How to Breathe for Optimal Health - Dr. Belisa
Why you should listen -
All the stresses of our modern world has caused dysfunctional breathing patterns that affect our health. Dr. Belisa Vranich, a renowned clinical psychologist, public speaker and the author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Dr. Belisa teaches how to breathe in an anatomically correct way that maximizes balanced inhales and exhales.
Podcast with Dr. Belisa
Ross: On today's podcast we have a very special guest. She is a clinical psychologist; she's a public speaker the author of five books, the latest book is called breathe the simple revolutionary 14-day program to improve mental and physical health. We have Dr. Belisa on the show.
Dr. Belisa: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Ross: Thank you so much for being here. It is such an honor to have you.
Dr. Belisa: Thank you.
Ross: So much to talk about with you.
Dr. Belisa: Bring it on, I’m excited.
Ross: This is so amazing! So you are best known as a breathing coach is that correct?
Dr. Belisa: Yeah it's funny because it's not really breath work and I'm not a respiratory physiologist. I'm sort of in the middle where I deal with the general public and how they breathe and how to get to breathe better. So it's not going to the hospital, and It's not a sort of like trance meditation it's really how we breathe every day all the time and making that better.
Ross: Wow it's so amazing, I have so many questions about that. You know I think just like the general public when they hear like a breathing coach they're like well I know how to breathe I do that naturally. Why is it important like when you're working with your clients when you're doing all this public speaking like why is it important to really learn how to breathe better?
Dr. Belisa: So most people don't say I know how to breathe, I mean their first immediate reaction is well yeah I breathe like it can get better, and then they start thinking about it. If I ask questions, they go well actually I don't breathe as well as I could. Yeah, I do run out of air I wish I could not you know gasp for breath when I'm working out compared to when I was younger yeah it's definitely not as good. So if they start really thinking about it, they say, well yeah actually I don't breathe as well as I'd like to and it does feel sort of stuck here, or I don't feel like I used to have that lung capacity like I did when I was younger. So when they stop and think about it, they think yeah I actually would like to breathe better if there was something for me to do, if in fact, my breathing is bad. So that's where I started with which is, is my breathing bad? So that notion that you have of I'm not sure if this is good I wanted to get a grade and that's where this whole method started.
Ross: Wow and I have zillion questions for you about this, but I think first can you tell us a little bit about your journey, like how did you get into this where did you start?
Dr. Belisa: My journey! Okay so I was a clinical psychologist for a long time about 20 years, and I did go, I would change jobs within psychology just because I like learning. Once I sort of maxed out on a job, I'd like to go on to the next one and see what else I can learn so sort of a vocational ADD education junkie. So my background is in child psychology, but it's specifically psychometrics so IQ testing. And I did Co-teach the Rorschach class when I was at NYU, and the Rorschach is of course you know the ink blots that you see… Anyways I co-taught in Wikipedia actually, I think it was Wikipedia don't want to blame them wrongly but once those cards and those images got out in public, we couldn't use them anymore because they were supposed to be something that people had our first impression about and then responded. Anyway, so I taught a row Shacket in NYU and did a lot of testing and really like neuron-psych. I did a rotation when I was on internship through the hospital for joint diseases in neuron-psych, so it was a lot of brain trauma, epilepsy, loved that kind of stuff.
All the way through the last year of the internship I decided like maybe I should stay and keep learning more and get an MD because I'm a psychologist. So my parents nixed that idea, but after that, I had a whole bunch of different jobs. I worked in a magazine called Jane magazine; I did a dream analysis column, I did a column for the New York Post where people would send me questions very Sex in the City type of job. I worked with violin ex-cons with HIV doing parole assessments, like you name it I’ve had pretty much every single job within psychology. Which just means I'm not scared of anything and I don't know a lot else outside of psychology so if we stick to psychology and breathing I'm okay. But I started dealing with my own stress, and I loved my yoga class, and actually, if I get into details, I was grinding my teeth. So I went to the dentist, and I found out that I was not only grinding them a little like I'm a type-A you know overachiever, so I was really grinding my teeth. So thousands of dollars you know bite play the whole nine yards, and so I had to look for something that was going to make me feel better that wasn't just you know a shot of tequila or a nap which is my go-to. So I looked at yoga breathing like the stuff they do in yoga which is a lot like the alternate nostril breathing that Hillary Clinton is in the news about. But I wanted more science behind it, and I wanted more exercises, so I kind of got into it and started looking all over the place all different breathing exercises. Like in the history of man what we have done that's interesting with our breathing, and I started teaching my own clinical patients. So I'd go in had an office on Central Park West, and I have patients with anxiety and depression I'd say well let's do some breathing, and they loved the breathing as they would actually feel better doing the breathing they started asking for it more. So that's where the transition started until it got to the point that I said you know what I'm always going to be a psychologist but I think I want to focus more on the breathing which is a connection between your mind and your body and your conscious and your unconscious. So it kind of I got into that like the flow of that, and it kind of took me away and here I am with you right now.
