“So my people who are fit have sometimes the hardest time. They have to be able to be tight, but also be able to be relaxed. And a lot of folks don’t know how to do that.”
–Doctor Belisa Vranich
Who is Dr. Belisa Vranich?
Dr. Belisa made the move from clinical psychology to focusing exclusively on teaching people to breathe correctly. She has been on various talk shows and most recently, she is the author of the book “Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health.” How we breathe can have a large impact on both our physical health and our emotional and psychological well-being. So naturally, as Commander Divine has talked about before, it is essential that we learn proper breathing technique, even though many of us will think of breathing as just being an automatic action that our body does unconsciously. See if you recognize yourself in the breathing issues that Dr. Belisa describes.
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Discussing Breathing Techniques With Dr. Belisa Vranich
Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super-stoked that you’re here today. Got a really cool guest. Thank you for showing up, Dr. Belisa. Really appreciate it. We are in person here at Unbeatable Mind headquarters in Encinitas, California, where it is sunny and warm.
Before we get started, please go rate the podcast at iTunes. And many of you have done that already. Thank you so much. Give us 5 stars. In fact, just pretend that it starts on the right, so if you click all that way to the right you don’t have to worry about thinking too much. Just give 5 stars and then we’ll pop up and things’ll be rosy, and everything’ll be good.
All right, so, Dr. Belisa Vranich. Is that how you say it?
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. You’re in the ballpark. It’s good.
Mark: Close enough?
Dr. Belisa: I would respond to that, yeah.
Mark: All right, so I’m gonna read the formal intro, this is pretty cool. So Dr. Belisa Vranich, you’re a well-known… or renowned, actually… Isn’t that cool when people say that about you?
Dr. Belisa: (laughing) Yeah, I know.
Mark: You’re renowned. Really? Who said? A clinical psychologist, you’re an author of a new book that’s coming out. I just read the proof copy. I really, really liked it. Called “Breathe: the Simple, revolutionary 14 day program to improve your physical and mental health.” You’re a public speaker and founder of the breathing class. Which I think we’re going to do a little breathing training today.
Dr. Belisa: We’re going to do a little breathing, yeah.
Mark: So you’ve taught nationwide, actually probably around the world, I would imagine on topics related to dysfunctional breathing patterns and stress. This is a topic that’s near and dear to our heart. We talk all the time about dysfunctional movement patterns and extend that to dysfunctional breathing patterns. And breathing is a big part of what we do here at SEALFIT, Unbeatable Mind. So I’m excited to have you here as an expert. Because we’re basically a bunch of experimental hacks. Right? That’s what warriors do, we experiment and we find out what works and what doesn’t. So it’s nice to have someone here who can validate the path that we’ve been on. So welcome.
Dr. Belisa: Thank you. And you know that even before meeting you today, you’re in the book.
Mark: Am I?
Dr. Belisa: Yes, you are. Because the box breathing, of course, is fantastic. And I recommend it. And I mention your name, so even before having gotten to this beautiful place, you were already in there. So yeah.
Mark: And I think we have a mutual friend in Dan Brule. Do you know Dan?
Dr. Belisa: His name sounds familiar.
Mark: Okay, I guess not. You gotta meet Dan.
Dr. Belisa: I have to meet Dan now, yeah.
Mark: He’s been teaching breath-work now for over 40 years.
Dr. Belisa: Oh wow.
Mark: So he’s like the grand master.
Dr. Belisa: There’s some fantastic people out there. I may be renowned, and this may be revolutionary, but I’m definitely not the only one.
Mark: Well, this is evolutionary, not revolutionary, right? The breath has been around… it’s pre-medicine.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah, it’s been around. There’s some great stuff, and… This take is a little bit different though in that I look at baselines. I come from a numbers background, I come from a science background, so I like knowing what baseline is.
Mark: Yeah, you’ve got those two letters in front of your name, D and R, Doctor. So that means you’re what I call a 3rd quadrant, objective person. So you’ve gotta be able to test and validate, or else it doesn’t make sense.
Dr. Belisa: You have to test. But I also come from a gym, I’m a gym rat, so I like 1 plate and then work towards 2 plates and so on and so forth. So I come from liking knowing where I am, and seeing where I can get to. So the combination of those 2 things.
Mark: Got it. Well, let’s back up a little bit. You are a clinical psychologist. How did that come about? How did you get interested in psychology? And what was your formative years like?
Dr. Belisa: So I went to school in North Carolina. I’m a tar heel. Even though I was born in Wisconsin, if we’re going to go that far back. That far back. But psych gave me the flexibility to be able to work in a whole bunch of different places. Because I’ll admit that I do have a bit of vocational ADD. So although I’ve stayed within the field of psychology–and breath work is psychology as well–I like being able to change and move around and sort of change my focus. So I’ve worked with every single type of person on the planet. Violent ex-cons, mothers of multiple children, people with COPD, people with medical problems, people with anxiety disorders. Just the gamut of types of people.
And having the psych degree actually helped me be able to change and move around and work with all types of folks in different situations. So that’s why I chose it, or it chose me. But the movement to just doing breathing was kind of interesting because I never envisioned that I would go from being a clinical psychologist… well, I guess I still am a clinical psychologist, but now I only teach breathing. And psych comes into it, for sure. But I only teach breathing. I actually don’t see people in the clinical practice at all anymore.
Mark: One of the things that I’ve noticed and I’ve been kinda… part of our lexicon is that every breath pattern has an associated emotional pattern. And so if you’re really agitated or anxious, your breathing’s going to be patterned or reflected a certain way. And then you can change your emotions and you can change your physiology and therefore you psychology by changing your breathing. So I can see how you linked from psychology to breathing. So tell us about that journey. Like, what was it about the breath that you first noticed how it could be used therapeutically? Let’s start there.
Dr. Belisa: One thing is that, as a psychologist I was dealing with a lot of people coming in…. the most common mental health problem there is are anxiety disorders. And then comes depression–depressive disorders. So when you… somebody comes into therapy with you, even though I’m considered “psychodynamic,” which means that I will bring all types of different modalities into the session to get good results, you end up doing a lot of talking. And understanding is over-rated if you just stop there.
