Here is the full text of yoga teacher Lucas Rockwood’s talk titled “Change Your Breath, Change Your Life” at TEDxBarcelona conference. In his talk, Lucas breaks down the fundamentals of yoga breathing in a way that you can easily remember and apply to your practice.
Lucas Rockwood – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
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 this same exercise practiced in 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 José mentioned, I’m a yoga teacher. And 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 scrip your digestion, you can have anxiety attacks as well.
Now 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, or 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? You 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, now 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 Whisky 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 whisky 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.
So 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.
So 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 4-4 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.
Inhale through your nose… one, two, three, four. Exhale through your nose… four, three, two, one.
You keep breathing. I’ll explain what’s going on here.
This balanced 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 whisky breathing. Now whisky breathing, as we mentioned, we use it with care primarily to fall asleep. But let’s do it as an exercise tonight.
Same position. Relax in your chair. I can see you’re enjoying this. Hands are on your lap. Relax your shoulders, relax your face. Exactly the same as last time. We’re breathing in and out through our nose.
The only difference is this time we’ll inhale to the count of four and on the way out we’ll double it. We will go to the count of eight. I’ll do the counting. You do the breathing. Relax body. Here we go.
Inhale through your nose… one, two, three, four. Exhale… eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
Again inhale… one, two, three, four. Exhale… eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
Inhale… one, two, three, four. Exhale… eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
You keep breathing. I’ll explain what’s going on.
After ten rounds of this whisky breathing, your heart rate slows. You can measure it, it’s really easy. Your heart rate drops, your blood pressure drops, and we stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s your rest and digest, you fall in love, your peace and relaxation side of your nervous system and that gets stimulated. That’s a big long explanation, basically get really tired, you can fall asleep, right?