Yesterday I Stopped Breathing Correctly

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  • By Susan "The Wife" Bartley
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Yesterday I Stopped Breathing Correctly

Finally, we have taken the RPR Level 1 and Level 2.  We were lucky enough to have JL Holdsworth come to the gym to teach both levels.  Having done Be Activated now three times with Douglas Heel, it was time for us to officially learn the RPR system and the language that they use to teach the information.  It was awesome and I gained some new insights into things that my brain had not been able to process before.  I think I took 10 pages of notes over the two days. 


These systems are both based on the principle that we need to move our bodies out of living in a sympathetic state and into a parasympathetic state.  Basically, move us out of “Fight, Flight or Freeze” and into “Rest and Recovery”.  Or, as JL talks about in this podcast ( we need to work to live in the “Performance Zone” which is parasympathetic and NOT in the “survival” zone which is sympathetic.  Be Activated and RPR both work to give you tools to pull your body out of “survival” mode and put it back into that constant beautiful place where you can thrive and perform.


For the past 6 weeks, Marc and I have been diligent about doing our activations in the morning before we train.  I spend about 30 minutes going through the full body activation and then usually do some during training and then again in the evening.  I am working hard on my belly breathing to try and solidify myself into the performance state as much as possible.  It is hard work. What is that commercial, I think it is for Nationwide insurance: “Life comes at you hard”.  They aren’t kidding.  Sometimes it seems like we eat stress for breakfast.


Other than the activations, I have two other strategies that I have been working with to go along with belly breathing to keep me in the right zone.  One is daily walks and the other is music.  The walks started in May when we all jumped on the Vertical Diet bandwagon.  Yes, we even buy the meals because they are super tasty and make my life so much easier.  You can shop for them here: .  We also started with the three 10-minute walks a day that Stan suggests.  For me, that got me close to the 10,000 steps mark and I HATE missing a marker so I have bumped it up to doing 10,000 steps a day as a minimum.  That means that when I get home in the evenings, I head straight out into the neighborhood to get whatever steps I need for the day.   In the beginning I walked armed with my phone and headphones blaring music and singing, but as I have progressed, I am finding that I don’t need those distractions.  Rarely do I play music, mostly I just walk and breathe and take stock of my body and how I am feeling.  I am sleeping better at night and I find that this time allows me to breathe away any stress that was thrown my way during the day.


Second, I am really playing around with music especially when I train.  When I was powerlifting I was just like everyone else and only played hard music to help me find my “anger”.  If it was a heavy lift I ALWAYS played “Pass the Mic” by the Beastie Boys on an endless loop and then the rest of the album.  I was a big fan of Rage Against the Machine and Marilyn Manson as well.  The song “Lunchbox” by Marilyn Manson really got me into the right frame of mind to squat big.  Angry, throbbing music that allowed my brain to go numb.


Side Story: 


Sorry for the interlude but this is a good story.  The first day of our very first Be Activated class 3 years ago I was the first person to be put on the table in front of everyone and go through testing.  I had never met Douglas Heel before, I didn’t know anyone in the class but Marc and I was 3 weeks away from a powerlifting meet.  Douglas ran through the quick battery of tests designed to find out how my body accomplished hip flexion and extension, or as RPR states it how my body finds stability.  I failed test after test until there were no more tests and Douglas pronounced me to be a big fat ZERO.  The very last test allows you to do absolutely anything that you can to stay strong in the position and I couldn’t even do that.  Douglass is persistent and intuitive and so he asked a little bit about how I completed my squats normally – can’t be a zero if I can actually squat 315 lbs.   We explained that I played loud music – like Marilyn Manson – and that Marc screamed cues at me through out the lift.   So, Douglas had Marc – right there in front of everyone – scream at me the normal squat cues as loud as he could while he tested, and I held strong.  I held strong for 10 seconds and then failed like a dish rag.   Here is why, I really was a zero, I had no way to find stability in my body UNLESS I had a shot of adrenalin.  When Marc yelled the cues at me, I got that adrenalin and away we went.   Unfortunately, adrenaline only gives you 10 seconds of go time and then it disappears.  10 seconds is perfect to perform a squat (as long as you don’t get distracted) but not a perfect way to perform at life.  This was my introduction to the difference in living life in “Flight, Fright, Freeze” and living life in “Performance”.


