Breathing and the Brain, with Ed Harrold | EDB 187
A Talk With Breathing Expert Ed Harrold
(23 minutes) Ed is an author, motivational speaker, inspirational leader, coach and educator. Ed’s mastery in the science of breath has guided him to apply mindful, conscious breathing practices in the fitness & athletic training industry, wellness and organizational performance in corporate settings, professional trainings and retreats along with lifestyle coaching for individuals. He is a Faculty Member of the Medical Wellness Association, and is a contributing editor for many publications including Thrive Global, HuffingtonPost, and MindBodyGreen. Ed discusses the connection between breath and overall health, how the way we take in oxygen communicates messages to the brain, and how to reduce stress through breathing techniques.
For more about Ed: edharrold.com
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Welcoming back Ed Harrold
HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today, I’m so excited because, oh, boy, we have returning all the way from out there in Utah and Colorado and parts unknown, the world’s greatest breathing specialist, Ed Harold, the author of “Life with Breath”. And he’s going to tell us all about breath in our brains and everything else, and I’m so excited. Ed, thanks for making the trip in.
ED HARROLD (EH): Oh Hackie, it’s great to be with you and your audience. You guys are doing awesome work.
HR: Thank you very much. So you flew in and your arms are tired.
EH: I feel great. I’m pumped up for this, and you know, ever since I saw your presentation at the Aspen Brain Lab, not only did I fall in love with you but I fell in love with your message, and your passion.
HR: What do you have to be so mean for?
EH: You know it’s just growing up in New Jersey, you get that little edge. You either accept it or you reject it. We got to be nice.
Ed’s start as a breathing expert
HR: Well I gotta tell the audience about when we were both presenting out at the Aspen Institute, and I was in the audience when Ed presented on breathing. Part of his presentation is you have to stand up and actually take the time to breathe. And I’ll never forget how different it felt. And it was the first time I really stopped to do that in a conscious way. And I really really made a difference to everybody there. And I think all of your–you have so many workshops, and so many instructional things. Tell our audience, first of all, how you got into all this breathing stuff?
EH: About 25 years ago, I was a broken athlete. My body was ravaged from the wear and tear of competitive Western Sports. And I just was really stuck mentally. Nothing was new and it seemed like the walls were closing in on me. And I just knew something needed to change in my life. And I discovered a place in Massachusetts called The Kripalu Yoga Center. And the Kripalu style of yoga is more of a gentle movement, therapeutic movement, but it’s based deeply in controlled breathing. And we looked at India and the Art of Prana, being energy, and Yama, trying to control our energy. I learned various different ways to breathe. And I applied different breathing strategies with therapeutic movement. And I began to notice that I could open my body up again, I began to feel younger, began to think younger, began to be more open to life. And it was almost like a second childhood.
HR: Wow, how old were you when this went on?
EH: It’s just like I was like 35. So, I was right at the point when the wall started to close in and the body starts to fail a little bit from the rigors of training, and the mind starts to follow that because the body is not as vibrant as it once was. So there tends to be some subconscious repetition, there’s less neuroplasticity, there’s less new ideas and it’s just not as much fun. And then I began to discover the power of his breath and then applying the breath into therapeutic exercise. It was just a grateful to rewire my brain, open my heart, and begin the second half of my life.
HR: How did your mesh that with your education in your reading and learning from so many different experts?
EH: The great thing about The Breath was I am an energy junkie. Like I love a lot of energy. And as you get older, you don’t have as much energy, but you have more awareness. So I could discover it through the breath that not only could I have a boatload of energy, but it was calm energy. My heart rate was lower, my blood pressure was lower. And then I began to wire my perception of myself. My values, the people I hang with, my skill sets. So for me, it was about a mixing the breath and with the kinesthetic learner that I was an athlete and then blending in the corporate mind that I had, which is strategically trying to be as efficient as possible and creating leverage in revenue strategies.
“Life With Breath”
HR: And then you wrote your book, “Life with Breath.” What year did you write that book?
EH: I wrote that book about 8 years ago.
HR: And how does that differ from the brand new book you’re working on?
EH: The Life with Breath book was a way of showing people, number one, the power of breath and how it interacts with the various nervous systems of the body, how it reacts with our emotional intelligence, our ability to be with strong feelings, how it helps evolve our mental cognition, and rationalizations and strategies. And I just kind of laid it out for folks that, ladies and gentlemen, if you’re breathing, you have one of the most powerful tools to shift your neurobiology, to amplify your biology, and get out of your own way, and have a joyfull life. And I put together a 30-day breathing program for folks that if they follow that program, by the time they get to that 30 days, they’re going to have a completely different relationship with themselves. The new book is designed more or less for how can we perform at extremely high levels with the lowest heart rate as possible.
