Billy and Brian talk to yogis, breathwork specialists, yogis, and retreat leaders Kolin Purcell and Anna Schlegel about the breathwork seminar the two of them led while Billy was at the NGor Island Surf Camp in Dakar. Kolin and Anna discuss:
Kolin and Anna also answer the question, "How has re-examining your relationship with your breath changed your standard mode of daily operation?"
Like what you heard from Kolin and Anna? Contact them at:
Instagram: @anna_b.ram and @flowingwithkolin
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Billy: Hey everybody. This is Billy. I just wanted to pop on before the episode, and let you know that we're going to break up this conversation that we had with Kolin Purcell and Anna Schlegel into two parts. Because both Brian and I are so fascinated by what they had to share with regards to breathwork. We think you're going to find it both fascinating and informative as well. So, we're going to share part one of that interview today, where they talk about the physiological effects of breathing and the importance of becoming more aware of our breath.
Then next week, they're going to discuss the breathwork retreats they have planned for 2022, as well as their plan for creating a cohabitating remote work/digital nomad facility. That's something that I'm very interested in, as I start thinking about the next chapter of my life in terms of shifting my career path away from education and into some unknown endeavor that I'm still shaping and manifesting into reality. Add manifesting into reality to the list of phrases I never thought that I would say in my life.
I think this conversation complements the one we had with Marie Nutter last week really well. So, if you enjoyed the calm she brought to our conversation, you'll enjoy this conversation as well. Because Kolin and Anna are so knowledgeable about the physiological effects our breath has on our body's systems. So, just trust me when I tell you this is a fascinating conversation. Even the science nerd in Brian loved this conversation. I'll share his text to me next week. Because I genuinely felt the same way after I first met Kolin and Anna in Dakar during my time at the Ngor Island Surf Camp. If you're interested in learning more about that endeavor, you can go back to Episode 39, where I talk about my travels to Portugal, Spain, and Dakar. So, with all that, take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and enjoy the show. Take care friends.
Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis...
Anna: So, for people, it's actually really hard to breathe into their belly. I've been doing lots of exercises with people. The first thing I always look at is bringing the breath further down, because it's calming for us. Of course, it's not that we're only active all the time or only relaxed all the time. It's always a balance. But usually, everyone is way too much in a stress level, like way too much up there. So, the more you can actually focus on bringing your breath deeper into your body — the belly breathing — the better. Because it balances this whole stress level out.
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how are you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am elated today, Billy.
Billy: Why are you so elated?
Brian: Well, because I checked the list and that word was available. So, I'm like, yes, that makes me happy. I was really excited about it. So, today, I'm elated.
Billy: It's the little things in life that bring ultimate joy.
Brian: That's all it takes for me.
Billy: I'd say, I'm elated as well because we have two absolutely fantastic guests. Brian, we have been crushing it with our guest list. Once again, season three, I didn't think we could get any better. I just feel like season four, we just get incrementally better and better.
Brian: It's really exciting. It is. It makes me feel like we're accomplishing and building.
Billy: Agreed. That's actually rather fitting. Because the guests that we have today are two people who have accomplished and built a new life for themselves. Here's the beauty. A lot of the times that we have people on our show, they're usually around our age, right? They're in their 40's. The two of them have figured it out already at such a young age. We're very excited to have on the show, Kolin Purcell and Ana Schlegel.
Anna and Kolin met while traveling the world, without an end date, when their paths crossed in a small surf camp in Sri Lanka during the first wave of the COVID pandemic. Ana has been nomadic for over four years since leaving her home country in Austria, and her life as a marketing consultant. Her quest to see the world has been focused around studying and teaching yoga, meditation, and other nourishing spiritual practices.
Kolin left the comfortable job as an engineer in Silicon Valley three years ago to explore the world and sink deeper into the meditative practices he got a taste of while in California. This path led him through several multi-day silent meditation retreats and trainings of various kinds, including an advanced teacher training in the ancient yogic breathing techniques of Pranayama.
Since meeting, the two of them have joined forces in their mission to spread awareness of mind, body, and breath enhancing techniques to whoever they encounter along the way. Surfing ocean waves has inspired all of their work, as they believe the ocean is an exceptionally wise and deep teacher. In fact, I met them near the ocean when I was in Dakar. Their dream is to use all of their experiences to create an immersive living space near the ocean where people can stay to explore the question of, what does it mean to live well? Welcome to the show, Anna and Kolin.
Kolin: Hello. Hello. Thank you for having us.
Billy: Absolutely. It's good to see you again. I know you're stateside now, correct?
Kolin: Yes, we are.
Anna: Yes, we are.
Billy: Briefly. Because you were on your way to?
Kolin: To Ecuador, yes.
Billy: Brian, remember when I told you how badass surfers are?
Brian: I've actually got three friends in Ecuador right now. They're in Quito.
Anna: Oh, really?
Billy: What city are you going to?
