Aerobics) focuses on developing (1) the external muscles and (2) the body’s ability to make O2 consistently available in the presence of an O2 debt. In a totally complementary manner, LFSB exercises help develop the ability to fully expand the lungs, which is beneficial for maximal absorption of O2 into the lungs and into the body and contract the lungs, which exhausts CO2 from the lungs and increases blood CO2 concentration. LFSB exercises also provide a natural massage for the internal organs which has a beneficial and rejuvenating effect on the physical, physiological and psychological processes. This can greatly benefit the vigorous exerciser.

LFSB training is a methodology. It can shift the autonomic nervous system away from fight or flight (sympathetic) mode into a more relaxed state (parasympathetic). LFSB inhalations and exhalations have ‘been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders‘ (Jerath et al., 2006). Jerath and colleagues add that investigations, regarding stress and psychological improvements, support evidence that deep, full breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile.

intense twisting posture from a standing position. Ground through the rear foot and initiate the rotation from the rear ankle, rotating the rear leg outer hip down toward the ground and spiraling the torso.

LFSB exercises can enhance the benefits gained from vigorous exercise. The physical aspect of western exercise is good for muscle strengthening and development of aerobic capacity. LFSB practice benefits the body on the physical, physiological and psychological levels. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of LFSB. Breathing to finish that mile run is good; breathing fully to assist the body in processing O2 more efficiently will provide long lasting effects throughout one,s life.

Some techniques that can be employed to develop one’s LFSB capacity is to breath full inhalations and full exhalations at a rate of 4 breaths per minute. As one’s ability improves, the rate can go to 3 breaths per minute, then 2 breaths per minute, and then one breath per minute. This practice should not exceed a period of 15 minutes and should be done no more than twice per day.

Please consult your physician before attempting any of these practices.

Happy Breathing


Yoga and Health, Yesudian and Haich, Harper and Row; pg 67

Martial Arts Kata and Core Stability

I was practicing my tai chi long form on 4 April 2012. Lately, I have been focusing keeping the head suspended while lengthening the spine and sinking into the ground. I have been emphasizing these points by practicing the form with a book on my head. Practicing the form in this fashion encourages activation of the stabilizer muscles, engagement of and stability through the core and the proper mechanics of establishing a solid base and extending through the extremities. This is typically done slowly and with focus.

Extending form the hips
This techniques is used to uproot/destabilize the opponent

During my practice session, some Tae Kwon Do (TKD) stylists came in to share the space for their practice. I was happy to share with them as it was an opportunity to practice being aware of my surroundings while focusing on the task at hand. Upon finishing, I explained to them the effects of what I was doing on overall technique and application. I even suggested that they could do the same thing with some of their basic martial arts kata. This idea did not go over well; the elder TKD practitioner said that the book would fall off and one of the younger practitioners stated that they would not be able to do it. Sadly, these statements made me realize that the principles of core stability, in some cases, are not being widely taught within the context of martial arts (in general) and martial arts kata (specifically).

I felt obliged to write this blog about martial arts kata and core stability. Martial Arts Kata is the preset series of movements that are designed to teach the practitioner direction of attack, sequencing of technique and application of technique. As one’s level of practice advances, the techniques in the kata can be broken down and contemplated upon for purposes of application in various scenarios. Kata is part of more traditional styles of martial arts but their applicability to fighting, if practiced diligently, cannot be overstated.

Core Stability‘ is defined as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities. *

Blog/Review – Tell me more about the core

Core training typically involves engaging the core musculature from an anchored position. In higher levels of motion and force production, it is necessary for the core to stabilize in a manner that allows for adequate delivery of force from a stable base, through the hips, to the end of the terminal limb (legs/feet or arms/hands). This means that training methods should be focused on strengthening the core/abdominals as a prelude to developing core stability and strength. The progression from core/abdominal strength to core stability will ensure that the work to be done will proceed from a strong and stable foundation.

Giving an overview of my presentation

Core muscle activity is best understood as the pre-programmed integration of local, single-joint muscles and multi-joint muscles to provide stability and produce motion. This results in proximal stability for distal mobility, a proximal to distal patterning of generation of force, and the creation of interactive moments that move and protect distal joints. *

Video – Introduction to Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization

As training ensues, it is good to have strength in the major muscle groups. However, the major muscles groups are not solely responsible for the stabilization that is necessary for optimal force production. Training methods that elicit core stabilization will set the stage for the synaptic patterning necessary for coordinated neuromuscular activity. When the core is stable and strong, a strong base can be established prior to executing the desired movement. The core is responsible for the generation of powerful, fluid movement, instead of brute force from the extremities being the sole method of force generation.