Breathing and Psychotherapy[06:23]
And most people will come in to talk about how they’re feeling, or their disorder… whatever’s going on with them. And once they get to understanding, they stop. Because they don’t know how to go from, “Oh, now I know I’m dysthymic. I have some PTSD. I have sensitivity to this, that and the other thing.”
And they don’t actually change it, because they don’t know to. They just sort of stop at that point. So the breath… breathing was something I actually brought into therapy so then it would help people change. So they didn’t have to just say, “Well I have an anxiety disorder. I’m going to take medication.” Now you may be able to lower your medication and do breathing. Or get off your medication and be fine with just breathing. And a whole bunch of other things.
But my take was always that, you came to see me and you had to make an agreement that you were going to work. So it wasn’t just to come to see me and vent. That was just not my style. It was you come to see me and you have homework. You have to do volunteer work. You have to journal. You have to do some kind of martial art or yoga. You have to do something creative. So there was just a lot of requirements.
Mark: Very integrative approach, so I love that.
Dr. Belisa: Let’s get this over with so you can stop seeing me and go back to life. So breathing made sense. I started bringing in breathing when people were depressed or anxious, and they started feeling better a lot faster than just talking about their anxiety or depression. Go figure.
Mark: Yeah, right. And so where did you learn various techniques? Was it through trial and error? Were you learning through yoga or the martial arts in your own practice?
Dr. Belisa: No. I was really anal and very kind of type A about it. So once I started getting interested, I then went to every class I could find. I read everything I could, whether it was in sports, in meditation… again, like, martial arts was my go to. But I read and took every class I could, so it didn’t matter where the class was. If I was… Gong Bath’s out in Joshua Tree, I was there. If it was biofeedback machines at a pulmonary clinic, I was there. So I just did everything I could. I definitely got a little obsessed with it, and I just wanted to know everything there was, so that I could create something that made sense and was practical and came from the best of everything.
Mark: Mm-hmm. So what have you found to be most effective, when it comes to applying breath-work to healing let’s say a typical anxiety disorder.
Dr. Belisa: you know that’s hard to answer in one answer. But people need to discharge anxiety before they calm down. And I think they forget, and it’s kind of timely now that we talk about when you’re anxious or depressed, what do you do to discharge emotion. Just cause of what’s going on politically.
So you can’t just calm down. And you can’t just think calming thoughts. Your body needs to have an outlet. So for me…
Mark: Right. It has to be somatic process. You have to move the energy out. I get that, yeah, totally.
Dr. Belisa: Thank you. Yeah. So I think we go straight to intellectual and we miss the part of, like, “I have to let go of this energy and maybe some adrenaline and maybe some cortisol before I can then process it intellectually and calm down.” So it’s 2 part, if you have anxiety, it’s discharge the energy. And then calm down along with the intellectual. So, yeah, that’s sort of the short answer of a long…
Mark: Makes sense. So you want… you get people moving. And then breathing. And then calm enough to process.
Dr. Belisa: Yes. You can’t go straight to calm. Automatically people say, “Well, oh, I start saying my mantra to myself.” You’re body’s still upset, so…
Mark: You know what’s beautiful about that? And I said, there’s nothing revolutionary about breathing? You know, I’ve been a practitioner/student of yoga now for close to 20 years. And authentic yoga, like, all that way back, thousands and thousands of years ago. The process was always move your body, moving with the breath. And then sit with the breath, which is still movement, right? There’s a lot going on with the breath. And then, sit with some sound, which is still movement. And then we can sit in silence. And when you sit in silence, that’s when you essentially did the depth psychology work, but it was usually self-directed or with a guru, which’d be like our modern day therapist. So that process, you can’t shortcut it. You can integrate a little bit of it, but ultimately, you gotta go from the gross to the subtle. From the physical to the emotional to the mental to the…
Dr. Belisa: And have all those parts. Yeah, absolutely.
Mark: That’s terrific.
Dr. Belisa: But the interest for me in part did come from yoga as well, in that the first place I went to was my yoga class, and they were doing, you know, Kabala Bati, and alternate nostril breathing. I thought, “This is really cool. I’d like more of this.”
So, right now when I do a recommended reading, on top of the list is Pranayama, because you have to go back as far as who was talking about breathing and who was using the breath. And it was in martial arts, and it was in yoga. And then you can go to sports.
Mark: That’s the first place it shows up. So tell me one or two success stories.
Dr. Belisa: Oh gosh. There’s so many interesting ones, for sure. In ways that I would never think are possible. So one of them was, someone who came to see me, and it was an adolescent. And the mom called me and said, “Do you teach diaphragmatic breathing? Because I’ve been looking for a class, however, I keep finding classes that are a little too esoteric. More about experience with breath-work. But I need… my daughter needs to learn how to use her diaphragm. She’s experiencing a lot of GI problems, and she’s been told to use her diaphragm. And I don’t know how to find someone who knows how to do that.”
So I said, “Absolutely. Bring her in.” So she came in, and apart from having some anxiety, she was breathing in a way… she actually was not taking a lot of air. And she was not exhaling a lot of air.
And a lot of people are… they have dysfunctional breathing patterns in that they over-breath, but the newest kind of generation of dysfunctional breath that I’m seeing, is no-halers, or people that just sip and hover. So it’s not that they’re taking too many breaths, and gasping for air, which we used to see a lot before.
Mark: It’s taking very small inhales and exhales.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. So people that just hover. They take tiny breaths in an out, so there’s just no air coming in and out of their body.
Mark: No movement. Right.
Dr. Belisa: Or none. No-halers. And this is sort of epidemic right now, and it’s because of computers. We’re just breath holding throughout the day. Breath holding, breath holding, breath holding. So when you’re not breath holding, you’re trying to catch up. Now with this particular girl…
Mark: Now does that happen when someone gets really focused on a task? Like coding or playing a video game?
Dr. Belisa: Not even coding. It can just be you’re checking Facebook. And it’s because of the screen being narrow. So think of driving, think about how much you drive, or you’re in front of the computer or your handheld. Your vision is completely narrow compared to where it could go.
Mark: So what you’re suggesting is people just stop inhaling and exhaling. Is it typically… do they hold their breath on an inhale or an exhale? Or is it always kind of in the center?