Back to the original story:


Don’t get me wrong, I still very much love The Beastie Boys, Rage and Marilyn Manson but I am finding that I can’t use it to lift any more IF I want to stay parasympathetic.   Instead, while I train, I am playing around with music that keeps me breathing.  I have used African drumbeats which work well, Bob Marley also works really well and then some other musicians whose music I have more of an emotional connection to that are not necessarily considered workout music.  I even played around with Bach’s “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” because it is supposed to be rhythmically like a sine wave.


Basically, I am working hard to fight the desire to give in and let the world wash over me with constant stress especially during my workouts.  Marc and I are both doing some experimenting with our breathing and our training which we will report on eventually, but for now just know that I am working hard to stay parasympathetic when I train.


How do I know that what I am doing is working?  Well, let me tell you a story of yesterday’s training session.  It provides a great illustration.


Wednesday in my training program is a mid-weight squat session working up to a 5 x 5 with my working weight.   It is also the day I use the Marrs-Bar for something different.  As I said, I don’t start training until after a 30-minute full body reset and yesterday was no different.  To begin the day however, we had to attend the funeral of the father of a friend of ours.  The ceremony was lovely, but no matter how lovely a funeral is it does always come with a heavy heart at the passing of a loved one.  Also, the night before, my mother had been in the ER for tests and was diagnosed with diverticulitis.  This diagnosis was definitely better than the things my head was creating but still made me anxious for her and her health.  So, for Wednesdays squat session, even after the 30-minute reset, I probably didn’t start in as good a state of 1-2-3 (or parasympathetic) as I would have liked.


To add insult to injury when I started squatting our mid-afternoon crew was in full swing back in our powerlifting room.  They had rap music on really loudly, they were deadlifting with bands so the weights were slamming on the floor and they were having a great time which means talking a lot of shit.  Normally, this would be the type of atmosphere I would thrive on.  The music was great and the people were even greater, but this atmosphere was the complete opposite of what I have been trying to create in my training.  No fault of the group, and I was actually working in on their time, but it just was a shock to my system.


I started warming up and immediately I could tell this would be a rough squat day.  My right side felt weak.  My right glute wouldn’t fire as strongly as my left and in fact it didn’t even feel present.  My right tibialis felt twisted – no other way to describe it.  This has happened before, I know it isn’t twisted but that is what it feels like.  When I got into the hole of the squat my right hip felt loose and disconnected and my right ankle had to twist off the ground for me to have room for my belly in the hole.  Luckily, the weight I was using was light so I could really focus on my breathing with each rep.  I also did a ton more activations trying to find that one that would allow everything to work again.  I raked my knuckles down my peroneals, jammed into my QL and hit my hamstring and breathing points really hard.  It all worked okay, but nothing made me feel the way that I wanted to feel under the bar.  I even called Marc in to watch me and see if he could help me figure out how to fix things.  Finally, with one set left, everyone had left the powerlifting room except one guy.  I asked him if he would mind if I changed the music and he agreed.  I changed it to the Bob Marley song “One Love” because I find that reggae beats and his voice can almost instantly bring me down.  I stood for a second in front of the bar with my eyes closed, belly breathing and squeezing my glutes and then took the set.  It wasn’t perfect but my foot didn’t twist in the bottom and my hip felt solid and I was happy.


This may seem like a silly little story.  But, I am sharing it because I think it shows the power of what proper breathing and a proper state of mind can do for your training.   The thing I have to work on now is how to keep my parasympathetic state when my surroundings are not ideal.  Obviously, I am not always going to be able to train in a quiet room with Sinead O’Connor playing for my enjoyment so I have to get a handle on my ability to stay breathing and stay locked in.  The more I am there, the easier it is to feel when I am not there and that is helpful.  Had my weight been heavier yesterday, I might have taken a mulligan and gone to do something that wasn’t as taxing.  Once I got out of the room and into a quieter space I was able to run through the RPR drills quickly and bring myself back down.  By my evening walk everything felt back to normal.


This is a cool video that popped up on social media under the Be Activated group.  It is short and shows how the different types of breathing: Lateral/Collateral, Apical and Diaphragm breathing affect a simply thing like hamstring flexibility.  It is a cool visual for what was happening to me yesterday.  Because I couldn’t find my diaphragm breathing, my body wasn’t responding well. 


Check it out:


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