There's only two things in life that hold you back. Fear and pain.
Both can be emotional and both can be physical.
However when you’re in control of your breath in really stressful situations, you realize you’re in control of anything that’s in front of you. You realize that any situation that you encounter is not happening to you, you’re happening to it.
Breathing exercises are a way to strip down your ego and tap into who you actually are. They’re exercises to get you more in touch and open, not just with yourself, but new ideas and other people.
Breathe Degrees: Embrace Your Stress
When we experience stress in our culture we automatically go to this place of being overwhelmed.
No one likes the feeling of being overwhelmed because it puts you in the cognitive center of your brain called your prefrontal cortex, otherwise known as “Fright-Fight-Flight”.
This system is designed to get you away from danger. It’s the part of your brain that tells you to away from the great white shark, run away from the grizzly bear, or help you fight off an attacker.
Unfortunately we experience these stressors in situations that are NOT going to kill us. Whether it’s mortgage payments, politics, jobs, spouses, kids. These are all perceptions that are not designed to kill you but collectively together they overwhelm your brain.
“We’re rebranding stress because we’ve been trained that stress is really bad for you, and in all actuality most stress is actually really good for you”, says certified Wim Hof Instructor and Breathe Degrees founder Tyler Forbes. “Any form or type of exercise is stress. Anything that requires a task or a job to be accomplished or move forward in the right direction requires some form of stress."
Forbes is an ultramarathon runner using the a breathing exercise called “The Wim Hof Method” to help elevate your nervous system. Instead of feeling overwhelmed in stressful situations, you can use your breath to lean into the stress and come out the other side even stronger.
“There’s two parts of your nervous system,” says Forbes, “Fright-Fight-Flight, the sensation of feeling overwhelmed and making erratic bad choices. On the other side you have parasympathetic, which is resting, sleeping and recovering from the day to day tasks. But there’s a part in the middle that we don't talk about, it’s an elevated portion called Excite-and-Delight.”
This part of your brain is associated with a stress hormone called norepinephrine. This is the area that explains why exercise makes you feel so happy. This is the reason why you feel so confident after you achieve something big and you feel so good about yourself.
Forbes' business 'Breathe Degrees' is helping people elevate their norepinephrine levels through deep rhythmic breath work. Just like how exercise elevates norepinephrine, it never takes you into that Fright-Fight-Flight if it's at a controlled pace.
Essentially these breathing exercises are HIIT training for your cardiovascular system. It consists of repetitive gasps of air that go along with the beat pattern of experiential infused music. The music becomes part of the journey.
“Breath work or any kind of meditation doesn’t have to be to the specific music that we usually associate these practices with. You can make it fun. You can make it creative. So what we want to do is make breathing cool. How you breathe is how you perceive your environment psychologically and how you achieve things physically. You’re engaging that midbrain instead of that prefrontal cortex.”
What this is associated with is what athletes call being in the “zone”.
“It’s no thoughts of the past, no thoughts of future, just present here and now,” says Forbes. “You’re connected to what it is you’re doing. What happens when you get into that state is your prefrontal cortex completely goes dark because it’s not thinking about anything else outside of what you are doing.”
This “zone” doesn't have to be associated with sports. It can be applied in business, reading a book, writing a manuscript, or doing art.
“Our breath is a lever or switch of where our nervous system is. It's the only way we have conscious control over our nervous system at that particular moment,” says Forbes.
How the CEO and Plumber Become Best Friends
Forbes says just like surfing, running is his meditation. “I tried sitting cross-legged and meditating but it just wasn’t working for me. I now realize that takes practice but I’m a science guy. I kept asking why am I experiencing dive-intervention during these hyper-oxygenated states?”
So where did Forbes go to get his answer? YouTube of course! He simply looked up “hyper-oxygenated meditation like running.”
There he stumbled across a podcast of the man himself Wim Hof explaining his breathing method. This was years before he gained his popularity we know today. Forbes put on some headphones, laid on the ground, and was captivated.
He couldn’t believe it. It was one of the best experiences he’d ever had. “This was the first time I ever experienced meditation outside of running or surfing.” From there, Forbes took a deeper dive into breath work and decided to make it a daily practice.