Ross: Wow that’s amazing. I'm curious you mentioned these ink blots and that kind of like that psychological component and how does that relate to breathing?
Dr. Belisa: Well, you know what it relates very specifically, and because the way you breathe can show how you're feeling, it can make you feel a different way if you change your breathing. So it really is the link between mind and body you were always talking about mind and body, and most people get the mind down, but they can't make the connection between them. I understand that I shouldn't be stressed and my body should calm down and that's just an example, or I understand intellectually that I have lack of closure, but somehow my heart still seems to be sad. And the breathe, breathing is actually the connection that brings those two together.
Ross: Wow! And so for people listening, what are some like for someone who's like very basic, maybe someone who's done, I think a lot of our listeners have taken yoga classes. What are some like basic enhancements to enhance performance through breathing? What are some basics that everyone can benefit from?
Dr. Belisa: The very basic like if you take anything away or if you just want the cliff-notes for the book is that most people breathe up and down, okay. So you inhale you get a little taller, and you exhale you come down. When you see some pomp someone puffs up their chest and take a big breath and then exhale and kind of relax that's the kind of breath that we learn, that's the bad habit breath. It's nothing like the breath is anatomically congruous or like we used to take when we were kids not babies but kids. It's also a breath that looks completely different than every other animal on the planet. So we've taken a breath that was normal and turned it into this abnormal breathing which completely affects the rest of our bodies. So if you think about the fact that you inhale and sort of puff up the top of your body well yeah your neck and shoulders are going to hurt and yeah you're going to have acid reflux because you're not using your diaphragm to breathe you're using your shoulders.
Ross: That’s short breathing right? So it's pretty good that chest it's like short breathing.
Dr. Belisa: It's a short breathe it has to be a short breath. So if you breathe up and down with your shoulders or with the top of your body, you have the smallest part of your lungs up there. The densest and oxygen-rich are actually about a foot down on your body you know kind of between your nipples and your belly butt. That's where the biggest part of your lungs are, and it's not like filling up a glass of water where the bottom fills up first and then it goes up. Its air so it fills up at the top and then it goes to the bottom. So if you use your diaphragm to breathe, you're actually going to get a better breath, a more calming breath and you're going to use the right muscle. And that's what I come to is that you have to use the right muscles and people don't talk about muscles and breathing. When you think breathing, you think lungs; lungs don't do anything they kind of sit there. The muscles that pull in the air and then squeeze out there are the really the most important part.
Ross: Alright, So that's why like actors and dancers, what they teach us is to breathe through your stomach right? To really blow out your stomach and then breathe in?
Dr. Belisa: Yeah! So it's funny because they say blow out your stomach and breathe through your stomach but what that is that right above your belly is your diaphragm. So if you push your belly out your diaphragm has to expand by association, and then you get a better breath.
Ross: That’s the diaphragmatic breathing?
Dr. Belisa: Yes so your belly breath is a diaphragmatic breath. You can't take a diaphragmatic breath without popping out your belly, but that's an advanced move. But all of us who aren't breathing well if you pop your belly out your diaphragm is going to expand by association and no one has explained that to us. They keep saying take a belly breath, and we think A, I'm going look fat why would I do that B, isn't it going make me gassy? There's no C, so it's just A and B. I think those two things because it hasn't been well explained, that when you push your belly out your diaphragm which attaches right at your ribs goes along with it. So it's kind of a cheat to be able to take a good breath.
