Systema Breathing

Systema Breathing

In his first guest blog for this site, Rob Poyton talks about the benefits of Systema breathing and highlights some breathing exercises for you to try for yourself. Rob has been training in Martial Arts for over 30 years and is Chief Instructor of Cutting Edge Systema. Visit for training and workshop info and DVD’s to download.

systema Systema Breathing


I remember a few years back at a martial arts event a guy said to me “you do all that breathing stuff don’t you?”   I was tempted to answer “don’t you?” but I understood where he was coming from and it was a reminder that we often take “breathing stuff” for granted

This is a shame as there is a huge amount to be gained from breath training, for all types of activity. I studied many  breathing exercise in my years in Chinese martial arts, but it wasn’t until I trained with the Russians that I felt I’d found a comprehensive, non-mystical approach to breath training


Several reasons –  endurance (every athlete knows the importance of this), fear control (the breath is the link between physical and psychological),  health (improved cardio-vascular function), efficiency (tied in with efficient bio-mechanics), recovery (from fear, shock, stress). Here are some simple Systema breathing exercises that you can try.  We inhale nose and exhale mouth.


People train all kinds of self defence situations. Confined space, ground, low light, there are a lot of variables. However there is one thing in common in every situation you are in – you! So to me it makes a lot of sense to learn to understand your own response to stress and fear. One way to do this is with simple breath holds.  Fear of having no air is understandably universal,  a few minutes and you are gone. This exercise replicates that feeling and teaches you to deal with the psychological stress.

Inhale/ exhale calmly a few times, then part inhale (about 50%) and hold. Stay relaxed, do not tense up as this may raise the blood pressure.  When you reach the first stage of discomfort, feel where the tension appears in your body and work to relax it (through movement or by dissolving). This will buy you some more time. Repeat until you can really hold no longer, then restore (see below).  Try the same on an exhale too


One method to restore the system back to normal after a shock or trauma is burst breathing. Inhale nose, exhale mouth in short, shallow breaths. Gradually slow them down and deepen a little until normal breathing and pulse rate is restored.  It should sound a bit like a dog panting, but shouldn’t be noisy and over the top, keep it calm and natural


Here’s a basic square breathing drill. Walk or jog, inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 2. After  a while increase to  inhale for 4 steps, exhale for 4. Then go 6, 8, 10, whatever you can manage. So each time the breath gets a little deeper and a little longer. From the top work back down to 2. If you practice this you will find it increases endurance and helps mental focus. It works with any activity, cycling, hitting the pads, etc.


Breathe in and tense the muscles. Breathe out relax. Work the whole body and/or each muscle group in turn (calves, thighs, stomach, etc).  Next time you find yourself a little over-tense, exhale and the muscles will automatically relax.

These are brief descriptions but hopefully clear. The exercises are simple and straightforward but surprisingly powerful and effective. Try them for a week or so and I hope it encourages you to pay a little more attention to your breathing. Remember, this is universal across life in general, from being nervous prior to an interview to being in an argument to having a full on fight . Stress does more harm to most of us over the years than anything, these exercises will help

Stay safe and keep breathing!

NOTE – if you have any medical conditions always seek advice from your GP before trying new exercises