At the time Wim was doing a world tour, so Forbes decided to take four of his friends to see him in Los Angeles. “All these guys were high-level corporate executives. They were all really square people but I just told them to trust me,” says Forbes.
500 people from all walks of life packed into a hangar for Wim’s breath work class. “There were all different types of people there. Kung-fu people, corporate people, yoga people, athletes.” Wim guided them through his breathing method while playing one of the greatest rock albums of all time, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.
“After we were finished I got up I was magnetized, I got up, grabbed Wim and gave him a hug. What was fascinating to me though was you had this very eclectic group of people, where interestingly enough everyone partitioned themselves. When I first walked in I was watching these kung-fu guys practice their moves. I’m not going to lie, I was judging them. But after doing the breath work I felt an insane deep connection because we just went through the same thing, and when I looked around I saw everyone doing the same thing. My three friends who I brought were corporate guys, who were very cynical and pragmatic on these kinds of practices, they were all crying. It wasn’t tears of sadness, it was relief.”
Forbes thought there has to be a place like this where people can go to tap into their own chemistry, struggle together, and become more socially connected.
“Breathe Degrees' entire vision is to be a place where people can be together without this ridiculous peacock’s plume that everyone walks around with,” says Forbes. “Whether it’s the clothes that you wear or the car that you drive in the neighborhood you live in. It all doesn’t matter. People just want connection. Suffer together. Adapt together. Grow together. Connect together. The CEO can sit beside the plumber, they can do the breath work, they can do the cold plunge. They can celebrate their victory together, talk about their experience and that leads to another conversation that doesn’t involve what they actually do professionally. It’s who they actually physically are and so they find out that they both like surfing so now the CEO and the plumber can be best friends which there’s no reason on the planet why CEOs should only be friends with CEOs. Plumbers should only be friends with plumbers, we are all interconnected.”
Using breath work to channel Gr@titude
“It’s not happy people that are grateful, it’s grateful people who are happy.”
Breathe Degrees Head Coach Tyler Forbes expresses the power of gratitude to a group who just went through his Wim Hof breath work class.
“This practice can take you to the next level,” says Forbes. It felt as if he was handing us the key to success.
We lay there on our matts looking at one another. Listening and feeling as we discussed our experiences of euphoria. It’s what happened after the breath work that was the most meaningful.
Going deep in conversation.
“It starts with vulnerability,” says Daniel Hack, founder of the Gr@titude Movement. The reason all of us were there in the first place was because of Hack. “The reason I wanted us to come together tonight was for the amazing breath work of course,” as he looked back at Tyler and laughed, “but the goal is to create a conversation. We want less screen time and more face time. In-person.”
And he’s right.
We discussed our struggles. How to overcome them. How to have empathy. How to forgive and love. “The breath work is just the jumping off point. We’re better together,” said Hack. “Let’s lend a helping hand and lift each other up.”
Breath work was a channel to stop thinking about the past and focusing on the future. Focusing on these exercises put me in the moment and helped me enjoy life right in front of me. If we can clear all the clutter from our brains like a garage we can see everything that we have. I was awake. I was present. An explosion of appreciation and love rushed through my body for everyone in the room, many of whom I just met!
Hack, a mental health advocate, showed us what we can do together. We didn’t need external validation. Everything we thought we needed we already had.
The beauty of breath work is that it helped bring it out of us.
If you can control your breath it becomes meditation. Now the very fears and stressors that you push or lean away from in life you now lean towards them because you know how to deal with them.
Breath work explains the Laird Hamiltons of the world who are dropping in on 100-foot waves. This explains Alex Honnald climbing El Capitan with no ropes whistling calmly as he’s 2,000 feet in the air and there’s nothing between him and the ground. This explains how great people are able to perform consistently under enormous periods of stress and pressure. Whether they know it or not, whether they’ve been trained or not, they learned how to control their nervous system.
You know some of those people. You’ve been around those friends when things go sideways. You know who you want by your side in an emergency.
We can control these chemistries in our brain and release them but we have to work at them to achieve them and it explains why sitting on the couch makes you feel miserable physically and emotionally.
Even though you’re safe there’s no risk but when you struggle and go out the other side even if you fail, you feel good about yourself because you tried.
No greatness was achieved being warm and cozy. Once you learn how to control your breath in stressful situations, nothing can stop you.