Ross: Yeah! I think you're right; I think a lot of people think oh if I'm doing that all the time I'm going to look fat, what you're saying that's healthy.
Dr. Belisa: That's healthy because if you actually and again the belly breath is the introductory breath. Eventually, you want to take a breath that goes all the way around your body, so your sides are going to flare out a little bit even your back will open up. So the kind of the perfect breath is one that goes all the way around your body, and you're not like popping your belly out like Santa Claus. In the beginning and again because I look at why did we unlearn this and how do we relearn it and you can't just go to a diaphragmatic breath from having had a vertical breath. You have to go really low, you have to think of your pelvic floor, and your hips and you have to take this really not so cute belly breath to kind of get your body to remember the way it used to breathe. So that's what's happening when you take the belly breath.
Ross: So is it possible to retrain yourself, to retrain your breathing to breathe healthier?
Dr. Belisa: Absolutely and that's what I do, and I always say that I'm not teaching you something new. The way I teach my method my system that's new, and it's because it comes from knowing how children learn. So, for instance, there are words I just did a teacher training there are words I don't let my teachers use. Don't say these words they're going to confuse people use these images because they're going to help people. So I'll give you a for instance when you're in medical school, and you learn about the diaphragm they keep talking about it like a plunger. All wrong because all you see when you see a plunger is up and down and I'm trying to teach people to breathe horizontally. So I use a vegetable steamer because if you take a vegetable steamer and you turn it upside down, it's actually a great example of a diaphragm where the edges spread out the middle does lower and go up and down. But what you really want to understand is it's in a good breath your body expands, and all you have to do is look at your dog, cat or kid to be able to remember that.
Ross: So for everyone listening without getting like too advanced or too into it, I guess they can come to one of your workshops or go to your website: What's your website by the way?
Dr. Belisa: My website is the www.breathingclass.com, I'm super simple I would love to have some fancy name, but it just is the breathing class.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah!
Ross: So everyone can go there to get into more details but let’s together cover like some basics that people who are listening in to this can just try while they're listening in to us. What are some basics to retrain your breathing pattern? To breathe just for optimal performance?
Dr. Belisa: Great! So what I want you to do is actually if you're sitting because most of us sit way too much. So I want you to hold the bottom of your seat with your hands and actually stretch them, so you're really stretching your hands out so you can't possibly move your shoulders alright. And then what I want you to do is tip your hips so you're putting your belly on your lap like if you don't have a belly then just you know pop your belly and pretend you have one and just get as much belly as you can. If you have a belly you're probably sucking it in and what I want you to do is tip forwards, and it's sort of like if you know yoga because a lot of your listeners are Yogi's is that think about this as being seated cat-cow. So you have cat-cow on the floor you know put your cat in your cow in a chair, and I want you to tip forwards and let your belly go as if you're doing cow. Okay now on the exhale I want you to roll back your back is going to puff up as if you're that scary Halloween cat and you're going to exhale. So inhale come forwards and then holding the bottom of the seat exhale go back is just to keep your shoulders still. So sort of get yourself into a little pattern here where you're tipping forwards, you're letting your belly go, you're bumping your butt back, you have space at your lower back in your chair. And on the exhale I want you to roll back you're now a cap seated cat you're going to squeeze your belly good belly button to spine, inhale, tip forward, relax your body. So you should feel yourself going forwards and back, come on forwards and back Ross there we go. Inhale exhale squeeze back and really narrow, and the movement should be initiated at your hips, which feels totally weird but interesting right .and it'll start feeling more natural because now you're breathing with your hips which is where you should be breathing from. So the movement to breathe is not shouldered going up just puffing up, its tip forward, allow your body to expand, relax your gluteus, exhale, roll back, really squeeze and narrow your body. Inhale relax it, relax your gluteus, come away from the back of the chair, exhale, roll back, press the back of your chair and belly button goes towards your spine. What's really good to do when you're doing this, and you're trying to learn how to do it or relearn how to do it because you used to do it right is that you look down at your belly. so on the inhale I want to see it expand, put your hands on your belly like you have a hoodie on and you have your hands in your hoodie. Inhale let that expand and then on the exhale you just stick your fingers in your belly and try to squeeze your body and exhale, inhale belly on your lap and exhale back. At this point most people say through your nose or through your mouth so here's the rule. If this feels totally strange to you and for some people those who are paradoxical breathers this is going to feel odd okay. You're going to breathe through your mouth just until you learn it. Because I want you to hear, the breath on the inhale and on the exhale, because that way you'll notice when you're doing it wrong, if this already feels natural go to your nose, nose breathing is always better always in and out. You can go out through your mouth but at the very least do in through your nose. So inhale belly on your lap back comes away from the back of the chair and on the exhale to roll back squeeze get all that air out and feel your belly narrow. So that is a horizontal breath you don't go up and down at all. If you're breathing that way you're using your diaphragm and all kinds of amazing things, start falling into place and feeling better when you start breathing with your diaphragm.
