[00:0] Introduction by Ben
[4:28] Introduction to this Episode
[8:48] About Dr. Belisa Vranich
[10:32] How to Determine One’s Baseline Breath
[24:45 & 28:23] Biohacking Gear to Self-Quantify & Test One’s Breath
[19:20 & 34:40] Acid – Alkaline Relationship for Over Breathing and Junk Food Craving
[38:00 & 42:00] Why One’s Breath Hold Time May Not Be Important (But Important for Spear Fishers, Free Divers, Shooters, Surgeons, Surfers and Tattoo Artists)
[43:03] Paleo Valley
[45:07] Marc Pro
[47:09] A Cool Breath Hold Equipment
[52:20] Musicians and Vagus Nerve Stimulation
[57:30] Breath, Lymphatic System and Detoxification
[1:01:22] Breathing, Digestive System and Peristalsis
[1:03:52] That $3,000 Deep Muscular Stimulator Device of Dr. Vranich
[1:10:16] What Dr. Vranich thinks of Devices like the Powerlung and the Elevation Training Mask
[1:20:18] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, what’s up you guys, it’s Ben Greenfield (sips). Ahh, sipping my elderberry wine. No seriously I’m drinking elderberry wine. My wife found an elderberry tree way off the edge of our property and fermented it, meaning, not the whole tree but the elderberries off the tree for almost a year and this stuff is freaking potent. I drink a tiny little glass on ice. I actually put a bunch of sparkling water in it coz I gotta like cut it down, and holy cow! I don’t know the alcohol percentage but if you’ve never gotten your hands on elderberry and like fermented a giant jar of elderberry wine out in your garage, you’re missing out on a crucial part of life, I suppose coz I dig this stuff. I’m drinking it like every night. Elderberries’ good for your immune system, by the way.
In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“You have to be motivated and really understand your body and understand why you‘re doing things and feel connected to the lesson personally to be able to make the change. Well, changing your breath’s to be a good one. Not only because the way you breath is one of the best predictors of you current health and longevity, but because if you’re just trying to get better at everything why not start with [0:04:51.3] _____ oxygen that’s in your body and the muscles that you use to breath? “If you’re breathing in a way that’s moving your lymph and you’re breathing with your whole body, you’re also supporting your digestive system.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks its Ben Greenfield and in the past several months I’ve taken a deep, deep dive, (pun intended) into breath work and in the past years, you know, if you’ve been a long time listener, reader to my blog, I’ve written articles and everything from combining ketosis and breath holds and free-diving/spear-fishing to how to make your own hyperbaric exercise with oxygen therapy devices, to Wim Hoff-style breathing for cold thermogenesis and climbing up mountains in your underwear, to underwater workouts that I’ve done with Laird Hamilton down in Malibu, to making yourself high with holotropic breathwork completely drug-free to the use of fancy breath strips and this device called the turbine to enhance nasal breathing during things like exercise and sleep, but lately I’ve actually been making an even more concerted effort to consistently do things like deep nasal breathing, and rhythmic breathing, and breath hold tactics during my walks, and during weight training sessions, and during road trips when I’m sitting on an airplane and beyond, and by concerted what I mean is like consistently every day I’ve been making an attempt to make these forms of breathing become automatic because breathing is just so freaking powerful. And just about everybody that I know who’s not dead does it. And there’s this new book that I recently read, I actually recently wrote an article about it too which I’ll link to in the show notes which are all gonna be over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/breathepodcast, that’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/breathepodcast and by the way yes, breathe is spelled with an e, b-r-e-a-t-h-e in case you were wondering.
Anyways, though there’s this new book I read and it’s called Breathe, The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health. And I read this book. There are terms that are in this book that I though was just gonna be the stereo typical book that was like your shallow breathing, you’re stressed out, try to take belly breaths and here’s how to do it. Lay on your back and blow up a balloon or something like that you know, all that stuff that we see over and over again, but this book instead had a ton of practical breathing tactics that I never really read or seen before and it’s really written in a very easy to read, easy to understand way and I figured I should just get the author on the show so that I could delve into some of these really practical straight-forward jargon-free explorations of how your body was meant to breath, and also to delve into the ins and outs of proper breathing.
So my guest today is, and I’ve just learned how to pronounce her name, Dr. Vranich, Dr. Belisa Vranich. Did I do a good job Belisa?
Dr. Vranich: (laughs) That was great. That was really good. It was actually very dramatic sounding. I hope I can meet your expectations (laughs).
Ben: It’s very euro. Dr. Vranich is a clinical psychologist. She’s got over twenty years of experience. She spent the last decade dedicating herself to the study of breathing. She just wrote this book like I just literally, I think came out this week and she has appeared all over the place like CNN, Fox, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, and Inside Edition, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Fitness, The Huffington Post. She was a former sports psychologist for Gold’s Gym. She’s a columnist for Shave Magazine, so she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk, too. So Dr. Vranich take a deep breath because we’re about to delve in to the Ben Greenfield Fitness show on breathing.
Dr. Vranich: And the puns just come out of nowhere and you find yourself surrounded by breathe and breathing in lungs and oxygen puns so it happens, it happens.
Ben: Exactly, yeah I’m sure that does not annoy you in the slightest.
Dr. Vranich: Not at all. It tickles me.
Ben: Although, I actually am serious, it annoys me when people are like writing an article will use the word breath instead of breathe.
Dr. Vranich: Oh.
Ben: Like learning how to breath properly.
Dr. Vranich: Yes, learning how to breath properly or taking a deep breathe. Yeah. It’s just an e, just add the e when it’s there, but yeah, that happens all the time and hopefully it did not happen in my book. I’m pretty sure I caught all those times that I wanted to and did do it as well.
Ben: Oh, I went through it with a red pen, you’re fine.
Dr. Vranich: (Laughs) Thank you.
Ben: You wouldn’t be on this podcast if you’d made that error. You’ve got all sorts of things in this book but one of the things that intrigued me that I think is a good starting off point here is you talk about how to determine your baseline breath? Which I think is important for people to even know if they are breathing properly or what they’re baseline breath is, so can you go on to like what the baseline breath is and how people could determine that?
Dr. Vranich: Sure. Well, first thing I want to talk about is that why I decided to have a baseline breath because it’s kind of a funny idea to think that you even get a grade or figure out where your breathing is coz everybody assumes well, I’m alive it should be fine, right? And actually, no! you can really be on a spectrum from an F minus to an A plus as far as you’re breathing and the way our bodies are set up we’re kind of designed to be able to survive not thrive under the worst conditions, and worst eating, and breathing habits possible. So I decided to do a baseline and have people be able to get a grade on themselves just because you can’t see your lungs, you can’t see air and there’s this myth of well it’s just breathe and the fact is that most people when I do what’s called the BIQ it’s the breathing IQ are really along a spectrum of either pretty decent breathing or really terrible, terrible breathing.
So my thought of how to teach breathing started with at least let’s see where your baseline is. Like you said, I come from a gym background. I come from a science background and I like knowing here’s what my number is, here’s what my grade is because then it just pushes me. The competitive side of me just get better, you know, get better. And I think everybody’s sort of geared that way where if they are [0:12:15.7] ______ enough how often do I hear people say, I’ve never gotten a [0:12:18.6] ______ and [0:12:18.9] ______ in my life. And now my breathing which is the most important thing I do is supposedly a deed, this is horrific. And it motivates them to change and to get better which is my mission.
So that’s a little background on why I decided to do a baseline because in general you have to go to a pulmonary clinic at a hospital to get spirometry done which is just your kind of average hospital type of numbers for breathing, and most of us don’t go in for that unless we either ask for it or where we think we might have COPD or emphysema or something like that. So I wanted to get a way to do a baseline for just like you and me and everyone else kind of walking around your average Joe.
