VALENTIN TALANOV “BREATHING IN SYSTEMA”
At our first Systema training we are offered to breathe in this pattern: “inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth”. You ask yourself: “Why like this not somehow else?” One can breathe in through their mouth and breath out the same way; breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the nose too. If you try to breathe deeply using different patterns and you remember how you feel after each inhale and exhale, you'll come to a conclusion that the most proper filling with air and the relaxation will be after inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
However we don't breathe like this in our everyday life. We're talking about breathing in training, in stressful situations, in situations that can unbalance us mentally, during physical activities, when we overcome pain, when we work in different temperature environments and so on. Our regular breathing pattern is inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose.
We should understand though that we have three phases of breathing: inhale, exhale and holding breath. From physiological point of view inhale is tension and exhale is relaxation. Then what's happening when we're holding our breath? In the old times they said that holding your breath was fighting with one's fears. When you hold your breath there takes place excitation of your vascular system, which in its turn stimulates the nervous system. Emotional background that appears at this moment (and it is fear as a rule) entails body tension. It can be compared to a snowball when it's rolling and getting bigger: one thing intensifies the other and our breath holding becomes incredibly short. According to this we can conclude that the duration of breath holding depends on the psychological and emotional condition, freedom of body movements (flexibility) and elasticity of our vascular system.
There are four variants of breath holding:
• on a fee inhale
• on a free exhale
• on a maximum inhale
• on a maximum exhale
We suggest starting breath holding on a free exhale as it's more usual for the organism. Free exhale gives relaxation to your body. As breath holding raises blood pressure, stimulates the nervous system and gives tension to the body, this kind of load won't be a problem. Recovery after breath holding can be the same as after the strike. Breath frequency and depth will be individual. It's important to remember that breathing shouldn't give tension to the body. Breathing pattern for recovery: inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. At the fist stage do breath holdings in static position, preferably lying or sitting. Then you can do breath holdings in movement (while walking or running), during physical loads like push-ups, squats, with your legs over your head) and in different temperature environments.
From the above we make a conclusion that doing breath holdings in static position, while moving, during physical loads and in different temperature environments, we achieve elasticity of the vascular system and flexibility of the nervous system. And this in its turn, will allow us to adequately respond to stressful situations, physical loads, taking punches and so on.
BREATHING IN MOVEMENT
In Systema it's essential to combine breathing and movement. Let's start with ordinary. walking. We walk with the body (back) straight, shoulders and arms are relaxed. Don't drop your head down. One step- breathe in, one step – breathe out. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. After some time the breathing pattern is like this: two steps – inhale, two steps – exhale. Then three steps – inhale, three steps – exhale and so on. You define the maximum number of steps at which your body doesn't tense up. For instance, it'll be ten steps inhale, ten steps exhale. Having defined your potential, you start to gradually reduce the number of steps up to one step for inhale and one step for exhale. Apply the same principal when running.
What gives such a stretch of breathing per number of steps? First of all it's control over your condition in a training session, which means no thoughts about work, family, business. It allows you to concentrate on the process (control over counting steps, breathing, body condition). Secondly, you come to realization that exhale really gives you relaxation and inhale gives tension. Thirdly, it calms down our nervous system. And fourthly, inhaling we give our body as much oxygen as we need at this particular physical load.
The next stage is movement on the floor. You move on the floor randomly, i.e. roll, flip over, move. Here too you stick to the Systema principle: combine breathing with movement. We breathe in each phase of movement: one phase inhale, one phase exhale. In such work inhale can be shorter than exhale. Continuity of movement will give you the continuity of breathing.
What's so unusual about it?
First of all the floor forms your body correctly. Working on the floor for a long time we try to avoid unnecessary tensions which take away our strength. Secondly, we sort out the main problem of fear finding ourselves on the floor (you- fall- you- lose principle). Moving on the floor we get used to it and we don't feel uncomfortable. Thirdly, it's load on the vascular and nervous systems. With the help of moving on the floor we bring them to their normal condition. Forthly, moving functions on the floor are directly connected to the brain activities thus revealing your creative potential.