Ross: And you're saying that this should be constant, this is how it should be all the time?
Dr. Belisa: Yes! Look at your dog, cat or any animal. Look at your five-year-old kid breath; they don't breathe with their shoulders. Your 10-year-old kid does, but any animal on the planet is breathing where the biggest part of their lungs are. So take your hands right now and put them right here yeah that's the biggest part of your lungs. Why would you be moving your shoulders to breathe it makes no sense at all.
Ross: That makes a lot of sense (yeah), so how do we condition to get this to be the norm because I think a lot of people think it's the part of the culture where people are short breathing, and they are breathing through their chest. How do we change that habit?
Dr. Belisa: Okay so two things are going to help you do this more than any other health habit because most health habits you try to pick up, it's hard. You're like you're running uphill to try to get this new healthy habit, and you're on your agenda. This one is easier it's more important, and it's easier than all the other ones, and the reason is because you used to breathe this way. So for some of us, we stopped breathing with a horizontal breath once life got complicated and we started sucking in our little guts and wearing waste bands or whatever the reason was. So it could have been when we were five or six that we stopped. For some of us, we kept breathing well until we were about 10 and you know all kinds of things happen. We started sitting a lot in school; dad was fighting at home you started bracing for the noise of the fighting. You fell off your skateboard you hurt a rib and then you started sucking in because you were trying to look like Superman or your dad or your mom you know it's sucking in their gut and being strong. So depending on when you stopped breathing right, You still have the memory somewhere there about breathing the right way because you used to right. And the other thing is your diaphragm wants to work, so you have this massive muscle that's totally on your side. And the only thing it wants if it could want something is to be able to expand your body on the inhale and narrow with your body on the exhale like that's the only reason this thing is in the middle of your body and it's huge. Think about it; it's like a skirt steak the size of a Frisbee. Like get that image in your body and now put that skirt steak like a Frisbee right in the middle of your body again between your nipples and your belly button and the reason it's there and most of us it’s completely still. Might move a little bit eek open a little on the inhale and kind of close a little bit on the exhale but the only reason it's there is because it really wants to expand your body on the inhale and narrow with your body on the exhale. So it already wants to do that, so you're just letting it do that.
Ross: Let me ask you something about Professional athletes, you would think athletes they know how to breathe right, they're on top of their game performing well. Now I understand you work with a lot of athletes so are most professional athletes breathing right or are you making a lot of corrections?
Dr. Belisa: No! They are not breathing right, so they are doing well because of talent because their cardio is fantastic, because they have so much help with everything else that they're doing. But to me, if you have someone who is a good athlete whether you're a professional athlete or not you're a good athlete but you don't work out your breathing muscle. Like how are you going to be if you start working out your breathing muscles? And that's why for me it's fascinating to get someone who's at the top of their game, and they've plateaued, and they ‘re saying you know what's that edge I can get on someone else or the other team or whatever? And I say do you work out your breathing muscles? And they don't, and I do my tests for breathing muscles, and I say you know what, this is excellent because your breathing muscles are weak. They're decent because they get the job done but your cardio is fantastic, you're super talented. So let's add a breathing muscle workout, let's get your breathing muscles to be strong, and you watch their endurance and their conditioning skyrocket. It's one of my favorite things to do is just to see that change because with athletes what happens is that once you teach them how to breathe this way they get obsessed you know because it feels right. They have such great some you know sensation about what's going on in their bodies is that you teach them as in a way that makes sense and they just get nuts with it practice it, and they see results you know from one day to the next.
