Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tactical Breathing

     Let me stake out some points about the "Three Managements,” that of managing fear, anger, and pain. Each subject needs a book and a Ph.D. But I have performed best in my life within these three problem areas when I have been slightly or somewhat adrenalized. Some experts might call this time, “riding the flow” or “in the zone” of some sorts. I say “some sorts” because behavioral and sports experts have some highly refined definitions. For me, I think the zone and the flow are mostly about half-adrenalized states. Just enough juice to function on all cylinders.

     Looking back into my past where I have been both a hero and a goat, some of my worst performances as a cop have been when I have lost this overall control, let adrenaline run amok. And let me tell you a good ambush can snap the sense right out of you. A car going zero-to-sixty in seconds becomes difficult to control. Unless it's a race car. Are you a race car in the race track of life? Some people are. Most not. Most of us need work.

     In my past, mental and physical distracting problems like the lack of sleep, hangovers, family problems, constipation - you name it - have interfered with my job performance in many ways; but these problems also interfered with my ability to handle surprises and to control my temper and these adrenaline rushes.

     How to get to this somewhat or half-adrenalized state? And stay there? Get into that flowing zone? It's a connection into your personal calm. There are tons of training programs about this, mostly for civilians, and unfortunately with a lot of voodoo, buzz words. "Find your ... center." The core steps can be packaged in science or religion or even in the science fiction of Luke Skywalker's  “using the force.”

     Strip all of this out for the biological truth. The generic core. All medical and psychological experts agree that there is one common thread to counter and contain some of the anguish of anger, pain, and fear. Breathing!

     Yes, simple breath control. No matter who the experts are, from the toughest, scarred, tattooed war vet to the armchair Ph.D. or robe-wrapped yogi guru, or the collared Catholic, all agree that deep and slower breathing can really help control and stabilize the body under stress. You don’t have to seek a monk in China, pray to a god, or contemplate your navel in front of incense and a pink candle. This universal, raw method truly bridges the gap between the police, the military, the martial artist, and the citizen.

     In today's mental health industry, Stress Management is a major challenge as well as a very prosperous treatment business. For them, the majority of problems are marital, jobs, rush hour traffic, raising children, and the like. Civilian problems. Dr. Beth Greenberg says - 

     “Stress. Unless you live on a cloud, you deal with it every day. Can you count the number of times you’ve heard or said, ‘I’m completely stressed out!’ in the past week? Unlikely. It’s probably become routine. And routine, in fact, is what it is. Research has shown that over 70 percent of all doctors’ visits are stress-related problems, and in a city the size of Boston, an average citizen has 60 fight-or-flight responses to stress every day!”

     We all have sudden and slow-burning stress problems that involve distorting our bodily chemistry and functions. We all have “before, during, and after” stress problems. But a training and treatment doctrine that includes routine violence and combat is far more complex than for a citizen in Massachusetts or London, England. It is far more complex than athletics weight lifting or running on treadmills. Citizens in “everyday life” and soldiers and police have different kinds of stress. In everyday life, this “during stress” might be a tough business meeting, or haggling over a plumber’s fee. This “during stress” situation for a soldier or a cop may be incoming missiles or a butcher knife plummeting down at his face. The first group deals with stress, the second group deals with proper response to sudden and planned combat AND stress. Response. Even in most planned and prepared combat, you turn a corner? And boom! You are in sudden combat inside the planned combat.

     What do all these people feel in their bodies when they feel anxious or threatened? Here is, once again for the record, the classic list. "Rapid heartbeat, shallow, rapid breathing. Tense muscles. Physiological changes take place in the body. The brain warns the central nervous system. The adrenal glands produce hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline). The heart beats faster. Breathing becomes more rapid. Fast breathing. The person's body is getting ready to do one of two things, confrontation or departure (departing, as in leaving)."

     Back to this very critical term of “fast breathing,” because breathing is the key to this study. A normal breathing rate for an adult at rest is 8 to 16 breaths/minute. Most people are not really conscious about the way they breathe, but generally there are two types of breathing patterns.

     1. Shallow Thoracic (chest) short breathing
     2. Deep or Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing.

     The stressed body needs air, and we need to pump air to the performing muscles. Slow-twitch fibers affect muscle endurance provided enough oxygen is delivered to them. Fast-twitch fibers, which affect muscle strength, develop peak tension quickly and fatigue easily. That is one reason why slower nasal breathing, not fast mouth breathing often works better. Nasal breathing runs by the vagal nerve, which sends calming messages to the brain. Breathing through the mouth bypasses a large portion of the nasal cavity process of warming, moisturizing, and eliminating particles from the air before it reaches the respiratory system. Breathing through the mouth also further triggers the fight or flight response! Sort of a double-whammy, if you will.

     Lots of people call wrestling with breathing under stress a “Combat Breathing Event.” Combat breathing to me should cover just a specific study in the “During stress and while-it's-happening category,” the actually engaged combat. Instead, I like the overall term “Tactical Breathing” title for the before, during, and after. Three parts to it. This allows us refined categories and outlines for each. Combat Breathing should be a sub-category under Tactical Breathing. (Remember, good training programs are all about doctrine, doctrine. Doctrine! The proper skeleton allows for the proper fleshing out.)

Tactical Breathing (three parts)

     1. Before the event - preparation breathing before the event
     2. During - the combat breathing, hardest to remember to do because you are distracted
     3. After - breathing after the event to recover

     Because Combat Breathing means breathing WHILE in combat, it means more than just simple calming and regulating the body before or after combat. For many real performance experts, combat breathing is in the “act of doing.” Doing what needs doing with what you have on hand to do with. Human Kinetics says that combat breathing techniques bring the mind and body together to produce some amazing feats on the sport field. Feats well beyond the subject of simple calming and relaxing. Power!

