My Personal Experience Using Breathing Dynamics to Achieve a Top Ten Finish at The Molokai World Sursfski Championships
In 2010 I studied the science of breathing, qualified as a respiratory therapist and started working clinically with asthma & breathing difficulties, snoring & sleep apnoea, fatigue, anxiety, sinusitis etc., plus working with athletes I coach on performance breathing. I was seeing great results both clinically and with athletes.
In 2012 I decided to take on the Molokai Surfski Challenge – my first venture at this event.
At 53km from Molokai Island to Oahu Island across the Kaiwi Channel (The Channel of Bones), the Molokai Surfski Challenge is the ocean paddling equivalent to the Kona Hawaii Ironman triathlon – the unofficial world endurance championship. Like Kona, Molokai is the bucket list event of all ocean paddlers, and probably the toughest race in the world, often with big seas and winds, and a lot of heat and humidity to contend with also.
I had 16 weeks to prepare, so it presented a fantastic opportunity to train my body to breathe optimally (using the diaphragm to drive breathing and mostly the nose on inhalation & exhalation) at higher levels of exertion. And at 45 years of age, I figured it was worth exploring a natural competitive edge as I didn’t have the strength or speed that I had when I was younger, or the time to train as much as I used to.
So this presented a fantastic opportunity to see explore how much more I could gain in performance by learning how to breathe optimally whilst competing in the sport I was once at elite level in.
In my youth I had been an Australian representative at the World Sprint Kayak Championships and a national medallist in surf lifesaving competition in Australia. Unfortunately my career at international level was cut short in my early 20s by illness – what we now know as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or post viral syndrome.
So I was a very capable paddler in sprint or middle distance with my best races being in the 1-3 minute range. I was more a sprinter or high lactic tolerance paddler, rather than a paddler with a high VO2 max. I wasn’t a great at time trials over a distance or a great marathon paddler (unless I could sit on a wash and sprint off at the end).
As such, I knew that doing an endurance race, particularly against the best marathon ocean paddlers in the world, would not be my forte.
But I grew up surfing and paddling in the ocean, and the Molokai race happens at a time of the year when the Hawaiian trade winds blow consistently in a particular direction, it is typically a downwind event where you surf the wind runs and ground swells, gathering great speeds.
As I love surfing and downwind paddling, I couldn’t wait to do a race on one of the best downwind courses in the world. And exploring how much extra I could gain in performance from the breath training excited me also.
The objective with breath training for sporting performance is to:
Breathe predominantly using the nose, only using the mouth in emergencies, or if the exertion level becomes extreme – indications from what I’d experienced, as well as with other athletes who have explored performance breathing during exercise suggest that it is possible to nose breathe up to about 90% of max heart rate, suggesting that this is ideal especially for endurance sports. For people doing sports that involve intervals of sprinting interspersed with rest periods at random; i.e. football, hockey, basketball, etc etc; will find it harder to nose breath all the time, however there are still significant benefits to be gained by breathing only using the nose when recovering between sprints.
Use the diaphragm to initiate inhalation – the chest is also used during exercise, but most huff and puff with their chest only. The diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle, and it is far more efficient to breathe using the diaphragm only at rest, and initially during low-level exercise, and then using the chest in addition to the diaphragm as exertion levels increase.
“Essentially, less is better with breathing for performance. That is, a slower breathing rate and lower breathing volume – be it at rest of during the exertion of sports performance. This is counterintuitive, as we want to huff and puff more the harder it gets, thinking that we’re sucking more oxygen in.But huffing and puffing reduces breathing efficiency, as it reduces the amount of oxygen that actually reaches your cells for energy production – which is the purpose of breathing in the first place. Whereas reducing the breathing rate and volume, will increase oxygen delivery to cells for energy production, and therefore efficiency in performance.It is very difficult initially without training to breathe less whilst exercising (or even at rest), but the benefits are worth the effort.”
The benefits of nose & diaphragm breathing, or performance breathing during exercise include:
Using greater lung surface area for gas exchange
More efficient oxygen delivery to cells for energy production
Learning how to breathe at lower breathing & heart rates at high levels of exercise
Delaying lactic acid onset
Reducing recovery times between efforts
Increasing relaxation during exercise
Allowing greater access to ‘zone’ or ‘alpha’ states during exercise
Improving relaxation and calmness at competitions
Improving postural stability.
My breath training involved a few aspects:
Day to day diaphragm & nose breathing rhythms aimed at slowing down the breathing rate and reducing the volume of the breath – this represents what I would call ‘base training’ which restores normal or optimal breathing function on a day to day basis, and prepares the body for performance breath training. 30 minutes per day.
Off the water diaphragm strengthening exercises (as most people’s diaphragm muscle is weak and atonic due to lack of use), combined with breath holds (to increase the brain’s tolerance to increased CO2 levels experienced during exertion). 20-30 minutes, 3-5 times per week.
