If there’s anyplace where one needs awareness, energy, courage, endurance, grace, and power, it’s on the battlefield. Soldiers need to be able to manage and control their minds, bodies, and emotions, and breathing is the key to awakening and strengthening them. No matter what kind of a leader you are, you can make use of the breathing techniques that the following warriors have to offer. A victory in the boardroom can sometimes be just as important as a victory on the battlefield. My friend Leonard Orr once said: “Everyone is following someone. And maybe the person you are following is following you! So maybe what we need to do is stop following and start leading.” In a way, we are all called to be leaders. If you are in a formal leadership position in any field—business, sports, medicine, education, counseling—you will need confidence and courage, you will need to stay calm and perform well under pressure, and breathwork will help you to embody these skills and abilities. What follows here are the stories and techniques of several masters—individuals who embrace, practice, teach, and lead. They are warriors in the true sense of the word. They have made me a stronger leader, and I am honored to count them as friends, teachers, as well as students. Brigadier General James Cook, US Army (Retired) My friend General Cook spent over thirty years in the military. He has a degree in biochemistry and a deep understanding of physiology. He served as an infantryman, Army Airborne Ranger qualified, and he retired as a general in He was the twentieth Commander of the 91st Training Division, which trains all services for deployment to overseas contingency and humanitarian missions. He is also a free diver and he practices Buddhist meditation. “I go to the ocean to reawaken my creativity and peace,” he said. To appreciate General Cook’s foundational balance as a warrior and humanitarian, we must recognize that the source comes from his parents. During the occupation of Japan, his father, a soldier, met his future wife and fell in love; after a lengthy courtship, they married and had James. His father was of Irish and Native American descent, and his mother was of a samurai bloodline. Although James was born in Japan during a very turbulent time, his parents gave him the values and benefits derived from the synergistic union of three beautiful cultures. During our first breathing session, General Cook was able to access a deep state of energy, confidence, and calmness, which he calls his “center of peaceful feelings.” I once asked him how he uses his breath and what benefits there are to Conscious Breathing. He said: “Breath Awareness is meditation, and meditation is a perfect approach to attention training or concentration training. “I use breathing to scrub out all the noise and junk from my system. It’s like a deep energetic cleansing. I use it in critical moments and also in my day-to-day life, for example, when I need to ‘go inside’ or block out mental noise and distractions. “The mind can fabricate a lot of fears,” he said, “and it is vital to be able to distinguish between the real and the fabricated—otherwise, when you only have a split second to react, you can do the wrong thing.” Breathing keeps us conscious, present, and in touch with reality. General Cook told me of an experience he had one icy, snowy night on a mock patrol during his Army Ranger training. He basically fell off the side of a mountain! He rolled and tumbled and bounced “ass over teakettle,” as they say,more than two hundred feet, in pitch darkness. As it was happening, rather than panic, he accessed his training. He described it as a peaceful calm “that came over me like a blanket”; he felt as if something was guiding him from within. He managed not only to survive but to do it without breaking a single bone. When he finally came to a crashing halt at the bottom of the mountain, he realized that he was still holding on to his M-16. Now that’s the kind of presence of mind we need in a soldier. No wonder he rose through the ranks to become a general! “This peace that seems to pass understanding can be hard for the ego to grasp,” he said. And then he told me of a funny incident in Iraq, when he decided to join his men on a security convoy one night. It wasn’t his responsibility, but he said, “I just wanted to be with my folks. It’s all part of leadership.” They were all dressed in full body armor and riding in an MRAP (an armored military vehicle specially equipped to withstand roadside bombs). As they drove, he was breathing, meditating, and practicing situational awareness, settling into that “peaceful inner state.” His guys kept looking over at him and asking him if he was okay. He kept saying, “Sure.” But finally he said, “Why do you keep asking?” And they