Heart rate cardiogram line with the word breathe written along it

Learning to Breathe

Early evidence has convinced me that breathwork is the path to dramatically transformative health and elite performance. We are putting together a team that will attempt to reverse engineer an elite coach’s breathing program.

What is the most impactful $100 that you have spent this year? I recently wrote about the best $98 I ever spent on research. When I woke up that morning, I had no idea how valuable it would prove.

Recently, I spent $102.82 that immediately revealed itself to be life changing. It consists of:

That’s it. With these three tools, you are on your way to reverse engineering an elite training program that is already proving itself to be transformative in my own life.

Let me first make it clear: I’m not into all that woo-woo new-age breathing and meditation stuff. My rare attempts at meditation would often simply put me into a state of calm hypervigilance. Which isn’t all that calming.

What I learned from the tools I just purchased is that my physiology indicates that I’m over-stressed and have difficulty downregulating. Cognitive approaches have never addressed these imbalances. Typically, if I want to change my mental state, I go do something physical, like exercise or play. 

Here’s the thing: the Heart Breath Mind book outlines a not dissimilar approach, but this time adding in a biofeedback mechanism for the physical component. With training, we will become able to switch on and off our different physiological states at the drop of a hat. 

The key measurement we’ll be following and training is heart rate variability (HRV). For any of the seemingly millions of people who wear a Whoop band, you probably know a lot about HRV. Essentially, HRV is a measurement that correlates highly with training readiness and recovery by measuring whether the body is sufficiently recovered from prior stresses.

As the program progresses, we’ll be introduced to techniques that allow us to recalibrate many of our imbalances. We are going to get out of our heads and into our bodies. According to Dr. Lagos: 

We need to be able to identify and release the painful or unpleasant sensations that often get stuck within our physiology. That is how you address autonomic imbalance in the body.


Many of us are used to traditional cognitive approaches such as talk therapy, visualization, and goal setting, which call for us to tune into our minds; but the notion of clicking into our heart and asking it how it feels can seem foreign.

Okay, that last part does seem a bit trippy and woo-woo. Now that I’ve tried a couple sessions, trust me, it’s not.

So Many Books About Breathing

If you’ve read any of several popular books about breathing, you’ve probably come away with similar observations to my own:

  1. That's a lot of words about breathing
  2. No doubt I’m doing it mostly wrong
  3. Can’t recall a single protocol that the author described for me to do

I typically then attempt a few of those practices, only to abandon them all a few days or weeks later. These have included Wim Hof freezing cold showers, Oxygen Advantage BOLT tests, nose breathing while exercising, and so on. I have a ton of notes and quotes about breathing if you really want to go down that rabbit hole.

Elite Performance Meets Contextual Advice

Josh Waitzkin is the real deal when it comes to elite performance. Not only did he compete at a world championship level in both chess and the martial arts, he also wrote The Art of Learning, which is the best book I’ve ever read about learning and performance. It also is my favorite audible book, narrated by the author himself. Josh is basically the exact opposite of the saying that those who can’t do teach

In his book, Josh writes about how he took up the practice of Tai Chi because he was looking for a meditation practice that involved movement. That observation echoes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statement that weight lifting proved more meditative to him than an actual meditation practice. 

It turns out that Josh currently enrolls all of his coaching clients in a breathing practice supervised by Dr. Leah Lagos. Which brings us full circle to our recent purchase. 

What makes this program different is that it really focuses in on the mechanisms of action. It has been indisputably proven that having an understanding of how things work has a significant impact on the results of a training program. Dr. Lagos doesn’t just anecdote her way through the science and physiology of it all. The actual daily practices and measurements reinforce an awareness of the transformation that is happening. 

I was so excited by the insights I gained during the first four days of doing this that I started reading ahead. I wanted to see what was next in the program. I learned, for example, that in week three approximately sixty percent of her clients experience an extremely cathartic transformative event. 

It made me realize that I didn’t want to do this program as a solo run. I started to put a group together so that we could coach and encourage each other through the process.

This might well be the most important piece to the puzzle. Josh mentioned that when he takes on a coaching client, he can’t provide meaningful guidance until he has sufficient context and understanding of that person. That got me thinking. Most of my friends have plenty of context on who I am as a person. While none of us are elite performance coaches, we’ve always seemed to appreciate any of our insights about each other. 

Given that we all have those people in our lives for whom context is not an issue, why not jump right into helping each other? 

How This Might Work

With everything we do here, there are three partners we keep in mind:

  1. Friends who want to directly join us and collaborate on a specific project. 
  2. Builders who want to partner with us on the actual creation and improvement of the technology and tools involved.
  3. Peloton Riders who are interested at some level and want to come along on the adventure. 

These can be fluid states, as you might find yourself transitioning among those levels of involvement and interest.

As it turns out, the first five people I described this to all said I’m in. We are starting next week together. There is room for more. We don’t have everything in place but have more than enough for launch.

By the way, don’t worry about the group size getting out of hand. I’m a big believer in small groups. We’ll always channel the interest in any of our projects into groupings that will be optimized for real progress.

If you’re thinking about doing this, you’ll want to be fully geared up by week three into doing twice daily twenty-minute sessions. At the outset, you’ll probably fall a bit short of that. There are also no expectations for where this goes after those ten weeks. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

A Kind Word About Hypervigilance

Finally, I just want to acknowledge something about all of our over-stressed states and what it has done to us and done for us. 

For the latter, many of us can credit a lot of our professional success to vigilance and caution. No one wants the dominant trait of their brain surgeon, fighter pilot, or investment fiduciary to be a happy-go-lucky obliviousness. When a crisis hits, it arrives fast and hard and there is not time for pondering and delay. In order to properly prepare, countless scenarios are envisioned and rehearsed where things go wrong and focus comes into play. Many of us are wired for stress and impactful situations.

Probably too much so. 

There are countless types of careers and workplaces that put people into a state of hypervigilance. There are plenty of reasons that most of us have a working imbalance in our autonomic nervous system. These environmental stresses run the full gamut. It might be as simple as the incessant accumulation of piled on annoyances that many people must unavoidably navigate in their daily life. It might also include the ramifications of very serious past or present traumatic situations.

Please keep that in mind if you are looking to join in. None of us have any training here, and this next exploration is not meant to be a substitute for professional health care and guidance. 

We’re just a couple of friends who are throwing themselves into this mix because we generally like the idea of breathing, want to keep on breathing, and figure that while we are doing all that breathing, maybe we might tap into all that we’ve heard about its transformational qualities.

Let me know if you want to join in.

By The Way

You may have noticed some changes at the Always Invert website. We’ve done a complete rebuild and transformation of AlwaysInvert.com. It might still look like a blog website, but behind the scenes, it has the sophistication of a very smart webapp. At the moment, it is like a race car with just a few drops of fuel in the tank. When you check it out, I think you’ll see what we mean.

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