Practice of nose & diaphragm breathing whilst doing my paddle training or cross training – it takes time for the body to adjust to the reduced volume and rate of breathing experience when predominantly nose/diaphragm breathing, so I was fortunate to be able to build my capacity to breathe optimally as my program built in intensity from aerobic base training, to higher intensity race pace training, and finally lactic tolerance and speed training. If you try to nose/diaphragm breathe at really high intensity initially, before your body has time to adapt, it can really hurt, and lead to one feeling badly out of breath, light headed or having a headache. You simply have t build your tolerance to increased CO2 over time.
As my training progressed and increased in intensity, I started to get more comfortable nose and diaphragm breathing at higher intensities, and I felt very relaxed at these intensities – far more than I usually would.
I knew the biggest difficulty in applying performance breathing on race day would be from the start, as we don’t start paddle race at a cruisy pace.
Paddlers take off quickly in order to find their own water (as sitting behind multiple skis results in getting caught in bumpy, ‘dirty’ water that is hard to paddle in), or find the wash of another slightly faster paddler to sit on.
As such it’s very challenging from a breathing perspective – many paddlers feel out of breath, and have to back off after the initial start until they feel comfortable in their breathing – and that has traditionally always included me.
Therefore I knew that getting used to nose & diaphragm breathing at high intensities was necessary, but would also have to be my main emphasis for the start of the race.
In addition, if necessary, I could use the mouth occasionally as long as my inhalation was initiated by the diaphragm first, and then the chest, rather than huffing and puffing with the chest only, which is effectively hyperventilating, and is extremely inefficient from a cardiovascular perspective.
Even if you use your mouth instead of the nose, learning how to diaphragm breathe properly will still be more efficient than huffing and puffing with the chest and shoulders only, as diaphragm breathing will slow breathing down.
But learning how to nose breathe for as long as you can, as well as diaphragm breathing, is by far the most efficient method.
Ultimately, the less you mouth breathe initially, or the more you nose breathe, the better you set yourself for efficient breathing as the pace settles 20-30 minutes into the race.
Therefore, on race day, after the start, my main focus and energy expenditure was on breathing efficiently rather than trying too hard. Fortunately in a 50+ km race, you can’t start too hard anyway if you want to get to the last half of the race, or the end in a reasonable state.
Via this primary focus on nose & diaphragm breathing initially, which was quite a challenge, I found that I was able to maintain a consistent pace, rather than having to back off for a while, and then after 20-30 minutes of being at my limit of comfort (with the occasional mouth breath) I started to get more comfortable with my breathing and it became a nice, relaxed but energetic rhythm.
As a result, I felt very good internally. I felt relaxed, with an upright posture, and could maintain a solid pace quite comfortably. It also kept me focused on the task at hand, rather than my mind wandering.
At around the 1.5 hour mark, or just under half way (the race took me 3 hours 40 minutes), I felt fantastic, so whilst maintaining my nose/diaphragm breathing rhythm, I was able to accelerate for the rest of the race, and from here I began to overtake a number of paddlers who couldn’t sustain the pace they set out at.
This was unusual or a surprise for me, as I had previously always been more of a sprinter who goes out fast at the start, and struggles to maintain speed, rather than an endurance paddler who builds as they go.
In fact, it was a revelation to do this, as I’d never done that before.
It also helped me regulate my hydration really well, as my mouth was closed so it wasn’t drying out regularly. This is super important for this race, as maintain hydration and electrolyte levels is one of the main challenges in this race, and one of the main reasons that many paddlers fail to finish well, or at all.
As a result of settling into this breathing rhythm and being able to accelerate for the 2nd half (or two thirds) of the race, I performed better than I expected, and finished in the top 10 overall for the race – at the age of 45.
I was very happy with the result, but I was even more elated at being able to master my breathing at a high level, and to surprise myself so much in doing so – not only how relaxed and in control I felt, but also the increased cardiovascular capacity I felt I had found. It’s very nice to be pleasantly surprised sometimes in life. I felt like I had found a serious competitive edge to support my paddling.
The same pattern and result occurred two years later, when I did the race again.
If you’d like to explore gaining a natural competitive edge in sport, or exercise, that is easy to learn, then contact me via this website to book and appointment, or enrol in my online course, ‘Breathing Dynamics for Sporting Performance’. It is super thorough and you get some one on one time with me as a part of the course cost.
Also, see the links for other articles and research on breathing for sporting performance:
Below is a testimonial from a client who made a great recovery from chronic fatigue (CFS). It’s so humbling to witness the freedom and accomplishment clients experience after recoverng from chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, anxiety & depression, IBS etc.
Especially given they are so frequently told by medical practitioners and ‘research’ that a cure is not possible, so most sufferers end up feeling so helpless. It is so confidence and soul destorying for them.
Having experienced this myself, I know how they feel, and that is why I have been so motivated to find the most potent modalities to achieve recoveries over the last 20+ years of practice.
Plus it gives me such joy and a warm heart to see the change in them. As mentioned, it’s extremely humbling to guide them on their journey to recovery.
“After years of struggling with chronic fatigue with no improvement, I had lost hope of ever getting better. But working with Tim led to a huge boost in my overall well being. Using Mickel therapy, breathing exercises, and a variety of lifestyle enhancements, I’ve had levels of improvement that I didn’t think would be possible. He told me from day one that he wanted to help me become more resilient, and that’s exactly what we accomplished together.
