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Systema Breathing

There’s this drill…we all have them….that I just dread. I know its coming and I have to fight myself inside every time. Could it be someone rolling on my face? It’s a close second, but no. This one is worse. It is the breath holding drill. Breath in for 7 seconds. Exhale for 7 seconds. And…the dreaded…hold for 7 seconds. 7 seconds is the magic number for me. Beyond 7 seconds, my inner being is having multiple panic attacks and convincing my body that if I don’t breath….I WILL DIE.

So one of my first memories ever…was swimming in a pool with my older sister. My sibling was at the deep end. I was splashing around in the kiddie corner. As I watched my sister on the other side swimming around like a happy dolphin, I got my first of many desires to push my limits. I didn’t know how to swim….most would have been discouraged by this…but not I. I had watched a cartoon earlier that day that gave me an idea. I would grab a life-saver….and put it around my waist….and then float to the other side. As I was attempting to pull the floatation device up to my waist…I fell over. My legs were trapped in the life-saver and forced me upside down in the pool. I could see “air” only a few feet in front of my face. All my attempts to right myself failed. I was helpless. I next thing I remember was my babysitter pulled me out of the water and I took that much needed breath. I was ready to go back and try again, but I wasn’t allowed to. I was told that I had almost died. Most kids at that age probably wouldn’t have even wanted to go back into the pool and had been terrified. And most kids wouldn’t even have understood what death meant. I wasn’t scared of the water….in fact it was amazingly peaceful despite the situation. I wasn’t even scared of death (probably didn’t really truly understand at that point anyways). I was scared of not breathing.

Fast forward to now….I hate this breath-holding drill with a passion. For many years, before discovering Systema, I associated this fear of not breathing with the water. That’s where it all started. I trained water rescue in the military, scuba dived, and even swam a few half IRONMAN competitions. During this activities, I never had this inner panic come up. I even did Systema water training drills where your partner purposefully held you under water and denied you breath. Even then, I was quite comfortable under water. But I knew this deep fear was still there…it wasn’t gone. This fear comes up every time I reach 7 seconds of the breath hold drill while moving. Sometimes I can get to 10 seconds and that deep fear comes screaming, my body tenses up, and I gasp for air like I did being rescued from drowning as a young child.

Emmanuel told me once that sometimes you can’t get rid of all the fear. You just have to make peace with it. I think about this when I train the breath holding. And though I can never get past 7 seconds without my “inner panic attacks” demanding me to inhale, I just keep reassuring my body and mind that everything is alright. Luckily free-diving is not an ambition of mine.

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