This is part two in a series. These books have all had a positive influence on my own training, health, or mental well-being, and I highly recommend them. The books are in no order. For full disclosure’s sake, know that if you click on the linked image to purchase the book, it will give me a small kick back. I am going to do two books every Monday between now and Christmas, so stay tuned.
The Oxygen Advantage: The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You
by Patrick McKeown
This is an interesting read, and I heard about it first on the WHOOP podcast, but it has since been referenced many times elsewhere. McKeown is a breathing guru who has been instructing people how to breathe properly for years after being trained by famed Russian doctor, Konstantin Buteyko.
The book argues that if we assess and improve our breathing, we can improve our lives. This improvement has a lot of health benefits claimed, but I was primarily interested in the improvement of my cycling.
I have noticed over the last year, that as I increased the time spent meditating and breathing intentionally, my cycling has changed. I no longer had bouts of quick breathing and shortness of breath. I felt more in tune with the strain. I felt more at ease. I knew that working on breathing was having an effect, so I was curious about McKeown and his approach after hearing it mentioned.
The approach is rather simple, breathe through your nose and “breathe light to breathe right.” McKeown goes on to explain all the benefits that these two steps and a few others have. For one, your nose humidifies oxygen and that allows more to get into the lungs. By breathing lightly, you also hold on to carbon dioxide which helps oxygen gets used by the body more efficiently. When we “over breathe,” we exhale too much carbon dioxide, and that has negative effects. He also goes on to explain how we can assess and track our breathing using the BOLT test, and in later chapters shows how we can even mimic altitude training from limiting our breathing using his method.
There is so much to learn from this book that I think you just need to open it up and look. The research is easy to digest, and even if this just gets you to try nasal breathing more, it will have a big effect on your calmness and performance. Check out some of McKeown’s recent podcast and video appearances to get a little sample. I highly recommend that you check the book out though. It is jam packed with good advice.
No Mud, No Lotus
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is not a cyclist or an athlete, but rather he is a leading humanitarian, Buddhist practitioner, and author from Vietnam. I first learned about him after reading how he had influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Sixties. King had nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to Vietnam.
I first became interested in the book, No Mud, No Lotus when I started learning about Buddhism and wanted to read something from a modern practitioner. Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach in this book is to embrace the suffering that we have in life, and then transform it. In his metaphor of the lotus, he teaches that it is the mud that brings the lotus to its full glory afterwards. As a lifelong learner, I am impressed with how this simple metaphor really helped to sum up a key tenet that I have always tried to live by, “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
As an athlete and community member, I feel that the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh have really helped me to better function in the world around me, and that makes me enjoy the things that I like doing more. The book provides a lens through which I can see how to improve myself. When I ride, I often find myself repeating “no mud, no lotus” in time with each pedal stroke. It came especially handy in my muddiest cyclocross races this year, and that is why this mantra has become this site’s tagline.
Throughout the book, Thich Nhat Hanh preaches that we should stop and see the world, we should breathe mindfully, and we should meditate. When we embrace the suffering of the world (because the nature of the world is full of it), we suffer less. I know that I have found that to be true, that running away or hiding from things simply makes life that much worse for us. When we suffer and embrace that suffering, we can find compassion and bring more joy to the world through it.
One of the things I have found in Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing is that he tends to write a lot about the same issues. This makes sense because he lives with a very firm set of core beliefs. This sometimes makes for books that sound a lot alike. I don’t know that I could recommend reading all Thich Nhat Hanh’s catalog, but this book and its catchy title really struck a chord with me.
No Mud, No Lotus is a simple book filled with sound advice on how to approach the world written by a very humble and peaceful man who exudes joy and sensibility. There is a lot to like about this book because it is a true reflection of a very remarkable man.