Kolin: We will start down in the south, in Guayaquil. We'll work our way along the coast and probably up in the mountains for a bit, too. But being surfers, we'll be mostly on the coast.
Billy: That's so awesome. Like I said, if you haven't listened to the episode where I talked about my trip to Portugal, Spain, and Dakar, take a listen to it. Just listen to how excited I am talk about how badass surfers are. Because you really are a badass group of people. I noticed that you both put that down in the 10 roles that you play in your life. So, can the two of you share your list with us, please?
Kolin: Yeah, it was an interesting exercise to think about that for sure. So, I jotted down for the 10 roles that I play these days: surfer, traveler, stoke master, teacher, student, outdoor adventurer, drone operator, partner, videographer, and writer. Anna, do you want to go?
Anna: Yeah, so, my roles are: partner, daughter, friend, surfer, teacher, student, yogi, traveler, healer, and woman.
Billy: Awesome. So, before we get to the three roles that you're most looking forward to in the second half of life, I want to talk about the stoke master. Because when we had John Wessinger on, he talked about the universal stoke. So, what do you mean by stoke master?
Kolin: So, that's a funny one. Because over the last few years, I've participated in a lot of different interesting activities and icebreakers and ceremonial things where you go deep into your own personality and the personality of others, and learn some things. I actually didn't recognize this about myself, until just a couple of years ago when I started to receive a lot of feedback from other people during these activities, saying that if they could describe me in one way, it would be always excited and trying to get other people excited as well.
Ever since I've learned that about myself — once again, through others — I've started to notice it more. I think it's a very key part of my personality and the way that I do things. There's always something that's getting me hyped up. I do love to share that and to spread it around.
Billy: One of the nicest compliments anyone ever gave me was, "Billy, the reason why I like you is because when you're excited, you want everyone else to be excited about that thing, too." So, it really is a wonderful compliment that people feed off of that energy and that you are stoking that energy.
Kolin: Yeah, that's why we get along so well.
Billy: Exactly. That's absolutely why we wanted to have you on the show. So, what are the roles that the two of you are most looking forward to in the second half of life? I think it's important for our audience to know that you have a lot longer second half of life.
Kolin: Well, we'll see. Surfing is a dangerous sport.
Anna: I know.
Billy: That is true.
Anna: A lot of times, we're hanging in the reef. I don't know.
Billy: I have watched someone pull needles out of honest foot, a sea urchin out of honest foot.
Anna: Yeah, I got a gigantic one out yesterday. That was in there for two weeks. I couldn't walk.
Billy: Oh, gosh.
Brian: Oh my.
Billy: So, how old are the two of you?
Anna: I'm 32.
Kolin: I'm 28.
Billy: Got it. I'll tell you that if you saw Anna and Kolin, you'd be like, "They look like they're 24." You look great. Surfing has done wonders for you to keep you young. So, I think in just taking and keeping up with that theme, the two of you both put down that you're looking forward to being surfers in the second half of life. So, what is it about being a surfer that is so attractive?
Anna: I think it just changes your whole life once you got it — the bug. We call it surf bug. Some catch it. some don't catch it. But it's like you have this feeling. Suddenly, surfing is part of your life and you cannot be without it. We talk about this quite a lot. I feel, for both of us, surfing gave us this whole new purpose. There’re different purposes in our lives, different roles we chat down, and different things we have to do.
Surfing is so purposeful. It brings us to places. It gives us a purpose to go there. It gives us something to do there, something to immerse ourselves into. So, once you're in this role of a surfer — and that happens at any level. It can happen on a foamy. It can happen as a pro surfer. So, it's very open for everyone. But once you got it, it's kind of your life. I think we're both just really excited to immerse this life and to see where in the world we can be surfers.
Kolin: I think, for me, there are two aspects to it. There's the idea of progression, which is not a focus for every surfer. But for me, what I really love about surfing is, there's this unlimited curve of progression. There's always more that you can do on a wave. There's more places that you can explore in the world. So, there's no limit. You can just keep doing it. You can keep being satisfied with progress. You can keep being disappointed when you don't progress fast enough. All of those are lessons. All of those are things that you take in, and you apply elsewhere.
Then the other side of it for me, that initially attracted me to surfing, was actually the — I would almost call it more spiritual side of just being with the ocean, which I was actually never really an ocean guy before I started surfing. I only started surfing a little over four years ago. But as soon as I tried it, I very quickly picked up on this really beautiful aspect of it.
Essentially, a wave is just basically an energetic force that's traveling through the ocean. The actual water molecules themselves aren't moving much. When a wave passes through, it's just energy. So, when you synchronize yourself with that energy, even if it's just for a few seconds, there's this really incredible feeling that goes beyond words that you really just need to experience, of feeling fully present, for one. Definitely, not thinking about anything else that's going on. But also, just feeling connected, feeling like for once, you're not just this human being wandering around, trying to find your way, this separateness. You feel like, "Wow. I'm with the universe right now. I'm literally riding a wave created by the universe," which is just like a crazy feeling. I haven't found that in many other sports or activities.