My primary care doctor once told me that recovery from CFS is a game of percentages — that anything you can do to increase your energy by a small percentage is considered a success. And I can say that working with Tim has dramatically flipped those percentages in my favor. At my worst point, I spent a solid 90% of every day feeling absolutely miserable. And now I’d say it’s comfortably the other way around. I’m able to work full time, maintain a healthy social life, and even mix in some exercise at this point! I can’t recommend highly enough.”
But, wait there’s more. He sent me an addition a little while later:
“I also want you to know that I played my first 20 minutes of soccer in over two years this weekend! ……….I can’t tell you how great it felt to be on a field playing again.”
I love it. What was even more cool, was that this client lives on the other side of the planet from me, so all of the work we did together towards his recovery was done via online consultations.
If you suffer from CFS, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, IBS or any other chronic illness, and are suck of feeling helpless, then contact me to have a chat about a potential recovery.
I’m really looking forward to hosting Anti- Snooze Lunch Webinar: March 30, 12 pm
It will explore a variety of ways to beat the 3.30 slump. Understanding and managing fatigue. Preventing Burnout :
The MLT WELLBEING Team invite you to a FREE anti snooze Zoom lunch with Tim Altman, Kay Clancy and Jen Bishop.
We use a multifactorial approach to preventing and treating fatigue, burn-out and overwhelm in the work place and creating a balance between work and family life.
Our approach is based on the understanding and research that has stemmed from the field of evolutionary medicine, which draws from genetics, epigenetics and anthropology.
In short, we discuss the mismatch theory of human evolution with research suggesting that the assimilation of change in our environment takes tens of thousands of years for our body to assimilate.
As such, we’ve created a huge mismatch between the body we have inherited from our hunter gatherer ancestors some 40,000 years ago or more, and the high paced, intense world we have created via rapid technological advancement over a comparatively much, much shorter period of time.
To quote world leading evolutionary medicine expert from Harvard University, Dr Daniel Lieberman:
“Interactions between the bodies we inherited, the environment we create, and the decisions we sometimes make have set in motion an insidious feedback loop. We get sick from chronic diseases by doing what we evolved to do but under conditions for which our bodies are poorly adapted, and we then pass on those same conditions to our children, who also then get sick. If we wish to halt this vicious circle then we need to figure out how to respectfully and sensibly nudge, push and sometimes oblige ourselves to eat foods that promote health and to be more physically active. That too, is what we evolved to do.” Daniel Lieberman, ‘The Story of the Human Body. Evolution, Health & Disease.’
In this webinar we explore a number of aspects of how we live or interface with the world that dramatically influence our well-being, energy levels, immune system, and our mental health. In each of these aspects, we compare how we typically perform these functions in the modern world with how the body we inherited would ideally perform these functions – in an environment in which we thrived.
I will cover tips and strategies on how to manage all aspects that affect fatigue and energy levels including specifics on:
1. Breathing techniques to regulate your autonomic nervous system.
2. Daily nutrition strategies for peak mental/brain performance.
3. Sleep hygiene, managing airways and new dental approaches for fatigue prevention.
4. Movement, exercise and stabilising for energy.
5. Techniques and workplace tools for managing stress in the new pivot economy.
MLT colleague and super coach Kay Clancy, will discuss the PERMA model of well-being and how to apply this to your workplace and lifestyle.
Finally, MLT Wellbeing founder Jen Bishop will discuss the gut/brain connection latest research from the Florey Institute and the impacts on fatigue, sleep and function.
Come join us March 30 packed with deep info and insight on harnessing and your greatest resource – your energy. Bring loads of questions and lots of water !
In the linked (at the bottom of this article) episode of the Take A Breath Health and Lifestyle Show, which I co-host with Matt Radford, we interview world renowned yoga teacher and physiotherapist, Simon Borg-Olivier.
Simon’s accomplishments in his field include teaching yoga for over 30 years, founding Yoga Synergy in Sydney, authoring the book ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’, and he now trains yoga teachers all over the world.
In this episode we discuss:
Simon’s introduction to free diving as a 6 year old, and pranayama breathing techniques not long afterwards.
How Simon’s training as both a scientist & physiotherapist, and yoga practitioner allowed him to merge the scientific paradigm with yoga.
The clash between the ‘core training’ approach to posture and stability held by the physiotherapy and fitness professions for many years with the understanding of the importance of free movement of the diaphragm for correct breathing.
Simon’s belief that the first thing that should be taught to students for their long term well-being is the restoration of natural breathing as most people’s breathing is so inefficient that, if they are given specific breathing techniques, they will tend to over-breathe and over-tense.
And that natural breathing is most effectively learned by combining it with moving the body, especially the trunk in certain ways that improves breathing in many ways.
What is over-breathing.
How Simon teaches breathing to students – including restoration of natural breathing, as well as other specific pranayama techniques.
Simon’s 5 features of natural breathing:
Inhalation is felt very low.
Exhalation is passive.
