Using these techniques in my 30s, I went faster than I did when I was in university. I was able to train harder than I was in university, that’s one of the reasons that I’m really interested in helping other athletes with this is because we train so hard and that’s not always enough. You have to be able to take advantage of that training through doing good recovery. When we do that, especially with the breathing technique, which I’m gonna share a little bit about that with you today, it brings a whole bunch of other benefits for athletes. That includes improving your focus, it includes handling yourself different mentally and emotionally.
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“Kira Leskew, founder of The Eagle Institute & the creator of Breath Practice for High Performance Recovery, has had a long and accomplished swimming career, winning her first International medal (silver) at 15 at US Open Long Distance Swimming competition, followed by a Canadian record and gold medal at Canadian Nationals on the 4x50m relay at 18. Kira took 12 years off of swimming to recover from injuries, and returned as a masters swimmer at 35, where she set 2 Canadian records, and was ranked top-10 in the world in 3 events. Regular practice of specific breath techniques were a large part of Kira’s return to high performance and being able to sustain intense training with minimal injuries.”
– Jeremy Choi
The physical, mental and emotional are all connected.
In my own history, I’m trained as a yoga teacher. I’m very classically trained, not western trained, eastern trained. I’ve done a lot on the mediation and yoga at the same time that I was doing sport. What I found were the things that were really helping improve, specifically with the breath technique they improve every single thing in your body.
When I started studying science more, I’m like, “It affects your hormone levels, it affects your muscle’s ability to regenerate, it affects the amount of oxygen that you can get into your muscles, it affects the lactic acid and how quickly you can get the lactic acid out of your muscles. It affects all the things … The rate at which your nerves can react to one another. It affects your lymph system, which if you get congested from training if affects the way you can clean up the lactic acid.” You had a whole bunch of other things, I’m like, “This is really exciting, ’cause it does so many and it’s one technique.”
Jeremy introduced me to Kira, I’m a very skeptical person, so when she said, “Breathe for performance”, I said, “Oh yeah, whatever.” And overall I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot,” but I said, “I’ll give Maya a shot at it,” but it took me a little while to convince. Maya did it, and she was going through a very hard training cycle, and I’m an observer. I just sit down and I watch. And a couple of things I’ve noticed, that I think she’s very strong, more focused, she recovered better.
Emotionally she handled the stress better so she didn’t break down emotionally as much as she would during the tough training cycles. Usually lasts about two or three weeks. And so I don’t know. I said, “Okay, something’s up.” And she had a couple of PRs during that cycle. And a long story short, she dropped body weight, about six kilos. She just broke, recently broke, some monster records. And then this just launched her into, she’s probably one or two in Canada right now going into the season. So we’re going in a good position for the 2020 Olympics based on her last performance.
I’m not saying it was the only thing, but something is there. I believe what I see, and my observation, when I see something, okay, let’s go. I’ve invested with Kira for the year with Maya to see how it works. So Maya trains with Kira regularly every week. So that’s just my experience. And for Maya, she just said it helps her be more focused, more relaxed, and she feels actually more energy because she gets super nervous in competition, and training stress is obviously tough.
– Clance Laylor
And that’s the beautiful thing about working specifically with breath and doing specific techniques, which is what I’ve been doing with Maya, is that you can do different techniques that help you with different things, but it helps you with multiple levels and all the levels are connected. So when the body gets exhausted, it becomes really difficult to maintain your mood emotionally because you have all these hormones in your body that are stress hormones, and you have to overcome those. If you are doing the breathe techniques, it helps process and eliminate those hormones and replaces them with positive ones. And it does that in a number of ways. It does that because when we physically breathe in different ways, it sends a different mental message to our brain, so our nervous system interprets what’s going on around this as being a positive thing rather than as being a threat.
The Challenge in Society Today
The way your brain is designed and wired and your nervous system is designed and wired, is that it is not designed for ultimate performance or for even happiness or feeling good.
It’s designed to keep you alive.
So what that means if we’re in an environment where our ancestors were, where we live out in the bush and we have to worry about, “is that bear going to chase me?” Or maybe even, is the neighboring tribe or community, are we going to end up at war with them? We need to be looking out for those threats, otherwise, we don’t stay alive. And your body’s designed ultimately, number one, to keep you alive.