Ben: Got it. And that spirometer by the way, that’s the device that you take a deep breath and you exhale as much air as you can into the device. Is that the one I’m thinking of?
Dr. Vranich: Exactly, and it’s sort of a frustrating test. The long BIQ which is one I do when people come see me in the clinic I work actually combines everything. It has every single breathing test including spirometry, meaning your lung capacity, your lung velocity, and oximetry. It has every single breathing test you could take plus my BIQ, but the BIQ is a little bit new and it’s something that people can do on their own because my background when I was, I still am a psychologist but when I was only doing clinical psychology, my way of doing therapy was what’s called psycho dynamic which is very dynamic as the name shows you, but I pull from all types of different psychology, all types of ways to problem-solve and think to be able to solve a problem that someone had. So it’s a fast-paced very problem solution- oriented way of working. So when I started getting into breathing and wanted to come up with a method that resonated with everyone, it was the same way, which is; let’s see where you are, let’s get this fixed and let me give you the tools for you to be able to do this, fix it and keep living. So my goal is not to be able to sort of keep people having to read and do everything I tell them to which is more like here are the tools, I can do them for you. You can come see me but I would rather that everybody, everywhere will be able to take their own measurements and fix their own breathing and really making an impact that’s widespread.
Ben: Gotcha. Ok, cool. You opened up a few little cans of worms there that I wanna delve into because you have this BIQ and the BIQ is a questionnaire, right?
Dr. Vranich: Ah, it’s a way to get a grade so it’s not necessarily a questionnaire. The problem with questionnaires is that you’re self-identifying a lot of information and with breathing that’s kind of tough to do. So the BIQ looks at your breathing and gives you 2 sides of your breathing. You have to combine your style of breathing and an actual measurement right around the bottom of your ribs what’s called your vital lung capacity. So you have to take those 2 measurements and you come out with your grade. So it is not just a self-report.
Ben: Oh, is that the baseline breath?
Dr. Vranich: That is for the baseline breath, yeah exactly.
Ben: Okay, so walk me through how this is actually done. In a little bit more detail.
Dr. Vranich: Sure. So you have the book and at the back of the book you’ll see a graph where you look to see what your style of breathing is and what your vital lung capacity is. So let’s start with style of breathing. And it’s actually the one thing that people, it’s probably the most important thing but it’s the thing that people don’t look at. They really don’t analyze where they breathe from. So for instance, most people will take a deep breath and on the inhale they’ll stretch, they think they stretch upwards and they get a little bit taller, their shoulders come up and they’re what I call vertical breathers. Now some folks are very vertical breathers which means they really like you can actually see them go upwards on the inhale and exhale and come down. So there you have, if I’m gonna break it down just into 2 or 3 different categories. You’re very vertical, you’re a vertical breather that goes up on the inhale and down on the exhale.
Dr. Vranich: Then you have your horizontal breather. Very, very few people are horizontal breathers. I’ll see horizontal breathers probably one in fifty will be horizontal and it’s usually that they read my book or something else as they’ve done some other training somewhere else, something out of the ordinary. So horizontal breathers are pretty much like your dog, your cat breathes. They breathe expanding in the middle and contracting in the middle where the biggest part of their lungs are. It actually makes a lot of sense to be a horizontal breather. And then folks also fall in the middle of those 2. They’re mixed breathers. They’re high breeds that have a little bit of vertical and a little bit of horizontal.
Ben: Ok. Gotcha. Quick question before we delve into deciding which type of breathing you are and proceeding more into this BIQ. What about like a baby? When you look at a baby, do we come out a horizontal breather or a vertical breather? Is there a way that you breathe naturally? The reason I ask that is, for example, I’m into diet and nutrition, and one thing that’s really interesting is like breast milk is really high in ketones and babies burn a ton of fatty acids and they’re basically in like a state of ketosis when they’re born. And then when we start feeding them with Gerber baby cereal, and Cheerios, and toast and macaroni and cheese, we eventually, by the time they’re adolescents create really good sugar-burners who are unable to tap into fatty acids and ketones as efficiently. And I’m curious if it’s kinda similar with breathing where babies come out and they’re horizontal breathers and then eventually from stress, and chest breathing, and mouth breathing whenever we develop vertical breathing tactics is there something to that?
Dr. Vranich: In fact, it’s exactly that. Yeah, there is something to that and like you bring up PH when you’re fed a certain way as an infant or as a you have very good PH and then you start getting fed garbage and then your acidity changes because of the garbage that you’re fed, but also you come out having your breath being one that supports a neutral PH and as it goes changing to be a vertical breath it makes you more acidic.
Ben: Hmmm, that’s interesting.
Dr. Vranich: So, yeah it unbalances your PH coz it can, depending on the way you’re breathing you can go to either extreme of the scale neither of which is good.
Ben: Right, there’s actually a book about that, about the PH, how we often think that like you should just train to get rid of CO2 as much as possible, and so a lot of people will over-breath. It’s a book, it’s called “The Oxygen Advantage”.
Dr. Vranich: Excellent book, by the way. Yes.
Ben: Yeah, it’s a great book. I’ll link to it in the show notes for those of you who want to read that book, but it’s this idea that by constantly breathing off CO2, you can create a state of too much respiratory, I guess it would be alkalosis and actually put yourself in 2 alkaline states. You can shift the PH in either direction interestingly.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, that’s an excellent book, and the over breathing is a style of breathing that’s one of the breakdowns of vertical mixed and horizontal because you have where you’re breathing from. So when I look at vertical mixed and horizontal, I’m really looking at what part of your anatomy are you using to breathe? How is your body moving? How are you using your skeletons and your muscles to breathe? And that’s not looked at very often. Then afterwards looking at over breathing, under breathing, intermittent breath holding, if you’re a gasper or a paradoxical breather, there’s a whole bunch of other breakdowns that you can actually look to see what you are, but at the very least you should know, are you a vertical, a mixed, or a horizontal breather, and start changing in the direction that you wanna go which is going back to that horizontal breath that you used to have as a child.
I usually don’t talk about baby’s breathing. People talk about infant’s belly breathing but the fact is that infants really don’t have a choice in how they breathe. Their postural muscles haven’t developed so that they can actually breathe any other way than the way that they breathe which is that belly breathe, but if you go ahead and look at children sort of between the ages of five and ten that’s when you can start seeing the breath change coz most 5 year olds are still horizontal breathers. Although they’ve developed obviously balance and being able to move around, but it actually changes usually by the time you’re about ten definitely by the time you’re an adolescent and if it doesn’t by then, and most people have changed by then definitely by the time you’re in your 20s and then you’ve got a bad breathing habit that lasts 10, 20, 30, 40 years and takes your PH (laughs), PH along with it so, yes.
Ben: Yeah, and one other quick thought before we delve back into this BIQ that you’re going through and identifying whether we’re vertical or horizontal breather, I’m curious if you’ve ever come across this book by Dr. Cate Shanahan, a nutritionist who worked with the LA Lakers and she actually writes about how the shape of the face, and again I don’t want you to think I’m obsessed with babies, but this is something that came across my mind when we’re having this discussion, the shape of the face, the shape of the jaw, the neck, the chin, etcetera is actually influenced quite a bit by vitamins responsible for bone and bone building, bone metabolism particularly Vitamin D and Vitamin K, and how mothers who have low amounts of Vitamin D and Vitamin K intake and babies who have low amounts of A, D, E and K tend to have asymmetrical faces and jaws that are kind of like drawn back and they tend to be people who breathe incorrectly and literally like the shape of their face, she goes into how the symmetry of the entire body changes, you essentially have like less beautiful children who are able to breathe less efficiently when they’re deficient in fat-soluble vitamins or when the mother is deficient in fat-soluble vitamins. Have you seen this book before?
