Image: CNN. Breathing graphics added by YSS
Trump and Clinton’s breathing tells us a lot about how well they perform under pressure.
Based on over 20 years experience working with athletes and applying the science of yoga to improve athletic performance, I have observed with interest the breathing patterns of the candidates during the last 3 Presidential debates.
There are 2 types of performance systems in the body that are relevant to the debates. My observations are that both candidates have functioned from within these different performance systems.
Performance System 1: Relaxed, controlled breathing within the parasympathetic nervous system, optimizes performance under high intensity conditions.
The advantages are:
Provides more oxygen to the brain = increasing the ability to think clearly
Improves respiratory strength = increasing endurance and productivity
Calming effect on the nervous system = improving mood and attitude
Improves awareness = increasing sensitivity to others and their environments
Improves ability to cope with stress = mastering challenging situations
One way of determining whether someone is functioning from within this performance system is to watch how they breathe. The breath is initiated deep within the abdomen, stabilizing the pelvis and making the lower limbs more grounded. The shoulders tend to be low, the upper body posture is upright and relaxed. There is sustained focused. There are no signs of straining for breath in the face. There are no excessive noises made when breathing.
Performance System 2: Short, sharp breathing within the sympathetic nervous system, diminishes the ability to perform effectively under high intensity conditions.
The disadvantages are:
1. Increases distress signals to the brain = exaggerating the perception of danger
2. Reduces respiratory strength = more likely to burn out and become less productive
3. Agitates the nervous system = increasing stress, anger and frustration
4. Decreases awareness = less able to listen to others
5. Reduces ability to cope with stressful situations = more likely to react rashly
Observe the breathing patterns of an individual functioning from within this performance system. The breath starts higher up in the chest. The pelvis is less stable and the lower limbs are less grounded. The shoulders tend to be higher and closer to the ears. The upper body posture tends to be more rigid. The jaw and mouth are more fixed and tense. Focus is not easily sustained, with a tendency to go off track. There are signs of straining for breath in the face. Excessive noises are made when breathing, e.g, sniffing for breath through the nose.
Observations on the candidates breathing in the final Presidential election debate showed Trump taking 34 nasal sniffs to Clinton’s score of 0. Trump took the majority of sniffs during the discussion on one topic; the fitness to be President.
Four years is a long time in the global arena to perform and the candidate demonstrating the qualities within Performance System 1, will have the capacity to perform consistently and effectively under the high intensity conditions required to be the President of the United States of America.
For the past 30 years, Hayley Winter has taught yoga, worked as a Yoga Sports Scientist, an elite movement consultant, yoga educator, an international lecturer and founder of The Institute of Yoga Sports Science® and of SciYoga®, based in Brooklyn Heights, New York.