The challenge is that when we live in the type of society that we live in today, and we’re doing the types of things that we do today, your body doesn’t know the difference. So if you’re in the gym and you’re pushing really hard and straining and mentally you’re putting yourself under this pressure, your body, your nervous system, your brain interprets it exactly the same as if you’re going to be attacked out in the wild. So it reacts in order to try and keep you alive, which is to continue to keep looking for threats.
That does not help performance. It limits performance.
So it will give you short bursts, but over a long period of time, what it does is it shuts down higher functioning in the brain, so it makes it a lot harder to remember and learn, whether that’s outside of the gym or the patterns you’re trying to retrain yourself in the gym. So if you’re trying to train something on your technique, you actually have fewer connections in your brain, your neural networks in your brain do this. They all connect with one another. When you’re under stress, they do this. They don’t talk to each other anymore, so it makes it harder to learn patterns. And so all these things are going on when we’re under stress.
Breath is the easiest, fastest, and most accessible way that you can change multiple things in your body at the same time.
You can increase your brain’s functioning on a number of functions. You can increase your emotional skills and abilities on a number of functions. That affects your training and your ability to perform in competitions tremendously.
I was training with my trainer and I had done a set and I failed at rep number 11, and we were having this discussion and I was talking to her about the importance of being positive, and I’m telling her this story and I think I was doing chest flies or something. So I’m telling her this story, this positive story, I’m on rep number 33, and I just failed at 11 the previous time.
So the importance of being able to keep the mind positive, breathe and doing specific breath techniques, set you up for that. They set you up so that the chemistry in your body is able to keep more positive because it’s getting the stress hormones out. It’s processing them faster.
The other thing that’s really important for athletes is the rate at which we can process lactic acids. So you know when you get that nice, tight, sore feeling, usually in your legs because they’re the biggest muscle in the body? That’s your lactic acid, and when you have that, it slows everything down. It slows the rate at which the nerves can fire and it … it’s just a sore, it doesn’t feel good, and we can’t put as much intensity out when we have a lot of lactic acid. So when we do breath techniques properly it encourages the functioning of your liver, your kidneys, your gallbladder, and a whole bunch of other functions in your body, including your lungs, that process all that lactic acid so it can get out of your body faster.
That enables the physical performance.
When we’re doing the techniques, because they are requiring gentle focus, that is an elite performance state for anything, but especially for athletes. The same is true whether you’re a musician or you’re a doctor or you’re a student. When you are relaxed and alert, that is a high-performance state. So maybe some of you have had this. You’ve been performing in your sport and you get that feeling of flow. It’s like you can just do the play over and over again, or whatever it is you’re doing, maybe you’re running and you just feel like you’re just relaxed and it’s easy and it’s really, really fast. That’s a state of flow. And when you work with breath, you can get into that state a lot easier and a lot faster.
“The breath sessions calm me after practice. Help me to focus better. And boost my energy for the next workout” – Maya Laylor, Ontario Weightlifting Record Holder
I myself have practiced this for a long time. In my 40s, I was doing weights that iIcouldn’t have even dreamt of doing when I was 20 years old. In fact, they were, my trainers were like, “I don’t know how you’re doing this,” and I wasn’t injured and I wasn’t sick, and it was because I was doing the breath techniques. Because I could tell right away from my awareness of my body whether something was helping or not, but I was so good at it by then that I could do it in between sets at the gym so I could recover a lot faster.
I was already starting recovery before I’d even left the workout.
And then of course I looked after myself in other ways, and that’s not to say breath is the only thing. You still need good nutrition, you still need sleep, you still need these other things. But it’s something that you can do even if those other things get off a little bit, and it’s an advantage that you can give yourself that not a lot of other athletes are doing right now. And it can help you in all the things beyond just what you have at the gym, so that you have the energy for school, for work, or for whatever other objectives you have.
Not just about breathing
So there’s a whole bunch of specific things that breathing techniques can do, so this isn’t just about breathing. We look at all the different parts of the lungs. Now certain parts of your lungs affect your brain differently than others. If you’re doing anything just in your upper lungs then that actually creates a state of panic in your body. If you breathe in your lower lungs and in the side parts of your lungs, that creates a very calm affect in your body. And it calms the mind, it allows you to focus, but it also calms the muscles so that they can perform at their best. There’s parts of the lungs that you can work with breath practice to expand them so that they’re more efficient, because there’s certain parts of the lungs that we don’t normally use naturally, even when we’re training through sport.
