Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Systema Breathing

To say that Systema is a "unique" style would be a huge understatement. Among many original concepts, the breathing system found in Systema is one of its more effective and creative aspects. Here, we will discuss the application of these concepts for fighters, soldiers, athletes and general health enthusiasts.

Mental and Physical Health Benefits
Systema is, and always has been, a health-based system. This might not be evident when watching a class on mass attack or a video on punch-absorption, but practitioners will agree that the benefits are immediate. There is a thin line between calm and panic and only breathing can put you behind the wheel when in a crisis. Systema takes the time to safely simulate a scenario that would induce panic and provide the tools to succeed in gaining control. An example of this is Square Breathing. When running laps, the practitioner tries to time their steps with their breath. One step inhale, one step hold with lungs full, one step exhale and one step hold with lungs empty. Sounds easy? Then we escalate to to two steps for each of the four phases. When the practitioner reaches numbers closer to 10, this will remove you from your comfort zone. The runner starts to feel like they are drowning and the panic reflex kicks in. This is where things get interesting. There is no actual risk here, but the brain feels like it will never regain control and the runner has to fight through this and calm his/her breathing. As you slow your breathing and continue to square breath at a more comfortable level, your heart rate will slow down. Make sure to do this drill in a way that ends with success in order to reinforce positively. I could tell you that your heart rate, fatigue and mental state are all controled in your breathing, but you won't really understand until you test it.

For anyone who has ever worked out, tried Yoga, Pilates or even help a friend move a couch, you've probably noticed that your breathing has a lot to do with how far you can exert yourself. It's not really magic. Steady breathing allows your heart to pump blood at a rate where your muscles are getting enough oxygen to complete the task at hand. Also, depending on how you're moving, the density of your lungs becomes an important factor as well. When doing a sit-up, for example, the body compresses the lungs during the "crunch" portion of the movement, squeezing the air out of the lungs to increase the body's range of motion. It is important to knnow when the body wants air coming in and when it wants air going out. A good way to ingrain this concept into your nervous system is to do 3 sets of 10 push-ups, varying the breathing each time. On the first set, inhale on the way down and exhale up. On the second set, do the opposite. When you reach the third set, take a deep breath and perform 10 push-ups with no air. This will teach your brain to stay calm and complete a task through some mild panic. It's a good confidence builder. What this is also doing is allowing your body to experience different methods and understand why one way is better than another. This is a good way of making proper breathing an instinct that you won't have to think about in a crisis.

Combat Application
Every martial art teaches breathing. Every decent one anyway. The Systema approach is much more complete and effective in my opinion. This is a battlefield-tested system with documented experiences where the unique Systema breathing concepts have saved lives and won battles. Many disciplines would teach certain breathing associated to certain moves, or screaming as a way of making sure that the student exhales at the right time, but these aren't always practical or as efficient as they say. With drills similar to those mentioned above, Systema practitioners have their natural breathing patterns ingraved in stone. Even in a violent crisis, trained people can maintain controlled breathing, which allows them to regulate their heart rate, which allows them to maintain muscle control, which eases the mind and keeps panic at bay. The brain is goal-oriented, so maintaining control over something (anything) in a chaotic environment is the first step to solving the problem.

The benefits go on much further than this, as do the drills and methods of improving your breathing. We, literally, haven't even scratched the surface what Systema can do for your health and general well-being. This is health-based system that will add years to your life that is beyond me to explain. Systema Breathing and other health practices are what you owe yourself to integrate into your life. Thanks for reading.

If there are any questions or if you would like to learn more on this:

P.S. Thank you guys for all the e-mails and great feedback. More to come!


Anonymous said...

People can do the square breathing for counts of 10? Eeee that's nuts!


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