Billy: I love when our guests' messages intersect. So, you talked about progression. When we talked to John Wessinger — to bring him back into the conversation here — he talked about progression mindset. Because his whole thing was learning how to take risks through surfing. I love that you brought up progression, because it ties back into what John talked about in episode 32.
Also, I can completely relate when you talk about the power of the ocean. Because when I was in Dakar with you guys, I went out paddle boarding. The ocean is beautiful and terrifying all at the exact same time. It was one of those things that really dawned on me, especially while I was out there. Because I see the surfers out there navigating these waves which were much bigger than what I had seen before.
I went surfing when I was in Portugal. To your point, Anna, there is that universal stoke. You're only up for maybe 10 seconds if you're a beginner. But those 10 seconds are the most euphoric 10 seconds of your entire life. It's so much adrenaline, and you feel just amazing when you have landed your first wave. So, I completely relate to what you're talking about. That's just somebody who's only been surfing one time. I think there's something to being present when you're on the water. That's why I love paddle boarding so much.
Anna: Yeah, and it's really endless. You see pro surfers still having these days where they say like, "Oh, God, that was terrible. I want to progress. I'm working on this and that." It's just so very mirroring. You go through a lot of things on land. You go through them in the water, too. You have to continue. You have to be present, and then you get the reward. Then you feel like, "That's what I'm doing it for. Let's continue." It goes on.
Billy: I think that relates very closely to student, which you both also put down as something that you're looking forward to in the second half of life. So, what is it about being a student that you are looking forward to?
Kolin: The reason why I put student as the top three is because, really, my other one on there is teacher. I think that, considering myself a teacher, I'm always very careful to remember that I'm always also a student at the same time. I think, as a teacher, the only way that you can go wrong is to forget that. Even through being a teacher, that is sometimes where the most learning occurs, both for yourself and for your students. So, I just always like to remember that.
I consider myself a student of life, I suppose. I think in the second half of my life, the second three quarters or whatever it is, I definitely want to keep that mentality. Because what I see with a lot of people, especially as they start to grow older, is a bit of a loss of that student mentality and starting to think that they know the way that things are. I don't think it's ever possible to fully understand the way everything is. You have to keep yourself open. So, I definitely want to play that role throughout.
Billy: It's important for us to keep being curious even as we age. It's important for us to keep seeking out ways to grow as we age.
Brian: I think it's even more important as you age because it's too easy to — that's what keeps you vibrant, in my opinion.
Billy: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. I think that's an excellent point. Anna, you put down healer. So, I'm wondering, do you feel like healer and teacher are related? Why did you choose that one? Are they connected, or do you see it as something different?
Anna: Yeah, they're definitely connected. I think that's why I chose healer. Because like Kolin said, student and teacher, it goes very much together. It's almost the same thing. We have the saying in teaching yoga, for example, or in anything really. If you want to master something, you have to teach it. Through teaching, there's a lot of things I understand myself. Once I transferred it to other people, I learn so much within that process. Of course, also, as a teacher, you constantly have to be learning and constantly take in new things. So, it's kind of a loop.
Healer, for me, is just bringing off what I learned to the world and hopefully help people to integrate it in their lives and to just heal, in a way. For me, healing is very universal word of just feeling better, of dealing with our things, of getting to know different techniques on how to deal with these things, and to just live a more happy life and more in tune with yourself.
Healing is a very ominous word. It's sometimes very physically related. But healing, for me, personally, is just to grow into this person that you are and to become more and more authentic with it, more comfortable with it. That's something that I want to bring to this world. So, that's definitely a role I want to continue and grow even more into.
Billy: One of the reasons why I wanted to have you on to talk to our listeners is because you gave a presentation about breathwork. That, for me, completely shifted the way that I looked at breathing. I think one of you even said that just how much we take breathing for granted. Because we do it all the time, we ignore just how impactful the breath is. See it as how we're talking about reinvention. I think it's important for people to take a look at and reimagine how they breathe. Because as silly as that sounds, it's really vital and important to managing emotion and managing response.
So, what we want to do is we want to take a quick break. Then when we come back, Anna and Kolin are going to talk about our relationship to our breath. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact us, or if you have suggestions about what you'd like us to discuss, feel free to email us at email@example.com or follow us on Instagram @mindful_midlife_crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. Oh, and don't forget to show yourself some love every now and then, too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with yoga and breathwork teachers, Anna Schlegel and Kolin Purcell. As I mentioned before, they did a presentation on breathwork that really changed the way that I viewed my relationship with breath. I just found this presentation so fascinating. Of course, we had to have you on the show. So, can you share with us some of the finer details from that workshop?