Dr. Vranich: I haven’t seen it but I do know that depending on how your jaw and the musculature that’s around your head and your neck can really make an impact on how you breathe whether you breathe through your mouth, whether you breathe through your nose and whether you become an apical breather meaning that you breathe sort of up by your collarbones. So that wouldn’t surprise me, it sounds fascinating, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, it is fascinating. She just came out a new edition of that book “Deep Nutrition” and I’m gonna try and get her on the podcast to talk about it.
Dr. Vranich: Excellent. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah, so we find out in this BIQ, first we find out if we’re horizontal breather or a vertical breather and that’s based off of like a test that you do that’s within the book here, Grading your Vertical Versus Your Horizontal Breathing.
Dr. Vranich: Yes, and you can actually look. Like when I say to someone well, let’s see if you’re a vertical breather. It’s pretty easy. You can either look at yourself in the mirror and just take a deep breath and if you really feel your shoulders or if you see your shoulders move upwards and you feel like you get taller on the inhale and then on the exhale you sort of settle down, that you can actually self-report or someone can look at you and watch you breathe. And fact is that most people are vertical. I’d say nine out of ten maybe a little bit more are vertical breathers or mixed vertical breathers. It’s really, really rare to find someone who has kept that horizontal breath. So almost everyone is a vertical breather. They’ve caved because there’s so many pressures to breathe vertically. They’ve caved to culture, to modelling their breath that their parents have, to all different kinds of things and breathe vertically because we’re told and we have this concept that it’s a good breath to breathe up and down.
Ben: Got it. Ok, cool. So we find out whether we’re a vertical or a horizontal breather, and then what’s the next step?
Dr. Vranich: The next step is a measurement. It’s called a vital lung capacity, and it’s one that start taken way back in the 1840’s and 50’s that people started taking this. It’s still done in some physical therapy schools in Canada. There’s a great video online where a physical therapist named Paula Moore does it. She shows you how to do it. I show you how to do it in the book and I’ll tell you right now.
You take a soft measuring tape and you put it about two inches underneath your sternum. So it’s sort of the very bottom of your ribs in front of your body. It’s above your belly button, the very sort of two inches below your sternum, and you take a deep breathe in and you measure that number, and you take the breath away you usually breathe. You don’t change your breathing to try to be a horizontal breather at that moment. You really look to see what is my number when I take a usual breath? You can even try taking a big inhale as long as it’s the way you usually breathe, measure that number, you exhale, you measure that number. And now that a little math gets thrown in but the general idea is that your inhale should be bigger than your exhale.
Ben: Ok. Got it.
Dr. Vranich: And if you want the math for that, it should be that what you do is that you… let’s actually say that we measure you and let’s say your inhale is thirty-six and your exhale is thirty-four. The kind of be a typical and exhale for you. Ok? So here’s a difference of 2 inches between your inhale and your exhale. Well, average just average would be 3.4. Ten percent of the exhale. So you’ve got 2 inches between your inhale and your exhale, you should have 3.4. So your goal then is to do 2 things; change your vertical breathing to a horizontal breath and change your inhale and exhale to have a bigger difference between the 2 where your inhale is 3.4 inches bigger than your exhale. Now that’s incredibly technical for a lot of people who don’t want to be measuring themselves, but the fact is there should be a significant difference in inches between your inhale and your exhale and you should not be moving your shoulders very much at all. Most of the movement should come through the middle part of your body expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale. And you would be flabbergasted by how many people are either not breathing expanding in their middles or if they are, it’s really a miniscule and leaves you unbalanced and deficient in a lot of things that you need.
Ben: Ok, gotcha. This is really interesting, and by the way for those of you listening in I realized that towards the end, there Belisa broke up just a bit with the audio. It is the hazards/wonders of technology when stuff like this happens but ultimately I think you got the gist of what she’s saying there in terms of that baseline breath, and that’s towards the end of the book where Belisa has like a full appendix that goes into how you can take the measuring tape and get this measured for yourself.
And by the way, Belisa the other thing that you mentioned as you were going into the baseline breath that I wanted to make sure I did not neglect to ask you a little bit more about was all these little like tools that you have to do a full measurement. I think you said these are at your office. You talked about like a spirometer and an oximeter just because we have a lot of people who love to self-quantify and love all these little biohacking tools and stuff, like if somebody were gonna build themselves like the ultimate breath measurement batman lab so to speak, what do you think would be the crucial tools to own or what would you have at your office if someone were to walk in there?
Dr. Vranich: Oh, you know I love that person. I actually love skeptics and I love that person who’s like, give me more numbers. So you’ve got a spirometry, so I look at your lung capacity which is called you FVC and your FEV1 which is velocity which is very important. Both of those are very important for everyone but particularly for athletes if you wanna take inefficient breath and a breath that doesn’t take up too much time. Say, you’re doing intervals or you’re fighting or you’re doing something where you’ll get a little amount of time to be able to take a couple of deep breaths. You don’t want to expend too much energy taking them but you do wanna replenish your body. So those 2 on the spirometer. I also look at oximetry, so I look to see what’s your percentage of oxygen in your body? That number tends to fluctuate a little bit. I only take it because there are very few people that are healthy that are under say, 95% but I do have folks that come in, they’re 94, they’re 95, and that’s a little bit alarming. If you’re under that, if you’re even lower than, sometimes I don’t even let you leave because it’s a problem to be walking around that low once your oxygen goes down that low, you’re at a high risk for heart attack.
Ben: Right, unless you’re like for example I have this big heap air filter/hypoxic air generator made by this company called Hypoxico out in my garage. I used it when the Spartan races that I was doing the past couple of years started doing them in all sorts of these high-altitude places, so a couple of times a week I’d go out there and just walk on this inclined treadmill that I have next to this hypoxic air generator. And I would know it was a good session coz it comes with this little pulse-like oximetry, you put in your fingertip every few minutes during the session but when my blood oxygenation begin to fall below about 80%, like I would get a really, really good training response/mild headache (giggles) but you can also use this for performance can you not, like purposefully reducing your blood oxygenation levels?
Dr. Vranich: Well, the only thing you bring up is you can absolutely do things like that again, carefully because a lot of people out there are doing things not very carefully that are little dangerous, but you also have to think about exercise-induced oxygen deprivation. So you know, if you even exercise a lot and using up all your oxygen, you are gonna take a little while to get back into a balance. So looking at the oximeter is interesting for that number but again I really like looking in a couple of other things that I’ll talk about because most of these numbers are not functional unless they give you information on what to do about it afterwards. I was meeting a lot of people that were frustrated that, well I can get this tests done but usually if I’m over 80% the doctor just tells me to leave. They don’t tell me, well you are ok, you’re within normal limits and like (inaudible) within normal limits when you combine, when you look at your average population it means you’re kind of sick like everybody else is. So part of me putting together this test was being able to give you numbers and things you could do about them because to me 90 isn’t an A. Ninety means you’re ten points under having optimal breathing and I want my breathing to be optimal. I want my oxygen to be optimal throughout my life span. Not only because the way you breath is one of the best predictors of your current health and longevity, but because if you’re just trying to get better at everything why not start with the oxygen that’s in your body and the muscles that you used to breath, right?
Ben: Right. Ok, cool.
Dr. Vranich: So again, it’s a functional test because you take the test and then you have things to do afterwards. It’s not hey, I’m normal I can just go on my life. It’s like hey, I always look it as how many degrees under being perfect am I? Not hey, I can go home with hundred and eighty. It’s like I’m twenty points lower (laughs) then what could actually be. So again that’s more like the type A competitive person that I am but there’s a lot of people out there that think the same way. Well, this is good for my age range but hell I don’t wanna be good for my age range.