Ross: Wow! So you're able to take athlete top of their game, not breathing right. You go through these exercises correct their breathing, their performance goes to the next level.
Dr. Belisa: Next level immediately! Really immediately and sometimes it’s that now your breathing actually plateaus at age 29. So if you have a young athlete, they're still kind of sliding on youth and even in their 30s, they're still sliding on youth. What happens if you want to play or compete you know into your and your breathing plateaued at 29 age, so you have to be doing breathing muscle exercises.
Ross: As you work the same way as you would, let's say a professional fighter versus someone who's an executive, and they just want to breathe better. Is it the same thing or is there a difference?
Dr. Belisa: There's a little bit of a difference because for instance if I'm working with someone who has the kind of movements they make our gross motor skills. So if it's someone who fights, so let's say it's MMA so they're on the ground they're standup like there's a lot of movement going on in a lot of different positions. And I'm working with someone, who let's say is a tattoo artist, I do the same assessment, and they do similar exercises, but their goals are different. So my fighter is going to want to be able to have better endurance be able to have their nervous system you know to be able to calm down quickly and then rev up quickly, be able to recover from one day to the next as well super important. My tattoo artist wants to be able to very still and be able to stay focused and alert awake and be able to make very tiny movements. It’s the same with an aesthetician, a surgeon, a golfer a pool player, like anybody who's making tiny movements, a photographer, a sniper. So although the exercises are similar what we practice is very different.
Ross: Very cool! The other thing I wanted to ask you is, I know aside from the breathing classes and workshops you're also into CBD oil and that's something relevant for me because it's very cutting edge, it's big in LA, and it's making its way to New York. I'm thinking about doing some product development with CBD oil maybe combining it with some juices but can you talk about that?
Dr. Belisa: Sure! So I like what's going on with CBD oil or hemp oil, or you know the medical marijuana community if you want to call it that. It is that if you develop it and gear it and make it specific to helping with pain or helping with anxiety, it could be a terrific add-on to any therapy that you're doing, obviously very controlled. And what they're doing right now scientifically with the dosing is super specific, so it's not just some people that are scared of it or are skeptical think that you're going to get really high and you're going to do crazy things and that it's not controlled. It's just as controlled or more controlled than a lot of other things that we take very haphazardly. So I've seen great results and again this is a new industry where someone has pain, where they are trying to get off opioids, or they are trying not to take them, and that's a huge if we can help in that with that problem that's tremendous. I have people who have anxiety usually a lot of PTSD where it just helps bring the anxiety down a tiny bit so that then you can use other coping mechanisms and learn other things to keep yourself calm. And then there's you know incredible research going on how it helps with the side effects of cancer medication and Parkinson's and all kinds of other diseases. So I see it as a really interesting place, and I'm looking forward to seeing what more science comes out of it.
Ross: And just sort of listeners understand the CBD oil contains no THC; no-one's going to get high from it right?
Dr. Belisa: No! You're not going to get high from it, I think there's from what I understand and what I've seen is that there are combinations. There's CBD that has a little bit of THC which doesn't mean you get high and if you want to get high, I mean there are other things you can do. If you're looking at CBD oil for the pain, it's probably because you're suffering because you're in pain and what the medications-that we have for pain right now are not good. They're just like you get addicted very quickly and coming off of them is really hard, and a lot of people are experiencing this. So if you want a combination of a little bit of THC with CBD to help calm you that works as well. But there is no like getting giddy happy, taking your clothes off, running down the street naked, that just doesn't happen. There are plenty of other recreational drugs to do this, this is scientifically tested very specific dosages, and you take it carefully see what dose works for you with your physician, and there are some really great results. I'm really interested in seeing where it goes.
Ross: Wow! Yeah, I'm thinking like three to five years, it's going to be a lot more mainstream. I'm looking at the CBD oil that has no THC to see if we can put that in some of the juice and I'm pretty sure because there are some other brands out there that started it. I know it's a tea company that's doing it there doesn't seem to be anything illegal about it. If it does have the THC in there that's a different story right?