Dr. Belisa: Always on an inhale.
Mark: Always on an inhale?
Dr. Belisa: Think about it. Holding your breath on an exhale is hard to do. People will not hold their breath on the exhale. They’ll hold it on the inhale. It feels more comfortable. So that’s why when I work with coaches, I say, “Don’t say inhale. Don’t say breath. Say exhale, because at least you’ll get two breaths out of that.”
Mark: Right. Yeah, I like that.
Dr. Belisa: So this little girl came in, and she was not breathing. She was nervous and very slight body. Because the way your body is set up sort of dictates how you’re going to breathe to a certain point. So she was very narrow, very thin and very anxious. So no breath coming out. And when she did breathe, she would breathe with her shoulders. So she would take tiny little breaths, pulling her thoracic cavity up with her shoulders.
Mark: So you call that “vertical breathing” in your book. Everything goes up when you’re breathing, instead of out and expansive.
Dr. Belisa: Exactly. And using shoulders.
Mark: Tends to be a shallow, upper chest breath.
Dr. Belisa: Another thing that happens is you don’t use all of your lungs, so you’re only using the little part up here. Your neck and shoulders get overused…
Mark: And tense. You feel all this anxiety and tension up there.
Dr. Belisa: And your nervous system hears anxiety. It hears to put you in fight and flight, so you know, bottom of the body, expanding and contracting in the middle, is going to calm you down. It’s just going to be a bigger breath anyway, because you have denser, more oxygen exchange happening down here. So she was breathing these tiny little breaths, but since she’s using her shoulders and not expanding, her diaphragm was completely still. Completely still. So a lot of the acid reflux and everything that was going on, was because she wasn’t using her diaphragm.
Mark: And the diaphragm can be a pump to help detoxify. Digestion process is affected, right?
Dr. Belisa: This is peristalsis. And if you’re using your diaphragm well, you gotta imagine, this is a muscle that’s in the very middle of your body. It’s enormous. And most of us aren’t using it well, at all. She wasn’t using it at all. And a lot of people, especially if you have acid reflux, and your body type is one that’s very narrow and you’re super-thin, you are not going to be expanding and contracting your diaphragm. Which leads to back-pain and GI problems. So got her breathing through the middle of her body. As well as breathing through the middle of her body calmed her down. So two birds with one stone, and that was really nice to see her get calmer. Get really confident because she knew that she was supposed to…
Mark: And how long did this take, this process?
Dr. Belisa: With her it took a little bit longer than usual, which was about a month.
Mark: Still, that’s a very short period of time. Not for a young girl, it’s not. That’s a lifetime.
Dr. Belisa: She had homework. Yeah, and when you’re 13 a month is just, you know…
Mark: And so she had to practice, or do her work every day. If there was one or two key drills that you had her do, what were they?
Dr. Belisa: So what she had to do, is practice a “horizontal breath” is what I call it. And it’s just… it’s a lower-body breath. So what I’d do is that I try to get the cue to breathing to stop being shoulders and to start being hips. So when you tip forwards, automatically your body would like to expand, and I’m telling her to let it. Because usually we just suck it in all the time, but if you tip forwards, sort of like Valsalva and you come away from the back of your seat, you tip forwards, you inhale, and then when you tip back, and you can actually press the back of your exhale like that. Absolutely.
So that was to get her to do this. And again, it’s not new. I kept telling her, and I say this all the time, is that I’m not teaching you something new. I’m teaching you something you used to do and your body wants to do it. Which is why, sometimes, you’ll start breathing this way, and you’ll have this sense of relief that’s confusing to a lot of people. Because they’ve been sucking it in and bracing for 10, 20, 30 years, and all of a sudden, I’m saying, “Yeah, let it go. Exhale. Squeeze.” You have all this air coming in and out of your body, and you automatically feel better.
So that was the main drill for her, was to inhale–expand, exhale–belly button toward your spine. And then of course do it to a box-breath and she was golden.
Mark: You say in the book that we breathe naturally when we’re young children, and then we forget how to breathe. I’m going to challenge that, because the one issue I have with that is when we’re 3 or 4 or 5, the musculature of breathing is not developed. And so it might be more interesting to think that as the muscles develop, we need to learn how to use them. As we develop as humans. And so, if you’re not an athlete, or you’re not exposed to people or situations that teach you how to breathe, then you never develop the muscles. So that’s part 1.
And part 2, and you know this as well as I do, is that, oftentimes early childhood trauma will cause us to shut down certain emotional things. And so then we can get stuck in certain breathing patterns. Because again it’s back to the point that emotions and breath are connected.
So I think it’s true that young kids breathe naturally, but they don’t really have any muscles to breathe. This is why everything’s really relaxed, their belly goes in and out, cause it’s really relaxed. The diaphragm is undeveloped, the chest muscles, the intercostals, the shoulders, all undeveloped. So it’s just like filling up a balloon, it’s very natural. It’s not that they forget that, it’s that all those muscles and then they don’t learn how to use them in a developed capacity.
Dr. Belisa: And they look at their parents. Which is probably not a good example. So you’re right in that I never say babies. I never say babies. Because babies just don’t have those muscles to be able to hold themselves up. And your diaphragm is a posture muscle as well, for balance. So I say between the ages of 5 and 10. Completely agree. Because people say, like, “Oh, like babies.” And I go, “No, don’t use babies as an example.” Can’t equate them.
Mark: So many people do. They say, “Look how a baby breathes, look where the belly rises.” Well that’s… it’s like comparing apples and oranges.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. But if you look at 5 to 10 year old, you’ll see a child that actually gets taught or doesn’t get discouraged to breathe well. And then you’ve got ones where they start sucking in their guts, because somebody pokes you and says, “Fatty,” at school. And you squeeze your belly. Or you’re nervous and you squeeze your belly. You look at your parents and they’re squeezing. Then you start wearing waistbands, bra-straps, and all these things that start happening. I mean, I love the developmental, I mean my psych background comes in here, why did this change? And you can pretty much take a person and figure out why it changed. And injuries are huge now, especially with kids doing sports the way they do. If 21:06 you’re 8 and you fall off your skateboard, or whatever you fall off of, and you hurt a rib? You stop breathing here.