Breathing is minimal – no more than you need.
It can run on automatic.
Through the nose.
Simon’s views on the Wim Hof method, including the strengths and limitations.
An incredible experience Simon shared where he was recorded in a laboratory doing hyperventilation breathing techniques (similar to the Wim Hof techniques, but more complex) followed by a 6 minute breath hold, then a spontaneous 8 minute breath hold immediately afterwards.
Techniques for learning to increase breath hold time – including connecting with the 12 areas of the body that allow dual control between the conscious and sub-conscious – the ‘12 bridges’.
Why Simon believes that most modern yoga is no longer yoga – it involves over stretching, over-tensing, over-breathing, and over-thinking, and therefore blocks the natural movement of energy and information through the body. It is more like a work-out.
If you’d like to learn how to breathe correctly to improve your well-being, treat illness or improve performance, either sign up for my comprehensive ‘Breathing Dynamics’ online course on the home page of this website, https://timaltman.com.au/, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or +61425 739 918.
Linked below is a great interview on the ‘Take A Breath Health and Lifestyle Show’ podcast that I co-host, with Dr Craig Hassed, world renowned researcher and lecturer on mindulness, meditation and psychoneuroimmunology, Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), also referred to as psychoendoneuroimmunology (PENI) or psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology (PNEI), is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.
Dr Hassed has written many books on mindfulness, meditation and mind-body medicine, including ‘The Freedom Trap – Reclaiming Liberty and Well-being’, and ‘Mindfulness For Life’ among many more.
His fantastic book, ‘New Frontiers In Medicine: The Body As a Shadow of the Soul’ was a huge inspiration to me many years ago during my studies into natural medicine and in my process to optimal health & living following my successful and complete recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
Both myself, and Take A Breath co-host Matt Radford (https://www.takeabreath.com.au/) were super nervous prior, and a bit star struck during our interview as Dr Hassed has been such an inspiration to us. However, we was super friendly and relaxed, so we really enjoyed it, and his discussion on the podcast is brilliant. I highly recommend you take the time to listen.
The ‘Breathing Dynamics’ online course for correct breathing to improve your health & wellbeing, vitality and performance is now available on this website, https://timaltman.com.au/ , and the Lionheart Workshops website.
Breathing is something that we do automatically it is the foundation for life. Learning to understand the dynamics of breathing within the body and to breath correctly can stimulate a depth from within you and transform your entire well-being. Yogi’s know this!
Due to the mismatch that has been formed withing our evolutionary biology (between the environment our body evolved to thrive in, as hunter gatherers, and the fast-paced, high tech world we have created) with regards to the bodies evolution, natural and unnatural stress responses and the way we actually see or perceive ourselves as human beings today.
This mismatch of evolution has led to an unnatural response to life through feelings of anxiety triggered incorrectly by stress responses. Hence the ‘mismatch’, and resultant common experience of compromised health, anxiety, fatigue, burn out, lack of performance, joy and fulfillment.
If you are feeling stressed, anxious or unwell, a powerful solution could be as simple as the way you take in your air.
Whilst we have evolved in so many ways, and it may not be right for us to return to hunter gatherer days, we must also understand what our body is naturally built for and that the flight or fight response is not a permanent state of being.
Breathing correctly and understanding the dynamics of correct breathing once again can help to mitigate the unnecessary, self created concept of ‘threats’ to our survival, that is the flight or fight response.
The approach to health, well-being and performance is more hands on, and takes some practice, but yields super potent and long term results.
Breathing Dynamics can help with:
√ deepening your meditation practice
√ improved quality of sleep
√ better digestion and immune system function (and therefore increased resistance to illness – including viruses).
√ less anxiety or the release of anxiety
√ improved mental clarity
√ better work and sports performance
We really do often over look such a natural autonomic physiological response to life in many ways. And we have far more potential than we realise that can be accessed via correct or optimal breathing function.
‘Learning about Mickel Therapy and Respiratory Therapy has been so insightful and valuable to my health. After years of adrenal fatigue I finally have more energy back, thanks Tim!’ Olivia, Geelong
Above is a testimonial from a client who came to me with adrenal fatigue.
In her treatment we combined Breathing Dynamics diaphragmatic breathing exercises and focusing on taking her body out of ‘internal overdrive’ using the neuroscience understanding from Mickel Therapy.
After only 3 session is 6 weeks she had experienced a recovery from her fatigue and was feeling great again for the first time in years.
It’s not always this swift in recovery, but it;s wonderful to see when it occurs. Credit also to Olivia who complied with all of her ‘home work’ and applied the principles of keeping it simple, practicing and persisting.
My job is to teach the techniques and guide clients to recovery. Their job is to apply the principles in consistent practice. Olivia did that extremely well, so she thoroughly deserved her new found energy levels.
“Hi Tim, just wanted to say thanks for all the guidance over the last 12 months. My physical health is at it’s best since getting crook, and my mental health, and my ability to handle stress has improved greatly. This has been from all the little things that I have implemented through your guidance. Looking forward to taking that next step in my health this year.” Brandon, Colac
Above is a lovely new year’s message from a client who came to me just over 12 months ago with chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS.
