Get in touch with your body: when you can feel your body better, you can hear what it needs. Through that, you will automatically make better choices in what you eat, how much you sleep, how you move and even who you spend time with. A simple way to get more in touch with your body is through a daily conscious breathing practice.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingexpert yoga teacher and breathwork therapist Adrian Cox. Adrian is the founder of the Yoga Elements school of yoga. Yoga Elements was a highly regarded school of yoga in Thailand which in its 18 years of operation, garnered such a highly esteemed reputation for quality that it was described as “Easily Bangkok’s best studio” by Travel and Leisure (25 Top Yoga Studios Around the World) and as “Bangkok’s most inspiring place to study yoga” by Bangkok Post (Reader Choice Awards).
Adrian is now based in Japan and is developing a new system of yoga and modern breathwork called BreathYoga which uses yoga to open breathing and energy flow while bringing in the therapeutic and health benefits of Conscious Connected Breathwork.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the ’70s and 80s in the Seattle area. My Mother was born in Montreal but identified as Swiss and had lived all over the world. My Father was a ship captain who was often away for months at a time on long voyages to West Africa. I remember from an early age not totally identifying as American, perhaps due to my Mom’s nationality and my Dad’s travel. I was very curious about the world and sought as soon as I could, to travel far and wide. To me, Japan was the most interesting destination of all, in part because my mother had lived there in the ’60s and had heard stories of Japan growing up. It perhaps planted a seed which is now bearing its fruit.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In the mid-’90s in Seattle, my late-night computer hacking hobby lead to entering into IT as a career. It was the early days of the World Wide Web. In my personal life, however, I was more fascinated with yoga. On several journeys to India and Thailand, I endeavored on lengthy meditation retreats and stays in some rather ascetic Indian ashrams. On one 12-day silent meditation retreat, I kind of “woke up” to what I felt was my real calling- to teach yoga. In 1998 I returned to New York from India, quit my corporate life, packed up my apartment and moved back to India for a deep dive. In 2001 I found myself in Bangkok, Thailand, opening up what was at the time, the first yoga school of its kind. Over the following 18 years, Yoga Elements came to become considered as one of the world’s best schools of yoga, being listed in the top 20 according to Travel and Leisure among other accolades. Thousands of people from around the world passed through those doors and it was a hub for like-minded travelers in what is, the world’s most visited city. It also opened up many doors for me and I got to travel the world teaching yoga in some pretty incredible circumstances.
Then came a series of changes over time including political and economic crisis of Thailand, divorce, and needing change. I took training in a method of breathwork which was related yet different than what I had been using in the yogic practices, got remarried, handed over the Yoga Elements school, and moved to Japan. In 2020 we had a son, Julian, who was born on my birthday and within five minutes of my own birthtime. While the amount of changes in the last few years have been rather intense, and sometimes difficult, when I reflect on Julian’s uncanny birth timing, I think the universe must be sending me another message about the path I’m taking.
Now I am creating a new system of yoga and Connected Breathwork called BreathYoga which draws upon my two decades of experience in the study, practice, and business of yoga and breathwork.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Two women teachers in particular come to mind for me. The first, Christina Hall, is a fabulous teacher of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). I regard as one of my most significant influences in how to teach and communicate effectively. The way Christina designed her trainings were so good that to this day, nearly every time I teach, whether it is a small class or a big training, her lessons come to mind and help me structure what I want so it has more impact.
Viola Edwards has also been an enduring influence on me. Viola and her sister, Layla Edwards were the two that I learned Rebirthing, Conscious Connected Breathwork from while living in Cyprus for a month. Viola Edwards is both a psychotherapist and a long term breathworker and an incredible steward for me while I was going through a time of big change in my life. She sits in my heart every time I teach breathwork and I feel such gratitude to have met them both. Not only is the breathwork so powerful, it can be particularly transformative when guided by people who have such depth, skill, and loving compassion. If you are going through a time where you feel stuck or weighed down by your past, your emotions or your thoughts, definitely consider breathwork.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
There were so many mistakes they start to blur together! What they have in common however is that there were many occasions where I could have thought bigger and more cooperatively. Some of the lessons would be:
- Work constantly towards clear brand and business systemization. I discovered this initially through Michael Gerber’s business classic, ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ and once I started to apply his main principle, “work on your business, not in your business”, my business started making more money and I enjoyed my life much more. What took longer was the deep systemization of my methodology of yoga because I struggled with finding the balance between systemization versus art. Had I known what I know now about systems thinking, I could have been more successful right out of the gate.
- Learn to communicate in clear, catchy sound bites or phrases which communicate benefits. Closely related to my previous point, had I had a more refined system, I could have spoken more persuasively. In the early days of when I was getting interviewed by TV or magazines, I would run on in a way that pleased myself as a nerd-specialist but was poor at matching what might catch the interest of the general public. In this way I somewhat wasted some of the press coverage I was getting in the early days.