Kolin: Absolutely. Actually, I guess it might be interesting to just give a really brief background on how we came to this breathing stuff. Because, as you were just saying before, Billy, I think most of us take this process of breathing completely for granted. I certainly did for the majority of my life.
I actually first got curious about it when I attended a similar-ish workshop a few years ago in San Francisco. It really piqued my curiosity. Then I started traveling, keeping in mind that I wanted to learn more about this, this idea of intentionally breathing. Eventually, I ended up finding this training in Thailand, where it was this pretty well-renowned teacher, Paul Dallaghan, who was teaching yogic Pranayama techniques. This is an ancient art of breathing, and it goes back 1000s of years. Some very interesting stuff that they've sort of been studying and practicing and passing along down over generations.
I spent about six weeks with him total, learning how to breathe, re-learning how to breathe. There were just so many fascinating things that came out of that. Ever since then, I've just been very curious. I've been exploring different types of breathwork in different areas. That brought me eventually to Senegal, where we met, and we were running some workshops.
Brian: Does this crossover into surfing at all, Kolin? Does this breathwork help with surfing?
Kolin: Yeah, great question. Yeah, that's exactly what we were doing at the surf camp in Senegal. It's putting a surfing spin on it. Because it's huge, of course, for surfing. Right?
Anna: It is. It can change your whole form. It's funny. Because you usually look at, what can my body do? What technique can I use? How to use the water, whatever? But this very fundamental tool that is with us every second, literally, of our lives, fairly, anyone looks at it. Definitely, the answer is yes. It can actually be a big impact on the surfing.
Kolin: Yeah, and our pitch is always that surfing is a metaphor for life. So, if you can use breathing to, for example, calm yourself down in an intense situation while you're surfing, then why would you not be able to do that in any other situation on the land as well?
I think the thing that we usually start people with is just sort of asking, why is it that we even breathe? Do people know what is this physical process of breathing? I don't know. Do either of you guys have some knowledge in that area?
Brian: To deliver oxygen to ourselves, on a basic level.
Kolin: Yeah, essentially. Why would we want to deliver oxygen to ourselves? What is that actually doing?
Brian: Nurturing life.
Kolin: Exactly, yeah. It's fundamentally affecting all the processes of our body, like everything at once. If you consider some other things that we do, some important things like eating or drinking or something, those affect certain parts of the body and stuff. But the breathing, it's happening all the time.
Anna: Yeah, it's like when you think about it, we spend so much time about our diet and training our body, and so on. But we can go — I don't know exactly the amount — two, three weeks without food. We can go a few days without water. But without the breath, we can't barely go a few minutes. And yet no one really looks at it. Thinking of how much we can do with our diet to influence our body, think of how much we can do with this tool that we're literally using every second of our lives.
So, this is why it's so important to look at it and to actually become aware of our breath. Then in the next step, to maybe train it and actually use it to influence our body, our mind, our life. Before we get too much into the details of how we actually can do that, I would like to do a little exercise with everyone, the listeners.
Billy: We need to make sure that if you're listening that you're doing this in a safe space.
Anna: Exactly. I just want to say, maybe if you're driving your car, you leave your eyes open and focus on the street, or find a parking lot. If you're in a safe environment, maybe just find a comfortable yet upright seat. You can close your eyes for the next moments that we're doing that. If you're not in a too comfortable position, you can also lie down or just close your eyes for a moment.
Just to start off, take a quite deep inhale through the nose. As you do, sit up a bit straighter if you can, feeling up your whole body. Then you can release through your mouth. We're going to do that two more times, and see if you can already breathe in with full awareness, feeling your whole body. Then slowly releasing as you exhale.
Do that one more time slow. Deep inhale, and full exhale. And now keep your eyes closed. If you can, also close your mouth and just breathe through your nose. We just brought a little bit more awareness to our breath. Immediately, when we do this, we try to usually influence the breath somehow. So, it's just for the first breath here. See if you can let it loose and just let the air flow in and out of your body, naturally. Know for us in a breath in, know for us in a breath out.
Then slowly, we're starting to really closely observing the breath here. This breath that goes in and out automatically, constantly, where can you actually feel it? It's a very nice point of start here. It can be your nostrils. Maybe you can feel the air there, in the left and the right. Maybe you can feel one nostril a bit more open than the other. Maybe not. You're feeling the temperature of the air as it enters the nose. Feeling the air as it leaves your body maybe above your lips, and then feel it also within your body.
As you're breathing without any force, without any additional movement, how is the breath moving your body as you're sitting still? You feel it maybe in your chest. As it slowly moving up and down in your belly, what can you feel as you're taking the inhale? How is the inhalation moving your body? How is the exhalation moving your body?
Where is the mind as you're breathing? Is it wandering off? Trying it back to this constant movement of breath. Nice. Then slowly taking maybe a bit of a deeper inhale one more time, feeling the length and the release as you exhale. When you're ready, slowly opening the eyes, coming back. Nice. Billy, Brian, how do you feel? Can you maybe share really anything that you've observed within that little exercise?
