Calm Body Equal Calm Mind: The Power Of Breath In MMA


One of the first things a student does when faced with a challenging technique in class is to hold their breath while performing the move. When the new technique is performed under a restricted condition it is usually performed poorly. However, once the student is told to take a deep breath before initiating the technique and to breathe slowly while performing the technique a significant improvement in performance is noticed.

Why is that?

The hypothesis is that by having the student take a deep breath and consciously slowing down the breathing when learning the new move may help decrease activity in the sympathetic nervous system. Thereby, the better breathing places the student in a more relaxed state. Once in a relaxed state the effort for the mind and body to learn a new task may be reduced.

The realization stems from a phenomenon called the relaxation response based human physiology textbooks by Rhodes and Pflanze. It states: the relaxation response is characterized by a decrease in activity of the sympathetic nervous system and during this response there is a decrease in oxygen consumption, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and an increase in alpha waves on electroencephalogram.

Alpha waves are produced when your brain and body are relaxed and at peace.

The one big caveat to my hypothesis is that the relaxation response is achieved through conditioning and training associated with meditation learned from various Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism.

You might be asking, what is the sympathetic nervous system?

The sympathetic nervous system is one of the peripheral components of autonomic nervous systems which coordinate the body’s response to stress.

In a nut shell the autonomic nervous system (ANS) coordinates bodily functions need for survival. “It senses the need for food and activates the digestive processes; it senses the need for water and activates processes for retention and consumption for fluid.  The ANS aids in removing waste products from the body and it prepares the body for the stress of life-threatening conditions.” The actions of the ANS are all performed subconsciously.