answered, “Sir, it’s just that you look too damn calm!” That combination of deep inner calmness coupled with energy and alertness is a powerful state, and it is one that he has learned to access through breathing. On another occasion, he was with the 82nd Airborne on a night-fire exercise in Yakima, Washington. He was leading a team that was calling in large mortar rounds. It was very cold and windy, but his Ranger training had taught him mind over matter: “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter!” While breathing and relaxing, he happened to notice an area about a hundred yards away that “looked warmer,” and so he directed his team to move over to it. As soon as they took up their position in that new location, a mortar round went off exactly where they had been just a few moments before. No one was hurt, but a piece of shrapnel bounced off a portion of his helmet. He keeps it as a souvenir of his intuition. General Cook says that breathwork connects us to a sort of internal GPS. “Call it intuition, call it what you like,” he says, “but it is real. And all of us can learn to access it by practicing Breath Awareness. Everyone has a shield, or a natural ability to avoid danger,” he continued, “by unconscious perception or through intuitive feeling. Breathing meditation awakens and strengthens this ability.” General Cook loves free diving. He once told me: “As soon as I put my face in the water, I’m in the zone!” Breath holding awakens a kind of music in him. It’s a state of non thinking. “We miss all the beauty when we focus only on the technical stuff. It’s all about freedom. It’s about becoming part of the water, part of the flow.” He is also devoted to serving homeless veterans, and those suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI): “It’s all about being kind and listening.” One of the first things that he did when he retired was to let his hair grow. In eighteen months, it grew to thirteen inches in length. He had it cut off and donated to Locks of Love, an organization that serves people with cancer or who are undergoing chemotherapy. The man is all heart, and the more he breathes, the bigger his heart gets! General Cook’s favorite practice is Breath Awareness or breath watching, to be performed in conjunction with situational awareness: he uses slow, quiet, paced breathing to keep himself in a relaxed, calm, alert, and energized state. His inhales and exhales remain equal and balanced, smooth, and at ease even under extreme stress.
Mark Divine: Former Navy SEAL Commander
Commander Mark Divine is truly a high-quality human. He humbly models what it takes to be the best in any field: he’s got brains. He’s got balls. And most of all, he’s got a big heart—the size of Mount Everest! Commander Divine graduated Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training as Honor Man, which means he was first among the 185 men who started the training and the nineteen who completed it. A successful businessman and devoted family man, he is the author of The Way of the Seal; 8 Weeks to SEALFIT; Unbeatable Mind; and his newest, Kokoro Yoga. He leads the SEALFIT Training Center in San Diego, California. And he embodies much of what this book is about: he’s an ordinary man who learned to use the breath to aid him in achieving extraordinarily high levels of performance and peak flow states.10 Mark has developed a model called the Five Mountains. They represent the five areas in life that he believes we all need to master. They are:
1. Physical mountain
2. Emotional mountain
3. Psychological mountain
4. Initutive/awareness mountain
5. Kokora, or the spiritual mountain
He also created a program that he calls the 20X Challenge. It is based on forming a belief that you can accomplish twenty times more than you think you are capable of, and then setting about in a systematic way to prove to yourself that it’s true. He says: “Our spirit thrives on challenges.” He has his students and clients create and attain daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges. When I asked him to explain how he is able to exhibit such high levels of potential and performance, he said: “It’s all about the breath.” And he said: “When it comes to breathing, it’s all about training. Concepts get you nowhere, training gets you everywhere.” Commander Divine told me that he had a secret weapon when he joined the SEALs, which gave him an advantage over the others: he had already spent several years studying breathing and meditation with a Japanese Zen master. He noticed that the other SEAL candidates were struggling and falling behind because they had not learned Breath Awareness and breath control, and they had not learned to manage their mental and emotional states. He also realized that:
