Today, at my gym, I squatted a weight 20kg heavier than my quarterly goal (due end of March, this month!) I set myself at the start of the year, and at the gym’s testing day in 10 days time I think I am going to be lifting much heavier than I thought I would be. It has made me so happy. Not because I have designs on being a strongman, but because it has also shown me in very vivid and overt circumstances how much the mind effects and influences our physical capabilities.
For the past couple of weeks, I have struggled with a particular weight at my clean lifts. My head has started getting in the way of my technique and I am a bit all over the place with it. I have had to drop my weight down, practice getting my technique right again, and building my confidence and belief – as well as using my own understanding of sports psychology and self0hypnosis to assist.
However, with my squats, I am flying. Each time I lift a personal best weight, I feel convinced that I’ll be lifting more the following week (though we’ll have more developmental phases again after testing day, so I’ll be spending less time on single reps, for example). My increase in weight on the bench press has been similar, I am delighted with it.
At the end of last year, I worked with one of the bigger guys in the gym and whenever I was struggling to complete a set of reps, he told me to breathe out strongly and forcefully, to hold all my muscles in my body strong and as I did so, I just seemed to find my strength increased. I spent some time researching breathing techniques, some of which I wrote about yesterday, and I also examined studies and the breathing processes of other weight lifters and athletes and found a veritable treasure trove of information and wonderment!
Yesterday here on the blog, I wrote about how to use breathing techniques in your day to help advance well-being, and how to marvel at breathing in general, how to be aware of it and how to use it purposefully in a number of ways. Do have a read of that if you have not done so already. 8 Breathing Exercises to Enhance Well-Being http://www.adam-eason.com/8-breathing-exercises-enhance-well/
Breathing can also be used to energise and even increase strength, and I’ll offer up a self-hypnosis technique for that shortly that I have been using that I attribute much of my recent results with back squats and bench press to. One classic way to use your breath to energise yourself is to use the “Breath of Fire” breathing technique.
Once you have developed your skill and ability with diaphragmatic breathing, and you have learned to breathe deeply and slowly from the diaphragm for long steady breaths, there are a couple of ways that you can move on to the Breath of Fire, which is whereby the air that you breathe is rhythmically pulled in and pumped out. Many practices ask you to imagine you are breathing like a set of pumping bellows. The key is not to force the breath; that is, you should not feel fatigued or tense at all in the abdominal muscles, chest and rib cage muscles or shoulders, which all remain nicely relaxed throughout the breath, so that it feels as if you can continue the rhythmic breathing forever in a seemingly effortless fashion.
The way I was taught to start Breath of Fire, is to begin in a seated position and start your deep diaphragmatic breathing, then once you have got to the stage whereby you feel your lungs are fully expanded (by expanding them a bit more each breath, gently and surely) you immediately force the air out, and as soon as you’ve expelled most of the air, you immediately expand the air back in, each time you do so, you arch the spine forwards and lightly press your palms inward against the knees so that you can feel the diaphragm filling the lungs from the back to the front completely, then contracting again.
You then start to speed up slightly with each breath until you get to a stage that feels rhythmic and you let the rhythm take over and you stop expanding and expelling to maximum capacity, instead you just let it become automatic and rhythmic. I was taught to imagine an old locomotive train where the engine builds up steam as it forces it’s wheels into motion and then reaches a certain speed when everything seems to be happening fluidly and effortlessly.
Other people do the breath of fire simply by imagining bellows. How light or powerful you choose to let it be is entirely up to you, but you’ll find that it definitely energises you wonderfully.
Do not confuse the Breath of Fire with Bastrika, which is a light fast rhythmic breath, usually taught in hatha yoga classes. Likewise, it is also not like Kabalabati, which is a forceful breath, where you contract the abdomen and rib cage and then subsequent relaxing of the rib cage brings the air back into the lungs, without inhaling, and you force the air out again rhythmically.
Some of the studies I have started to explore suggest that the Breath of Fire is healthy for the nervous system, great at oxygenating and purify the blood and can be advanced with some tweaks to posture and with added movements, go and research it yourself if I have piqued your interest, it is very uplifting.
So let’s move on to the hypnotic power breath, shall we?
With the Hypnotic Power Breath, you will mentally and phsycially rehearse the process in self-hypnosis sessions for a while and then you import the breathing technique into exercise or any other activity where you will benefit from mobilising your energy.
With the example of my previously mentioned squat success for example, I inhale deeply and powerfully from the diaphragm as I position myself and still my mind at the bar. I continue to do this as I get myself positioned at the bar and get a grip on the bar. I then breathe in strongly as I take the weight of the bar onto my shoulders, the descent of the squat is calm and relaxed (down to the point indicated in the picture, before the big push back up), but then when I want to power myself back upwards with energy, some controlled explosive force, I breathe out strongly – that breath out is the hypnotic power breath – and it energises me and helps me drive the lift to completion.
Prior to beginning this hypnosis session, you need to know what sort of exercise or activity you are going to use this with. For me, and as I have illustrated, it is particularly useful with a squat or a bench press, or a sprint. Ideally, for an explosive or dynamic physical movement whereby you want to truly mobilise your effort. With that in mind, simply follow these steps:
Step One: Induce Hypnosis.