Anyway, so acidity. So I definitely do, I like a particular acidity strip, you just get it at Whole Foods and it’s wrapped in tin foil. It’s in a little coil. They tend to work better for me and I like looking to see how acidity is because when you’re acidic…
Ben: Is that a urine PH test?
Dr. Vranich: You can use urine on it and again, and you know, with PH it’s not when you use saliva, when you use urine you should take it a couple of times. There are times when it’s more reliable than other times but I do saliva just coz it makes the test go quicker and it tends to be fairly reliable. You know, if I have to give my patient a urine acidity test and it takes a while and I really just wanna know ballpark where they are as far as acidity.
Ben: Right. Ok.
Dr. Vranich: So you can use saliva with them as well, and there’s plenty of literature out there that will tell you when to take it. When to take the acidity test. Don’t chew gum. Obviously, you’ll drink coffee right before you take it, coz it will totally throw things out of whack, but it will give me an idea if are you walking around at 5 or are you walking around at 7.4. And that’s the range that I’ll get. I might have a class and I’ll have people that lick the acidity strip and nothing happens. It stays yellow. And I have people that lick the acidity strip and it’s almost black. So if you think about the difference in PH from one person next to the other. And it’s interesting coz you can have both those people eating the same thing but if their PH is off because of the way they breathe, so it’s respiratory acidosis or alcolosis then they can change that a lot still not make a difference on their acidity coz they’re not (inaudible). So.
Ben: Yeah, that’s something. By the way, we mentioned that book “Oxygen Advantage”, that’s something I think he goes into in that book about how people for example over breathe and create like a net alkaline state constantly within their body. They tend to actually crave some acidic foods, right like sugar, and starches, and coffee, and alcohol because those foods help to restore acidity to an overly alkaline PH. And sometimes you see people who have breathing issues especially like over breathing tending to crave junk foods.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, and I mean they probably crave junk foods for a bunch of different reasons but one of the ways you can change that immediately is by changing your breathing because it’s not necessarily metabolic. Although you probably crave those things coz you’re out of whack, but the easiest way to change them you know, there’s really an interesting (inaudible) line water out. I’m a big fan of green juices and vegetables and such, but change your breathing coz that’s a tool that you have right there and we’re just ignoring it because we don’t know how to get a baseline and how to change it which was my whole reason for doing this. So yeah, that’s fascinating.
I’m finding in general that when people change the way they breathe from the beginning and end of class or the beginning of end of whatever practice you designed for yourself after you’ve come up with a workout for yourself is you can change at .4 degrees in ninety minutes. So you can come in with being acidic and leave being almost normal just by changing your breathing in ninety minutes. So I’m collecting data on that coz I’m kind of a data nerd on what changes when you change your breathing. So the reason I take that the acidity again is functional is that you take it when you come in to see, how am I walking around, and how much has it changed by the end of class or by the end of this appointment. I look at a breath hold and not because I’m breath hold crazy coz I thinks there’s too many people right now that are really obsessed about their breath hold, and unless you spear fish or free dive holding your breath is interesting but it’s not necessarily indicative of anything too important except for if it’s very, very low.
So my folks were really sick if they come in and usually if they can’t, forty-five is your average for breath hold. So if you’re holding your breath, you know if you can only hold your breath eighteen or twenty seconds, you’re probably not doing so well very, very acidic. And you’re probably sick. I don’t have healthy people that can’t hold their breath at least ‘til twenty or thirty. So for me it’s sort of another red flag what your body is doing. You have to remember I get people that are coming in to address their breathing and their oxygenation because they’re recovering from cancer, or they’re recovering from heart disease, or they have panic attacks, or they’ve got COPD, so how is your body doing? The breath hold kind of alerts me to what’s going on with them. I also do something called the BOLTS which is a breath hold on retention. It’s a Russian measurement.
Ben: Yeah, and doing that one that’s part of the buteyko breathing method. Is that how you pronounce it?
Dr. Vranich: Yes, exactly. I stumbled on it as well.
Ben: Got it and can you describe how that test goes?
Dr. Vranich: So that’s just a breath hold on retention where you hold your breath on an exhale. Their numbers are very high. So everyone tends to fail that one, so I’m not really sure with many things that sort of come from old school Russian mentality. It’s really hard to find the research too and to really get some good hard numbers on, and that’s one where I found I can’t really find some good hard numbers on. So most people are not able to hold their breath to the forty seconds that they say is average, but again it’s an interesting measurement. I like throwing every single measurement I can find into my BIQ. When I’m working with anybody into sport where holding your breath is important. For instance, fighters like being able to hold your breath on an inhale or on an exhale because you might be getting choked and be on an inhale or an exhale.
Ben: Oh yeah, that’s a good point.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, being able to hold your breath and know how long you can hold your breath is important.
Ben: Yeah, or surfing.
Dr. Vranich: Surfing, it’s not that first wave. It’s the second or third wave, so you have to be able to know how to take a breath between them and you also have to know I mean, there’s a lot of really good people that teach breath holds in surfing and…
Ben: And that was Laird Hamilton’s whole reason that he started doing those crazy underwater workouts that he does in Malibu. I don’t know if you know of him or Brian Mackenzie is another guy who’s the big tattooed fella who’s often in the pool with Laird and who have done these workouts with where they’ll carry dumbbells back and forth across the bottom of the pool or tread water with the dumbbells in between their legs kinda like half upside down with their face under the pool, and obviously all of these stuff can be kinda dangerous unless you’re under supervision, but these guys do all that just so they can handle it when the big waves push them under and they’re down there for like 2 minutes.
Dr. Vranich: Laird is sort of a genetic.
Ben: Freak (laughs)?
Dr. Vranich: Alien. He’s really such a beast, in a good way of a man, and I do have a footnote about what he does and the importance of the breath that he talks about. For sure, and I doubt he ever does this alone in his pool. Never do these things by yourself. You should have people around and you should know where you are as far as your health before you go doing them, because it’s above water in my class, and I don’t do any of the extreme things although I do some extreme breathing workouts. People get really tired and we’re not adding ice or kettlebells to class. So you should first get through the basics before you go throw yourself off the D bend.
Although, you know I love training that’s really hard and that really pushes you but yeah, he’s in the footnote. I don’t know what page but I definitely mentioned him because he is such a fan of breathing and of paying attention to your breath. But with the breath holds there’s other sports that are really important to be able to hold your breath and funny enough if you shoot. So go into the range or if you golf having a really good breath hold. It is important because if you can extend the moment when you’re most peaceful on the very end of the exhale then you’ll have more time to be able to shoot or to putt your short game in golf. So it’s really interesting how important breath hold is but you have to do it with the intention of recognizing when you’re most quiet. Not really just like, oh I can hold my breath longer than you, so you have to buy me a shot.
Ben: That’s really interesting I’m a bow hunter and there’s this Train to Hunt competition that I have to compete in which you gotta draw and hold for 60 seconds and then shoot. And in many cases, in one of the things you do to keep the pin from moving around is you just shut down your inspiratory and expiratory muscles, and any breathing patterns and of course, you try to slow your heart rate and try to minimize movement in general, but I never really thought about like doing breath hold training to actually improve shooting.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, and it does. And I mean for people that anybody who can’t move when they’re doing something, be that a surgeon, a tattoo artist. If you’re an eye surgeon or anything like is that you then have to take a breath after and before. And that’s what a lot of people don’t do. They just continue to hold their breath or to do what I called hover which is you don’t breath a lot and then you hold your breath. You need to be able to train yourself to hold your breath, be very still. Recognize that place between heartbeats at the very end of the exhale when you’re most still, and then when that’s over to take really big enormous breaths to make up for it so that you don’t end up always chasing your breath and trying to catch up to that balance again.