Billy: I'm always so hyper and frantic to start the interview and make sure that everything is a go. Right now, I feel much calmer. I feel it's a good reminder for me that maybe before the show, I should take five minutes to just sit with my breath.
Kolin: I can hear it in your voice already, man. You feel more calm.
Brian: More calm. Yeah, absolutely. I can feel it. There's a tangible difference. And the listeners, probably.
Billy: It's funny you kind of settle into it. I remember doing a very similar exercise with the two of you in Dakar. When we did that, I think, beforehand, you had talked about where you feel your breath and how we normally breathe. You said, "When you normally breathe, do you breathe into your shoulders? Do you breathe into your lungs, to where your shoulders hike up?" That's my natural default breathing position, I would say.
You had talked about, what if you breathe into your stomach and let your stomach get full, and that your stomach expands? You had a really good explanation for why we might do that. Can you talk about that?
Anna: Yeah, that's actually a very key point. We're going to get into that. Kolin is going to lay out the base for that on why this is so important.
Kolin: Yeah, it is nice to talk a little bit first about what part of your body the breath is actually influencing in order to explain that. We have this nervous system as humans. For a long time, I was confused about the concept of the nervous system. It didn't really make sense to me. But I've since figured out that it's quite simple, really. It's just this network of nerves. Everybody knows what a nerve is, like a little sensor somewhere in your body that's sending signals to your brain.
So, you have this huge network of sensors that are sending signals all the time up your spinal cord and into your brainstem. So, that's your nervous system. There's a couple of different ways that it interacts throughout your body. But one part of the nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system, which is essentially like the automatic stuff. This is what's controlling the beating of your heart, the digesting of your food, the transport of different hormones. It's all the stuff that you're not consciously controlling, but is essential to stay alive and to function.
Within that autonomic nervous system, you have two branches. The terminology, they're called sympathetic and parasympathetic. We can just refer to them as like the relaxing mode versus the active mode. The active mode, the sympathetic part your nervous system, it's what your body engages when you need to do something. When you're stressed out or when you're going and you're about to start being active, that's going to activate the sympathetic mode, and that's going to send out stress hormones. It's going to send out adrenaline. It's going to do all this good stuff for you to get something done.
Then you have the relaxing side, the parasympathetic. That's going to do the opposite. That's basically saying, my body and my mind is safe right now. I can relax. I can digest. They call it the rest and digest. There's a lot of really important functions, restorative functions, that happen when you're in this mode.
Now, the problem is — we talked a lot about this during the workshop with you, Billy — that we're constantly in this active stress mode these days. This isn't news to anyone who's listening to this podcast. I'm sure our nervous system physically was designed tens of thousands of years ago, when our biggest threat was running away from a predator every couple of days. So, we didn't need to be hiking up our nervous system all the time when we receive text messages, and when we had all this crazy stuff that happens in the modern world that wasn't happening back then. That's two different modes that we can be in. We're often much too much in this active sympathetic mode.
So, a lot of the stuff that we actually talk about with breathwork is, how can we just calm ourselves down? How can we get back to a normal regulatory state, where we're just restoring and resting? We'll talk more probably about the different ways that the breath can influence the nervous system. It's helpful to just have that baseline understanding of what we're doing here. To take it specifically to your question, Billy, you're talking about belly breathing, right? Anna, you want to actually talk about that? What's the difference between those two things?
Anna: Yeah, why is this so important to understand and why it's very easy to relate from the breath is, when we're breathing in our chest, we actually activate this sympathetic nervous system. This nervous system that is telling us do active run around. If you look around, and when I teach breathwork to someone or having a course or whatever, look at a person individually, what you can see always first, people are breathing into their chest. The breath is very up here. Like you said, shoulder, chest movement.
That's usually what you see first do when you're starting to observe your breath. So, what it does is the breathing up all here. It activates the sympathetic nervous system, signalizing us more doing more and more and more. So, it's a vicious circle. The more we breathe up here, the more we're enhancing our stress factor. The more stress we have, the more we breathe up here. So, it's in a loop up here.
If we breathe into your belly area, that's activating the parasympathetic nervous system, signalizing our body everything is good. We can relax. We calm down. For people, it's actually really hard to breathe into their belly. I've been doing lots of exercises with people. The first thing I always look at is bringing the breath further down, because it's calming for us.
Of course, it's not that we're only active all the time or only relaxed all the time. It's always a balance. But usually, everyone is way too much in a stress level, like way too much up there. So, the more you can actually focus on bringing your breath deeper into your body — the belly breathing — the better. Because it balances this whole stress level out. This is usually also what's the hardest for people, because it's a new thing to learn. That's what we talked about. It's so fascinating, because it's such an easy step that can literally improve your life quality in a second, just to learn how to fully breathe and use everything that is there, and to calm yourself down in an instant.