HR: And the name of your new book?
EH: “Body, Mind, Business”.
HR: “Body, Mind and Business.” And now you’re throwing business in there.
EH: Well, you know, we’re all in sales. No matter what platform you’re in in your life, you’re trying to sell a quality of yourself to another person or a brand or a strategy. So, I I look at business as “how can we have an equal exchange of energy with people while at the same time creating a lot of revenue and joy for ourselves?”
HR: And they’re not mutually exclusive.
EH: They are not. You’re right. They’re not. Now there’s a certain set of healthy ethics and rules that we all need to play by where trust, being authentic, always seeing the best in the situation, not allowing the motion to overpower intellect, our ability to reason, and make good choices. So, you know life is going to be filled with stress and resistance. We all were pretty high bar for ourselves. Especially folks like ourselves. We set that bar pretty high everyday. And the more that we do that without being attached to the outcome, like it doesn’t matter who gets it right, just get it right. And you’ll get the credit down the line, in everybody’s just clinging to that small pie. Where in my mind, it’s like, “let’s just all show up and do the best we can.”
HR: And I think we don’t realize us non-breathing people–
EH: No, you’re breathing fine.
Breathing and stress management
HR: We don’t realize how integrated it is. And my most recent most recent learning with that was I was feeling under a lot of stress and a friend of mine out in Colorado suggested I try some mindfulness. Which I had always thought of as like yoga and music and chimes, and lie down. He introduced to me an app called “10% happier” and where the founder, Kevin, he was a regular guy and he was on anchor on national news shows and stuff. And he had a panic attack right on the air so he had to do something. And it’s more of just him talking to experts and the experts work with you a bit. What would it has been amazing to me as a complete newbie dilettante in this is that everything centers around the breathing, and that’s really the primary way you know that you’re in the moment.
EH: Yeah, there’s a way that we can breathe that really settles the neurology down. It settles the brain down and we have the ability to stay present and not drift into our subconscious of events that have already occurred. It seems to be coming to the forebrain area as they’re actually happening, but they’re not, they’ve already happened. So, one of the things would be to breathe through your nose and slowing down your inhale. Two amazing things are going to happen; number one is the primary muscle of inhale is your abdominal diaphragm muscle. And that separates your belly from your chest cage. So when you’re inhaling slower, you’re activating the diaphragm, move vertically down to create wonderful posture or alignment of the vertebra. And the brain loves to see a straight spine. And when you slow down the inhale, you’re allowing parasympathetic or relaxation activity to come to something which is normally sympathetic, or a rising of the heart rate. So two really good things around a slower inhale through the nose. Normally the inhale is sympathetic, and will be a slight spike of your heart rate. There will be a slight spike of your blood pressure. But since you have free will, you have the ability to inhale slower, and the slower you do it, the more relaxation, the more relaxation, neurochemistry and biology and hormonal secretions you could bring to the mind and body, while the same time giving yourself beautiful posture so you’re using the least amount of energy as possible to move through your task.
Breathing and the brain
HR: Tell us more about from your point of view, where some of the brain anatomy is happening as your rewiring your brain with the breathing?
EH: So, step one is just remembering that we are all born nostril breathers. The mouth is designed to eat and not breathe. The mouth is an emergency breathing mechanism for fight or flight activity so we don’t die or we’re trying to get food. It’s very primitive and its nature. When you think about the nostril breathing, the nostril breathing. The horse that wins the Kentucky Derby every year, does the whole race breathing through his nose. The cheetah running 40 miles an hour in nature trying to get food is breathing through his nose. They’re not mouth-breathers. It’s the most efficient way to oxygenate ourselves. So when you’re breathing through your nose, there is a molecule secreted which is called nitric oxide. It’s a molecule which is formed in the brain that dilate the Ivyoli always acts in the lungs. So you can have a longer more depth inhale. It’s also going to satiate our cranial nerves which are helping the brain organize the moment for us, so that it’s the most relaxed moment is possible and it’s not reactive unless it has to be. So getting that inhale up through the nose, getting a nitric oxide, relaxing cranial nerves, really, really important to helping the brain help us.