Mark: Interesting. Cause it hurts.
Dr. Belisa: Cause it hurts! It’s the same reason a lot of women I see that have had C-sections, do not breath horizontally and they’ll get stuck breathing up here with shallow breaths because this hurts. So there’s a whole bunch of different reasons, and they’re fascinating when you start looking at it all together. It’s almost like with all those things going on…
Mark: How could you possibly expect to breathe well, right? It makes sense.
Dr. Belisa: Exactly.
Breathing and athletics[21:06]
Mark: And athletics, typically, is a fantastic way to learn how to use your full lung capacity. Especially the martial arts and some of those things. But they’re not as common these days, right? The PE has been taken out of the school. So places where younger adults would get exposed to either coaching or modeling or just needing to learn how to develop the musculature are gone.
Dr. Belisa: The two best sports are wrestling and swimming.
Mark: Yeah. And I was a competitive swimmer. And you have to do breath control training to swim.
Dr. Belisa: And then there’s the worst. There’s golf and Pilates, unfortunately. Pilates which is a shame because Joseph Pilates was big into breathing. But Pilates does not help with breathing right now, not the way we’re doing it.
And golfers are terrible breathers. Absolutely terrible.
Mark: I wonder if you studied world class golfers if they’d have… do they breathe well?
Dr. Belisa: No. They’re terrible. And I’ll tell you the reason is that the culture of golf is one that is not of a lot of emotion. At least not showing a lot of emotion. And if you actually grunt or breathe heavy when you’re playing golf, you’ll actually get looked at to be quiet. It’s a quiet sport. I mean, every once in a while, someone will throw…
Mark: (laughing) Doing a big kiai when I swing my golf club would probably be frowned upon? Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Belisa: (laughing) Definitely. You might get further, right? Cause you know the movement with the breath, you’re definitely going to get further.
Mark: That’s fascinating. So breathing has many physical benefits, but there’s also the psychological, the emotional and even the spiritual. We say that the breath is the link between the body and the mind and then the deeper recesses of your being. Let’s talk about some scientific validation, or medical community validation on the physical benefits of learning to breathe diaphragmatically, what you call Horizontal breathing. And getting full oxygen load in.
So one of the things that’s really interesting to me is toxicity. Cause I’ve had some confusion and some back and forth with experts on this about Carbon dioxide buildup and whether that’s even effected by the breathing process, cause it’s really about gas transfer that happens in the blood. And so it’s confusing to me about how that works. So what does the medical community say about the physical benefits of breathing well? That was a few questions.
Dr. Belisa: That was a few questions, yeah. Well you can’t control how much oxygen your blood cells pick up. So that exchange you have no control over. So, for example, your VO2 max? You’re not gonna have control…
Mark: You can’t control it in a moment, but over a long period of time, you can.
Dr. Belisa: What you can control is how much of your lungs you use. Where you breathe from, and your breathing muscles. And in general, when you talk about breathing, people show 2 lungs. When the fact is like, yes, the lungs are the receptacles, but your breathing happens because of muscles around them.
Mark: Yeah, the lungs don’t expand and contract themselves.
Dr. Belisa: No. They just kinda hang out there. But… so it’s the intercostals, which you mentioned. Your diaphragm which again is this enormous muscle. Your obliques. All the muscles around your abs, and even your pelvic floor. So those are the muscles that are responsible for breathing and we never talk about them. So with those there’s a lot of research in sports about how breathing muscle training helps your… I can’t say endurance and cardio, cause cardio’s your heart. But it definitely helps you not gas, it helps you be able to do things longer because your muscles don’t get weak.
Mark: Yeah, your muscles are stronger, but you’re also getting more oxygen into your system, isn’t that true? So that’s going to have an effect. If you’re taking half a breath of air, or half a lung-full, you’re just not getting as much fuel.
Dr. Belisa: And you have to breathe faster. So that’s where the link is.
Mark: You get 17 to 20 breaths per minute. A typical person.
Dr. Belisa: Yes. But when you’re in sports, you’re 50 to 80.
Mark: When you’re in training.
Dr. Belisa: And think about that. If you’re doing this 80 times? So that’s where it gets really interesting….
Mark: So you’re tiring out your breathing muscles.
Dr. Belisa: You’re tiring out your breathing muscles and this takes up more energy than this does. So the…
Mark: “This” being the vertical, and “this” being the horizontal. For those who aren’t watching.
Dr. Belisa: When you take a lower body breath, a horizontal breath, it’s worth 5 on top. So think about it. If you’re… whatever you’re doing…
Mark: In terms of volume of air?
Dr. Belisa: In terms of volume. It’s really fascinating. And calming yourself down, which you wanna do. So, yeah, in terms of how much of your lungs you’re using, that’s terrifically important. Most people are not using a hundred percent. So one of the things I use, it’s called the BIQ. It’s the breathing IQ. And I measure your oxygenation, I measure your ph, I do some spirometry measurements on you so your lung capacity and your lung velocity. And those are terrifically important.
Mark: Spirometry. That sounds really fancy.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah, doesn’t it? I’ve got my little spirometry thing here too. But you can train those so whatever you’re doing with your lungs and with your breathing muscles… whatever your baseline is, you can absolutely go over that. Get great at it by training yourself. You can actually train your breathing.
Dr. Belisa: And we don’t do it. So oxygen… I mean there’s tons of research. One of my favorite quotes is Dr. Arthur Guyton, and he’s sort of the father of modern medicine, and he summarized it all he wrote… it’s one of the medical books that all medical students have to buy. He says that, “If you look at any emotional suffering or physical pain under a microscope, you’re always going to find lack of oxygen.” So whether that’s panic attacks or cancer, under a microscope, there’s always going to be lack of oxygen.
So that doesn’t mean that you should go running and get 100% oxygen and go breathing that in all the time. That’s dangerous. But you need a balance. Your inhale has to be good, your exhale has to be good. You have to be getting a lot of air in, and you have to definitely be pushing out a lot of air.
Which we’re super lazy exhalers. In general, people don’t exhale. They just let go. You need to really exhale to be able to get a good inhale.