“It’s easier to keep up than it is to catch up.” I asked Commander Divine to walk me through his use of the breath before a firefight, during the actual engagement, and after the mission. I asked him what he taught his guys to do when they were in the helicopter on the way to a mission. Here’s what he told me: Practice breath control. His core technique is called Box Breathing. This means to inhale for a count of four; hold for a count of four; exhale for a count of four; and hold for a count of four. (It also could be 5-5-5-5, or 6-6-6-6. The point is to make the duration of the inhales, exhales, and pauses of equal length.) Practice attention control and arousal control. This is about mental and emotional state management. He makes it clear that this is far more important than just physical or athletic abilities. He talks about feeding the “courage wolf” and starving the “fear wolf.” This means that we don’t allow any performance-degrading imagery or negative internal dialogue. It means engaging only in positive internal dialogue and visualizing success. He teaches the use of power statements like “Easy day!” or “I got this!” He said his favorite one—the one that got him through the toughest moments in SEAL training—was “Looking good, feeling good, ought to be in Hollywood!” He points out that repeating it in a singsong way makes it work even better. “When you hit the ground,” he said, “you shift into tactical breathing.” That means you drop the breath holding, and just breathe continuously, inhaling four and exhaling four. Breathe in and out the nose, or in the nose and out the mouth. “Breathing training,” he says, “releases us into a higher order of functioning, where our perceiving brain is automatically scanning for danger and opportunities.” He has learned that Conscious Breathing allows us to access the full capacity of the brain: not just thinking and planning, but intuition and insights. When the game is on, when you are in action, involved in accomplishing your mission, it’s time for setting and completing “micro goals”: identifying the one thing that needs to be done and doing it. Focus on it, complete it, and then move on to the next one thing. “The most important thing together with the breathing,” he says, “is mental or emotional management. With practice, the positivity collapses into a silent mantra running in the background as you do what needs to be done.” He summarizes the key priorities in this way: breath control, arousal control, attention control, and goal setting (accomplishing micro goals). “When in doubt,” he says, “always come back to the breath.” Can you see why I freakin’ love this guy? After the mission, he advises his guys to do “box breathing,” alone or together. The focus is on reviewing what went well and what didn’t, reframing and letting go of regrets. To help with recovery, he teaches gentle movement or stretching while breathing to “bleed the stress out of the muscles.” He also teaches “relaxation breathing,” which means the exhales are twice as long as the inhales. To illustrate the power and value of his breathing training, Mark shared a parachuting experience he had when another jumper lost control and collided with him, causing his chute to collapse in midair. He had to cut himself loose. Free falling, with only seven seconds left, he remained perfectly calm and.managed to deploy his reserve chute just before hitting the ground. He breathed into a hard but perfect landing at about sixty miles an hour, without suffering any injuries! His first thought was about his team member who had collided with him. Was he okay?Mark Divine guides people into becoming the best possible versions of themselves. He encourages them to show up at their very best every day, no matter what, and he inspires them to serve others from a place of integrity and excellence. He is a lifelong student of the breath, and he practices what he preaches. Here is a peek into Mark’s daily morning ritual—you would be wise to create something similar for yourself: When he wakes up, he drinks a glass of water and does a gratitude process. He works out regularly, and prepares for his workout with a few minutes of box breathing. After his workout, he does fifteen to twenty minutes of yoga, and then he does twenty-two minutes of focused breathing through his nose in a seated position. He begins with a 3-6-6-3 pattern (inhale for a count of three; hold for a count of six; exhale for a count of six; hold for a count of three) for five minutes. Then he slows it down to a 4-8-8-4 pattern for ten minutes (inhale four, hold eight, exhale eight, and hold four). Then he moves to an even slower pattern of 5-10-10-5 for five minutes. And then he moves back to a pattern of 3-6-6-3 for two minutes. While breathing, Mark often engages in positive internal dialogue and visualizes success.
