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Mind-Body Connection: Breathing for Performance

Updated: May 5, 2022

by Neil Rasmussen, BS, FRCms, LMT

When it comes to performance in sport, recreation and even life itself, breath and mindset will be two of your greatest tools. This includes training these skills regularly beforehand, as well in the moments of stress that these challenges certainly demand. In training mindfulness and breathing techniques we cultivate better likelihood of accessing a flow state, the optimal mindstate for great stress and challenge.*

When it comes to breathing it is a lot more simple than it may seem. Check in with your breathing more often, and notice how your breathing correlates with your mind. When we get angst we naturally hold or lessen our breath. By utilizing our breath we can shift our mind quickly- if we find and practice a technique that works for us.

This also works vice-versa in that calming our mind improves subconscious breathing. By tapping into the power of the mind AND the breath we allow ourselves to BE as we wish. In these moments, we use the power of awareness and free will to synergize more effective results.

Here is a video with some exercises to get better at this type of breathing:

How do we apply breath work to the experience of climbing the highest mountains in North America?

Part of our training is to prepare us for moments when we feel out of breath, when we’re above 14k feet and still have to keep climbing, to know that we are okay even when our body-mind may be signalling otherwise. The body can actually go a lot longer without breathing than you'd assume, but we are pre-programmed to not get even close to our physiological limit (thanks, Nature). The cool thing about being human is you can consciously change this tolerable threshold, and improve your potential for performance and well-being.

With breathing it helps to think simply. You may notice as we feel angst or stressed we naturally hold or lessen our breath. On the contrary, if we are vacationing at the beach we notice slow, deep and relaxed breath cycles. This is reflective of the natural respiratory rhythm correlative with our subconscious/autonomic nervous system state. Check in with your breathing more often and notice how your respirations correlate with your mind. You then have the choice to breathe mindfully. This will help in the moment each time we choose, as well as prep us for future stressors.

It's important to know that while respiration is mandatory, breathing is a choice.

Breath, mindset and autonomic nervous system influence each other multi-directionally. Changing our breathing can lead to subconscious or autonomic changes. Reframing awareness alone can improve respiration, as well as shift our nervous system. I believe these results have potential to synergize, or at least optimize efficiency and effectiveness through collaboration. Tapping into the power of the mind, AND choosing to breath with intention, allowing ourselves to live much healthier, and facilitate our greatest performances when demanded. This is something you can take advantage of every day, as well as during moments when life needs you most.

How do we use science and beyond to prepare for stress and challenges?

Part of our training is to prepare us for moments when we feel out of breath. This may be a “fight or flight” response or just because we’re physiologically tasked (or both). When we’re stressed and still have to keep going, we need to teach ourselves to know that we are okay even when our body may be signalling otherwise. The body can actually do a lot more work without oxygen than you'd assume, but we are pre-programmed to not get even close to our physiological limit. The cool thing about being human is you get to consciously change this tolerable threshold, and likely improve your potential for performance and well-being.

One technique I like to practice for this is a contrast of deep, stimulating breaths similar to Wim Hoff breathing or Breath of Fire followed by extremely slow or no breathing for 30-120 seconds. This contrast facilitates a physiological and psychological controlled-stress environment. This is one of the best ways to learn how to handle stress better, whatever that stress may be.

You can also practice breath-holding throughout the day, and with other specific training exercises. Start by taking a natural inhale and exhale, holding your breath after the exhale and timing until you feel the need to breathe (plugging your nose helps to make sure you aren’t cheating). This is an assessment for you, as well as something to potentially practice and build your tolerable thresholds.

Some say if this hold is less than 30 seconds it needs to be addressed. Many people can even hold their breath for several minutes! It’s important to note that while you can build your threshold with practice, it isn’t merely getting better at “almost passing out but pushing a little farther”. You should instead practice pushing your “tolerable threshold” by building the time frame that you feel somewhat comfortable without breathing. This will be unique for each individual and is something to practice with a sense of respect for your body.

Another exercise to do in conjunction with Stimulation Breathing or on its own is Mental Visualization. This has been heavily studied and shows to be effective at improving physical performance in many categories. By using just awareness (no movement) we create the future moments we want to experience. We see, feel and smell, fully embodying the future we want through practicing mental concentration, open-heartedness and a sense of belief that manifestation is possible.

As we practice these powers of awareness and breath, we are more likely to access flow state. We have opportunity to experience unique states of consciousness, and to essentially create destiny in the moment. By living, and experiencing moments of this fluid awareness we often yield exceptional external results and perhaps equally as impressive self-realizations.

This may not be what you’d initially assume drives you to challenge yourself, but this is a fundamental component to all adventure and challenge seeking. We learn a lot about ourselves and beyond from these moments of struggle and insecurity.

Some of my favorite challenges personally include Spartan races and hiking/running 14,000-foot mountains. The 14er experience has been life transforming for me, and now I'm guiding others as a group up Mount Elbert this summer 2022. If you’d like to join us to summit a 14er this July, you can also prepare with us along the way! Learn more about the experience here.

If you’d like more ideas or exercises for you based on your goals, sign up for one-on-one coaching here! This article highlights some critical ideas and starting points, but ultimately you need to learn how to integrate these into your training and lifestyle.


For more breathing exercises and mindfulness content visit….

*This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. The Facility Denver, and Axon Mind Body disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you are assuming risk for any potential negative effects that may result directly or indirectly.*



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Dr. Mitchell Rasmussen - Doctor of Chiro
Kate Daugherty - Nutritionist - Function
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