Physical benefits of breathing properly[28:59]
Mark: So the physical benefits is more oxygen equals more health or less toxic, or less unhealthy environment. Which is going to lead us away from the long-term degenerative diseases which are going to build up from a lack of oxygen. Or a toxic environment, which are almost saying the same thing. So like, how does oxygen level and acidity play together?
Dr. Belisa: It’s one of the reasons I take the acidity. Oxygen’s going to affect inflammation… everything from inflammation to autoimmune disorders, acidity to your adrenal glands. So if your acidity is out of balance… you’re either too alkaline, because you can be, or you’re too acidic, your adrenal glands are going to be working overtime to try and get you in the middle. So if you’re not breathing well, because….
Mark: Middle is a balanced ph. 7.1 or something like that?
Dr. Belisa: Yes. So normal is supposedly from 6.5 to 7, but optimal is 7.0 to 7.4 approximately. And you’ll see people way on either sides of things. Too alkaline is not good. So you wanna be right in the middle in the early 7s.
Mark: That’s interesting. A lot of people these days, especially with the high ph water, think that it’s okay to be alkaline.
Dr. Belisa: No. You definitely do not want to be. When they lick the acidity strips and its dark green or black? No. Not good. You wanna be right in the middle.
So you’re adrenals are working overtime to try to bring you back into the middle because it’s a toxic environment–your body. And there’s two ways that you can change that. You have metabolic acidity or ph, and you have respiratory. So you have to look at what you’re eating and how you’re breathing. I’ll get people in who just eat amazingly, they just eat super-clean all the time, but they’re really acidic. And then I look at their breathing, and they’re my “no-halers.” They’re my breath holders.
Mark: So they’re not getting the oxygen in which is leading to an acidic environment.
Dr. Belisa: So what happens with that too is that you’ve got adrenal fatigue.
Mark: Sorry, to keep that thought. So if you breathe too much, then it’s going to lead to an alkaline environment?
Dr. Belisa: So what happens is that you’re an “over-breather.” So it’s literally that when you’re too alkaline, you’re taking a breath, and you’re not exhaling.
Mark: So do you find athletes to be more alkaline generally? If they’re over-breathing?
Dr. Belisa: It’s that they’re not exhaling. So they’ll take a breath, but not exhale completely. Then take another one. Then take another one. And you can do this right now, where you take a big inhale…
Mark: Does that lead to hypoxia or I mean… dizziness?
Dr. Belisa: Everything gets unbalanced, and you get tingly and all sorts of things. If it’s to that extreme. But your body’s super-resilient. It will keep you in a half-assed, mediocre state for a very long time before it complains.
Mark: I’m sorry, you were going to do a quick test on me.
Dr. Belisa: Oh, yeah. To see if you’re an over-breather. You’ll check this. You’ll go… take a big inhale… good, then exhale out just a tiny bit… Good. Inhale again… now exhale a tiny bit… Inhale again. So you have this constant feeling of “I’m not getting enough air.” So that person will say “I’m not getting enough air. I have this feeling of air hunger.” And it’s… yeah go ahead and exhale. (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) I got too much air.
Dr. Belisa: Too much air. And it’s because they’re never exhaling. So do that again. Inhale… exhale a little bit. Inhale again… exhale a little bit. But now really exhale, and exhale flattening out your whole body. So exhale… look how much air you had left. “Oh my gosh. I had all that stale air in my body.” Yeah, you can inhale.
Mark: Still going.
Dr. Belisa: Look how much more you can get out. So your over-breathers will really need to focus on your exhale. Most often your over-breathers can be very heavy, so that their diaphragm is stretched out and they’re stuck in an inhale. So the exhale’s really tough, because you have to bring all this massive body back.
Mark: Yeah. It’s the stomach muscles that are the muscles of the exhale mostly, cause you gotta really depress them. And tuck them in, and the image that I use is to try to touch your belly button to your spine. And then lift from the perennial floor, or the perineum. (laughing) Perennial floor. It’s always there. It’s perennial.
Dr. Belisa: (laughing) It’s a good club.
Mark: Great dance floor. Pelvic floor dance club. We’re going there. Okay, so yeah, developing the muscles so that you can exhale. And follow it all the way through.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. So we actually have an exercise that comes from yoga in developing your exhale.
Mark: Breath of fire does that, doesn’t it? Or the Skull cleaning breath.
Dr. Belisa: Skull cleaning. I love that vision. So that one is the… and we can actually do a little bit of that. Exactly… that’s a beautiful… So it’s Kabala Bati.
Mark: That’s another thing to add to my resume. I have a beautiful Kabala Bati breath.
Dr. Belisa: (laughing) Yeah. Put that under “other.”
Mark: “Other skills.”
Dr. Belisa: So, in general, that’s your exhale muscle. So it’s interesting cause you can get a baseline…
Mark: So let’s describe this again for those who are just listening and not watching.
Dr. Belisa: Sure. I call it a “candle breath,” because it’s a lot like blowing out a row of candles. It’s a big birthday, so you’ve got candles all the way out in the distance. And you’re blowing out a bunch of them. And with each breath, like you said, you’re belly-button’s going closer to your spine. So you have to make sure that’s happening. That you’re not exhaling and bearing down. You’re going to exhale and your belly-button’s going to get closer to your spine.
Mark: Bearing down how?
Dr. Belisa: So you don’t want to go… so I’ll actually do it… a lot of people will go exhale and they’ll bear down on their bellies. You actually want to squeeze your belly at the same time. Now when you first start doing this, it’s going to feel like 2 things happening at the same time. That’s okay. It is 2 things, but you’re trying to put them together. It’ll feel natural later. So you’re going to exhale, blow off into the distance. Do this through your mouth. Beautiful, yeah.
So you let go. Air comes in and you just focus on the squeeze of the exhale. So you got a lot of candles. You’re going to go (blowing them out forcefully one by one) and when you get to 35 you stop.
Mark: And I think the key there is also a lot of people they put so much energy and tension into just squeezing their tummy in, that then it becomes hard for them to learn to how to relax. And a relax generally pulls the breath in, and then you can pop it in and press.
Dr. Belisa: Well they think that “relax” is “exhale.” So here’s the myth that’s just screwing all of us up…
Mark: Relax is not exhale, that’s for sure.