Master Tom Sotis: Elite Blade Fighter
Tom Sotis is the founder of AMOK! and one of the best blade fighters and self- defense instructors in the world. He works with some of the top government, military, and law enforcement agencies in the United States and worldwide. This is a man who has been, as they say, “in the fire” many times, and so, he has knowledge and skills that can be learned and developed only by surviving life-and-death altercations a number of times. Tom has the most remarkable powers of situational awareness, physical control, and subtle energy skills of almost anyone I have met. His system, AMOK!, has evolved continuously through constant experience, research, and development, and AMOK! is now the world’s leading edged-weapons training company. I met Tom many years ago through John Ebert, a mutual friend, breathing brother, and a fellow fire walker, along with Tony Robbins, who also teaches people to walk on hot coals, and I was immediately impressed with Tom’s warrior spirit, his true grit, big heart, quick wit, sense of humor, and playfulness—such a refreshing and important balance to the extremely serious nature of his work. Although Tom was cushioned by his mother’s love, his father was extremely abusive. (This probably accounts for his early interest in the martial arts and his unusual calm, comfort, and grace in ultraviolent situations.) When his son was born and Tom became a dad, he realized that he had some inner work to do in order not to pass on the negative patterns he’d inherited from his father. He didn’t want to project his unresolved issues onto his son. That level of wisdom and caring made me an instant fan and a lifelong supporter. It took only one breathing session for him to clean up years of emotional and psychological “stuff.” And because of his level of skill, focus, and discipline, he was able to fine-tune his understanding of and approach to breathing, which resulted in a major breakthrough in his work as a blade fighter, along with a quantum leap in his teaching career. I arranged for Tom to teach in the former Soviet Union in the early days of glasnost and perestroika. There he trained Russian special forces, presidential bodyguards, members of Spetsnaz, drug enforcement agents, hostage extraction teams, and private security personnel. To this day I meet people in Russia who remember his extraordinary demonstrations, and who share stories about their training with him. You may not want to develop the extreme and specific abilities that guys like Tom have, but you can certainly make good use of the breathing exercises they teach and the principles that they apply. Tom teaches a collection of breathing techniques that can be used with just about any physical sport or activity, from fencing to pocket billiards, from juggling to judo. I suggest that you pick one at a time, and practice it while engaged in your particular art, activity, routine, or workout. Take in a full inhale and hold it in as long as you can. Exhale fully and hold it out as long as you can. Take a long, slow inhale until full. Take a long, slow exhale until empty. Break up your inhale into many tiny bits until full. Break up your exhale into many tiny bits until empty.
Try each of those breathing techniques in conjunction with a simple exercise or everyday activity to get a feel for them. For example, hyperventilate while you do the dishes, or break up your inhale and exhale into many small bits as you tie your shoes or get dressed. Work them into your training regimens (drills, routines, etc.) to challenge yourself and experience the benefits. Mikhail Ryabko: Russian Martial Arts Master Mikhail Ryabko is a living legend in the world of Russian special forces. Very few people have seen the kind of action or survived the kinds of missions that he has, having led everything from antiterrorism raids to hostage-extraction teams. His unique approach to the fighting arts is based on breathing, relaxation, and believe it or not, love. He and his leading teachers are true masters and are respected by the best.martial artists in the world. I visited Master Ryabko at his training center in Moscow, and the longer I was with him, the more I wanted to hug him! He called in his personal body worker, who gave me an hour-long massage.session that frankly felt more like a torture session. If not for my stubborn ability to breathe and relax into pain, I doubt very much that I would have survived the experience. The more pain I felt, the more I turned to breathing and relaxation, and the more I relaxed, the more pain Ryabko’s body worker inflicted on me. It was scary. My translator was unable to stay in the room, and our cameraperson.became ill just from watching. Later, I talked with Ryabko about pain, and he.said: “Pain is fear. Period.” I have to agree about the connection between fear and pain. I couldn’t tell the difference during my torture—I mean massage—session. When it was over, my entire body was buzzing with electricity for several hours. And I must admit, the next day I felt incredibly comfortable, fantastic in fact. And since then, my body has felt lighter, stronger, more relaxed, and more energized. Ryabko also introduced me to his personal physician, who at over fifty years old is an extraordinary Ping-Pong player and is said to have one of the most powerful forehand shots in the world. All of his top trainers demonstrate various unique and nearly superhuman abilities that seem unbelievable until you witness or experience them. The one thing they all share is their mastery of the Systema Breathing principles. Ryabko’s partner, the Russian-born martial arts trainer Vladimir Vasiliev,explains systema breathing in his book Let Every Breath . . . Vasiliev immigrated to Canada and lives in Toronto. If you are a martial artist, he is someone you want to meet. Like Ryabko, Vasiliev had an extraordinary military career. He is able to deliver the most amazing force with such ease and grace that he seems to defy the laws of physics and nature, when actually he is highly attuned to those laws and lives in harmony with them. He is a living example of a legendary master: possessed of uncanny and devastating fighting abilities and yet lighthearted, humble, and gentle, a truly loving and caring human being. Here is my understanding and experience of the seven principles detailed in
1. Practice nasal inhale and oral exhale: that means you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
2. Lead with the breath and imagine a train. The breath should be like the engine: no part of your body—none of the cars—moves until the engine does.
