Breathing is something that many of us take for granted because we have been doing it for our whole lives. From the moment we unconsciously enter this world to the moment our consciousness leaves, we breathe. Does the fact that we do something consistently mean that we are good at it? How does our breath affect our Jiu Jitsu game?
For a long time I suffered from allergy induced asthma. This hit its peak when I was about 27. Almost every time I went to train it felt like I had a permanent 250 opponent strapped to my chest. A 3 minute training round felt like an eternity and I would sit out every other round. I remember thinking how much better I would be if I could just breathe.
Today, being 38 at the time of writing this, I can roll for hours if need be. While there were a couple large changes I made (diet, especially lowering carbs) how I inhaled and exhaled was the biggest factor in change. I had gone my entire life breathing “shallow” and what I now consider incorrect. I was unaware of the difference. I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Enter Wim Hof, the iceman! Being into Jiu Jitsu and having weird friends, one of them introduced me to Wim Hof. This older gentleman was submerging himself in cold water for unthinkable lengths, he was climbing mountains in nothing but shorts, and he had a goofy smile while doing it all. I was intrigued by this individual but looked at him as an outlier. Why would I want to do any of that stuff?
This blind spot persisted until I was challenged to hold my breath by a friend who practiced the Wim Hof method. It was just a random conversation on a random day but I decided to try it. I don’t exactly remember how long I held my breath but it certainly was not for more than 30 seconds. This random friend, with only a few breaths warming up, was almost triple me. For reasons only God knows, this was a trigger for me to learn how to belly breathe and to learn the Wim Hof method.
New habits start with awareness, then you consciously or unconsciously develop a desire until you take action. This was the tipping point where I knew that I wanted to learn how to breathe. I didn’t want to get winded walking up hills, or in my first couple minutes of rolling. I thought that perhaps in some way, the amount that I could hold my breath was a meter for how my cardiovascular system was. I didn’t yet know what the journey would yield, however I knew that I desired to take action.
I tried to hop right into the Wim Hof method and it was a little much for me. I struggled to take deep “belly” breaths as one would struggle to lift heavy weights when they first go to the gym. I didn’t realize how bad I could be at something simple like breathing. This frustration led to me quitting multiple times, much like people tend to ebb and flow through their Jiu Jitsu career.
Eventually, the idea of just belly breathing clicked with me. Having my diaphragm expand helped my posture internally and allowed me to take bigger breaths. My resting heart rate decreased and my ability to train taking breaks increased dramatically. I also noticed that my allergy induced asthma started to weaken. All seemingly because I began to breathe correctly.
Once my belly breathing became more normalized, I hopped back into the Wim Hof method. Getting breath holds of almost 3 minutes over just a few months practice. My rolling times increased with fewer breaks. I also felt like I had the ability to execute most of my game plan on my training partners. I had never realized that my poor breathing was severely limiting my ability to move. My muscles were not getting fed the oxygen it required for the movements I was telling it to do. Once I started getting that increase in blood flow, I found that I had a great jump in perceived success while rolling. Currently, I am full on a Wim Hof method practitioner with daily cold exposure and breathing techniques. I treat the process as a meditation and find peace while doing it. I have found that the cold exposure is excellent for inflammation and joint pain which BJJ tends to cause. Having found that the Wim Hof method pairs excellently with BJJ I have started sharing that information with the world. The Fire and Water camps are the culmination of the two practices. The camps are held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the middle of winter. With 9 hours of BJJ seminars coupled with 5 hours of Wim Hof method style breathing techniques and cold exposure in lake Michigan with big bonfires to warm you up after. Here is the link to the camp page if you are interested.
A change in breathing is one of the most important physical changes that you can create for yourself. If you have any questions on diaphragmic (belly) breathing, the Wim Hof method, or the ever growing tree on how breathing can improve your life, don’t hesitate to reach out!