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Ben: Wow, there’s so many things you can test for. So you have like a spirometer, you have blood oxygenation, you’ve got your breath hold, you’ve got your vertical and horizontal measurements, you have like the PH tests that you do. I know there’s a lot of other things you talk about in your book and I don’t wanna get totally derailed by going into testing equipment, but if there’s one other thing that you can pick as being like a really cool thing that you use in your office or that you’ve seen used for breath hold, what would it be?
Dr. Vranich: Well, you know what, I’m gonna tell you that one that I use which is finding out how strong your exhale muscles are because again people always think about breathing as the inhale, you know they’ll yell, breathe, breathe! And the fact is that you should really be yelling exhale, exhale because it’s the exhale that’s not getting enough attention. And if you feel that you can’t catch your breath, it’s usually that you haven’t exhaled, not really that you haven’t inhaled enough. So I look at what’s called the exhale pulsations. And I actually do have people around the country that are beating each other and trying to get better and sort of frothing at the mouth when they find out someone else has beat their record. But exhale pulsations come from yoga.
A breath called kapala bati in yoga. But again, this class and what I teach comes from birthing, singing, martial arts, belly dancing, free diving. It comes from everywhere that has breath. So exhale pulsations are a lot like kapala bati in yoga where you try to blow out a candle that’s across the room. But not only do you blow, on the blow you squeeze your body. So your belly button gets closer to your spine. And that’s considered one. So if you were to blow out, blow the candle across the room and your body squeezes. You have to be really careful because a lot of people will tense their body on the exhale and the fact is that you should be narrowing it. So your belly should be getting closer to your spine, it should be getting concave on the exhale. One of those is an exhale pulsation. So we do them so that you have to see if you are within normal. Are you within normal for an athlete and then you look at who has the record? So you can guess, I can tell you what normal is or not and you can try to do them and let me know but it sounds like this, (blows). That’s what it sounds like.
You’re blowing out candles and every time you’re really squeezing your belly but like I said you don’t brace it, you narrow it to the point where your belly button is really close to your spine. So when I look at someone to see how many exhale pulsations they can do, if they can do 20 and they’re an athlete, that is not good news at all. Because it means that their exhale muscles are weak. Now if your muscles that you breathe with are weak, you’re gonna get tired and then athlete’s worst enemy is something called perceived fatigue. Ok? A lot of people think its fear, its doubt. It’s not having a heart. Your worst enemy as an athlete is actually the fatigue of your breathing muscles which gives you the sense of fatigue that you can’t pinpoint because most breathing muscles don’t have nerves and you don’t get that burn that would tell you that your muscles are sore or that you’re tired. So exhale pulsations are really great way to see where you are as far as your breathing muscles specifically your exhale muscles.
Ben: Got it. Now what you just described is actually… isn’t that the breath of fire? Like the short sharp exhalations?
Dr. Vranich: Kapala Bati, yeah.
Ben: So, yeah. I guess that’s kind of like what you’ll see in for example like the Wim Hoff protocol. Where you all go through I think it was like twelve to sixteen weeks. I don’t remember off at the top of my head and almost every day in addition to walking around your neighborhood in your underwear and gloves and a beanie in cold weather, you’re doing this power breathing or breath of fire to train your inspiratory and expiratory muscles. And what you called that like the clinical term for that is exhale pulsations?
Dr. Vranich: Exactly. So you have to be careful. A lot of people will do those and only be thinking about the movement and will not have the position (inaudible) of. They won’t really understand the musculature and the anatomy well, so they don’t do them right. So anybody who’s teaching breathing whether it be me or Wim Hoff it always obviously comes from somewhere else because we have not invented breathing in any way and most exercises have already been talked about in some other fields. Singing has amazing really difficult breathing exercises. So none of the ones that you’re hearing about now are ones that are novel at all but explaining them to someone, having them be able to understand why they are important. Having them be able to have a baseline and get better that’s really what’s new about it.
Ben: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of singing, by the way. I think you mentioned in the book about humming but also like singing in a low voice like anything that vibrates the body and especially some of the muscles around the throat because of the vagus nerve stimulation.
Dr. Vranich: Exactly.
Ben: That you get from that. You know, the same as you would get from like cold face soaks or meditation or yoga when it comes to vagus nerve stimulation. Just like deep low singing and humming and activities that vibrate the throat and the palate and the voice box can be really good for nervous system health.
Dr. Vranich: For the nervous system health there also I talked about singing and it’s really people and I’ve had these folks before who sing either punk rock or heavy metal where you have to be able to sing really forcefully very quickly, so your breathing muscles better be strong and for singers it’s very different. What you work on is very different. You have to be able to take a really big inhale like astronomically big inhale fast and then you have to be able to exhale in a really controlled way to have all that air to get you through the sentence or the song or whatever it is that you’re doing. So with singers the protocol is really different because the inhale you have to take is a huge inhale that’s fast and then controlled for the exhale.
So the exercises are different but yeah, in general the exercises for singing, for belly dancing, the exercises that come from martial arts, a lot of the Russian Special Operations Training, the Sistema stuff is super cool. And it’s about bringing it together in a way that makes sense to people. And the exhale pulsations, I see people do them wrong all the time because they’re just trying to do them fast and you have to actually do them in a really controlled way and understand why you’re doing them. Understand what muscles you’re using and what you’ll feel afterwards. So it’s a process. It’s an intellectual process. I get a lot of folks who’ve taken classes elsewhere and they like the extremes, they like interesting, they like being entertained but I come from a background which really that change comes. You have to be motivated and really understand your body and understand why you’re doing things and feel connected to the lesson personally to be able to make the change of changing your breaths to be a good one.
Ben: Got it.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, so if you’re gonna do the exhale pulsations you just watch, make sure that every time you exhale your belly is really not even flat against your body but belly button is close to your spine and you’ll watch once you get tired it wants to do the opposite. And you just see what number you’re at because fifty is the average. Fifty is the average and I have really strong shredded people who cannot get to fifty and it’s because they have this muscular corset around them and because their breathing muscles are weak. Do they look amazing and hot? Absolutely. Are their breathing muscles really (cash register sound). Yes (laughs). So it’s kind of fascinating when you start breaking it down to how strong are my breathing muscles? Have I worked on them? And what are my numbers like? Like I said fifty. Fifty is the average.
Ben: So many of these tactics, but you know, coz I did like a decade of competing in Ironman Triathlon and there are so many I mean, from nutrition to ketosis, to meditation, all these fringe things that just make your body and your brain better. I wish I’d known about many of those things when I was doing Ironman but man, breath work? Like if I would have known about deep nasal breathing and breath hold tactics and exhale pulsations and stuff like that when I was doing such a cardiovascularly intensive sport, I think I would’ve been able to perform better by knowing some of these things. I think a lot of athletes don’t get taught about this stuff. I’m actually very careful.
I had a long discussion about this with my kids last night at the dinner table because I knew I was interviewing you this morning and your book was there at the table, we had a long chat about the right way to breathe. And how to breathe during meditation. How to breathe during exercise and we did some breath hold chats and we do breath hold competitions out in our hot tub. You know, I wish my parents had tapped into those kind of like breath training tactics because it’s so, so powerful.
Dr. Vranich: And how old today are your kids?
Ben: They’re 8.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, so they’re right in the middle. Keeping them breathing low. I mean there’s gonna be times where you change your vertical depending on what you’re wearing and how you’re feeling coz those are the 2 things that’ll throw you into a vertical breath, but at least don’t forget because right now when I have people come in I say yeah, we have to change your breathing but you used to breathe this way. So somewhere like deep in your soul somewhere, you’ve breathe this way and you remember, your body does remember. And it does wanna use it’s diaphragm I mean you start breathing with your diaphragm it feels completely different and totally odd. But the only reason this damn thing which is enormous is in the very middle of your body it’s to help you breathe, you know. So starting to get it unlocked and using it again is really fascinating.