This is always what we talk about first, and what is nice to do this little exercise for. Because usually, you see that it's a lot easier to direct anything up here. But to really breathing down here, even relaxing your belly, this was my first aha moment when I learned breathing techniques. It was to actually relax my belly. I constantly, in my early 20's, had belly cramps and felt uncomfortable. It's what we're taught. You have to look good. You got to tug in your belly a tiny bit to have a nice form to fit in your teens. But what we're actually doing constantly is stressing ourselves out. Because the whole system down here at the belly, that actually is to relax ourselves, we're tensing up and we're not breathing there.
So, it's my first exercise and my first tip to everyone immediately — learning belly breathing. Learning belly breathing is very simple. It's just putting your hands onto your belly, and see if you can breathe in there, slowly and comfortably, and relaxed. It's the first tip on how to live a more happy life.
Billy: That was a huge takeaway for me, especially when you talked about when you breathe in to your chest, that you're hiking everything up. I think that really resonated for me. Because years and years and years ago, I struggled with neck pain. This was before I even started meditating. I would know that I was hunched up in my neck all the time feeling the stress.
Even now, through meditation, I become a little bit more aware. I'm clearly not at the level where the two of you are with the training that you have had. But I am able to recognize when I'm tensing up. The tension is always in my neck and shoulders. They're hiked up, and I can feel the tension up there. So, when you talked about this, it completely shifted my way of, "Okay. When I'm meditating or when I'm feeling this level of stress, and I feel it in my shoulders, how do I shift my breathing into my stomach?"
Anna: Yeah, the second thing to look at there, and that's very interesting to mention in that context, too, is when you say you're tensing up, it's inhale versus exhale. Because, literally, when you inhale, you're sitting usually a bit more up straight. You're expanding here. It's the same thing. It's activating our sympathetic nervous system. So, the inhalation is signalizing our body there's something to do. I'm getting all these new energy into my body. Often, it's stored here. It's in your neck and your shoulders. That's where it all comes. So, I'm ready to do now. This readiness, it can be a positive thing too because it helps us to do and expand. It gives us this force. But if you don't release it, if you exhale really poorly, it's all going to be blocked in there. You're going to be tensed up. You're holding this whole activation with you. It's staying up here.
So, the second thing to look at here is the exhalation. You might have noticed in the little breathing meditation exercise we did, the exhalation we used as a releasing part to I said like inhale, feeling the whole body, and then release. The exhalation is, again, doing the opposite. It's activating our parasympathetic nervous system. It's signalizing the body, "Okay. Everything is good. I can relax now." You can actively use that in certain body parts to really focus there and to use the exhalation to get rid of this tension.
It's really a nice metaphor and technique that I often do in meditation or in breathwork, where you actually concentrate in the inhalation of just sitting up straight and actually enjoying this expansion without letting it stress here or getting it too high up, but just feeling the space. It's a wonderful thing that we get all this energy in this space.
Then you focus with the exhalation, on releasing whatever it is. It can be mental things that you have a thought that you just released. It can be physical things like tension in shoulders, legs, hips, anywhere. It's very grounding. You have all this weight shifting down towards the earth. So, it's grounding and calming at the same time.
This, in combination with the belly breathing, is wonderful to do. You can also do it separately. Looking at the exhalation and just trying to extend your exhalation, again, has a wonderful effect on your nervous system. It's just a very calming effect. It's helping bringing all this, what is stored up here — if it's chest, neck, shoulders, anywhere — towards the ground, and just releasing it.
Kolin: Just one quick thing to add there. As you said, this is breathwork 101, like another very simple tip. We said belly breathing before. Now we're talking inhale versus exhale. With the exhale, specifically, as you said, extending it, meaning if you just exhale a bit longer than you inhale and then keep extending it further, further, longer, longer, what you're going to do is, as you inhale, you activate a little bit of that sympathetic active. But then, as you exhale longer, longer, longer, your nervous system gets calmer and calmer and calmer. That maybe comes up a little bit with the next inhale. Then exhale, it gets calmer, calmer, calmer. You keep repeating this over a few minutes, and what you'll see is that you get really calm. It's very simple.
There's a lot of advanced breathwork and advanced technique and stuff if you're talking about breathing muscles. But this is extremely simple. It doesn't matter how you’re breathing. It's just counting the length of an inhale versus an exhale. If your exhales are longer and if you maintain that for a few minutes, you will calm down. Just physiologically, you will. Once again, very simple and practical.
Anna: And it's really something that is, again, not looked at very much. Because usually, the exhale for everyone is very, oh, you just exhale. Often, there's so much air staying in your body. It's so much potential there in this very little thing. If you really exhale fully, you have all this space for new, nourishing air. Then you let it go again.