His main, or most prominent symptoms were chronic fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, anxiety and shortness of breath.
His program included a combination of
Behavioural and lifestyle modifications based on the neuroscience principles of Mickel Therapy aimed at detecting the triggers that lead to or increase symptoms and lessening the impact of these, or changing the behaviours or subconscious habits that lead to symptoms. This aspect is grossly underrated, but essential in the recovery from any chronic illness.
Breath retraining using diaphragmatic breathing rhythms taught in a 4-5 stage process over time to increase energy production, regulate the autonomic nervous system and increase blood and lymph flow throughout the body.
Nutritional changes and optimisation, culminating in a comprehensive 7-10 day juice fast followed by 3-4 week re-introduction to food process.
The use of a small range of specifically targeted herbs and nutritional medicines that are all pure extracts (derived directly from plants rather than being synthetically manufactured) for increased bio-availability.
If you or someone you know has chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS, post-viral syndrome, adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, anxiety or any other chronic complaint, contact me via email@example.com or 0425 739 918.
My work is equally effective online as it is in person – in fact the client who is the subject of this post was an online client.
“Breath and mind arise from the same place and when one of them is controlled, the other one is controlled. Watching the breath is one form of pranayama (meditation/mindfulness). Merely watching the breath is easy and involves no risk”
My comprehensive online course for correct breathing is available on the home page of this website – https://timaltman.com.au/
In my last post I described Meditation as Medicine courtesy the huge amount of research pointing to the physiological and psychological benefits, and the breathing is the centre or anchor of all meditation, and mindfulness is the objective.
If it is so good for us, why has it not caught on more?
Perhaps, because we are so engaged in our heads, or our minds are so busy all of the time, sitting to meditate and quieten the mind is just not that easy.
Many people struggle to quieten or focus their thoughts, or experience ‘mindfulness’, for more than a few minutes at a time. Some struggle to do this at all.
For so many sitting down to meditate or even practice mindfulness whilst going about their day can feel like mental effort, or be frustrating, or futile – people often say that ‘meditation is not for me’.
I dispute that. It’s just that they haven’t learn how to do it properly or consistently yet. It doesn’t have to be only a mental thing, or a mental effort.
The base of all meditation, mindfulness, yoga, martial arts etc. is the breath.
By relaxing and focusing on the breath, you firstly settle the nervous system.
By focusing on the breath, the mind focuses.
By settling the breath, the mind settles and quietens.
One experiences mindfulness.
We know from research on mindfulness and meditation, that when your nervous system becomes parasympathetic dominant, you experience the ‘relaxation response’ and you are more likely to experience mindfulness at a greater depth.
We also know that the nervous system that regulates whether we are relaxed or stressed, also regulates all of our automatic functions, and, of all of these automatic functions, the breath is the one you can consciously control or modify with ease – with training.
Therefore, by learning to use the breath correctly, using the nose, diaphragm and in certain rhythms, one can settle the nervous system, relax and increase the likelihood that you will experience mindfulness, or meditation, and as a result, you get the most potent medicine available to us – and all of the physiological and psychological benefits that go along with it.
What makes this even better is that meditation, or mindfulness is not a mental effort, or solely a mental process. It’s also a physical process. And this part is easy to learn.
If you find meditation difficult to do, or difficult to maintain for periods of time, then make it a physical thing more than a mental effort. Learn how to breathe ideally to create the physical state that will make you more likely to be mindful more often, and to either begin your meditation practice, or take your current practice to a much deeper level.
At Mindful Life Training, www.mindfullife.com.au, we offer both online and in person courses on both functional breathing for meditation/mindfulness, and mindfulness courses t businesses and organisations.
After 20 years as a clinician working with health, wellbeing and performance both one on one or with groups, if, for some hypothetical reason, I were restricted to only having one modality/intervention to improve any of these outcomes, I have no hesitation in saying that it would be meditation.
I heard it described by a very wise person once that ‘Meditation is Medicine’, and if you look at the overwhelming amount of research evidence that points to the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and breath work, there can be no doubt about it.
This evidence also applies to consistent practice of breathing rhythms and mindfulness, which are forms of meditation. Actually, breathing is the base or anchor for all meditation and mindfulness practice (as well as yoga, martial arts, tai chi etc), and mindfulness is the desired result, or ideal state of meditation practice.
At Mindful Life Training we offer online and in person breathing courses to organisations for stress management/relaxation/anxiety and for performance/flow states, as well as a range of mindfulness courses.
Also, my online breathing retraining course is available via the homepage of this website – www.timaltman.com.au
Watch this short video to see how correcting your breath will transform your quality of life and performance in ways that may surprise you. You will find the online course on the homepage of this website…
After having specialised for many years in treating people with chronic illnesses such as CFS, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive complaints, as well as working at the other end of the well-being spectrum with corporates and athletes to improve performance, here are my top three well-being tips for surviving/thriving during CoVid and lessons we can learn so we thrive, going beyond.
These draw from research in nutritional medicine, neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, evolutionary medicine, physiology and biochemistry.
