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Systema Principles of Breathing

Breath is The Great Communicator within the body. Awareness is the product of electrical potentiation within the nervous system. From this awareness, all functions of the body are carried out. Oxygen fans the neurological flame of awareness. The imagery of breaths moving through the body are akin to waves crashing on the beach. Wave by wave, they slowly create the landscape of the body, accurate in terms of time but also intensities of awareness and how they can be carefully deployed to change the structure of the body. Something so simple, so commonplace and fundamental, yet complex demands experienced and concise instruction for development.

A great place to begin one’s breath practice is with the Seven Systema Principles of Breathing. These principles are general suggestions for cultivating a deeper functionality and understanding of breath work and should be practiced individually as well as simultaneously. The real treasure lies in pursuing mastery over all seven principles, then striving to embody them throughout your entire day. It is truly daunting task that is riddled with self-discovery.

Systema Principles of Breathing:
  1. NOSE AND MOUTH– Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth allows for the greatest controlling during both phases of the breath.

  2. LEADING– A movement will carry unnecessary tension, lack sensory feedback and can be damaging to one’s health when initiated on a breath hold.

  3. SUFFICIENCY– A careful balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is maintained when the breath is not excessive or insufficient.

  4. CONTINUITY– Breath holding indicates stress or imbalance and should be avoided other than for training purposes. Breath continuity ensures a steady stream of communication between the body and the environment.

  5. PENDULUM– To allow for a smooth transition between breath phases, the force of the inhale and exhale should be greatest during the middle of the phase and tapper off as the next phase begins to build.

  6. INDEPENDENCE– The breath should be uninterrupted by movements and movements should not interrupt the breath. When this is possible the breath and the movement are not dependent on each other and can enhance one another.

  7. TENSION FREE– The breath should move through the body with the least amount of resistance produced in the body possible.

Practicing these seven principles will give a person a feeling for good quality breathing. At this point it is then appropriate to take a look at the three phases of breathing. The first phase of breathing is not breathing at all, a breath hold. This is where only the potential of breathing exists but cannot be manifested due to stress, be it physical, mental, or emotional.

Something, somewhere, is opposing the breath, preventing forward movement in acceptance of the present moment. The first phase of breathing is similar to standing on the shore without paying any attention to or resisting the incoming waves. A great deal of resistance and, therefore, trauma occur in this first phase of breathing, especially if one is unaware of what is taking place. Every effort should be made to enter the second stage of breathing.

In the second phase of breathing, movements are directly linked to either the inhale or the exhale. A 1:1 ratio can easily be identified in the second phase where one might exhale on a push and inhale on a pull, or inhale as one lifts the foot to walk and exhales as the foot hits the ground. Oxygen debt can be avoided in the second stage of breathing and functions as a mode of survival in many situations. The second stage of breathing is like standing in chest high water, taking each breaking wave as it comes and taking deep restorative inhales as the tide pulls back out in order to prepare for the next wave. Burst breathing, comprised of rapid inhales and short exhalations can be used to regain enough composure to enter the third phase of breathing.

The third phase of breathing is where the breath becomes independent of the activity. True mastery over the breath and the related activity occur here, allowing long, slow, and deep inhales and exhales to occur at the will of the individual. A sense of ease is accompanied by an increased ability for movement complexity in the third phase of breathing. Independence of the breath and movement allow for the conscious regulation of body physiology, regardless of movement demands, and brings about the freedom necessary to sustain the health of the body (especially during prolonged activity).

The third phase of breathing is like surfing, where an incoming wave (or breath) is allowed to unfold and break while the movements of the person are free and independent within the parameters of the wave. Many exciting things can happen here, as the potential for creativity arises from a deep connection that exists only through independence. Deeply paradoxical and subjectively profound are the states of awareness brought about by third phase breathing during intense physical activity.

Of course, this quality of breath is not always possible. An inability to sustain third phase breathing can sometimes be due to a lack of focus, patience, strength, or awareness in general. Work for the breath, and the breath will work for you, is an inexorable truth.

Breathe well, move well, and be well.

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