Dr. Belisa: Relax is not exhale, but we keep thinking…
Mark: Relax is inhale…
Dr. Belisa: Relax is inhale.
Mark: It’s counter-intuitive.
Dr. Belisa: Completely counter-intuitive. And once you start listening now, you’ll see all the cues…
Mark: So as you’re listening to this, think about Buddha belly. When Buddha’s sitting in that pose and he’s got the nice belly, that’s the inhale.
Dr. Belisa: That’s the inhale. That’s a beautiful visual. I love that.
Mark: And then the yogi with his belly tucked in…
Dr. Belisa: Is the exhale. So with your belly flat. Big inhale and exhale. Amazing. So I have some people with incredible, incredible physiques and endurance. They’ll start doing this breath and because it is using muscles that are way deep on the inside, will get sore. It’s fascinating. People say, “Oh, it’s just breathing?” I say, “Okay, it’s just breathing. Really? You tell me tomorrow how your back feels and how your core feels.”
Mark: Now this Breath of Fire generally 108 in 3 sets. I think it’s like 54 and then 28, and then 12… something like that. That doesn’t add up to 108, does it? But whatever it is…
Dr. Belisa: Sounded good. You’ve seen me, I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah! That sounds good.”
Mark: (laughing) Mathematics is not our strong point…
But anyways, my point is you get really tired by the time you’re done, you’re like, “I can’t do this any longer.”
Dr. Belisa: When I teach it, I do it till exhaustion. So we see where are you. And I’ve got an average number, I’ve got an average for athletes, and I have a record. So again because I’m obsessed with numbers… you do it and you see where do you stop. And some people stop at 20. Some people will go much higher. But you have to catch yourself, because what happens is that you’ll squeeze a bunch of times, and then your belly won’t want to anymore because it’s tired. So you won’t do that next rep. You’re done at that point. That’s your number. No judgement. That’s your number.
The other thing that’ll happen is that you’ll keep blowing, but then your belly’s not moving. And it’s not a lip exercise, so you have to do both at the same time.
Mark: Yeah, you could just blow out of your throat, literally.
Dr. Belisa: Exactly. You can just do this. So… and again what’s nice for an exercise is to do a series of say 25 or 50 exhale pulsations, do the box breath with that tipping forwards and back and you’re golden. That’s great for road rage, it’s great for waking you up. It’s great for helping you with irritability. Because that’s the basis of it is purging irritability. But it’s a nice reset button that you can do in 2 minutes.
Mark: Yeah. That’s a nice spot drill. Okay, so we’ll do that spot drill afterwards, Geoff. The candle-breath. I like that.
So I wanna come back to carbon dioxide and oxygen balance. Which affects acidity, right? So acidity in the blood is really going to be about too much carbon dioxide or too much oxygen, right?
And I wanna relate it to the Russian Buteyko guy, right. Because Buteyko used the breath and there’s like hundreds of thousands of people who’ve said that his breath has cured them of asthma, emphysema, and obviously the psychological stuff. But mostly physical because… and he claims that because they were acidic, and he got them to slow their breathing down and to lengthen it out, and to change the acidity of their blood.
And this is where I got a little confused. I actually got challenged on that. There’s some people who say that that’s all bullshit. And so what sayeth you?
Dr. Belisa: So the Buteyko’s fascinating. Again you have to remember that it came about in the ’40s and ’50s, and their n, the group was unhealthy, overweight Russians. All right? So you have a lot of people who are not exhaling. So the focus with a lot of it is…
Mark: They were no-halers or they’re just not exhalers?
Dr. Belisa: They were not exhalers. You think about being a little bit heavier, so you’re having people who are not exhaling…
Mark: You’re just inhaling long enough to sip your vodka…That’s not fair to all my Russian friends.
Dr. Belisa: No, no.
Mark: But they’ll probably nod, and go, “That’s about right.”
Dr. Belisa: Smoking. And then you breathe and then you smoke, and so…
So the focus was on the exhale because people were not exhaling well. And still now we don’t exhale, but we actually don’t inhale either, so it’s a little bit different.
Mark: Yeah, so I think his primary method was just to slow the exhale down. 2 to 3 times as long. There is a very ancient breath that’s actually inscribed on the Great Pyramid of Egypt, called the “Mother’s Breath.” Which is a 1 to 2 ratio. So it’s an inhale to like an 8 count…
Dr. Belisa: So now I want you to go… yeah, there we go.
Mark: And then exhale to a 16 count. Which is essentially what Buteyko was doing. To some degree. Lengthening the exhale.
Dr. Belisa: To some degree. So you want to lengthen the exhale, and there’s a physiological basis to this. Your vagus nerve, 4 things you can do to get your vagus nerve to hear that you’re calm. One thing is to make it a lower-body breath.
Mark: Right, diaphragm, stimulating the nerves.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah, exactly. To hum on the exhale. To extend the exhale. And then the 4th thing, which doesn’t really help us is to make sure your hands and your face are cold. That actually helps the vagus nerve kick in.
Mark: I’ve got a 5th one. You giggle.
Dr. Belisa: You giggle? I love that.
Mark: It works.
Dr. Belisa: Well it jumpstarts everything. Yeah. That’s a good one. Hum and giggle. Laughing yoga.
So it makes perfect sense that exhaling out and exhaling out long is good for you in every way. With the Buteyko at that particular time is it doesn’t bring into consideration, and it shouldn’t bring into consideration, cause this has happened in the last 10 years, is people are not breathing, because they’re bracing. You’ve got your intermittent breath-holders are not just… it’s rampant right now. People are breath holding all over. And people are hovering. They’re not taking in and out air.
I had to laugh the other day, because I’m at the gym, and corsets, with fitness girls have gotten to be… you’ll go to the gym now… I go to Gold’s in Venice… and corsets have gotten to be like the thing you wear at the gym.
Mark: Really? Oh, I thought you meant like core sets. Like we’re going to do 4 sets of exercise on our core.