Ben: Now, one of the things that you talked about in the book that’s kind of like timely to me because I’m about to launch into like I’m gonna do a January detox, right and a bunch of people are gonna join me and we’re gonna be doing like coconut oil pulling, and dry skin brushing, and weekly saunas, and stuff like that, and even like a 24-hour fast at the end of each week like a Saturday dinner to Sunday dinner fast, but one of the things that you talked about in the book is the link between breath the lymphatic system and detoxification. Can you delve into that a little bit?
Dr. Vranich: Oh sure, I mean it’s a topic that is hard for people again. I’m trying to figure out how to get a baseline for lymphatic systems and that because people don’t see lymph. They don’t understand it. They don’t understand this drainage system in our body. It’s very hard to quantify in the way that makes sense to our brains that like numbers and simple solutions. So the fact is that you have this drainage system in your body if you’re not breathing well, you’re not getting lymph which is something you want to get sort of drain out of your body but you’re not giving your body the movement that would get this out.
So, a lot of the toxicity you have in your body really comes from and I guess ancient Chinese medicine says this as well. Is it’s stagnation happens in your body and that’s how you get disease. So when you breathe with your entire body, there’s movement in your entire body and it helps with blood flow, draining lymph, getting blood everywhere but it just helps movement in your body and detoxification. So you know, you might want to, Ben, as part of whatever you’re doing in January is take the 14 days, do baseline on yourself and see how that is because as far as doing a health make over on yourself using the breath and changing things through the breath is just gonna help you get better and support everything else you’re doing.
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea and it goes perfectly hand in hand with just my increased focus on breath work and deep nasal breathing, and one of my favorite things to do now especially when I travel and I don’t freaking wanna like go to the gym and pump iron when I’m travelling across the pond, or I’m jet lagged, or I’m in a different country, or I’m tired.
Dr. Vranich: Well, that’s because there’s only 2 weights in the weight room and 1 broken bicycle (chuckles).
Ben: (chuckles) That’s right and a dirty elliptical trainer with the right side that squeaks. But the one thing that I can convince myself to do no matter what is, I can either go to a pool and swim, and do like light breath hold restriction swimming, or I can go on a walk and my walks these days all I do is I just tell myself, ok, you’re gonna walk a half hour all you’re gonna do is breathe through your nose and every time you cross a street you’re gonna hold your breath as long as you can, right? And I call like my breath hold nasal breathing walk at least that the sexiest title I’ve come up with yet.
Dr. Vranich: (laughs)
Ben: But it’s really amazing like you feel as though you’ve meditated or you’ve done some kind of a yoga session after you finished a simple walk or a simple like just swim consistently for 20 minutes and breathe every… do like a 2,4,6 breathing, right, like breathe every 2 strokes, then breathe every 4 strokes, then breathe every 6 strokes. And it’s amazing how good you feel afterwards. And it’s an interesting point that you make in this book too about how the lymph system doesn’t actually have a built-in pump and all the circulation of the lymph is stimulated by breathing, and I suppose we could say things like rebounding, or maybe like infrared waves, or things that seem to be able to move it around a little bit too from what I understand, but breathing is so important for the lymphatic system and the removal of toxins. I hadn’t really thought that much about it until you went into it in the book.
Dr. Vranich: When you find that you breathe with your whole body which is the way you’re supposed to breathe, you should be moving. There should be movement in the breath but right now we’re walking around with so much fear and stress, and bravado, and anxiety that we’re stiff and were holding ourselves in a way that helps us feel safer bracing our bodies, but its wreaking havoc on the entire system. And I know that I also often get asked about and I knew you wanted to ask me about digestive system and peristalsis.
Ben: Yeah, exactly I did.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, for me if you’re breathing in a way that’s moving your lymph and you’re breathing with your whole body, you’re also supporting your digestive system. And like you know, peristalsis is that sort of massage-like wave-like motion that happens with your digestion and if you’re breathing with your diaphragm which is right above all your digestive organs then it’s supporting that wave-like motion and it’s just so simple. Every day when I explain this and I love explaining it, and I‘m passionate about it every time I explain it, I’m always blown away by how easy it is but how effective it is. So you have acid reflux, constipation, irritable bowel or whatever, even if it’s minor and if you breathe with your diaphragm which is the muscle that’s right above your digestive system all those things are automatically gonna get better because there’s a muscle that actually, really massages your digestive organs. So are you gonna use it or not (laughs)? And it’s just wild how simple it is.
Ben: There is a book by John Douillard. He’s actually a guy who’s really into breathing too. He’s an Ayuvedic practitioner out of Boulder, Colorado and in his book, he has a new book called “Eat Wheat”. It’s actually really good. It goes into like why this whole infatuation of like gluten-free diets and avoiding wheat might be kind of flawed when we look at wheat from a more ancestral standpoint. But one of the things that he goes into is this concept of belly massage where you actually kinda like bend over. You forcefully exhale most of your air and then you kind of reach in underneath your rib cage area like dig your fingers in there where your diaphragm is, and you do this diaphragmatic massage to assist with peristalsis and gut health. That’s almost like you stimulate your diaphragm with your hands and something I’ve been doing, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this actually.
Dr. Vranich: Sure.
Ben: ‘Cause he mentions this in the book about how you could use like one of these hand-held vibration devices as you know like a Hitachi magic wand, or I have one called the Myobuddy and it’s literally like, you could probably use a vibrator too, I suppose if you happen to have one handy (giggles), ladies or gentlemen. But the idea is that you use like a vibratory device to stimulate your diaphragm as you’re kinda like bent over in a slightly exhaled position. Have you ever tried anything like that, like a diaphragmatic massage?
Dr. Vranich: Sure. Yeah, so well that particular movement comes from yoga. It’s called nawi. And the bending over it’s actually my version of it is called exhale pulsations on retention. So you’re doing those same exhale pulsations that we just learned except for you’re doing them on an exhale. Now that I feel like I know you better, I can tell that you’re gonna be doing these whenever you can, but you exhale all the way out and you flutter your belly. And it’s an incredible massage for everything in the middle of your body but you’re also getting that breath hold, and you’re getting your obliques and all your muscles that have to do with deep core muscles like your pelvic floor are also being stimulated. So I love that particular movement where you exhale all the way out. The massage tool that I like is called a Deep Muscle Stimulator. It’s sort of the Cadillac of massage instruments. The thing looks like a, you know it actually looks like a big metal gun. I get stopped at TSA all the time for it which actually is good because it does looks like a huge gun. This fabulous tool that just vibrates the hell out of you and I love that one for diaphragm stimulation.
Ben: So that’s what you call it. Yeah, I see it. Wow, it’s like. I just looked it up on Amazon. This one is like $3,000 on Amazon?
Dr. Vranich: Yes, exactly.
Ben: Wow! For people who like to own nice things, I suppose because the one who is right underneath it says, deep tissue percussion massage. It’s like thirty-nine bucks. I’m wondering how comparable it is?
Dr. Vranich: Probably not at all, I mean this thing could really if you need to use it for home repair, it’s really solid. I’m not kinda…
Ben: For jackhammering.
Dr. Vranich: (laughs) Yeah, but it’s like, I don’t really love going shopping as much as other girls do. I don’t know. I love health gadgets. I don’t love other than stuff like, I don’t love. You can accumulate to buy more shoes and things like that, but if I can save up and buy this thing like, that really just excites me easily.