Falling on the floor from sitting position: legs extended forward; squatting; kneeling. Standing tall. Again we combine breathing and moving. When we fall we exhale. We fall softly, relaxing. When we fall we don't help ourselves with our hands and we form our bodies correctly. The main criteria is when you do it almost silently. This kind of work helps to get rid of lots of complexes, fears of falling, fear of finding yourself in an unfavorable position. Combining breathing and movement you'll be totally concentrated on your body working. At the first stage it's very important to move slowly and calmly. After having “learnt” and “understood” the right condition in slow work one can start working more quickly.
BREATHING DURING PHYSICAL LOADS
Slow exercises in Systema are very popular and efficient. Let's take three exercises for example. Push-ups on fists, squats and legs over your head.
Push-ups on fists
You can go down at your slowest pace (for example 30 seconds down, 30 seconds up) with rapid breathing (inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth). It's essential to stick to the principle that breathing shouldn't give you any tension.
You can go down inhaling and go up exhaling. Breathing here will be on each phase of movement. The more slowly you do the exercise the longer you “stretch” your breath.
It's very important to keep your back straight in this exercise. Your knees shouldn't be pointing to the sides. That is your legs are in the same position as they're when you walk naturally. This is your natural position. In this exercise you can change how wide you spread your legs. You go down inhaling, go up exhaling. We breath on each phase of movement. You can go up and down as slowly as possible, for example 30 seconds up and 30 seconds down. The breathing will be rapid and depend on the load, body tension and blood pressure.
One should know that those parts of your body where tension appears, (during loads or strikes) have excessive blood pressure. Our task is to get rid of the tension and balance out the blood pressure with the help of relaxation and breathing.
LEGS OVER THE HEAD
In this efficient exercise the load is directed not only at strengthening your body but also your nervous and vascular systems. When the legs are in the position over your head there appear difficulty breathing thus stimulating the nervous system. Emotional background appears. In this case one should relax, calm down and stretch breathing: inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. This exercise can be done as slowly as possible with rapid breathing or put your legs over your head exhaling and bring them back to the initial position inhaling. While bringing your legs over your head it's important to check that you waist is pressing against the floor. Usually when the back muscles are weak the waist starts bending which is bad for your spine.
With the exercises described above we start to understand how physical activities and loads affect our bodies and how with the help of breathing we can do these exercises without any harm to our health.
In Systema methodology there exist lots of exercises which you can study during the seminars. Some of you might already know them. One thing is important. During the training the Systema principle should be followed: you should combine breathing and movement and breathing shouldn't give you tension. If you work with static load or slow dynamic – the breathing will be rapid and its frequency and depth will be individual for each person. But it's crucial that breathing shouldn't give you any tension.
If you load the upper part of your body then you should also load the lower part too. That is, if you first did the push ups, do the squats afterwards. This is vital for your circulatory system. Balanced load on the blood vessels in the upper and lower parts of your body will allow you to distribute blood pressure evenly in your whole body. Strengthening the body we also achieve elasticity of the circulatory system. Many of you are acquainted with different types of martial arts and have probably seen the athletes who suffer high blood pressure. And some of them have clearly marked hypertension. That happens because the throws were performed at breath holding and that was the reason for the vascular system to experience immense load. At Systema trainings we focus our attention on breathing. When you lift something heavy - inhale when you put it down exhale. This rule will allow you to not only preserve your health but also improve your athletic potential.
BREATHING DURING STRIKES
In this section we're going to look at the strikes but not at the technique of how to perform a strike, but at how to take it. In Systema we teach how to punch starting with pushes. If you start punching an unprepared person you can do them a lot of harm not only physically but also psychologically, harming his/her nervous system. The fear of a punch in an unprepared person will remain in them for a long time. But even in this case it's possible to fix the problem. So, we start with pushes.
All progressive onward movements into your body should be taken/received on the exhale. The faster the push, the faster the exhale. But don't exhale all the air as you can be pushed several times in a row. The body should be relaxed and even and should correspond to the natural position in space. The exhale shouldn't come out of your head, it should come out of your body. You shouldn't restrain your exhale which means it should give you relaxation. But we're used to tensing up our bodies when we're punched and pushed. Let's have a look at what's happening when we receive a punch or a push into our body.