Dr. Belisa: I think that you know the rules are really up in the air right now from one state to another and we have to get more open-minded because the results that we're seeing scientifically are fantastic. Now, for instance, I'm thinking about someone I work with, I do a lot of pro bono work in Alabama, and he can't get anything at all there because you have to have been diagnosed with grandma seizures by a doctor in the state. They're very against anything hemp, CBD, THC completely blanket completely closed-minded about it. And it’s sad because this guy is on a ton of sleeping medications, a ton of anti-anxiety medications, and a ton of opioids to help him where I'm sure that he could benefit from CBD or CBD THC combo. He could still be completely functional much better much happier and not be addicted to all these other things that are just keeping him at bay; they're not really healing him. So the laws from state to state now are very different from one state to another, but you can just get CBD for sure. Yeah, you can.
Ross: Very cool I'm excited to you know start some formulations with that.
Dr. Belisa: Yeah! That would be great.
Ross: One other thing I want to ask you is we're all about bio-hacking, and you're involved in so many different things. What are some tips, some strategies that you can give to our listeners? Like what's your everyday like? If you look at your daily routines, what are some of your daily routines that you do that help give you an edge for performance, for breathing and just overall health in general?
Dr. Belisa: If I just say my bio-hack it really has to do with the breathing because you can combine three things with breathing. You can take care of your pelvic floor get a big breath and oxygenate and balance your body. Because it's not about more oxygen that's a complete myth, it's about the balance of oxygen, and CO2 get your parasympathetic system to kick in all with one thing which is taking the right breath. And it doesn't have to be two hours of meditation, you can do 30 seconds of breathing, and it can affect your pelvic floor and your hips which we all want that to be safe and healthy rather putting yourself into a parasympathetic state. I mean you can have awesome candles and mantras and all kinds of visualization, but if you're not breathing with the lower body horizontal breath, you're not going to be fully in a parasympathetic state. And then if you're breathing right again you're going to be able to balance your CO2 and your oxygen, and that's where your body wants to be. The hacks that happen from there it's actually like an awesome bio hack because if you're doing those three things for those three, reasons, there's a secondary thing that happens there's a ripple. So the ripple is that your acidity gets balanced. So if you're taking, if you're doing good breathing your acidity actually neutralizes whether you're too alkaline or you're too acidic. So kind of amazing you can actually help your acidity by breathing right. Now you should stop eating fast foods as well but a lot of the acidity or the being too alkaline is caused by breathing patterns that are that are dysfunctional. So if you change your breathing, you're going to change your acidity. If you're using that lower body breath with your diaphragm, you're also going to be supporting a healthy back, and healthy digestion and I do mean acid reflux as well. So it's an amazing bio-hack 30 seconds a lower-body breath where you're really expanding and really contracting and squeezing good for your core good for your mind good for your body.
Ross: So the exercise you walked us through earlier just doing that for how many breaths every morning?
Dr. Belisa: Do ten breaths as often as you can throughout the day, or you might do two breaths every time you're waiting for something. So you don't have to have this huge workout with gadgets and all these things you really just every time you're going to check your text which is going to be you know eight million times a day because we all look at our text eight million times a day. Just pause because it's probably going to be the same thing on there and take two breaths before you check your text or take two breaths before you hit the button on the elevator or cross the street or just find the one thing that you do a lot and make sure you take two breaths before you do it and that's it. And what's funny that if you take those two breaths throughout the day, you will sleep better at night hands down. So put together again bio-hack is that you take two breaths it may take you a couple of seconds you do that. It takes you ten times a day maybe it's a minute or two minutes tops; you will sleep better at night. And it's just because our stress is just so high all the time and if you take those two breaths and de-stress yourself even it's for a couple of seconds at night when you're going to go to sleep, you can actually turn off better.
Ross: Wow that's amazing. I love it. Alright, so we got the breathing hack, anything else any other hacks?
Dr. Belisa: No! You don't even need any hack after that. Drink juice.
Ross: I love it. Awesome! Well, thank you so much for being on the show this was amazing.
Dr. Belisa: Thank you
Ross: And I'm definitely I have my work cut out for me
Dr. Belisa: Thanks for having me, this is great.
Ross: Awesome, Thank you!