What do Hayo’u and Novak Djokovic have in common?
I noticed something fascinating lastweek. Watching the French Openmenstennisfinal, it became apparent to methatNovakDjokovicwas very clearlyusing deep breathing techniques at moments during his match against Andy Murray. This shouldn’t really be a surprise as Novak’s‘holistic approach to tennis and life’ is well documented. Indeed, he has been quoted as saying that he uses breathing techniques to ‘align withhis thoughts and stay composed’. If you struggle to get to grips with meditation, there’s some great advice further down this article. It’s such a brilliant way to manage your stresslevels and focus your mind back down into the moment –and it clearly worked for him, as he won in four sets!
The important thing to note here is that Djokovic was dealing with the stress immediately – in that moment, as it happened. Which works on two levels, focusing his mind during the game, but also protecting his body in the longer term. Daily stress eventually adds up to be debilitating and affects your performance, tennis pro’s and office workers alike.
When I did a bit of digging into this – I discovered that the world number one had actually learnt his breathing techniques fromDrIgorCetojevic, who used Traditional Chinese medicine as the basis for his approach.
Way back in 2010, Djokovicwas struggling in the Australian openquarter final against the lovely Jo Wilfred Tsonga, commentators musing that his asthma may be to blame. Fellow SerbianCetojevichad his own opinion of what was going on.
“I suspected that in Novak’s case his problem breathing resulted from an imbalance in his digestive system,”Cetojevicsaid, “particularly from an accumulation of toxins in his large intestine. In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are paired with the large intestine.”
The doctor started Novak on a gluten free diet and taught him several breathing techniques to help him stay in the present moment. And look at him now…
But scientifically, how much difference can proper breathing really make? An absolutely huge amountas it turns out!
The Chinesetraditionallypracticedsitting in stillness and silence for a while andbreathing deep into the abdomen. Why? Because this automatically switches the nervous system over from the active Yang phase which we’re perpetually in, to the calming, restorative Yin phase.
Ultimately sitting in stillness and silence whilst you take a breather is a meditation. Meditation is one of those strange things that converts rave about. It’sincredibly beneficial to our health (it’s been scientifically proven to improve immunity and decrease pain and inflammation to name just a couple of benefits). Weall know this. Most patients over the years have sat in front of me saying they’d love to meditate but either don’t have time or basically know it would be great, but franklythey find it nigh on impossible to achieve. I’m with them. In our insanely busy lives with endless and instant communications, how are we suddenly supposed to down tools and empty our minds for even five minutes? Let alone twenty?
Enter the 5 smiling breath yang meditation. Yang meditation, or ‘active relaxation’ as we’d probably refer to it, is the answer. It works essentially because we inherently love being given something to do.
I’m a massive fan of the smiling breath yang meditation. Unlike its tricky yin partner, it’s really easy to do and you can do it anywhere you like! Even if you don’t know much about Yin and Yang, you probably know that they are two forces in opposition and yet balance. Chinese theoryadvocates that our day should beactive/relaxedinequal parts. So half of your awake time shouldbe relaxed, butin reality this is rarely the case anymore. Howthen can the smiling breath yang meditation achievethatbalance?
It is often claimed that twenty minutes of meditation is so powerful that it is equivalent to four hours sleep. There’s the imbalance addressed. One breath at a time throughout the day has a similar effect, nourishing your body when you need a pick me up during a busy day. This technique is yang meditation. It works bytrickingour constantly chattering ‘monkey mind’into focusing down into ourcentre. Even this brief moment of focus will easilycontrol our relentless, Qi depleting mental energy. The results are as effective as yin meditation, but you just go one breath at a time.
If you still like it after one breath do the full five. If you enjoy five, keep going breath by breath. I always tell my patients that it’s not much more than you have to do anyway in order to stay alive! It’s simply deepening an existing bodily function and understanding what a powerful tool your breath can be as an antidote to modern life. Not bad for a minute out of your day….