Long before coaches and athletes were exercising at altitude (hypoxia), yoga practitioners were developing breath-hold breathing programs that increased their natural EPO and red blood cell count, enabling them to achieve amazing feats. In this course we explore this and you will start to develop your own powerful breath program.
To read: PRANAYAMA, The Breath of Yoga: Pages 31-72.
Walk along a crowded street and ask anybody the same question: “Does yoga help you breathe?”, almost all will answer in the affirmative. Ask again: “How does yoga hep you breathe?”, and almost no one, including many yoga teachers and students will not be able to give an answer.
Hypoxia is defined as “deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues”, but this can be hard to prove because many athletes “go hypoxic” because they feel out of breath, but have substantial amounts of oxygen in their muscles, but not in their bloodstream.
Yoga is famous for its practitioners inducing many interesting physical states including; stopping ones heart (and restarting it), slowed breathing, extended meditations (years), displacement, levitation and so forth.
A yoga master who can levitate and displace themselves would probably make an amazing bike racer, but to date I cannot find evidence that such a person exists, or that a yogi on this path would deem racing a bicycle worthy, thought that may change!
As a quest, these pursuits can be interesting, but for someone like Derek, Zoe or Jay, what could yoga possibly do for them other than help them touch their toes?
Derek’s ex-wife Zoe dragged him to a yoga class once in an effort to bring them together with some “healing yoga” at a local yoga center towards the end of their relationship.
Rather than a “healing yoga” class, they found themselves in a brisk, powerful and intense yoga class with a surf-dude teacher who Derek was sure caught Zoe’s eye.
Feeling enormously stupid in his large, overweight body, Derek followed the instructions of the teacher as best he could and did his best to hide his embarrassment at his body cramped up and twisted up to the point he wished he had never come. As well, he could not breathe, and felt like he was suffocation as the teacher extended the exhale times until he felt like he was suffocating (mild hypoxia).
BUT, somewhere in the middle of the class something unexpected happened: Derek started to breathe. Not huge, surging breaths but steady breaths that unknotted his back and split his chest into moving, elastic parts.
At the end of the class, Derek and Zoe lay on their mats and maintained their steady inhales and long, emptying exhales. It was an eye-opener for Derek, but not wanting to continue with Zoe in her new fad, he walked away and forgot about it, allowing his back to knot and chest to return to its solid, unyielding form.
“Yoga’ is not one thing, its 3 main layers are: postures (Asana), breath work (Pranayama) and meditation (Dhyana). Someone who calls themselves a yoga master would have to be very experienced and enlightened to combine all 3 of the above. Most teachers and schools choose one of the above and stick with that.
Simulated Altitude Training and the respiratory exercises we cover will come under the heading of Pranayama.
Pranayama is a combination of two words – Prana and Ayama:
1. Prana means breathe, or life-force
2. Ayama means extension
Placed together, Pranayama describes the extending of life force, and it is this extension that makes the yogis who do amazing feats perform the seemingly impossible.
So, who is performing Pranayama? Anyone who has tried yoga and followed the breathing patterns during the class is practising Pranayama.
Gregor Maehle, an author of books on the traditional Ashtanga Yoga practise recalls a time when he travelled with a Yogi accomplished in Pranayama through the Himalayas by foot. They both travelled at a comfortable pace during the day and in the evening stayed at inns or camped. One evening, with the temperature hovering below 0 degrees celsius, Gregor retreated to an inn, while his companion stayed outside, clad only in a light cloak. Morning came, and Gregor, fearing the worst searched for his companion. Expecting to find him hypothermic or frozen, Gregor was extremely surprised to find his friend comfortable and warm where he had left him. Quizzing him on how this was possible, his friend informed him he had stayed warm by practising Pranayama exercises designed to build heat in the body.
This story is one of our first introductions to the Bohr effect and Oxygen compensation curve that form the base of Simulated Altitude Training and the Buteyko asthma treatment
As well, this story gives us insight into looking at the intelligence of thousands of years of R&D by our ancestors, and how we can combine this exhaustive work over many hundreds of years with modern-day sports science that has been actively studied for the much less impressive timespan of 30 to 40 years.
Why does Pranayama apply to the modern athlete?
There are myriad Pranayama exercises, each designed to create physiological and mental affects in the human body. There are exercises for improving digestion, raising blood pressure, lowering blood pressure, burning karma, meditation and more. But for our Simulated Altitude Training program, we will concentrate on such practises as Khumbaka and Khapalabati; ancient exercises that uses ratios of inhales, exhales and breath-holds to reduce or increase O2 and CO2 in our blood stream, calm or excite our heart and increase mental strength and calm.
For the athlete or coach looking to develop other breath functions, the required reading book PRANAYAMA, The Breath of Yoga by Gregor Maehle contains all the exercises necessary.
When to use
Khumbaka is a powerful tool for balancing the blood O2 saturation, warming the diaphragm, calming the mind and eliminating faeces.
Upon waking on race day, practising Khumbaka will give an insight into the ease of breath on-the-day and can be used a systemic tool for choosing which exercises will bring about the highest performance.
Covered later in this program is the use of breath-hold times as a systemic tool as well, but for the athlete looking to develop a fast-tracked performance, Khumbaka practised regularly will help and eliminate the feeling of being unable to breath during competition.