Like we said before, it's really for everyone. Because we're so active all the time. Because there's often this question. Do I have to calm myself down constantly? It's always a balance. Of course, you're never either here, either there. But usually, everyone is way too much up here. So, the more you can do these exercises constantly, the better for your psyche and for your body.
Billy: That's why I tell people I do mindfulness, just so I can stay this level of intensity. Because if I wasn't doing mindfulness, then I would just be an even more obnoxious. I'm already am. So, this is so I can keep at an even keel in some capacity.
When we take a look at nose breathing versus mouth breathing, what can you tell us about that? Because whenever I go to a yoga class and they say, "Exhale through your mouth," I refuse to do that.
Billy: Because it's so uncomfortable. It's so unnatural for me. It actually makes me lightheaded. I think I can also smell my breath, which definitely activates my stress. So, talk about the difference between nose breathing and mouth breathing.
Kolin: Sure, yeah. So, this is another one that we like to talk about because it's so simple. It's just like, I can't believe that some of this stuff isn't taught at a very young age. It just seems so obvious. Teach kids how to breathe. It's not hard. Just give them a few classes, and then they'll be set for life.
Because nose breathing versus mouth breathing, most people don't even know the difference. Most people don't even know that humans are fairly unique in our ability to breathe through both orifices. Most animals use their mouths for eating — most mammals, I guess — and then their noses for breathing.
So, why can we do both? I think the reason — nobody really knows. But the theory is because the mouth can actually act as this really nice — I call it an escape hatch. It's like an emergency mechanism for breathing, if you really need to pull in oxygen quickly and release carbon dioxide quickly. But it's not efficient. In fact, it's the opposite of efficient.
It's exactly why — I'm sure you guys can relate having done any exercise at any point — whenever you get into that zone where you can no longer breathe through your nose and you’re breathing through your mouth, that's like the start of the end of your energy cycle. It means that your muscles are going to start to get really tired soon, and you're not going to be able to. You're going to have to stop or slow down.
The reason for that is because you're not breathing efficiently. You're missing out on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that was going on with your nose, which has all of these very helpful filters, this way of pulling in air and cleaning it, making it pure, as well as restricting the rate of inflow and the rate of outflow to a much healthier balance. Because within your body, there's all this stuff that's going on with gas exchange. If you're doing it too quickly, you're wasting your body's efficiency, to put it simply.
So, I love to preach — ever since I learned this a few years ago — trying to breathe out of your nose as much as possible throughout your daily life. There are exceptions to this. For example, when we're teaching the surfers, people often ask, "Well, what happens if you just got hit by some big wave and you got to come up and paddle around or gets smashed on the reef or whatever?" It's like, "Yeah, okay. If you're in a very dangerous situation, and you need that burst of energy, that short boost, then you can totally breathe through your mouth. You should."
But if you're training, let's say, you're running on a treadmill, and you actually can control the rate at which you're doing something, getting to the point where you need to breathe out of your mouth is almost always disadvantageous to your training, to your body, to everything.
I always quote this one breathwork instructor who I was following a long time ago. He said that he used to work with a lot of professional athletes. He would get them to do their training. He watched them while they're doing the training. He would see that when they got to the really high intensity reps that they'd start breathing through their mouth. He said, "Hey, why don't you slow down and see if you can do your whole training only through the nose?" So, they do this. They get super frustrated, because they had to slow down their intensity a lot to be able to keep breathing through their nose.
However, when they continued to do this for a few weeks, what they found is that they actually broke through these plateaus that they'd had for years of being able to do exercise at a certain intensity. Because they trained themselves to use this much more efficient piece of organic machinery, and that was helping them to just actually increase their capacity to better improve their breathing, make it more efficient. Especially for athletes, this is a huge thing.
Brian: That's amazing.
Billy: I can remember I was using the SkiErg at the gym a while ago. I was doing an all-out SkiErg sprint and just collapsed on the floor. I'm sucking in air through my mouth. I'm like, "If you want to calm down, you need to go through your nose." So then, I shifted through my nose. Then it was just interesting how quickly I was able to settle in and regain my breath much better. There wasn't a sense of panic like, "Oh my gosh. I'm completely out of breath right here." It took certainly time to regain, but I didn't feel like I was anxious. I didn't feel like I was stressed once I was able to shift it through my nose.
This is a hypothesis here. But when I was going to the gym and I had to wear a mask, I hated breathing through my mouth when I was exercising, when I had the mask on. So, I really worked to actually breathe through my nose while I was wearing the mask at the gym. I don't know if it added any advantage to my lifts. But I did PR on deadlift during that time. So, maybe that was part of it. I don't know. But it is interesting, that relationship between nose breathing and mouth breathing. Because that was another thing that you talked about that really resonated with me.
Anna: Yeah, and it's often more comfortable to breathe through the mouth, because we always do it. I even catch myself breathing through my mouth very often. Then if you've noticed, we started our little meditation with inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Because it's a fast escape where these first three breaths — I call them like clearing breath — it's nice to really feel this release. If it's going out through the mouth fast, you really feel it.