3. Don’t overbreathe and underbreathe. Develop the intuitive ability to allow the breath to perfectly meet and match your moment-to-moment energy and movement demands.
4. Master continuous breathing (this is the same breathing pattern that is used in Rebirthing Breathwork, discussed in Chapter 4).
5. Practice the perfect pendulum movement. This refers to the complete natural swing of the inhale and exhale cycles. It means not cutting either of them short, or forcing them beyond their natural length or speed.
6. Practice the principle of independence. Systema teaches that the breathing needs to be independent of any movements. And your strikes need to be equally powerful whether you are inhaling, exhaling, or holding your breath. This turns the old-school karate training of “exhaling when you strike” on its end.
7. Focus on complete relaxation. This is probably the subtlest yet most powerful Systema Breathing principle.
Here are some additional principles and practices, exercises and techniques that I have learned from Mikhail Ryabko: Make use of breath sounds to focus: loud at first, softer over time, until ultimately inaudible. Realize that breathing is not just mechanical or physiological; it does not begin and end with lungs. Learn to infuse every cell—the whole body—with breath. Learn to breathe into and with every part of your body. Always use relaxed breathing to transition from rest to activity, to avoid “cold starts.” Learn to feel the pulse of your heartbeat everywhere in the body. Play with tensing everything, starting from your feet all the way up to your
face and head, while you inhale. Then release the tension from your head down to your feet during the exhale. Practice the reverse of this: tensing up on the exhale, relaxing on the inhale. Practice a complete cycle of inhale and exhale while tensing and relaxing. Do breath-hold training at all points and phases of your exercises, moves, drills, and so on. Get comfortable with longer and longer holds. Learn to relax and tolerate air hunger. Learn to pull yourself up with the breath: do sit-ups with straight spine and legs flat. Practice linking long inhales and long exhales to specific movements, series of movements, and various exercises and sets of exercises. Learn to change your breathing pattern to overcome fatigue and endurance.limits. Master the least amount of effort and tension during work and exercises. Be creative about breath-body coordination. Practice inhaling into one part of the body and exhaling out of another. For example, breathe into one arm and breathe out the other; or breathe in through one leg and breathe out through the opposite arm. Use “burst breathing” during long, strenuous exercises; for example during.slow squats. Learn to “grab” pain or fatigue anywhere in the body through the nose and expel it through the mouth. Learn to “bundle” the breaths. Do several squats or push-ups, for example, on a single in-breath or out-breath. Practice holding the breath at full, empty, and zero points during exercises. Do partner breathing: focus on your own inner work while observing your partner. Copy or mirror each other’s breathing. Practice breath walking. Synchronize breathing with your footsteps: 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, etc. If you sustain an injury or feel pain in a particular part of the body, breathe into and through that place to relieve the pain and to accelerate healing.