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?
So whisky breathing is very very useful. But we want to use it with care at the appropriate time.
We’ll practice one more this evening. It’s coffee breathing. This is the one people get most excited about but we 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 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 sharpshooting 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. 3, 2, 1, we exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… exhale… 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
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. 3, 2, 1, we 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.
Try to keep your face still this time, shoulders still, all the works 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… and ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Eyes closed, body relaxed.
Let me explain this practice to you .This fast rapid breath… it 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 mix 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 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, you have to commute. Whatever it is, you sit down, you take 10 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 whisky breathing, primarily let’s just think about this as a put me to sleep without alcohol or pills, right? This is how 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 got to be really careful with this one. Use it sparingly.
Here’s your prescription: three rounds of 20 in the morning; three rounds of 20 right before exercise, right? Sympathetic nervous system response, get cranked up to start moving. And three rounds of 20 at three o’clock in the afternoon, when normally you’ll reach for a sugary snack.
When we look at health and wellness, there’s so many different things we can optimize for, right? There’s diet and there’s movements 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, right?
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.
Download This Transcript as PDF here: Change Your Breath, Change Your Life_ Lucas Rockwood (Transcript)
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