The mouth breathing – when the brain sees the air coming in and out through the mouth, it simulates and stimulates the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and adrenal glands, our HPA access of our survival. In that, all the energy leaves are viscera, digestion stops, fat burning stops, that starts to be stored, glucose starts to be burned, and we don’t have a lot of glucose energy. So closing the mouth breathing through the nose, get control of your breath. What controls your heart rate? How many breasts are taking per minute? So if you can slow your breathing down, you can bring your heart rate down. The brain loves to see a lower heart rate. And when the brain sees the lower heart rate, your blood pressure is lower, so there’s more relaxation, there’s more calm, there’s more mindfulness. And when the brain sees that slower breathing, it tells the body to burn fat, not store fat. So it’s a master key for linking and integrating all the various medicines.
HR: I just had an epiphany. I had 26 Pro heavyweight fights and I got to work with some amazing trainers, my friend Tommy Torino, so many others. But I did some work with Angelo Dundee with 15 world champions with Muhammad Ali, I fought some of his fighters. And I’m doing a documentary on him actually. And now that you mention all this, when you’re fighting like when our being at the top 10 rounder, it’s really challenging everything, especially your respiratory system. And you kind of force yourself to breathe through your nose. You got the mouthpiece in. And you come back to your corner, and your trainer tells you to just relax, and it’s a little bit of mindfulness in there. And now that you’re explaining to our audience, and to me, the actual neurophysiologies at works, now it makes sense. And all of those trainers have never had the advantage of a PhD. They knew what they were doing. They knew what they were doing.
EH: That was an amazing analogy, because everything it from the soles of our feet to the crown of our head basically is a brain or has the ability to think. And when you think about boxing, you lose control of your breath, you lose your lower body mechanics, because you’ve lost them in the diaphragm. And as soon as you lose your lower body mechanics you lose your leverage to hit, and you’re going to go down. There’s a big part of our brain that likes the access to the legs and the feet to help us think, to help us stay grounded, help us a present, so if you could really get control of your breath in this diaphragm muscle, you can really link these lower body grounding rods to helping the brain rotate through the information, either reduce it into a new choice or expanded into a different idea.
Breathing’s messages to the body and the brain
HR: You know, I have a friend of mine who is very overweight. And she is having troubles even just–she had some with orthopedic problem. But, she’s having trouble even walking. She gets out of breathe really fast. And she’s got kind of a belly on her. And it was my contention that her even when she’s in the erect position, her diaphragm can’t do it it’s got to do. What advice other than to try to get rid of the belly might you have for someone like that they can do that can help them now?
EH: So, you’ll notice that she’s a mouth breather? So the diaphragm muscle only really can be activated breathing through the nose. When we’re breathing through the mouth, the diaphragm will not vertically press down, giving her a wonderful massage on her gastrointestinal organs. The diaphragm kind of flattens east and west, and you’ll see poor posture in the lower back and vertebral compress and nerve endings will be dead. And when you start to breathe through your nose, you’ll notice the posture. You’ll notice the vertically pressing down, so that every time she breathes today, breathing through her nose, there is going to be twenty thousand times a massage moving downward to help eliminate and assimilate her nutrition. A big thing we want her to do is allow the brain to feel safe. And a brain feels safe when we are breathing with the exhale longer than the inhale. There’s a part of the brain that just watches breathing and respiratory glands in the brain and when you can exhale longer than your inhale, you’re triggering to the centers of the brain that you’re safe in the environment that you’re in. You’re not hunting, nor are you being hunted. So as soon as you trigger and exhale longer than the inhale, the brain will tell the body to naturally burn its fat stores, not store fat.
HR: Does the amygdala get involved? The center for fight, flight or violence?
EH: Big time. So anytime you’re breathing rapidly rather through your nose or your mouth, you’re going to fire up that amygdala. And it’s going to become almost parasitic in regard to how it grows in taking your energy into all of your thought forms, all of your relationships. So one of the ways that we can delve the amygdala and amplify the hippocampus and evolve our awarenesses of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go, is to slow down the inhale. And after the inhale, pause for a second or two. Establish a meditative state, you’ll notice when you stop breathing, your mind stops, and the film stops moving and you have the ability to control the mind, so the mine doesn’t control you. And then exhale longer than you’re inhaling length. That again creates safety, shrinking the amygdala. There’s no threat of harm in this environment. It’s just a thought, and then pause at the bottom of the exhale for a moment, before you inhale again. So when you control the breathing, the length depth, and pace, and you invite a brief pause, you’re interacting with your mind and you’re the CEO of your mind.