1. Practice diaphragmatic breathing rhythms 3 times daily for 10 minutes ea.
Most people breathe nowhere near their full potential – twice as often as we should (according to diagnostic norms) using our chest and shoulders instead of our diaphragm, and with our mouth in addition to, or instead of our nose. This impairs energy production by the cells, upsets our nervous system putting us in constant low to mid-level fight or flight mode, and can significantly reduce our performance and contribute to many health conditions, including:
asthma and breathing difficulties
sleep issues – including snoring and sleep apnoea
fatigue and chronic pain
anxiety and depression
headaches and migraines
allergies and sinusitis
IBS and other digestive complaints
Breathing is also the central, or base practice in meditation, most martial arts, yoga, tai-chi etc. The volume of research on breath practice, and particularly meditation is now huge.
Enough to say that breath-work and meditation are medicine – both physically and mentally.
If you already have a meditation practice, incorporate the breathing rhythms into your practice, especially at the start, as it will settle your nervous system into relaxation mode more quickly, and take the practice to a deeper level.
If you don’t, start with the regular breathing rhythms.
The most common denominator from the last 100 years or so of nutritional research is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the better your quality of life, and immune system, and the more you prevent the chronic illnesses that account for 90% of medical expenses and deaths in the western world.
Aim for a minimum of 6 full handfuls (your handful) of vegetables and 3 handfuls of seasonal fruit to your climate daily.
That = 9 handfuls of fruit and vegetables daily. If you struggle to achieve it, reduce your intake of processed foods, grains, dairy etc. as they provide nowhere the bang for buck nutritionally that fruit and vegetables do, but fill you up so there’s less room for the quality stuff.
If you eat meat (read meat, fish, poultry etc), have no more than a palm size portion in each meal, and buy organic wherever possible as the quality of the meat and the fats is much, much better.
3. Get more variety and reward in your day.
Research in genetics, anthropology and evolutionary medicine tells us that it takes 40,000 to 100,000 years for change in our environment to be assimilated by our bodies at DNA level, meaning that our body evolved to thrive as we lived 40,000 years ago at least, as hunter-gatherers. The way we spend our days has changed dramatically since then, but we can learn plenty about what our bodies are built for, or what environments cause them to thrive or fail.
The average hunter-gatherer population spent 15-25 hours per week hunting and gathering. So they got far more variety, balance and down time in their day than we did. We are simply not built to work as much as we do, and it takes its toll on our physical and mental health in more ways than we may realise.
Whilst, for a number of reasons it may not be easy or realistic to reduce your working hours so much straight away, or at all, we can learn so much from what our body is built for and apply the following principles into each day. Some tips include:
Combine work with reward; i.e. 45 minutes on, 15 minutes reward, or 2 hours on, half and hour reward, 3 hours on, 1 hour reward etc.
In your reward time, gut up from your desk and do something different – that you enjoy.
On that note, spend more time each day on activities you enjoy for no reason – your brain and nervous system will love you for it. If the list of things you enjoy has grown small over the years of grinding at work, think back to what you used to enjoy or what you’d like to do more of, and start applying them.
Get more variety in the tasks you do each working day. For example, if you spend long hours at your computer, then schedule in work calls regularly, and get up from your desk if you can and move around or go somewhere else whilst taking the call.
Sit less. Find ways of working in different postures – a standing desk, ergonomic chairs etc. I often lie on the floor and work on my computer when working from home.
Spend more time outside every day.
Take time after work to transition from work to home/social life. The breathing techniques above are great for this.
These adjustments require a significant shift in attitude, but most people who take the leap and start to implement these changes find they get far more done in each day, in less time than they did previously. Plus they don’t experience the burn-out and lack of joy that so many of us do.
I work one on one in clinic and with corporate or sporting groups as a natural medicine practitioner, breath coach, wellbeing coach, and also coaching paddlers ranging from beginners to international level. See https://timaltman.com.au/ and https://www.worldpaddle.com/
ABC National Radio Interview on Breath Coaching with Joel Spry
A recent radio interview on ABC National radio with Joel Spry, a former client, now good friend of mine with whom, we used a combination of MIckel Therapy and Breath work to overcome IBS, anxiety and CFS. Interview linked at the bottom.
We discussed breath coaching and many things breathing related – that most of us don’t breathe correctly; we over-breathe. The consequences over over-breathing, including:
Lack of energy
Constriction of our breathing tubes as we see in asthma and breathing difficulties
Constriction in other tubes in our body, as seen in IBS, reflux and constipation, which are so often worse when we’re stressed and we breathe more rapidly.
We also discussed the affect of slouching whilst we’re sitting on our breathing; why we over-breathe in the first place; and what we can do now to correct this.
Finally, we finished with a simple diaphragmatic, nose breathing exercise.
See www.takeabreath.com.au or www.timaltman.com.au for more details.
Article: “My Guided 5 Days of Fasting / Juice Cleanse (What Really Happened)”, by Cam Nicholls of www.bikechaser.com.au
Linked below is an article written by a client who embarked on a 5 day fast with me supervising him, as an experiment to improve his immune system and performance in criterium cycling races.
