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Giving Back with Folsom Based Inner Athlete Foundation

You may not think of rhythmic breathing as an essential life skill, but Preston Sandbakken, founder of the Folsom-based Inner Athlete Foundation, would beg to differ. 

“Rhythmic breathing is only considered unconventional in places where the majority of people do not realize the power of their breath as it relates to their quality of life,” says Sandbakken. “Breathing can be consciously directed to improve your bodily functions as well as mental equilibrium.”

Sandbakken founded Inner Athlete just a year ago after spending time in hospitals and noticing a lot of suffering in the course of his work as a medical sales representative. He was a competitive rower through college but didn’t learn about yoga and breathing technique Qigong until he graduated and became a father of three. Those practices helped Sandbakken burn stress and stay mentally focused, and he became passionate about bringing those skills to others. But to interact with patients in hospitals, he needed to create a formal business entity for them to partner with and thus the Inner Athlete Foundation was born. 

The foundation teaches three core skills to the community: creative cooking to build strength and health, conscious breathing to control stress, and group music and drumming events to develop friendships and a sense of community. “So much of our world today is affected by stress,” Sandbakken says. “Conscious breathing is the best antidote to combat that stress and bring people back into balance.” His breathing methods are based on the principles behind Qigong, a 4,000-year-old Chinese practice that extols the virtues of harmonious breathing, movement, and focus to reduce stress and become better in tune with one’s emotions and feelings. It’s often considered a form of meditation, a practice that has become widely accepted as beneficial in many medical circles and studies in the last decade.

The Inner Athlete Foundation teaches private and public classes and workshops around the Folsom area. Sandbakken and his team have introduced group drumming to senior communities, led healthy cooking classes in public schools, and taught nurses in high-pressure units how to control stress through breathwork. The foundation has developed two tools: “breathing beats,” which encourage participants to time their breathwork to the beat of mellow, calming songs, and “breathing beads,” which help the wearer control their focus during short rhythmic breathing sessions throughout the day. “My mission is to create a society filled with ‘inner athletes’…people who are vibrantly healthy and have the courage to face their own issues and the issues in society head-on, creating harmonious solutions for all,” he states.

Sandbakken acknowledges that starting a non-profit around breathing and inner health may be a bit atypical but his classes have been well-received. He plans to expand their offerings—as soon as is financially possible—especially around breathing bead workshops and youth drum circles. He also hopes to offer free bracelets with the donations he receives because he says he “likes the idea of giving away life-enhancing tools.”   

by  Suzie Dundas  //  photos by DANTE FONTANA