HR: Great analogy.
EH: I work at a very superficial level of the brain. I don’t work as deep as you do with the physicians and the great researches you work with. But the way I break it down with the folks when I’m working with, that is the right prefrontal cortex is a conscious space of intuition, the left prefrontal cortex is a conscious space of cognition, rationalization, strategy. The lower part of the brain, the more or less, is concerned with body temperature respiration. “I am I hungry, am I tired, am I wide awake? The higher part of the brain is evolving where we’ve been and the hindbrain is a storage file for everything that has happened with the cerebellum way in the back. And I think it just gives folks just a layperson’s example of you have the front of the brain, which think sand feels, and its most conscious. As its most the way. You have the bottom of the brain, which is kind of our manillian self, our reptiles self, our eat-sleep, re-production self. You have the higher brain where you’re taking skills and you’re evolving them, neuroplasticity, rewiring your brain. And then you have the back of the brain, which is just this giant store warehouse of all the events we’ve been in since our birth.
HR: You put it so well.
EH: Thank you.
HR: I wish I had your medical school when I was struggling to neuro-anatomy.
EH: Man, that’s a tough assignment. And look how far that’s come, since you’ve been in school. And you’re on top of all these different research projects which are really helping folks in need.
HR: Well I don’t know anything about that, but I’ll tell you this. With modern technology now enabling us to really show by virtue on these active pet scans and CT scans and MRIs exactly what’s lighting up when a certain function is going on, now we’re able to match it to the quote neuropsychology which didn’t used to exist really.
EH: Amazing. Amazing science. Because let’s face it, the brain is in charge, at the surface level we’re all moving through or alive. The brain is actually deciding what our hormonal secretions are going to be. The one thing that really was one of the greatest control over is our breathing. And if there is anxiety in your life, or there’s higher stress levels, number one is slow your breathing down. Don’t let that stress or bring your heart rate up and start to hyperventilate and breathe. And it just throws off that natural rhythm that the body has to move through a 24-hour cycle. So, most folks it’s close the mouth, slow the breathing down relax and do whatever is coming and know that it’s traveled very far to help you.
Breathing and sleep
HR: Talk to us a little bit about the relationship between breathing and what happens during sleep. Or vice versa.
EH: Well, you know the body works in sequences. And everything that happens in this moment is something that’s a reflection of what we set up for in the previous moment. So I see folks that are having a very difficult time staying asleep. And what that means to me is I’m going to trace their steps back to when they were awake during the day. How many breaths do they take per day? What was her heart rate during the day? What was their brain-wave activity, what was their blood pressure, what was their primary fuel? Was it fat metabolism or was it sugar metabolism? So if we can get people, number one, during the day to reboot your autonomic nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest, more serotonin, more dopamine coming from the enteric system. More open neurology in the brain, not overheating and becoming a citic during the day.
So if you can’t sleep at night, can we look back into the daytime activities and see where we can change things during the day, so you don’t overheat during the day, don’t deplete all your energy reserves. So it’s very seamless for the brain to go from that beta mind where you’re making all these great decisions at work, and you drift a little deeper into that alpha state, which is a little slower, more creative and you going in deeper into that theta state where you’re not fully awake, you’re not fully asleep. And that’s the prerequisite for the delta waves. So getting people to be more mindful during the day that how they’re breathing is playing such a huge role and how many thoughts are going to be, how much their heart rate is going to be, whether their fuel was fat or sugar, all this keeps us autonomously in balance. And the more that we can remain in a parasympathetic response during the day, the easier it’s going to be to seamlessly sleep at night.
Go be great
HR: How do our audience find out more about you and what you’re doing and learn more about all this stuff?
EH: So my website is www.Edherald.com. That’s Harrold with two R’s. And sometimes you can get me online at my at my tag name, which is “Go Be Great.”.
HR: Very cool tag name.
EH: Yeah, well you know, I think we all have a desire to do really live special lives. And not every day is going to be special, but I think we have the ability to persevere, be resilient, put a good face on, whatever is in front of us, and be a good human being.
HR: Well, on that note, Ed Harrold, author breather master, educator, philosopher, thank you so much for being with us here at Differentbrains.org today.
EH: Thank you Hackie. It was an honor being with you as always and the great team that you’ve assembled here in Fort Lauderdale, and your extended audience globally.