I won’t say too much here as the article, videos and podcasts say it all. He has certainly been thorough in his application, and documentation of the process. It was a pleasure working with him, and despite his difficulty in giving up coffee and his impatience to recommence, we are both glad he didn’t as it gave him an opportunity to experience some of the benefits of fasting, and therefore experience the level of health, energy and clarity that is inherent in us all – if we give our bodies a chance to show it 🙂
The benefits included:
Improved and sustained energy levels.
His sinuses are the clearest they’ve ever been.
Dramatically improved concentration and mental aptitude.
Whilst it’s super thorough, if you’re interested in fasting or considering doing a fast/cleanse, I highly recommend you have a read, listen, watch as he covers just about everything you’ll need to know. Obviously, if this motivates you to act, then i can help you. I offer supervised fasts in my clinic addresses in Torquay, Sth Melbourne and Barwon Heads, or online.
Here’s the video created by Cam Nicholl’s the day after he finished his 5 day fast.
We discuss his experience, the results (including the Bio-Impedance test comparison between now and before he started), why he has to wait before he can have his first coffee, and the importance of his re-introduction to food program…
A client of mine, Cam Nicholls of Bike Chaser, www.bikechaser.com.au, is documenting his journey on a 5 day fast in order to strengthen his immune system in order to win an A grade criterium event in Melbourne this upcoming season.
In addition to strengthening his immune system, fasting is also likely to optimise his body by improving his energy levels, sleep cycles, recovery from training, mental clarity, focus, gut function and helping to reduce aches an pains.
It will be fun to join him on his journey and see how his body responds. Stay tuned for more videos, articles etc.
Below are his words on his mission….with a little bit from me also 🙂 . And the video.
“In this video, I share with you a consultation I had with a fasting expert here in Melbourne, Tim Altman (https://timaltman.com.au/). My original plan was to do a water fast for 5 days. However, following my consultation with Tim, I will be starting a 5-day juice fast in a few days time. The purpose of this cleanse is to strengthen my immune system before a large block of training. As my subscribers will know, I am targeting a big cycling goal later this year. In this video, Tim describes how he got into fasting himself – through a chronic fatigue rehabilitation process. Then he outlines the process and benefits I should see from a 5-day juice fast/cleanse, and how he will be supporting and providing a thorough 5-day program, including the reintroduction to food.”
There’s Far More To Treating IBS, Reflux & Other Digestive Issues Than Correcting The Gut Microbiome
The gut has been topical of late – with terms such as ‘gut microbiome’, the ‘third brain’ etc. becoming very popular. It has certainly become evident that gut function plays a huge role in both our physical and mental health, and we have seen an increase in digestive issues such as reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, Coeliac’s Disease etc. etc.
In treating such conditions, and indeed in exploring optimal health and well-being, we need to focus on correcting and optimising the internal environment of our digestive system. Treatments have included stool analyses, detox diets, eliminative diets such as FODMAP, paleo and gluten free programs, antibiotic treatments, prebiotic and probiotic treatments, digestive enzyme therapy etc. have become extremely useful strategies. However, very often these treatments struggle to yield significant or complete resolutions.
Given this, it is worth considering that there are other influences on digestive or gut function, other than what goes on inside the digestive system, and that ignoring these can lead to less than complete resolutions. 2 other influences that have a significant impact on gut function, and must be attended to in order to treat the gut more completely, include:
1. Our breathing via the smooth muscle that surrounds the digestive tract – the average person over-breathes, meaning they breathe twice as often as they should, and with far too much volume (because they use mouth and nose rather than nose only). This upsets the delicate biochemical balance in our respiratory system that governs how we get oxygen from the air we inhale into our cells for energy production (the mechanism of which is known as ‘The Bohr Effect’). One of the compensations that result from the upset in the respiratory system by over-breathing is for the body to constrict the smooth muscle around our breathing tubes – and we experience symptoms of breathing difficulties and asthma as a result. Yet, the rest of the tubes that service our body are also surrounded by smooth muscle and over-breathing can lead to constriction and spasm in our digestive system, which is in itself a large tube, forcing it into lock down and preventing the peristaltic action of the digestive system to work effectively, leading to digestive symptoms. This is particularly highlighted by the fact that a vast majority of digestive symptoms and ailments are exacerbated by stress, are often see associated anxiety along with them (especially IBS or reflux). When we are stressed or anxious we over-breathe or hyperventilate even more, which can really exacerbate this constriction and spasm in the digestive system.