Ben: I look at things like this as an investment, right. I had this little device that I wear on my collarbone when I sleep called the Delta Sleeper. It’s like five hundred bucks. Some people like, I would never spend that much at something that helps me to sleep. And I’m like, well, a good night of sleep to me is worth.
Dr. Vranich: Hell yeah!
Ben: About ten, fifteen dollars, so once I’ve used this thing like 15 times, it’s paid for.
Dr. Vranich: It’s paid for. Health gadgets to me and this one I saved up for and I don’t regret it for a second. The thing is fantastic.
Ben: It’s really cool-looking.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, it’s super cool-looking. I would understand if most people are not gonna spend $3,000 on a massage tool but you know, when they come in and I use it on them and they’re just happy. They could not get happier, but you’ve mentioned diaphragm stimulation and the reason why that’s so important is that the majority of people have diaphragms that are really restricted, they’re locked up. In the PT literature they do talk about them being temporarily paralyzed but in general most folks have diaphragm that is not moving at all because they’ve been bracing and squeezing their middles for so long that that measurement, this actually goes back to the measurement.
The vital lung capacity that we took in the beginning when we started talking, if you look about where that measurement is, it actually is measuring your diaphragm. So when we measure you hypothetically, you’re from thirty-four to thirty-six, that’s how much your diaphragm actually flattens out and expands your body on the inhale and exhale and narrows your body. So we want the diaphragm to be stimulated, to be moving, to be flexible, and to be active every time you inhale and exhale. That’s the point.
Ben: So that’s how you beat constipation.
Dr. Vranich: (laughs)
Ben: You get DMS, Professional Deep Muscle Stimulator Massager for $3,000 and you bend over and do these exhale pulsations. You know what’s funny is now that you described it like bending over, exhaling your air and doing these pulsations, I was actually taught that very tactic by my free-diving instructor Ted Hardy when I went down to Fort Lauderdale and then like a week-long free-diving course in the last days like I wanna show you the number 1 stretch that free-divers do every day to increase their diaphragmatic strength and their ability to be able to resist like the painful diaphragmatic contractions that can occur when you’re holding your breath for a long time, and it was that move. You like kneel down, you exhale all your air, you bend over, you do the exhale pulsations and in many cases he’ll do this like multiple times in a row. It’s like a workout that you do on your knees until you’re nearly blue on the face. So it’s really interesting.
Dr. Vranich: Uhmm, and you should tell. Like I had people right now the record is seventy-one for how many pulsations they can do of that sort. It’s seventy-one.
Ben: Alright, well seventy-one is the number to beat.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, seventy-one is the number to beat, but you have to make sure you’re not cheating that actually… when now this is all on an exhale. So when your stomach goes into your body it really goes in and feels like it goes underneath your diaphragm. And you have to let go in between each squeeze. And if you do it right you’ll get this really odd kind of flopping feeling with your belly, but it’s an amazing belly control.
Some of the people that have the best core muscles are belly dancers. And belly dancers don’t have six-packs. If anything you look and they have sort of softer middles, but they can do more of these particular exercises that you and I could, and most really jacked and ripped people could because their muscles, their diaphragms and other deep ab muscles are really incredibly strong.
Ben: Got it. Interesting. Now one of the things that I wanted to ask you about was in addition to like some of the tools that you use in your office, your thoughts on some of these things that you see people using it. And I admittedly use this like I keep a Powerlung in my glove box for example which is like this inspiratory-expiratory muscle training device that you breathe in and out of. And like when I’m on a long road trip every time I pass a mile marker, right, I’ll just do like ten seconds in, ten seconds out. Or I’ll even use an elevation training mask. Like I’ll go in the sauna and do some bridging, and some crunching, and some squats, and stuff like wearing this training mask. I guess those are probably the 2 most popular devices you’ll see out there. Like are you in to those type of things, or do you go with like the good old nose in the mouth and the fancy massage device?
Dr. Vranich: You know what, Ben, the first time I wore a high altitude tank… so it wasn’t a mask, it was a tank. It was a serious piece of equipment.
Ben: Whish is true altitude not resistance training for the breath?
Dr. Vranich: Altitude.
Ben: But actual true altitude?
Dr. Vranich: Yeah.
Ben: Your breathing reduced oxygen in the air that you breathe?
Dr. Vranich: It’s brutal and ran long distance with it, cross-country in 1982.
Ben: Wow! You’ve been doing this awhile.
Dr. Vranich: I’ve been doing this for a while, yeah. So I have tried and know about every single gadget out there. All of them are interesting and good if they have you focused on your breathing as long as your vital lung capacity is at least a hundred and you’re breathing horizontally. So the problem with a lot of the…
Ben: So you do wanna train bad. I wouldn’t wanna like take my Powerlung and do a bunch of shallow chest breathing with it.
Dr. Vranich: Exactly, because what it’s going to do is that with all these whatever gadget that you’re using is that it’s gonna affect your performance if you’re training at the same time. So you’re not gonna get as good of a workout if you’re using this gadget. Well, because first of all, depending on your sport. It could fall out of your mouth or fall off your face. But if you’re not training good breathing, you’re training bad breathing. The only thing it does is make you feel really good about it when you take it off. And you know this when you take the mask off or whatever you’re just like, oh thank god that’s done. It just feels really good to take it off your body. If you have a hundred vital lung capacity and you’re breathing horizontally and you’re using these things, they’re absolutely gonna be great for you. But the fact is that most people don’t even know how badly they’re breathing before they start using the gadget. So to me, it’s first to make sure your vital lung capacity is good. Make sure you’ve got with exhale pulsations, do everything without the gadget. Max out on everything else and then use the gadget. And I’m telling you that most people cannot max out on the exercises that I do that I have them do before being able to get to those things.
Ben: Ok, that’s really good to know because a lot of people will grab those and like the guy who did the recent hilarious biohacking Youtube video, or biohacking. I think it was a Facebook video like jump up and down on their trampoline wearing their elevation training mask while trying to drink their smoothie full of coffee and butter, and they just do everything wrong, right? They jump wrong, and they drink wrong, and they breathe wrong. And so I think that’s a good point you make like you have to learn to play some of these basic techniques before you jump into the fancy (crosstalk).
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, and they’re not easy. It’s not the people go, oh this is gonna be an easy class because I do have people who get very light-headed, who have dry heaves depending on what they’re doing and if it’s a beginner or an advance class, but you can just be solidifying your bad breath if you come in and you’ve been using the Powerlung which can be you know, I like Bas Rutten’s gadget as well. That one.
Ben: Yeah, I know which one you’re talking about. I forgot the name of it but he’s like the…
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, it’s similar as well.
Ben: He’s an MMA fighter and it’s like an oxygen training device. I think it’s a little bit different than the Powerlung in some way. It’s called the O2 trainer. The O2 trainer. High altitude trainer. I think it’s funny that a lot of these devices say they’re high altitude training devices though when you’re breathing in a normal amount of oxygen. There’s interesting research, right like you breathe off CO2 and there’s a large amount of CO2 in the dead space that you’re breathing back in, and so you’re increasing your tolerance to CO2 or you’re training your muscles but you’re not really doing like true elevation training.
Dr. Vranich: You know, my brother is a machu-picchu expert so he spends his time going back and forth between low and high altitude, and you know, he really does true high altitude training because if you don’t, you pass out or you get sick. So he sort of laughs at a lot of these things because they’re not true high altitude measurements. However, again I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who brings attention to the breath because it’s important.
Ben: Oh yeah.
Dr. Vranich: I’ve had people come into class that have used these things and are better breathing than anybody else. But I’d love to get someone who’s gone through my training then uses them, oh my god, I’m chomping at the beat for that. That would be amazing.