- Honor and support your partnerships. I assumed I could do most things myself, kept way too tight of a grip and ended up devaluing my staff’s contributions and advice. This hampered the business growth, company culture and damaged long-term rapport. If I were to do it over again, I’d slow down and enjoy the relationships more. Synergy and generativity do not happen so easily when the dude on top is focusing mostly on himself.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
My advice to someone endeavoring on a similar path, which I also teach in my teacher trainings, is to let your teachings arise from practice experience. Practice before you teach. Be congruent in your life as much as possible with what you are teaching. This is not a small task. At the same time, learn communication skills. This will benefit your relationships with staff, amplify your teaching, and increase your earnings. Some practitioners focus too much on their internal worlds and end up being hard to relate to. Many more however focus way too much on appearance on social media and end up lacking depth. As they say, there is no photoshop filter for your energy, and your energy is refined through practice. To be a great teacher you must combine depth and relatability.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read only non-fiction books.. Nerd topics around the history of yoga, the physiology of breathing, linguistics and magick. Since we are talking about creating good habits, I must recommend two excellent books I have read recently: “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and “13 Miracle Habits” by Mitch Horowitz
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
During a ten-year phase of time I became supremely interested in perfecting my communication skills and influence. Part of that was taking a lot of training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, particularly with one excellent teacher, whom I mentioned before, Christina Hall. In one training she hovered momentarily on the phrase, “Congruency is the most powerful message you can send”. This instantly turned my study of techniques on its head and simultaneously matched what I knew to be true from the dedication required for deep yoga practice. I really took this in, and it continues to motivate me in a daily way, that great teachers talk their walk. When one practices before they teach, it sets off a virtuous loop. Being congruent subliminally amplifies what you have to teach, and in the case of yoga, gives one a glow of health and calm which has its own power.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My focus now is a new system and brand called BreathYoga. This is a practice merging Connected Breathwork and yoga. It brings freedom to breathing and energy flow. The yoga is sequenced to directly open the breathing. We bring in Connected Breathwork which helps people to break through stuckness and depression. Together, they complement each other powerfully. I have created two online courses, and more are in production now.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
There is a strange paradox in how freedom comes through discipline. It is tempting to think that a life of pure slack and repose would bring the ultimate happiness. Unfortunately, it does not. If you want the freedom to use your phone in the day freely, you have to have the discipline to charge it at night. If you want the freedom to ace an exam or be competent in a class you give, you need to have the discipline to give your study your full attention and not get distracted by social media. If you want to have financial freedom you have to have financial discipline and save. It goes on. Good habits harness our attention and energy and that in turn can be transformative mentally and emotionally as well as in the resources we steward.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
The main habits which I return to daily, rain or shine is the practices of yoga, conscious breathing, and fasting. To commit to daily practices such as these gives vitality, energy and strengthens one’s inner muscles of focus and discipline. Having focus, discipline and energy really are the basis of success in any field, would you not agree?
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
I recommend five considerations to developing good habits that you stick with:
#1 Get in touch with your body: when you can feel your body better, you can hear what it needs. Through that, you will automatically make better choices in what you eat, how much you sleep, how you move and even who you spend time with. A simple way to get more in touch with your body is through a daily conscious breathing practice.
#2 Believe that you are worth it: this requires some introspection. If we start a good habit but at a deeper level feel like we are not good enough to deserve a better life, we can all too easily sabotage ourselves by falling short with our commitment. Work on your internal view of yourself so that you know that you are worth the work.
#3 Ask, “For what purpose?” If we connect for the meaning and purpose behind our actions, they become more motivating. For example, if the new habit is to “exercise” and one is not currently doing so, inertia is often more powerful than the motivation. If you ask, “exercise, for what purpose?” one might answer, “for better health”. If I ask again, “better health, for what purpose?” one might answer, “so I can live longer with my kids and family”. The second answer is likely to be much more motivating than simply “exercise”.
#4 Habit stacking: link the execution of your new good habit with an existing routine such as drinking coffee, brushing teeth or showering. It will lend the automatic-ness of the routine to the new habit you want to put into place. So, time your 30 minutes of writing to be done as you have your first coffee or 30 minutes of exercise before your shower.
#5 Make a commitment: No single habit is more powerful than keeping your word and honoring your commitments. It is immensely powerful to make commitments that you keep to yourself, no matter what. And if you slip up? Acknowledge it, apologize to yourself and start again. Because when our inner self sees that we mean what we say, we marshal our own resources deeply which supports us in more ways than one. When we do what we say, what we say will become true.
With regards to stopping bad habits, it is partially about how we are perceiving time at that moment. If we think of the “right now” and forget the “later” it is easy to reach for short-term gratification which costs us more in the longer term. If you have habits that you love but do not love you back, orient your mind a bit into the future. Think of the consequences a day or two ahead. A year ahead. In order to get the life that you want, you may need to delay your gratification.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Three of my top habits for optimum wellness are:
- Fasting: With fasting we can literally regenerate our immune system and eliminate old cells that are at the suboptimal performance. Fasting also inculcates discipline and heightens awareness around eating habits which often have nothing to do with nutrition. It might take some practice. Start by eating earlier dinners or skip dinner so you first get to an 18-hour window without food. Soon you will find it easier to do your first 24 hours fast. Research shows that the immune system benefits occur between 48 and 72 hours of no calories. Of course, not everyone should blithely jump into fasting, so you may want to check with your doctor first.