In that spot where the strike came there appeared tension and, consequently, excessive blood pressure. That's why we relax our bodies and breathe, that is we get rid of the tension and balance out the blood pressure. Now imagine that you've tensed up and you've been punched, which means you've been given even more tension. And you're trying to fight this tension sometimes even losing consciousness. You don't faint because of the pain but because of the excessive blood pressure Our organism relaxes at the moment of losing consciousness thus balances out the pressure in the circulatory system.
Let's not drive ourselves to the extreme conditions and “give the body to work” step by step. Start with slow pushes combined with breathing. As your body and psyche get used to this, increase the pushing speed and, accordingly, the speed of the exhale. Then you can proceed to body strikes. Slow strike takes a slow exhale, quick strike - quick exhale.
BREATHING IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS
Each of us has been in such situations and surely remembers what was happening with their body, breath and heartbeat. The body becomes bound and tense, breathing becomes inexpressive and the heart is “ready to jump out of the chest”. In this condition you're being told not to take it too close to your heart. To bring yourself back with just one will is almost impossible. We can say to ourselves “I'm OK”many times, but our condition won't change. Somebody offers to write down all your problems on a piece of paper and burn it. As they say you “burn” your problems like this. Maybe it can help someone. But we'll have a look at a more down to earth way. Try breathing with a deep inhale and long exhale. It helped a little but then it all comes back again.
OK. We're going to “connect” our body to this. On inhale tense up your body, on exhale relax it. Inhale is deep. Gradually reduce the tension on inhale and with each exhale calm down and relax the body. I'm sure it helped.
Let's try another method. Lie down on the floor on your back. The body is relaxed, eyes are closed. Do several deep inhales and long exhales. Then after a free exhale hold your breath. Hold your breath as long as you can. While holding your breath your body will respond with tension. Move a little. Start recovering: breathe in through the nose, breathe out through the mouth. The first phase of breathing will be with deep inhale and exhale, gradually calm down your breath until it's even and calm. If this doesn't help, then try slow movements. Do the push-ups, squats and put your legs over your head (from lying position) as slow as possible. All the three exercises should be done with breathing. The last two methods (breath holding in lying position and slow exercises) are suitable for post-stress situations.
A stressful situation can be compared to the physical impact on a person, for example, with a punch. In both cases there appears tension in the body, blood pressure rises, the heart rate changes. Conclusion is simple: relax the body, start breathing. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth.
BREATHING IN DIFFERENT TEMPERATURE ENVIRONMENTS
As a practice recommendation we'd suggest going to the sauna (Russain banya) with a swimming pool. It's preferable that the water in the pool is cold. When you're in a sweating room or in a hot environment, you try to find a comfortable and convenient position for relaxation. The breathing is calm, you inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. You can use birch or oak twigs. You can cover your face with them and breath through the twigs' leaves. What's happening to our body in a hot environment? The blood starts moving towards periphery, the skin becomes red and you start sweating. We start to relax even more so that the blood movement in our bodies is free. When we've warmed up enough we can go to the swimming pool with cold water. Plunge into water so that your shoulders are covered. Breathing in cold water will be deep and intense. It's important to remember: breathing shouldn't give you any strain. Breath in through your nose, breath out through your mouth. Gradually calm down and hold your breath after a free exhale. Holding your breath plunge underwater. You shouldn't try to set a record being underwater. Everything should be done according to how you feel. After breath holding for a short period of time go out of the water with rapid breathing (inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth) and go back to the sweating room. The number of repetition depends on your wish and your condition.
Such training gives a very good load on your vascular system making it more elastic. And this, in its turn, allows you to increase your training potential. You'll start reacting to different stressful situations more adequately. Sauna (banya) is very health because it helps to remove toxins from your body, and also your organism regenerates on a cellular level. And of course, banya relaxes the body. And you shouldn't forget that your psyche condition depends on the condition of your body.
From the above we can make a conclusion that one should train, exercise and simply live with breathing.
Stay healthy and good luck in everything you do!