Ben: Yeah, and that’s actually something I’ve read about before how like the marathoner, the Ethiopian marathoner like Hayley Jabab… I always mispronounce his name. Diblasi I think you know who I’m talking about. He’ll do like breath holder repeats like during his four hundreds, like bare grills I know when he was training like climb mountains he would do a lot of the type of restricted breath training that I talked about in the pool, right where you go for a long swim but you only breathe every 8 strokes. It’s interesting how a lot of these less complex techniques such as this like holding your breath during exercise actually does cause a little bit of a bump up in the erythropoietin production. You know, the same as you would get when you are free-diving at sixty feet and had your spleen compressed. So it’s kinda interesting how you don’t have to get super fancy with some of these stuff you can just freaking hold your breath or do nasal breathing when you are out doing exercise that you just alluded to. When you’re doing these things breathe more horizontally than vertically.
Dr. Vranich: Yeah, and I mean. The simple ones can be sometimes the hardest. I know Joe Rogan does a breath where he inhales as slow as he can and exhales as slow as he can. Now that doesn’t sound that difficult until you try to take 1 breath in a minute, and 1 breath in an exhale. So 1 inhale in a minute and 1 exhale in a minute but not just holding, you actually make sure you’re inhaling for the entire sixty seconds and then you’re exhaling for the entire sixty seconds. So there’s a lot of really great exercises you can do but at least start by saying, are you using the right muscles? Because like I said, I had people come in who are great breath holders but their breathing muscles are really weak. So again, while I love breath holds for some things. Just make sure, can you do exhale pulsations? Is your vital lung capacity a hundred or a hundred and ten, or a hundred and twenty coz I get people that have gone up to almost two hundred as far as how much they can expand. That’s the important thing. Not really how much you could hold your breath is. How big is the capacity? Are you using all your lungs and are your breathing muscles strong? Those are the things you need to ask yourself.
Ben: Yeah, I got myself to be able to do that single inhale exhale in a minute by simply using an app called the pranayama, and it’s basically something Mark Divine who’s like a Navy Seal commander who’s really in the breath tactics showed to me and oh, it does plays a simple chime, say you can do like 5 seconds in, 5 seconds hold, 5 seconds out, 5 seconds hold. And then every week or so you can add a second. So you get yourself up to like a ten, ten, ten, ten. And eventually before you know it you’re taking in one breath over the course of half the minute and then holding it for half the minute and exhaling for half of another minute and holding for half of another minute. And it’s just like anything, right you gradually train yourself up to that level.
Dr. Vranich: Uhm, uhm. Yeah. And I actually, I tested Mark about 2 weeks ago. So (laughs).
Ben: Oh really? Ok. Cool. Small world. Well, this is fascinating stuff. We’ve gone into a ton of research for folks. So if you’re listening in and you wanna read Dr. Belisa’s. Did I say that right, Belisa?
Dr. Vranich: Perfect.
Ben: Yes, Belisa Vranich’s book Breathe. I will link to it over in the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/breathepodcast, and I will also link to everything else that we talked about from like the acidity testing strips to a recent article that I wrote over at Quick and Dirty Tips that actually goes into Belisa’s book, to some of these other books I mentioned, to even the three thousand dollar muscle stimulator that you too, can get if you wanna be just like Belisa and have like the best massager/I suppose it could be like a three thousand dollar vibrator as well.
Dr. Vranich: I have not tested out but that’s probably not [1:18:24.1] ______.
Ben: I guess by looking at the shape. Yeah, we will go down that rabbit hole for now coz we’ve been going on long enough but just leave a comment in the show notes if that’s something that you find out is efficacious for you. And anyways, speaking of the show notes, leave your comments or questions and I will jump in and reply, and try and point you in the right direction.
And finally, if you enjoyed this episode leave us a nice little review on iTunes so that we know that you like it. Leave a nice 5 star review and that always helps the show out a little bit as well. So that all being said, Belisa, thanks for coming on the show and sharing all the stuff.
Dr. Vranich: Thank you so much. This was a blast. Anytime.
Ben: Awesome. Well, very cool. So folks again, bengreenfieldfitness.com/breathe with an e, breathepodcast and until next time. I’m Ben Greenfield along with Dr. Belisa Vranich signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You've been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting-edge fitness and performance advice.
In the past several months, I’ve taken a deep, deep dive into breath work. Sure, in the past years I’ve written articles on everything from combining ketosis, breath holds and freediving, to how to make your own hyperbaric “exercise with oxygen therapy” (EWOT) device, to Wim Hof style breathing for cold thermogenesis to underwater workouts with Laird Hamilton to making yourself high with holotropic breathwork to the use of fancy breath strips and “Turbine” devices to enhance nasal breathing during both exercise and sleep…
…but lately, I’ve been making a very concerted effort to consistently do deep nasal breathing, rhythmic breathing and breath hold tactics during walks, weight training sessions, road trips and beyond. And by concerted, I mean consistently, every day, until these forms of breathing become fully automatic.
In her new book “Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health” my guest Dr. Belisa Vranich explains why breathing is so crucial for optimizing brain and body performance, and she delves into one of the most comprehensive treatises of practical breathing tactics that I’ve ever read (the other best book on this topic is “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown, who I’m also getting on the podcast soon). She highlights the results she’s seen in her research and in her own patients, including…
All without medication.
Unpleasant side effects from blood pressure pills? Gone.
A cheap and effective way to combat cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction, obesity, and GI disorders? Yes.
Sounds too good to be true?
Contemporary science confirms what generations of healers have observed through centuries of practice: Breath awareness can turn on the body’s natural abilities to prevent and cure illness. The mental and physical stresses of modern life, such as anxiety, frustration, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive woes, and immune dysfunction can all be addressed through conscious control of your breath. In addition, it can increase energy, accelerate healing, improve cognitive skills, and enhance mental balance.
Yet most of us stopped breathing in the anatomically “right” way, the way to take advantage of these benefits, when we were four or five years old. We now mostly breathe in a way that is anatomically incongruous and makes for more illness. But in the book “Breathe“, Dr. Vranich shows readers how to turn back the tide of stress and illness, and improve the overall quality of their life through a daily breathing workout.
In a fascinating, straightforward, jargon-free exploration of how our bodies were meant to breathe, she delves into the ins and outs of proper breathing. By combining both anatomy and fitness with psychology and mindfulness, Dr. Vranich gives readers a way of solving health problems at the crux and healing themselves from the inside out. Breathe is an easy-to-follow guide to breathing exercises that will increase energy, help lose weight, and make you feel calmer and happier.
Dr. Vranich is a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience, and she has spent the last decade dedicating herself to the study of breathing. She is the founder of The Breathing Class and has appeared in dozens of national media outlets, including Anderson Cooper, CNN, Fox, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Fitness and Huffington Post. She is also the former sports psychologist for Gold’s Gym and columnist for Shape.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-How to determine something called your “baseline breath”…[10:35]
-The best biohacking gear that you can use to self quantify and test your breath…[24:45 & 28:10]
-What percentage oxygen level you should look at when using an oximeter to check your blood oxygenation levels…[29:15]
-The acid-alkaline relationship between something called “overbreathing” and craving junk foods…[19:20 & 34:40]
-Why your breath hold time may not be that important (unless you’re into freediving, spearfishing, shooting, golfing, surfing, surgery or tattoo artistry)…[38:00 & 42:00]
-Why rock musicians have very strong vagus nerve stimulation…[52:20]
-How breathwork detoxifies your body and moves lymph through your circulatory system…[57:30]
-The $3000 device that Dr. Vranich swears by for full body massage and diaphragmatic stimulation…[64:45]
-What Dr. Vranich thinks of devices like the Powerlung and the Elevation Training Mask…[70:50]
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
–Elevation Training Mask (use code BGF for 20% discount)