Dr. Belisa: (laughing) Gotta remember who I’m talking to. No, actual, physical waist trainers. So they’ve gotten kind of to be fashionable lately. These waist trainers.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. See the Kardashians with their tiny waists? Those are waist trainers. So people, if you’re wearing compression garments, like I can’t say which compression garments, but compression garments, they’re squeezing you…
Mark: What do you mean, waist trainers? Does it do any training, or is it just holding it all in?
Dr. Belisa: No, it’s not a waist trainer. It’s not training anything. It’s just squeezing the middle of your body.
Mark: Tricking you.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. It makes you look good from the outside, but then you can’t breathe.
Mark: That’s gotta be so uncomfortable.
Dr. Belisa: So the only place you have left is up here by your shoulders. So you’re taking in teeny amounts of air, and exhaling out teeny amounts of air. It’s kind of fascinating, but these corsets, these multi-colored corsets, people are wearing them at the gym now. Yes, it supports your back, but learn to do Valsalva well. That’ll protect your back as well.
Mark: Absolutely. Fascinating. So by slowing our breath down, by diaphragmatic breathing or horizontal breathing and by… what was the 3rd one? So lengthening the exhale. That’s the same as slowing the breath down, I guess.
Dr. Belisa: The humming helps.
Mark: Right, the humming. It’s like the bee breath.
Dr. Belisa: The bee breath, yeah. And again, like, you just motioned to your nose, so I’m going to talk about nose breathing. Is that, in general, you should be breathing through your nose. You should be breathing both in and out through your nose. One of the problems is that we’ve gotten to be really lazy breathers. And also, with deviated septums, and allergies and things… so we go to mouth breathing and that wreaks havoc on your body. If you mouth breath, if you know anyone who mouth breaths, just go and fix it.
Mark In fact, mouth breathing has kind of derogatory…
Dr. Belisa: It does, yeah.
Mark: In a SEALFIT sister program, we train people to breathe through the nose. And the only time it’s okay to breathe through your mouth is on exhale, which has a calming effect for recovery. And if they’re in extremis like in a CrossFit workout, where you just literally can’t get enough… because the nostrils lengthen and slow the breath down. Cause it splits it into 2\. Splits it into 2 holes, now you gotta get the same volume in through 2 holes. And they also have… the air has to travel longer distance. And there’s things happening to it, right? There’s the fili’s warming it up, or cooling it down and cleaning it out. And it’s stimulating our notis, our energy systems. And the nitrous oxide is stimulated when you breathe through your nose but not through your mouth…
Dr. Belisa: Exactly. And it cools your brain, through your nose. But like you said, if you’re in an extreme situation, go through your nose. I always have people asking, “What if I’m doing intervals or something?”
I just go in and out through your mouth, just because you want to get air in and out of your body. If you’re trying to calm down…
Mark: As soon as you can, though, go back to the nostril breathing, right? So you put the kettlebell down, take one or two more, and then go back to the nose. Exhale through the mouth, and then pretty soon you’re back in balance.
Dr. Belisa: Exactly. Because the worst thing you can do, and you see this all the time, is hold your breath. You see people holding their breath all over and then they’re getting dizzy, they’re not getting enough oxygen. Or they’re in the movement, and… You love this stuff too, which is why it’s so great to be here. In the movement, the breath isn’t synchronized, or it’s completely irrelevant with the movement.
Mark: With no awareness.
Dr. Belisa: So, you know, you have to make sure.
Mark: The next generation of exercise is to bring breath awareness that exists in somatic practices like chi gong, tai chi, yoga, into training. And this has been what… in fact, this new program… I’m gonna pitch it right here, SEALFIT boot camp, we just finished filming our first…
Dr. Belisa: Do I get a t-shirt?
Mark: Sure, you can have one of those. Absolutely. It’s a new program. Think about CrossFit, without barbells where people are going to get injured, so no injury. High intensity interval with strength and stamina development. Where every workout has box-breathing, some somatic movement before and after, and we cue people throughout to be breathing properly… you got a little goosebumps.
Dr. Belisa: I got goosebumps.
Mark: And to be managing their mental states. So to be feeding the courage wolf and visualizing them helping and successful. So it’s going to be a revolutionary program.
Dr. Belisa: Is yours saying, like…
Mark: And it’s hard-core fitness, too. But it’s accessible for anybody. For beginners all the way to elite athletes.
Dr. Belisa: So hard-core fitness and having the breath involved is like Golden.
Mark: Yeah, integrating the yoga into exercise, really. Isn’t that cool? That’s where it needs to go.
So back to different breathing practices. We were talking about nostril breathing. In my opinion, just cueing people to nostril breath, or teaching people to nostril breath, is the simplest way to get them to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. Because, like we said, it does slow the breath down. It does… when you nostril breath you’re much more naturally inclined to horizontal breath.
Dr. Belisa: You know what? The vertical breath is so ingrained in us at this point, that it is really tough to have someone do it without having either read about it, or…
Mark: Let me back into this one. Is there any scenario where you would teach horizontal breathing through the mouth?
Dr. Belisa: I teach it… when I teach it, I actually teach it through the mouth. Because when you’re learning, right in the beginning, if it’s completely new to you, to have people sort of look blank or panicked when they start learning. “What? You mean I’m supposed to expand in my middle? And then contract?” I actually do make them breathe through the mouth because they’re more conscious of it. So they’ll actually pay more attention through the mouth.
Mark: So when someone has a very dysfunctional breathing setup then just through the mouth. Interesting. And they can feel it, they’re gonna get the volume in right away so it’s less subtle.
Dr. Belisa: So right now what we’re experiencing is a lot of diaphragm paralysis. So you can tell someone now, “Breathe by expanding your belly.” And the belly-breath, it really is a 101 breath. You really do not want to be pushing your belly out, and even for a split second looking a little chunky. You really don’t want to be doing that. People don’t want to do that.
But that’s just to get your body used to the idea that there’s movement in the middle of your body. The advanced breath is really 360 degrees around all the way around. So your sides open up, your back opens up, all these things open up. For the first breath just to start learning is that tip forward, let my belly go.
But what we’re finding is a lot of people’s diaphragms are paralyzed, are partially paralyzed, and so you need to actually work to be able to expand them.
Mark: Paralyzed from inaction, not due to damage or anything like that.