     Athletes must learn to apply the laws of pneumatics - the science of pressurized air, in this case - as a power source by absorbing and transmitting energy in a variety of sports' situations. Most commonly, we know about the exhale when you say - push up in a bench press. Exhale, if you can (as sometimes you can’t) when you punch or strike. Firearm shooters and combat shooters (snipers or otherwise) constantly worry about breathing during their trigger pull, but in the chaos of combat, you have to strike or shoot when you have to shoot. Breathing pace be damned.

"... Power! Athletes must learn to apply the laws of pneumatics - the science 
of pressurized air, in this case, as a power source by absorbing and 
transmitting energy in a variety of sports' situations...."

     Deep breathing. The only problem is ... remembering to do it. It seems that fast breathing is a dirty trick in the biology of survival, doesn’t it? She makes us do it even though we shouldn’t. It is so easy to forget to breath when the knife is dropping onto your face. But you must try. For an example of pre-conflict breathing, here is a trick I learned decades ago from police instructors in the 1970s. I continued teaching in the 80s and 90s when I taught regularly in various police academies. I would suggest connecting this type of breathing with every time you turned on your police car siren or answer a "hot or hotter call." Hot calls equal calming breaths. 

     What SWAT officer or military mission team, while being transported to a mission, shouldn’t make this breath-in-transport a mandatory habit? If you can't maintain the pattern throughout, then breath deep on breaks in between segments of action. Then, as quickly as possible, afterward (drink copious amounts of fluids afterward, also, to help flush out the adrenaline chemicals quickly).

     Another trick I noticed was no matter what great shape I was in as a younger man, how far and fast I could run, often when I dashed up a flight of stairs, I would still become winded. I could run about a 6-and-one-half-minute mile just a decade ago, but a sudden, short dash up the stairs, at times, would bother me. "What good does all this running do when I can't dash up a flight of stairs?" But it is a classic “zero-to-sixty” situation. I swore then that I would slow/deep breathe every time I climbed any stairwell anywhere. A habit. Every time I looked at a stair step! I made it a personal habit. This turned into a major survival tip as we chase and even fight on stairs frequently. Climb any stairs anywhere? Deep breathe. (And, of course, you could run stairs as a workout, another testimony to practicing exactly what you need to do.) But the point is, pick a good time to breath like this and make that practice an engrained habit.

     Also, for many years I ran a local martial arts class. Often I would have to spar/kick box every student in the class. This was demanding; however, I discovered within myself a calm zone of performance where I could think, coach, and kick box everyone rather tirelessly! I recorded this ... this calm spot in my physiology. This zone. Whatever. I could often find this very spot under police stress and confrontations, too. In ways, some might call this a biofeedback method (another subject).

     In the course of practicing combat scenarios, if you can attach combat breathing and this air force of pneumatics to the physical steps of the scenario, you may be front-loading your muscle memory for survival. Check this out and experiment with it.

     Extended and serious exercise usually starts demanding fast lung work, and we find ourselves falling into shallow, mouth-breathing mode. But the better shape we are in, the more we push back that mode. How about some real Before/Pre-breath control practice? Wind sprints are another way to introduce your body to and get in touch with your physiology while it grapples with rising and falling heart rates. Know where you are and how you feel and think about breathing while wind sprinting. Long-term breath control? Exercise. I repeat and re-shape the above line for it is a most important point....

     The better shape we're in, the more we push back that falling-apart, disaster crash.

     Get up and get out and do something. It helps in so many more ways that simple slow breathing cannot alone. If you are having a heart attack while fighting off a criminal or a Jihadist, slow breathing ain't gonna help you much. Develop both heart and lung capacity.

     Once in so-called "combat," you have a lot going on, and your body wants to immediately breathe a certain way. You make it breathe your way. The best way you can. Good instincts. Good training. Good coaching. Good mental tricks. Good luck. A car going zero-to-sixty in a second becomes difficult to control. Unless it's a race car. Become a race car driver.

     Technically, tactical breathing goes like this. Breathe in through the nose for four or more counts. Deep into the lower lung and the upper “belly” should expand, unlike a shallow breath. Hold for four or more counts; exhale through the mouth for four or more counts. So simple, so respected. So proven, from Lamaze to Basra. It works. For the record, the U.S. Military suggests:

"Combat, Tactical" Breathing

     This technique, known as combat or tactical breathing, is an excellent way to reduce your stress and calm down. This breathing strategy has been used by first responders, the military, and athletes to focus, gain control, and manage stress. In addition, it appears to help control worry and nervousness. Relax yourself by taking three to five breaths as described below.

      - Visualize each number as you count.

      - Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4

      - Stop and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4

      - Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4

      - Repeat 

     (Word to the wise. I have heard some folks suggest five or six seconds a breath and a much longer exhale - as in exhale until it almost hurts! But surely that is for meditation-like situations and not when you are about to kick a door or are inside a room searching for a suspect. And some people have bigger bodies and need another second or two to fill up and out.) 

     In summary, Tactical Breathing is more than just relaxing. It is three parts, the before, the during, and the post of fighting with hands, sticks, knives, and guns. While there are some similarities to a meditative style of breathing, "tactical" breathing is not for the yoga mat. It is almost impossible to forget to breath properly in a meditation class. It's hard when you are chasing a car at 100 miles per hour or fighting someone.

     The methods you use may be very personal discoveries. Generic in concept. Personal in execution. In the end, my friend? I want you to breathe the best breath of all, that sigh of relief when it's all really over and you are still in one "piece" and in one "peace."

PLEASE Read this article on the Neurobiology of Grace! Click here

Stop 6 of the Stop 6
The Bottom-Side of Ground Fight with Mixed Weapons
Hand, stick, knife, and gun solutions

(Different cover shown there; no worries, same film)