You can do so by any means you desire or know of. You can use the process in my Science of self-hypnosis book, use the free audio we give away on this website to practice or have a look at the following articles as and when you need them; they are basic processes to help you simply open the door of your mind:
Heavy Arm Self-Hypnosis Induction Method
Using Eye Fixation for Self-Hypnosis
The Chiasson Self-Hypnosis Method
Hand to Face Self-Hypnosis Induction
Using Magnetic Hands for Self-Hypnosis
The Coin Drop Self-Hypnosis Induction
Once you have induced hypnosis, move on to step two.
Step Two: Tune into the breath. Watch it, observe it and do not interfere with it just yet. Don’t change it and don’t try to stop it from changing. Let each breath that you breathe take you deeper and deeper into hypnosis.
Start to imagine your breathes getting longer and deeper. Start to consciously breath the air downwards into your abdominal area, then pressing the air into lower areas. If you arch your back slightly with your palms on your knees, the chest will open up. Continue to feel and imagine the lungs filling up through the chest area from deeper inside you – imagine your breath moving from deep in the abdomen, into the lower lungs, reaching the chest as it opens. Use the full length of this region to inhale and exhale these breaths and once you start to notice and recognise the lungs filling up and nearing capacity, have a slight hold, a pause just for a moment at the top of the inhale before you exhale – this will help you to really feel the length of and the pressure on the diaphragm. Continue breathing this way, through the nostrils for a a couple of minutes, let it take you deeper into hypnosis as you engage with some uplifting diaphragmatic breathing. Imagine it all like a bellows.
Then once you have established this, move on to the next step.
Step Three: Watch yourself doing the chosen exercise. See how you are holding your body, what you are wearing, and watch yourself get positioned for the exercise requiring your power breath. Guide yourself through the process, having inhaled and energised yourself well, run through the process and see yourself getting ideally positioned and ready to exert yourself.
At the point where the energy, strength and effort is required, exhale strongly and imagine the breath outwards fills your muscles with energy. You might imagine a colour spreading and sweeping through the body into the muscles, you might imagine a sound of effort ripples through you, or you might just notice the feeling of strength surging through you.
Did you ever see the old Popeye cartoons when Popeye ate his spinach and suddenly his arms, chest and legs were filled with strength and power?
Imagine something similar here. Imagine as you exhale, your muscles are strong and filled with explosive power as you move. Watch yourself making the strong powerful movement to a successful completion, and then move on to the next step.
Step Four: Now imagine stepping into those shoes, and associate with the image of yourself and run through the exercise again. This time, you are seeing through your own eyes, hearing through your own ears, feeling with your heart. Imagine being right there in that place and engaging with the exercise. Take the preparatory steps, adopt the posture required, and ready yourself as you would if you were in the gym (or wherever else this may be).
Breathe in deep immediately before the exertion, start the movement, then start to exhale as soon as the explosive energy is required. Imagine your muscles filling with explosive, forceful strength and energy as you complete the movement successfully.
Run through this a couple more times, get the timing correct, get it all spot on and breathe your powerful hypnotic breath. Then once you have completed this step diligently 3 times, move on to the next step.
Step Five: Feeling really accomplished and proud, start to engage your cognitions and enhance your belief in this process, repeat a positive cognition to yourself such as:
“Each time I use my power breathing, I get stronger and stronger”
“I am achieving my strength goals”
“I am more and more capable”
“I am stronger and stronger”
Or whatever else appeals to you – repeat it over and over until it starts to feel true. Say it like you are undeniably convinced of it, like you really mean it at an emotional level. Then move on to the next step.
Step Six: This step is optional. If you wish to finish this session energised and pumped, then move straight to the final step from here. Otherwise, if you wish to let go of any tension that you may have encountered, or if you just wish to calm yourself following the energising breath, then do this step before finishing.
Now you are going to use a progressive relaxation process.
The aim here is to spread relaxation into various parts of your body. As you get better at doing this, you can start to focus on more specific and smaller parts of the body, something referred to by hypnotherapists and fractionation. Here are some ideas of how to do this:
a) Use your internal dialogue and simply tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. For example “my toes are relaxing deeper… and now my ankles… moving into my lower legs…” and so on.
b) As you work your way through your body, you may like to use a colour or light or imagined warming sensation and spread that through the muscles and imagine the colour (ideally one you associate with relaxing) spreading through the muscles as you reach each part of your body.
c) Additional cognitions. For example, in one of his audios, Richard Bandler uses the word “soften” as he relaxes parts of the body. He focuses on each muscle and then says “soften” as he works through, you might like to do the same.
d) You may imagine a relaxing sound moving through your body.
e) You may imagine the muscles limp, loose, dormant; maybe like a loose rubber band, or a rag doll, or whatever else you can imagine to indicate the relaxation spreading. i learned a great technique from Terrence Watts who suggested imagining the body as a candle and as the candle softened and got warm and liquid-like, so the muscles of the body got warm and softened and so on.
Ideally, use a combination of these elements. Bask in the relaxation you create, enjoy it and enjoy this time as well spent. You may like to repeat this step a couple of times to make sure you develop the progressive relaxation as much as possible.
Once you have done so, move on to the next step.
Step Seven: Exit hypnosis.
If you use my own protocol as shown in my science of self-hypnosis book, count yourself up and out from one through to five. Otherwise, open your eyes, wiggle your toes and get oriented to the place you are in.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll practice this process a few times and then start using it in real life. Import it into your activity, your exercise and let it energise you, and mobilise strength and effort. I think you’ll be well rewarded in the gym for doing so.
Additionally, you can go and read this article which offers a slightly different way to do something very similar: Using Self-Hypnosis To Mobilise More Effort and Strength.
There you have it, now go out there and be strong!!