This Variable Breath Pattern Will Help You Through Your Fasting Days
Navigating one’s life span with ‘good health’ involves a multitude of factors, both within our control, and some outside our control. Many non-communicable disease states, are themselves, magnified by the lifestyle and habit we engineer for ourselves. Some factors are outside our direct control (family history of disease, location of birth and upbringing, access, and to a certain degree genetic makeup), and others are within our control (daily practice, mindfulness, health habits).
Two health habits which can profoundly affect health (both short and long term) are:
- breath training
- the postures we take over a given day.
In biology, one fundamental concept which leads to better health outcomes is the concept of VARIABILITY. Whether Heart Rate Variability – HRV – (the view that natural heart rate rhythms have inherent variability from beat to beat … until stressed), or Motor Variability (the idea of new and novel movement patterns sparking the formation and resiliency of the nervous system), or Metabolic Variability (called ‘Metabolic Flexibility’ – when our bodies are ‘flexible’ and agile to use one fuel source versus another). Postural Variability is another. Remember, the best posture is the one that changes intermittently throughout the day. Any held posture, even “perfect” posture, should never be our goal.
A certain amount of VARIABILITY is key to resilience in biology. Too little variability leads to a rigid system, too much leads to chaotic inputs.
Variable Breath Pattern For Use On Fasting days:
First, it is important to understand the neural and mechanical aspects of breathing. Here are a couple of important points:
We use the phrenic nerve, inhale ideally through the nose (which is better suited for gas exchange due to the advantage in the shape of the nostril swirling the air into the lungs), and the series of muscles used include the diaphragm (which when contracting, presses into the contents of our stomach, and help with digestive health and function).
We use the vagus nerve (which increases parasympathetic tone, as parasympathetic nerve fibers from the vagus nerve connect to the gut and aid with gut repair and aid in peristalsis, which optimizes digestive health and function). We also spare the diaphragm muscle from contracting (regulating cytokine activity). Thus, exhale should be paced longer than the inhale to regulate recovery.
Fasting has a transformational effect on our physiology, and our minds. Breath does as well and the combination of the two is powerful. We can focus on a different sort of breathing pattern to expose our system to variability during a fast.
Lay on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Think of maintaining a long spine with natural arches. Tuck the chin down and in to align the cervical (upper) spine. Keep the shoulder blades down and flat on the ground. This will set up the spine and thoracic cage for optimal function during this exercise.
In this body position, place a lightweight of 2-6 lbs (sandbell, weight plate, or small bag if no equipment is available) on the belly just above the pelvis and below the sternum.
With the weight resting comfortably on your abdomen and your spine long with shoulder blades wide and down, breathe in through the nose for 5 seconds while pushing your belly button out as you push the weight towards the ceiling with your stomach. Hold for a count of 2 and maintain your spine and shoulder blade position. Exhale for 10 seconds as you slowly let the belly button (and weight) fall back towards the body. Repeat 4-6 cycles in the given set before resting and repeating.
Using external weight (albeit only a light load) to breathing mechanics allows for the following:
Increased contraction of the diaphragm. The diaphragm muscle has a vast attachment to the internal ribs and a central tendon. As it contracts, it applies mechanical pressure to the Peritoneum (the sac around the organs – which is pressurized with around 22 lbs of intra-abdominal pressure). The external weight allows for more mechanical pressure from the exterior, as well as a more forceful contraction from the Diaphragm (i.e. mechanical pressure from the interior). The net effect is more mechanical pressure of the intra-abdominal sac (Peritoneum). This can aid with digestion, regulation of digestive enzymes, and more efficient elimination of waste in the gut.
The ratio of breath in, hold, and breath out in this drill allows for:
Stimulation in the Phrenic Nerve during inhalation, and Vagus Nerve during exhalation. Since stimulation of the Vagus Nerve (called Vagal Tone) influences parasympathetic activity in the body (i.e. the “rest and digest” state of the body), this ratio of 5 seconds in, 2 seconds of hold, and 10 seconds out is this protocol is well suited for recovery and gut health.