#223 Increasing Performance, Safety and Resilience with Jeremy Wilstein

Eight years ago Jeremy Wilstein discovered a very simple concept called breathwork when studying the “Ice Man” Wim Hof. In this episode we dive into the many benefits of proper breathing and how a quick few minutes of intentional breathing can hack your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to increase your performance, increase your safety, increase mental stability, and decrease anxiety and depression. Jeremy has been offering his breath work courses to our community in the US during competitions the last few years (which always end in a cold plunge in the Colombia River!) to the profound delight of everyone who has taken part. It feels great, it’s easy, it helps you in the air and on the ground. Have a listen and give it a try!

Jeremy’s website to find out a lot more about guided breathwork

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A Deeper dive into how breath work works and how it helps:

BREATHWORK and PARAGLIDING

Breathwork has been a pivotal part of my life over the last 7 years and for awhile I have thought this could be an impactful topic for other pilots in our community. I have identified a few topics which I believe the majority of pilots will be able to relate to. These topics deal with safety, mindset, dealing with altitude, and performance recovery for hike and fly athletes. We can geek out on some science and then I would want to incorporate actionable breathwork exercises which people can begin to incorporate. 

DECISION MAKING AND SAFETY : This is a pivot topic for all pilots and often when we get stressed while flying, our focus narrows and our ability to take in more information decreases. The result is poor decisions and a potential accident, when there was a safer or better option. When we have a sympathetic nervous system response (ie Fight or Flight) we have a release of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream, increase in heart rate, narrowing of focus, and often we stop breathing or our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. We begin to fixate on one option as opposed to taking in more information. If you are aware of changes in your breathing as a result of turbulence, rotor, or wind (which is often because we are scared) you can breathe in a certain way to calm the mind and downregulate your nervous system. As a result your vision widens to take in more information, your heart rate decreases and you become aware of far more options for a safe outcome to your fear. I recently got into a situation in Colombia where I went for a thermal, deep in the mountain, with no way to glide out. I didn’t get the lift and had one slim landing option on a ridgeline. I felt my breathing change and my fear response began to heightened. By shifting my breathing to deep nasal breathing I could feel my fear response decrease, vision broaden, and I was able to set it down on the slim ridgeline. We can get consumed in fear so bringing the awareness back to the breath will immediately decrease the fear we perceive.

PERFORMANCE + RECOVERY – This topic is especially relevant for the Hike and Fly athlete. All athletes are looking for a performance edge and a faster way to recover from brutal workouts. Breathwork not only increases your performance but also speeds up and decreases muscle soreness. By practicing breathwork with long retentions you are able to simulate high altitude training. The kidneys will produce more EPO, which will then in turn produce more Red Blood Cells in the body which are responsible for carrying Oxygen to your tissues and transporting CO2 back to the lungs to be expired. When we train at higher altitudes our body does this naturally and this is why when we go to lower altitudes we feel like superman! Even if you live at sea level you can practice these breathing techniques to stimulate the production of more red blood cells (without having to dope like all those olympic athletes). For recovery, when we have muscle soreness it is because of a build up of lactic acid in the muscle which is a by-product of the work we have completed. With these breathing practices you are able to voluntarily and temporarily raise the pH of your blood into a more Alkaline state from the acidic environment that is creating the muscle soreness. This is a quick and immediate feeling in the state of your muscle soreness which will allow you to recover faster.

MENTAL STABILITY, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION – I think we can all agree that flying paragliders is an extremely mental sport. When our minds are clear we can fly with less fear and make better decisions. When we are consumed with issues at home, our own anxiety, depression or limiting thoughts…our flying suffers. We also know the pilot who’s mental wellbeing is determinant upon constantly flying and when the weather is crappy that pilot’s mindset is crappy as well. While paragliding brings us so much joy, the inability to fly (based on the weather, injury, work, etc) can strip some pilots of their ability to be a good person outside of flying. Anxiety and lack of enjoyment in daily life can set in. Breathwork brings you into the present moment and is also shown to release as much adrenaline as someone’s first bungee jump. This release of adrenaline is what brings calm, clarity and balance to our lives, it’s the feeling you feel after a long flight and it’s a feeling you can replicate in the comfort of your home when the weather is not lining up or you don’t have the ability to get your fix by flying your glider. Think the pilot who hasn’t flown for weeks and is a total shit head.

ALTITUDE TRAINING – Breathwork with hypoxic training stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells which in turn carries more oxygen throughout the body. This is why athletes train at higher altitudes and then compete at lower altitudes. As paragliding pilots we ascend very quickly to high altitudes where our mental and physical performance deteriorate. We all don’t have the ability to train at high altitudes so when we fly we can experience altitude sickness, especially if we live at sea level. Through certain breathwork practices which can be done in the comfort of your home, we can simulate high altitude training so the body begins producing more red blood cells which will in turn carry more oxygen and therefore allow us to make better decisions at high altitudes. This goes along with Performance and Recovery.



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