Dr. Belisa: Yes. You know, “paralyzed” is such a harsh word, but they’re just completely inactive. Atrophied, inactivated, but they’re incredibly rigid. So you’ll do a belly breath, but you really need to do… you have to be manipulated, you have to do stretching to get your diaphragm to actually… it wants to stretch but it’s been squeezed by, especially with women, by your bra. By you sucking in your gut. By your thinking that being really stiff is good posture. For 10, 20 years. So of course, when you’re finally allowed to take a breath and use your diaphragm, takes a little while to get there.
Mark: Right. Interesting. It just dawned on me that the population that I work with are largely athletic, healthy. And so we’re using these principles to go from good to great. And you’re working with people who have some sort of pathological dysfunction with the breath.
Dr. Belisa: Although I have to tell you. My super-healthy folks have muscular corsets. So some of the most constricted diaphragms are athletic folks. Which is bizarre, but it’s true.
Mark: Interesting. Do you see any particular type of athlete? Like an endurance athlete or… bodybuilder?
Dr. Belisa: Well, you know what? So I just worked and she has no problem with me telling you, with Juliana Malcarne who’s Olympia, she’s Miss physique, she’s 3 years in row. Fantastic, amazing little body. Just like phenomenal. You can imagine.
But getting her to expand in the middle was completely… First of all, to her, couldn’t even conceive of it. Because she’s been working all this time to actually make her waist as narrow as possible. So getting her to expand… first of all we had all the muscles holding her back. So there was… even if I could get her lungs to be full, everything around her body was holding to be able to breath, squeeze together. So my people who are super-fit as far as being muscular in the middle have sometimes the hardest time, because they have to stretch a lot. And they have to be able to be tight, but also be able to be relaxed. And a lot of folks don’t know how to do that.
Mark: That’s fascinating. So tell us about your breath course. Like, is it a weekend? Or how long is your course?
Dr. Belisa: It’s a 3 hour, intensive workshop.
Mark: Oh, just 3 hours.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah. 3 hours. It’s sort of like when I was doing therapy. Let me come in, get a baseline on yourself… So actually, you come and you get a grade. You get graded the beginning of class then the end of class. We talk a lot about anatomy, a lot about psychology and then go straight into the exercises, so people leave with “Now here are the exercises I need to do. Here’s my specific problem…”
Mark: Now let’s just run down… let’s just name the exercises. So
Dr. Belisa: Okay, so, you do Rock and Roll. There’s Diaphragm Extensions to get your diaphragm going. There’s exhale pulsations. We do intercostal stretches. I’m a big believer in stretching on the inhale, not on the exhale as most people do. Spinal Twists are huge. To do this we do what’s called exhale pulsations on retention, for my advanced folks. And those doing enough of them, and making sure that your posture and that you’re doing them correctly, is kind of interesting. And then we do pattern breathing.
So once you know how to breathe through the lower part of your body, then you can do the different patterns. So obviously the box breathing, I like the tactile breath, the 4-4-6-2 is one of my favorites. The exhale pulsations as well. And then we do a meditation, which is called a meditation for people that can’t meditate, because there’s a lot of folks that can’t, and would like to. So that’s a breath… that’s more of a holotropic, trance breath, where you take 2 parts of a breath and then exhale all the way out and you do it hard.
When I work with folks that kind of bristle at the idea of it being a kind of trancy, meditative state…
Mark: How do you fit all this into 3 hours, by the way?
Dr. Belisa: I’m exhausted. I gotta tell you, I probably should break it up better, but I’m exhausted at the end. But I love seeing the results. I love seeing people leave and they have everything they need to do.
Mark: I would think you’d need a whole day.
Dr. Belisa: I probably should do it in a smarter way. So I’m going to think about that.
Mark: I’m always kind of jiggering how we teach our stuff too. I started out with 30 days of training for the SEALFIT Academy. And we finally got it down to where we could deliver in 3 days.
Dr. Belisa: I gotta do the opposite. I should probably expand and take some breaks and drink some water, and go to the bathroom.
Mark: And then start certifying people to help you.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah.
Mark: Well, I’d love to do that. We should have you down here on one of our Unbeatable Mind trips.
Dr. Belisa: I’d love to. I just got a t-shirt. For a t-shirt, I will come down.
Mark: That’s awesome. So the book is due out when?
Dr. Belisa: So it’s on pre-order now. And it’s out the end of December, December 27th. So it’s sort of a New Year, new you, book.
Mark: Breathe. That’s the title. Dr. Belisa… how do I say it? Vranich?
Dr. Belisa: Vranich. There’s nothing silent. And it’s super, it’s sort of…
Mark: I wrote you a little quote too. Is that going to make it on here somewhere?
Dr. Belisa: Yeah! It’s not in that version, because that’s a little bit before your quote. And I thank you for your quote. But yeah, it’s super-practical. It’s an easy read. I don’t spend half the book, telling you why you should buy the book. I kind of start right away. Because that’s the way I like…
Mark: Yeah, you do. You get right into training which is kinda nice. And you get right into telling how messed up we all are.
Dr. Belisa: I do that in the first chapter and then it’s, “let’s fix this.” So it’s a nice, practical book.
Mark: Well good luck with the book. It’s going to be very successful. We’d love to have you here to do some in-person training. And you have a website, or Facebook page?
Dr. Belisa: Yeah, the breathing class. Obviously marketing and finding new names is not my strength. It’s just the breathing class, cause that’s what it is. Dr. Belisa. breathingclass.com. I think all my handles and media is all “thebreathingclass” or “DrBelisa.” Breathe. It’s what it is.
Mark: It is what it is. Absolutely. Hooyah.
You wanna do some training?
Dr. Belisa: Let’s do some training.
Mark: All right. All right folks. You heard it from Dr. Belisa…sorry about that.
Dr. Belisa: Ballpark is good for me.
Mark: Dr. Belisa, thank you so much for your time here. Awesome work. I look forward to doing some work with you.
And for all of you out there, just breathe. Horizontally.
Dr. Belisa: Horizontally, if you do.
Mark: Stop breathing vertically. Don’t be a no-breather. Don’t be a mouth breather. We heard a lot of don’ts today.
Just breathe. See what happens. Amazing what can happen.
Train hard, stay safe.
See you next time.
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