Evaluation of the core should be dynamic, and include evaluation of the specific functions (trunk control over the planted leg) and directions of motions (three-planar activity). *

Balance and Focus
Core stability is part and parcel for good athletic performance

This will involve some balance work. For example, from a contralateral stance, standing on the left leg, and having a handle attached to a cable tower in the right hand, is it possible for an individual to generate enough force to extend the arm forward, with good form, while overcoming 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs of resistance? It is possible. These types of drills should be part of training for those who pursue athletic activities or a more active lifestyle. These types of drills elicit activation of the deep stabilizer muscles as well as the core musculature. The stabilizers and the core should not be overlooked.

Video – One Legged Stance – Contralateral Shoulder Flexion/Elbow Extension

I have put together some video that displays a method of developing core stability within the context of performing a martial arts kata. In the first instance (Video I), there is no stimuli for stabilizing the core other than my movements. In the second instance (Video II), I am more stable through the core while executing the same movements at a slower pace, due to having placed a book on my head.

Video I – Yellow Belt Kata – Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization I

Video II – Yellow Belt Kata II – A book on my head and Core Stabilization

Video – Conclusion of Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization

Balance and Focus
Stabilizing the core

* This is taken from the summary of:
The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function, Kibler, W Ben1; Press, Joel2; Sciascia, Aaron1, 2006

Harold is a Certified Personal Trainer, a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, a 1st Degree Black Belt with the ATA, a 1st Degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo and a Tai Chi Therapist.

Steady as You Flow – Part 2 of 2

The fine motor control developed by the practice of Tai Chi becomes part of our daily lives. As one continues the practice of tai chi, they become aware of consciously doing things in a stress-free manner. Tai Chi practice emphasizes spinal alignment and postural integrity. These particulars assist the body in efficiently conducting nerve impulses throughout the body. The movement combinations that comprise the practice of Tai Chi facilitate the lubrication of and the flow of nutrients to the joints. Tai Chi flowing movements comprise a high amount of combinations of joint rotations and body shifting, as well as limb extension and flexion. The elbows, shoulders, knees, hips, ankles spine and wrists are all simultaneously and continuously affected during the practice of the routine. In addition to increasing one’s range of motion and flexibility, Tai Chi practice can positively affect the health and functioning of the internal organs.

Those who have suffered some sort of trauma to their brain, or may have balance that is ‘sub-par’ or are functioning at less than an adequate level, can benefit from practicing tai chi. Tai Chi can positively influence the cerebro-neuromuscular patterning associated with balance and coordination.

That tai chi can be of benefit physically and mentally has been and continues to be documented. The literature is available for those who wish to find it. The deep breathing that is part of practicing Tai Chi brings fresh air (oxygen) into the body and expels carbon dioxide out of the body as diaphragmatic breathing is enhanced, posture is improved, balance is improved, the internal organs are aligned and massaged. Also, synaptic connections, associated with balance, coordination and movement, are improved. This is an exercise modality that can enhance many aspects of one’s daily life; in particular, individuals with certain neuromuscular challenges that are a result of brain dysfunction. These are just a few of the reasons to give Tai Chi a more comprehensive look.

Tai Chi has been likened to moving meditation; a system of exercise that combines relaxation, focus and intent through the use of flowing and rhythmic movement. Meditation, per se, is the bringing of the mind to a state of total awareness within the space between the thoughts. The mind is a thought factory. Many people allow their thoughts to wander without giving them much attention. This does not have to be. If thoughts can be viewed as being stepping-stones in a pond, then what we want to achieve, meditatively, is the ability to exist between and above the stones; to suspend the thoughts. In doing so, we are able to cross from one side of the pond to the other with no overt effort. We are able to rise above the mental chatter and clutter that is always with us. In suspending the thoughts we, in effect, uncloud the dross which pervades our conscious awareness and are able to perceive things in a more direct and clear manner.

Steady as You Flow — Part 1 of 2

Tai Chi is viewed by most western exercisers as a non-effective discipline; As something that cannot assist with the maintenance of their physical or their mental well-being. We can attach the principles of Tai Chi to our exercise routines and intertwine a more relaxed focus and an inner physical-mental connectedness to our physical endeavors. As a result, we can improve our overall well-being. For our purposes here, we want to focus on the neuro-physical benefits of practicing Tai Chi as it applies to those seeking rehabilitation and neural repatterning options.

