SEAL Breathing Techniques
to Help You Surf and Live Better

Most yogis and professional athletes know that breath is the foundation of your performance. Every movement we do is fueled by the burning of calories, which requires an aerobic process that requires oxygen. But when we are under stress—the very times that we need energy the most—we often forget to breathe properly. And many of us never breathe properly at all. We do shallow breaths from our chests, emptying and filling the tops of our lungs, but never actually breathe with our diaphragms, which allows us to access the entire volume of our lungs.

SEAL Breathing Techniques to Help You Surf and Live Better

Another way that surfers are going green is with our clothes. From t-shirts and sweaters to bikinis and boardshorts, we are finding environmentally friendly ways to make textiles from organic or recycled fabrics, thereby minimizing our impact on the earth. One of the newest fabrics is being used by Vissla to make boardshorts out of coconut fibers! Cocotex takes the unused organic waste from coconuts and turns it into a carbon fabric that dries quickly and is resistant to odors. This Cocotex is then combined with recycled “Repreve” polyester yarns to create high-performance boardshorts that is good for your skin, your surfing, and your surroundings.

Navy Seals are trained to breathe properly when they are under duress, and we can learn a lot from them. As surfers, we are athletes (even though we often don’t think of ourselves that way) who perform in a stressful, foreign environment that is largely out of our control.

By learning to breathe properly during exertion, while resting between waves, and when we are in scary situations (such as when huge waves are about to land on our heads), we can fuel our bodies to more efficiently deal with the situation. The first step is tuning into diaphragmatic breathing. Sit on a chair and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. As you inhale, you should feel your stomach extend outward first, and then feel your chest expand. If you only feel your chest expanding but not your belly, then you are not breathing from your diaphragm, and you are only accessing around half of what your lungs are capable of. Practice breathing from your diaphragm until your lungs feel full (typically for a count of four), then open your shoulders to the sky and allow your chest to expand for another count of four. By this time, your lungs should be fully utilized and full of the oxygen-rich air.

Once you master diaphragmatic breathing, it is time to learn our first breathing exercise tactical breathing. Navy Seals use this to calm themselves down during stressful situations when the fight-or-flight response is trying to kick in. Place your hands on your stomach and chest and slowly engage in diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling for a count of four. Once your lungs are completely filled, hold your breath for a second, then begin a slow exhale for eight seconds (depending on your lung capacity, you may want to inhale for more than four seconds and exhale for longer than eight seconds. The important thing is to ensure that your exhale is twice as long as your inhale). This slow, controlled breathing will help to settle you down and help you deal with stress. You can use this technique when you are scared in the ocean, when you are stressed at work, or when you are stuck in traffic and getting angry and frustrated.

The second breathing technique the Navy Seals use is called box breathing. This goes beyond calming you down and helps to sharpen your focus and reaction time. You will engage in the same diaphragmatic breathing, but your inhale, breath-hold, exhale, and empty breath-hold will all be the same length. Start with four seconds, and then progress to longer if your lungs can handle it. Breathe in for four seconds, ensuring that you start your inhale with your diaphragm and then progress to your chest and upper lungs. Then hold your breath for four seconds, followed by a four-second exhale. Finally, hold your breath again with empty lungs for four seconds before starting the next cycle.

Throughout both of these breathing exercises, the important thing is to settle into a comfortable rhythm. You don’t want to be clamping down or forcing. Instead, your breath should be laying the foundation for relaxation and focus. Remember, you can go weeks without food and days without water, but you can only last a few minutes without oxygen. Many people think of food as the fuel our bodies use to power themselves, but food can’t be burned without oxygen. Learn to breathe properly, and everything else you do will benefit!

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