That’s what every BJJ instructor will tell any mat noobie who wants to advance. We’ve all rolled with, or been the guy who’s undergoing a panic attack in a state of rigor mortis. Not fun. The key to chilling out on the mat, and over-coming the psychological factors, is in all in your breathing. Let’s look at how to induce a non-threatening stressful situation and breathe your way out of it.
We’ll start with the example of a blue belt who calmly deals with being on the bottom position. How does the noobie described above look in comparison ?
Even against a black belt, the blue belt will rarely go into a state of panic or hyperventilation. The white belt, on the other hand will get out of breath within seconds.
So, is the blue belt breathing well because he’s relaxed, or is he relaxed because he’s breathing well? You’d be very surprised how often it’s the later and how both influence each other. Your body is tightening up because of perceived stress. Get your breathing right and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll be when rolling.
Breathing used to be the centerfold in marital arts. Popular martial arts (Muay Thai, Boxing) teach the “hardstyle” of breathing – that “pssst” when you throw a punch, kick or take a blow.To create power, you must be able contract and relax quickly. This is no mystery to the yoga or tai-chi practitioner, who uses the breath for relaxation, and loosening up.
Most people try to increase endurance or stamina through cardio workouts. Wrong muscle. A big heart that pumps puny amounts of oxygen is useless. The diaphragm is the true muscle of power.
For BJJ, breathing well will allow you to relax and:
Being in that white belt state of panic fires up the sympathetic nervous system and gears up your body for “fight or flight”. Proper belly breathing, in through the nose, promotes the parasympathetic nervous system to “rest or digest” and signals the body to relax.
Since the majority of our over-stressed population has breathing dysfunction, we’ve got to make sure you’re breathing right first before we go over how to breathe when under extreme stress.
First and foremost, let’s starts with assessment. Place your fingers at your sides under your last ribs. Really get in there. Give yourself 10 breaths. If you can properly pass this, move on to step 2.
– If your chest don’t move, and you have a 360 degree expansion of the abdominal area, you’re doing it right.
– If your chest rises but your fingers stay where they are than you’re doing it wrong. Luckily, this can be easily fixed
You’d be surprised at how many people can’t do this. You might notice that you breathe into one side more than the other. Real breathing uses the diaphragm muscle to expand the belly on inhalation rather than lifting the chest. Luckily, this can be easily fixed
Get down on the ground. Lie on your back and place a shoe on your chest and another on your stomach. Put your fingers in the previous place. Replace your hands with shoes. Groove the proper breathing pattern by keeping the chest down, and breathing through the belly. Try to get that 360 expansion. If you were breathing only to one side, work on getting the breath to the other as well.
Your abdomen should expand as a result of your breath – don’t try to push your belly out.
Breathe until it’s natural.
Now let’s create a situation of stress by placing yourself in a position or movement that your body feels is vulnerable. The easiest way is by simply going onto a lacrosse ball and searching for muscle “hot spots”. If a lacrosse ball is too much for you, use a foam roller. Common places for these “hotspots” are the Quads, Soleus, Glutes, Lats, and Pecs.
Move into the pain and hold the position. You might go into panic, tighten up, and either stop breathing or breathe very shallowly.
Relax your body by utilizing belly breathing. And allow the muscles to loosen up and “melt” over the foam roller. Once this happens or pain decreases, move slowly into another tight area.
Now that it it clear how to control breath under extreme stress, let’s incorporate breathing into progressively higher demands of motor control as they relate to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This will teach you how to breathe while keeping tight!
Start in a position with your hips flexed at 90 degrees and head down, chin in. You can place your hands in the same spot under your ribs at the sides while you master your breathing. Progress to the deadbug position first and than to a leg lowering progression:
Some points to look out for while performing the above exercise:
This stability progression will teach your body handle breathing while keeping tight, protected and moving on your back.
Practice these exercises until breathing well is automatic (as it should be), and you’ll quickly advance your learning in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, especially in competition.
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