But then, we close the mouth, and we breathe through the nose. When we're starting to do that, looking at the breath and starting to control it, you actually have way more control through the nose. Talking about breathing into the belly and talking about extending your exhale, that's so much easier to do with the nose. Because you actually can control it way better, and you actually learn how much capacity there is by just doing that.
Kolin: Exactly, yeah. One more note that something that has to be mentioned here is, how this all plays in. So, everything that we've been talking about has been breathing while we're awake, while we're conscious, right? But what about breathing while you're sleeping? This is somebody nobody thinks about. Unless you're someone who's maybe been tackling a snoring problem, you probably rarely think or know how you breathe at night. So, it's the same thing.
A lot of people are breathing through their mouth while they sleep. Those people who are doing that are probably waking up pretty often with dry throats. There's all sorts of really small things that start to happen.
Brian: It's not good for your teeth.
Kolin: Oh, exactly.
Brian: Plaque can actually harden when you're breathing through your mouth at night supposedly.
Kolin: There you go. I actually haven't heard that, but I believe it. There's just a lot of general health things that are going to happen here. Because you can't get into that really deep parasympathetic state as well if you're breathing through the mouth. But the key here is, first of all, how do you know if you're even breathing through your mouth while you're sleeping? And what can you do about it?
Anna: Well, often you have a lot of pictures taken for you. As a classic open mouth breather, all of my friends always thought that's very funny when I fall asleep in the car. So, that's how you know.
Kolin: There you go. That's one strategy. I think people in general who have partners or whatever that are sleeping the same bed with them will probably know pretty easily. I don't know.
Anna: Sore throat.
Billy: I suppose you could film yourself. There are some things you could do. But the point is, what most of us can do to actually help this, which is going to be a strange suggestion to anyone who hasn't heard of this before. But what I did when I found out I was breathing through my mouth at night was, I started taping my mouth shut. So many people are terrified to do this, because they think they're going to suffocate.
What's amazing is that since I did that, since I started — I assume it was about three years ago that I started. I spent about three months taping my mouth shut every night. It's a little bit strange at first, because you look like a hostage, especially if you have a sleeping mask on. But if you get over that, then what started to happen is my nose — which used to get clogged all of the time, to the point where I couldn't breathe through it — it stopped doing that. That was crazy to me. I thought, "Oh, I'm going to suffocate if my nose is clogged, if I'm sick or something like that."
But actually, what happens is when you don't have the option to breathe through your mouth, your nervous system knows that it's got to keep the nose clear. So, it's going to do whatever it needs to do to lessen the blood flow there. There's these little cavities in there that fill with blood to block your nose. It'll lessen the blood flow there, and it'll make sure that you're essentially able to breathe through your nose constantly.
I can really say with certainty that I have not needed to breathe through my mouth for sickness or other related reasons for the last three years, ever. It's just because I've trained myself at night and during the day to be able to constantly breathe through my nose.
Anna: Yeah, it's absolutely amazing what it can do. It helps with snoring. It helps with sore throats. It gives you better sleep. Sleep is like — when Colin and I were talking to people, most people don't sleep very well. There's a lot of things for that. But one major thing is that, you're using so much energy through your mouth that can easily be replaced by breathing through your nose.
Billy: I found something online one time where it looked like underwear that you put on your head. It kept your mouth shut. I bought it. I bought the wrong size. So, it clamped my headshots. It hurt my jaw, so I stopped wearing it. But I remember you talking about open mouth. I think, too, especially if you sleep on your back, gravity most likely takes over your jaw. You're going to open up your mouth when you're sleeping.
Anna: I think your body gets used to that because when I met Kolin, obviously, he recommended that to me, to tape my mouth. I was like, "Okay. Let's try it." Your body gets used to it. After a few weeks or months, you don't need the plaster anymore. It stays shut, except still if you fall asleep in the bus or so, then it goes open, and you get another picture.
Billy: This is also fascinating. I imagine that our listeners are finding this fascinating, too. So, what we're going to do is we're going to take a quick break. Then when we come back, Anna and Kolin are going to talk about the mindful co-living and remote working facility that they are looking into building and developing for people out there like you, who may be interested in doing some more work with your breath. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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And now, let's take a minute to be present with our breath. If you're listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let's do that one more time. Inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Hey friends, that was part one of our conversation with Kolin and Anna. We hope you found it as fascinating and informative as we did. Don't forget to tune in next Wednesday for part two of our conversation with Kolin and Anna. If you want to hear someone talk about how impactful breathwork has been on their lives, go back an episode and listen to our conversation with Marie Nutter. I've never been in a room with someone who has such a calming presence about them. When we shared that with Marie, she attributed that to her breathing and yoga practice. So, check out that episode next. Then tune in next Wednesday for the second half of our conversation with Kolin and Anna.
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