The faculties that bring about clarity of the mind are very important to our day-to-day functioning. As we age, these faculties begin to wane; therefore, it is incumbent upon us, as care takers of our bodies, to work to maintain said faculties to the best degree possible.

Over the last two decades, neuroscientists have begun to reveal how physical activity – whether it be endurance, strength or skill training – can change the neurochemistry, structure and function of the brain. We are starting to understand how these changes in brain biology affect our cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional behaviors.

Neurons are arguably the most high-maintenance cells in the body. They require a constant supply of glucose and oxygen or they begin to die. The brain represents 3% of total body weight but uses 20% of total blood supply and 25% of total oxygen supply. Thus, it would seem that Tai Chi is a most adequate exercise modality for supplying oxygen to the brain and to the peripheral neural system.

There is one family of neurochemicals known as growth factors. So named because they can make neurons “grow”, these neurochemicals have been clearly shown to increase in the brain in both number and size during exercise. If exercise and oxygen are good food for neural stimulation and growth, then Tai Chi, with its emphasis on gentle rhythmic movement and full breathing, would be an excellent addition to one’s exercise regimen.

Tai Chi is a gentle aerobic exercise modality as well as a discipline that demands and develops mental focus and mind-body coordination. I am defining aerobic exercise as any activity that involves continual deep breathing. The neuromuscular benefits of Tai Chi practice include the development of fine motor control. Tai Chi enhances the production of the synovial fluid and has a positive effect on balance and range of motion.

Tai Chi can be part of a part of a rehabilitation program for those with neural challenges. Studies have shown that exercise can enhance cognitive functioning. Because our neural cells require a majority of the oxygen that we breath in, Tai Chi practice can greatly facilitate oxygen uptake for neural rehabilitative purposes. Also, the gentle nature of Tai Chi practice and the amount of coordination that can be developed by the practitioner is something that should be considered when an individual is needing an exercise modality that will assist with their rehabilitation.

Not Breathing Is Not an Option.

There is a trend among some health professionals to treat correct breathing as something that is undesirable. Many exercisers are being told that holding in the stomach, in order to achieve a flatter tummy, is the way to go; as opposed to full abdominal breathing. There are times when it is advantageous to hold in the stomach.

Two times, in particular, are:

  1. in preparation for and during execution of major power lifts, and
  2. when utilizing ujjayii breathing during certain yoga practices,

However, to continually hold in the abdominals during the day is not beneficial to good health.

The aesthetic appeal of ‘a flat tummy’ actually undermines the function and functional design of the mechanisms of full, complete breathing. When we contract the muscles that ‘hold in the stomach’, we constrain the contraction of the diaphragm. This is the major muscle involved with bringing oxygen into the body.

We can bring normalcy back to our breathing patterns by engaging the mechanisms of breathing in a full and rhythmic manner. The practice of yoga is designed to develop an awareness of, as well as the ability to engage in, full and complete breathing. This is a modality that can easily be incorporated into one’s fitness routine.

We can force our bodies to look aesthetically appealing by holding our bellies in for the ‘flat tummy’ look. However, this practice can compromise our overall health by dismantling the mechanisms that govern complete breathing. There are practices that can help with re-establishing full and rhythmic breathing. Many benefits can ensue as a result of being aware of and developing the fullness of one’s breath.

Mind and Body

Moving like a gentle wind, crashing like a rogue wave.

What is Mind-Body? From a fitness standpoint, Mind-Body is a combination term used to denote activities which bring about the harmonization and synchronization (HnS) of the mind and the body. Such activities are ‘usually done slowly’.

All physical activities involve cooperation between mind and body. However, conscious awareness of how the mind and the body cooperate with each other is the defining quality of mind-body activities. Every aspect of the activity is consciously carried out with awareness and complete inner reflection.

Take some time to vary your workouts. Incorporate some mind-body into your series of regimens. Mind-body will not hinder your workouts as much as it can enhance them. To consciously connect with the actions that engender our everyday movements can be, for some, the most tedious of tasks. However, when this degree of awareness becomes part of our repertoire, it can positively reverberate throughout the rest of our lives.

These positive reverberations come about because of the HnS of mind and body. The HnS of mind and body goes beyond mere physical activity. Mind-body disciplines allow our movements and our breath to be a reflection of each other. We develop the awareness to the degree that continual adjustment and refinement takes place during the activity. Through the practice of mind-body, we teach ourselves how to ‘BE’ in our bodies.