And I did a sport that’s all about breathing. I swam. If you don’t breathe right, you drown. You can literally die if you take in a big breath of water. So we did a ton of work around breath, but no one taught me how to breathe in order to perform well. They taught me how to breathe so that I could just get through a practice, and they’re very different things. So when we work with the different techniques, they will improve your efficiency, but we’re going to work specifically with the things that are going to help recovery. And there’s different breaths that have different effects.
There are some that can heat your body up, they can cool your body down, there are some that will work more with helping your kidneys process, there are some that will help more with relaxing your heart, there are some that will help more with cleaning your lymphatic system. So that’s really important for your lactic acid because its gets you congested.
So I don’t know if you’ve ever had a hard workout and you’re kind of a little bit stuffed up afterwards? That’s your body trying to get rid of all the junk that it’s created as waste that it needs to process before you can perform again the next time.
There’s actually more than 400 different breath techniques that you can do that do different, specific effects for your body, mind, and emotions.
In this program, we’re not going to do all 400, but if different athletes are having different issues with things, there are things that we can draw on that can help specifically.
The initial program that we’re looking at doing is we’re just looking at understanding how your lungs work. What part of the lungs work when you’re relaxed and are going to help your performance. And which part of your lungs do you want to minimize the use of? Not minimize, but you don’t want them to be dominant. You want other parts of the lungs to be dominant so that they can give you the best effect with processing. And they also calm you mentally and emotionally as well. And then once the basis for that is developed, then we can start going into specific techniques, keeping the lungs really relaxed so that you can develop other things that are really going to help in terms of improving your athletic performance.
Questions & Answers
Q: Could you explain breathing for focus?
Breathing helps focus on a number of ways. First of all, if you are calm, it’s way easier to focus. If you’re anxious, or if you’re even feeling any negative emotion in any way, that makes it harder to focus. If you’re feeling angry, it’s harder to focus.
So working with the breath does two things: It calms your body. When your body calms, it’s easier to calm your mind and it’s easier to calm your emotions. And then working on the techniques helps develop focus because we’re doing it in a relaxed state, which is a high-performance state, which then trains your skill to build focus.
I know when I was working with Maya, some of the techniques in the very beginning we would do were three minutes long. She’s like, “Oh, my god, I don’t know I’m ever going to get through this!” Then as short as three weeks later, she was doing those same techniques for five and six minutes. She’s like, “Really? That was so easy.”
It doesn’t take a lot to get to the point where it’s really helping you with your focus. One thing that people don’t often realize about focus is that they think it’s being really, really intense. That’s not true. It’s about being relaxed, and being able to stay steady. When you work with your breath, it helps you to do that.
Q: When you isolate different parts of your lungs in terms of breath, is that a mental thing, or is there something physically you’re doing?
It’s the same when you’re doing any kind of sport. It’s both mental and physical. You have to use your intention to make that happen. The first thing we do when we work with breath is awareness. The parts of the lungs that I’m working with specifically are the ones that create calm and they’ll also increase your lung capacity as well. They do both at the same time.
Q: How does it fit in with Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training?
That’s an indicator. We actually did this. I learned to do that when I was probably 13, 14 years old. We took morning heart rate to see, “Are you going to get sick?” Mostly that’s what they cared about. That’s an indicator. Working with the breath, you can actually change your physiology, and your response. One’s a monitoring, and the other one’s something active that you can do to do specific effects. It can do different things. You may wake up on a day, or do a really hard practice, and after that, you really need to bring yourself down. Maybe you’re really intense, and you know you need to give your body rest now, so you do a breathing technique that is a calming technique.
You may have other times, like one day I worked with Maya and she was going into a hard work out, and she was kind of tired, so I’m like, “Well, we’re going to do a stimulating breath, because you’re within a certain range from doing your workout,” so we did that, and she had a great workout, because we increased the oxygen flow in the body. We calmed the mind down, and it was overall a stimulating breath, so it’s starting to fire up the neural networks, which are all the nerves in your body. She had a great workout from that, that day.