- Breathe at the ‘Resonant Frequency’: out of the many techniques of conscious breathing that I teach my students and clients, Resonant Frequency Breathing is particularly powerful and useful. It involves breathing in for 5–6 seconds and breathing out for 5–6 seconds without any pause between breaths. It has a load of scientific research on how it causes the heart to synch up perfectly with the breath so that the heart beats most rapidly as there is more oxygen to be delivered to the tissues. It also causes the blood pressure to respond to the heart and as a result, leads to a lowering of high blood pressure. Resonant Frequency Breathing also shifts our nervous system into rest and repair mode which stops chronic inflammation, which is at the root of a lot, if not all disease. Studies show that if you can keep up a daily 20-minute practice for only 2 weeks, you will reap benefits for months. I love this technique so much I wrote an online video course on it, which I have been getting enthusiastic feedback on.
- Sighing: Sighing can help us to let go and release held tension, resentments, anger, sadness, or disappointment. It’s so simple- breathe in deeply and make an audible sigh as you let go! Yawning is similar but brings in a big inhalation which simultaneously opens the throat and lungs for a rush of oxygen. There is a way to combine these two in what I call Connected Yawning which feels amazing.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
- Breathe through your nose — your nose was made for breathing- it filters, warms, and moisturizes the air. Breathing through the nose improves oxygen transfer in the blood, and strengthens the primary breathing muscle, the diaphragm which in turn gives us more energy and can lower high blood pressure. Breathing through the nose also generates Nitric Oxide, a molecule involved in host defense and vasodilation. Outside of specific one should be breathing through the nose during rest, sleep and even exercise. With practice, it gets easier because the nasal passages actually open up further. Persist and train yourself to breathe through the nose!
- Conscious Breath Holding — one of the things I teach is how to rest comfortably while not breathing, particularly holding after completing a relaxed exhale. This intentional practice of inducing a low oxygen state (hypoxia) radically improves the amount of oxygen that actually gets distributed the tissues and thereby increases available energy. It also trains the body to handle more carbon dioxide which acts as a vasodilator and helps to regulate blood pressure. When you go more deeply with the practice, conscious breath-holding is a doorway into the deeper mind and can allow you to effectively regulate negative emotions and busy, critical internal dialogue.
- Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST)– Buy a cheap breathing trainer- should only set you back around 30 dollars. It is a simple device which restricts the airflow so that your main breathing muscle, the diaphragm has to work harder to pull the air in. Recent research found that by doing 30 vigorous inhalations a day through a breathing trainer, or what is called ‘IMST’ one could lower high blood pressure more effectively than most blood pressure medications, boost athletic performance and even improve memory.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
- Pomodoro Technique: This is an easy to learn time-management method. The way it works is you pick one project or task you want to focus on and then set a timer for 30 minutes and get to work. When the buzzer sounds, take a five-minute pause. Then return for another session of 30 minutes work and 5 minutes pause. In my version, I suggest that on you stand up, move your body, practice some breathing techniques, and then return back for another 30 minutes of focused work. This sequence will keep you refreshed, creative and generating a lot more work output.
- Conscious breathing: There is no better way to improve focus than with a daily practice of conscious breathing. Studies show that simply spending 10 minutes a day being aware of the breath, five days per week for three weeks will boost attention and keeping the brain sharper. Breathing is an immensely powerful tool which affects the workings of your brain and can be deliberately used to get more focus.
- Start small focus as muscle, drishti, check in with bigger picture
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I have a few tricks for creating flow states, but what I use most frequently is about how I approach doing my writing in the morning. After practicing some yoga and breathing exercises, I sit down at set the Pomodoro Timer to work, without distraction for 35 minutes. Then I take a ten-minute break to do more yoga, more breathing exercises and then start the process again. By eliminating all external distractions and harnessing my focus, within 10–15 minutes I will be cruising along, deeply in a productive flow state. Flow states not only boost productivity and learning, but they also activate the Vagus nerve, which is the main pathway of the body-mind connection.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Teaching children about conscious breathing. It is amazing to me that most adults have no idea about something so crucial to their health and is quite literally, right under their own noses. By becoming more conscious about our breath, we can become more conscious about how we live, relate and act in the world and that, is a powerful way to transform the world.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with New York-based writer Mitch Horowitz. I have been loving his most recent book “13 Miracle Habits”. It is as if he could extract a lot of the wisdom I have accumulated over many years and articulate it, very well in his writing, plus giving me new insights and valuable reminders.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out my free course on three breathing techniques for Covid-19 Breathing Recovery. These are excellent breathing practices whether you have Covid or not, however. Please reach out and say hello!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.