2. How we process stress – which is regulated via our hypothalamus. Our hypothalamus, in the brain stem, regulates the automatic bodily functions (including the gut, breathing, circulation etc.), endocrine function (glands and hormones), immune function, sleep cycle, neurotransmitters, some cognitive function etc. It’s job is homeostasis, and it really is the general in regulating our body and keeping it ‘purring’ along. But a hypothalamus that is ‘angry’ or ‘overdrive’ because it is working too hard as we live in constant low level fight or flight in this modern world, can then dys-regulate the function of many o all of our automatic functions – including digestion and the gut. How we process stress in the brain is governed by the healthy working relationship between our two intelligence systems: our thinking, or rational brain, whose job it is to allow us to interface with the world we live in by analysing and interpreting information, data processing, solving problems (the world of thoughts and rational – including our story of our past, and future); and the pre-thinking, instinctive emotional brain whose role is to keep us safe, happy and comfortable by constantly scanning the environment around us (in the now) and warning us of any threat, or stress, via emotions, which serve as a call to action to deal with the threat. If these two work together we attend to emotions as they arise, our thinking brain interpreting the call to action and activating action, then we process stress effectively and we go back to being happy, safe and comfortable. However, we have created a big mismatch between the bodies we have inherited (from our hunter gatherer ancestors) and the high tech, high paced world we have created, and we are taught to ignore emotions and discomfort (therefore the call to action to deal with stress) – be tough, don’t be so sensitive/emotional/irrational, don’t be a girl/sissy, push though, tough it out, don’t show weakness etc. As such we have become top of the animal kingdom, but have forgotten how to be an animal, so we internalise stress rather that dealing with it effectively. This sends us into permanent low-level ‘fight or flight’ activation, leading to symptoms.
We must attend to more than just the inside of the gut to treat it effectively!!
People Over 40 Should Only Work Three Days a Week, Study Concludes
The linked article below from the University of Melbourne echoes what I have noticed so often in clinic when working with clients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, post viral syndrome, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, IBS, depression and auto-immune illnesses.
When looking at what we’ve learned from neuroscience and neuropsychology about how our brains process information, especially stress, in combination with what we’ve leaned from genetic and anthropological research on how we’re built to live (our body’s still think we live as we did as hunter gatherers), we know that our essential biological needs as an animal are for food and water, shelter, safety and love – or happiness, safety and comfort.
It’s also been determined from investigations of existing hunter-gatherer cultures, and what we can tell from previous ones, that the overage hunter gatherer cultures worked between 15-20 hour per week. Yet, the modern day human works, on average, at least double this in the name of economics, which is a concept. In other words, it’s not real according to the body’s we have inherited.
This essentially means that the average worker sacrifices a sense of our basic biological needs, including work-life balance, happiness, variety, and fulfillment in the name of a concept. Similarly, in pursuit of material or fiscal success, another concept that is learned, and therefore not real, we so often sacrifice our basic need for fulfillment, variety and leisure – and therefore happiness.
This ultimately leads to us being permanently in over-dive or constant, unrelenting low-level stress, which in turn leads to symptoms of illness that we see in the above ailments, and in the general symptoms most people seem to accept as part of life in the modern world:
Gut or digestive symptoms
Lack of joy
And many more.
Yet, as per the quote below from the linked article suggests, and many more studies appearing are stating to suggest, fitting with what we have learned about how our hunter gatherer bodies are built to live, our productivity, presence at work, work-life balance, sense of fulfillment and happiness all improve when we work a little less.
“After factoring in people’s quality of life, economic well-being, family structures and employment, economic researchers found that individuals who worked an average of 25 hours per week tended to perform the best. In fact, overall cognitive performance would rise until people hit the 25-hour mark, at which point cognitive test scores began dropping because of fatigue and stress.”
Hopefully one day the economic system will focus more on quality of work, and worker satisfaction, than being focused mainly on dollars and quantity of time spent working (at the expense of workers).
Nevertheless, there is still plenty we can do to reduce stress and create more balance in our current working life by understanding what our bodies are built for. More focus on work-reward ratio, work-life balance, variety at work, and a greater focus on worker well being all make a significant improvement in client’s symptoms.
In clinic when working with a client, it’s just a matter of strategy, and then trial and error, using the client’s bodily results (in terms of symptoms and emotions) to determine the effectiveness of changes made. It takes practice, and perseverance, but it works a treat. And allows the body to heal itself, which saves a fortune on medications, and supplements.St
If you would like to find more work-life balance, experience less stress, fatigue, pain, gut symptoms, sleep more soundly, or just experience more joy and happiness, then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0425 739 918. Working in this way with clients has yielded far more potent results than any approach I’ve seen; and it’s made a huge difference to how I, and many of my clients live – for the better.
Free Talk on Men’s Health Issues @ Surfcoast Wholefoods, Torquay
“Men’s Health Issues”
Free Talk by Tim Altmanwww.timaltman.com.au
Surfcoast Wholefoods, Monday 9th of July @ 7.30pm – Bookings not necessary. email@example.com or call 0425 739 918.
Over 20 years of practice these are the main complaints I hear from men, but most suffer in silence.
Fatigue, Burn Out or Lack of Joy
Stress, Anxiety or are ‘in your head’ a lot
Impatience, Irritability or Chronic Pain
Difficulty Sleeping or Poor Sleep
Breathing and/or Digestive Issues
Using an evolutionary medicine approach based on genetic, anthropological and neuroscience research, I outline simple and easy to implement solutions to this chronic issue by addressing not only nutrition, breathing and exercise, but also how we rest and rejuvenate, process stress, communicate, and find work/life balance.