You want to pick. Breath techniques are like vitamins. Vitamins, in general, are good, but too much of a thing isn’t good, and too little of a thing isn’t good. We use specific breath techniques to balance the things in the training so that you can take the best advantage from the work you’ve done, and prepare you for the next time so that you can take it to that next level.
What the breath works on, more than just the heart, it works on everything. Believe it, it affects every single system in your body. When we inhale and exhale, when you’re breathing deeply, it actually is changing the pressure in every part of your body. It physically pumps things. It physically pumps your intestines and your kidneys, all the organs that are next to it, so when you inhale and exhale, it physically pumps them. It also physically pumps, massages the heart. From what I can understand, and what you’re saying of this, they’re measuring what the heart is doing in particular, and is it ready to take on more.
Anything in terms of developing awareness in your body and what it’s doing is helpful. But working with breath affects more than just your lungs. It affects so much more, including the heart. That’s another reason why I really like working with it, is it affects so many different things, for better or for worse. That’s the thing, is that when you breathe in a way that’s shallower, that’s creating stress, you’re making it harder to perform, and you’re interfering with your recovery. That’s one of the biggest things, you’re interfering with your focus. You’re interfering with your emotional well being. When you take the breath and you consciously work with it you change it around so that you’re using that to work for you instead of against you on multiple levels, and that’s a great thing. It works fast.
I’m trained in multiple styles of meditation, and multiple styles of yoga. Working with breath, and doing these specific breath techniques is one of the fastest ways to change mental, emotional, and physical. It works really fast. The sessions we do are 20 minutes long, 5 minutes of talking, explaining what we’re going to do, and then the session itself is about 15 minutes. The beginning, there’s more explaining. In the end, we get to the point where we’re doing 12 minutes of breathing work, not at the end, as we get more advanced.
Q: From what I know in track and field, I would agree with you. You said a calm state is high-performance state. I think in some other sports they switch back and forth between the sympathetic and parasympathetic system, and when they’re performing, a lot of it is highly intense and not the calm state.
Intensity and calm can happen at the same time. I’m a sprinter. I swim. My distances are all around 30 seconds. Of that, 10 seconds is gliding, so it’s really about 20 seconds of physical activity. That’s intense. It’s super focus. You don’t have very long. You can’t make any mistakes, and other sports I do as well, like weight training, very intense. I’ve done kickboxing. I’ve done a lot of different things, and it’s the same. It’s that intensity, but you want to stay calm. There’s a certain peak where if you go beyond the level of intensity, your performance starts to drop off. You want to have calm and focused, and laser clear at the same time. That’s a high performance state. That’s where the best performances happen.
The breathing can really help you get there, because it enables you to find that right balance, so you can do techniques that’ll calm you down a little bit if you’ve gone too far this way. You can also do techniques that are going to bring you up to make you a little bit more intense, but without losing the calm, and the groundedness.
Q: Is calm the same as control?
No. You can be really, really tense, and really, really agitated, and be controlled. You’ve seen these people who are like, “Eee!” They’re controlled, but they’re not calm, right? It’s also not about calm and being, “Ah,” a Jello, unless you need to be because you’re recovering. You want to be able to calm yourself down enough and let all the tension in your body and your mind and your muscles go, when it’s time to recover, but you also want to be able to be calm and alert when you need to be in here, or you need to be on the field, or you need to be on the track, or wherever other sports everybody else is doing.
But you still want to be calm. You’re intense, but you’re still calm, because if you lose that calm thing then you’re not focused on the specifics of what you need to do in your sport. That’s the difference.
Registering for the Breathing for Recovery Trial
You train hard and you want to get the most from the work that you body does, which is why elite athletes who want an extra edge put just as much focus on recovery as they do on training.
Breath Practice for High-Performance Recovery helps both the body and the mind to recover faster from extreme physical exertion. The short, simple and specific techniques provide many positive benefits — the most relevant are a reduction of lactic acid in the body, a calming of anxiety and a lessening of mental exhaustion. Athletes using these techniques have reported feeling better prepared for difficult workouts, and rather than feeling exhausted, they recover faster; allowing for great improvements without injury.
For a limited time, I’m offering a special pricing for a private group; 8 sessions trial for $67 + HST. Each session are 20 mins each, 3 times a week. This program is delivered over Live Video Webinar with two-way communication.
Private sessions are also available upon request.
If the button above doesn’t work, please e-mail Kira: [email protected]