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01 Dec, 2020

Are you breathing properly? With Richie Bostock

Having worn many hats, from a corporate management consultant to digital entrepreneur, Richie Bostock eventually discovered Breathwork which was a catalyst for a life changing journey that completely shifted his perspective. Richie spent years traveling across five continents learning from many of the modern day masters of Breathwork. He continuously witnessed the transformative effects of when people became aware of their breathing and started to use it as a tool to create physical mental and emotional benefits. Here we speak to him about the fundamentals of Breathwork, how our breathing can impact digestion and stress, as well as learning a calming technique to equip ourselves with.

Health

Firstly, what exactly is breathwork?

Now that’s a great question and for most people, even just the word “Breathwork” is confusing. Why would I need to work on my breath? Doesn’t it just happen automatically?

There are many definitions of Breathwork so I will just give you mine. Put simply, Breathwork is when you are intentionally becoming aware of your breath and use it to improve your physical and mental health and performance and emotional wellbeing.

Why do you think that we’re having to re-learn how to breathe? How do we know we’re doing it right!

Most people take on average 22 - 29,000 breaths a day however most people are not aware that they are breathing poorly, and fewer are aware about how poor breathing habits may be affecting their health and happiness. If you are like most people, the events in your life and the effects of living in our modern society have unknowingly altered the open and flowing nature of your breath that you once had as a young child to a breathing pattern that is far more restricted. From overly sedentary lifestyles, tight clothing, chronic stress and physical and emotional trauma, there are so many reasons why our breathing can become dysfunctional overtime.

When it comes to correct breathing, the only place to start is with your diaphragm. This most important muscle in the movement of breathing is fibrous and parachute-shaped. It separates your thoracic cavity – the space your heart and lungs occupy – from the abdominal cavity, where your digestive organs live. It attaches to your spine, the lower ribs and the bottom of your sternum. As you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and descends, pulling air into the lowest parts of your lungs. As the diaphragm descends, your organs underneath are pushed to the front, back and sides. This causes your abdomen to expand, giving the appearance of breathing into the stomach, which is why diaphragmatic breathing is often referred to as ‘belly breathing’. As you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and ascends, forcing the inhaled air out of your lungs.

Is it true that the average person only engages 10% of the diaphragm when breathing? What impact does this have?

I’m not sure if I could put an exact percentage on how the average person engages their diaphragm, however I would say that 80% of the general population certainly do not engage it optimally and breathe in a way that is anatomically sub-optimal leading to unnecessary physical, mental and emotional distress.

The most common dysfunctional breathing pattern I see is a chest or clavicular breathing pattern which is very common in people who are chronically stressed. This pattern is obvious when a person inhales and their shoulders travel vertically significantly and their chest puffs out. Here you are using your neck, shoulders and upper chest muscles to expand your chest to breathe in air. These muscles are what are called “Secondary Breathing Muscles” and are designed to be used in short bursts when we need to breathe quickly (e.g. catching our breath after sprinting). They are not designed to be used 24/7 and will fatigue and can cause neck, shoulder and back pain.

On top of that, this style of breathing is neurologically linked to sending the body into a stress response by activating your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), so even if you had no reason to be stressed, if you breathed in this way you would cause your body to go into a stress response.

What is the parasympathetic nervous system and how does our breath affect it?

Think of the SNS as the gas pedal for our body. It triggers the fight or flight (and lesser known freeze) response, mobilising the body to be ready for action so that it can respond to a perceived danger. Once the danger has passed, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) provides the brake and promotes the ‘rest and digest’ response that promotes relaxation and restoration in the body. If your SNS is the gas pedal and your PNS is the brake, consider your breath to be the driver in charge! The way we breathe is so intimately linked to our nervous system, we can use our breathing to determine whether we want to get ready for action (SNS) or relax and recover (PNS).

How does breathwork affect digestion? Should we be focussing on our breath whilst/after eating?

When you breathe diaphragmatically (whether consciously or unconsciously), your diaphragm performs an up-and-down motion that massages and stimulates your internal organs. With your liver, stomach and large intestine sitting directly below your diaphragm, this massage is excellent for digestion. We also know that our digestive system is functioning best when we are in our parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ state. So, you can use a relaxing breathwork technique for 3–5 minutes before you eat a meal, to relax your nervous system and prime your belly for food.

We’ve heard that nose breathing is superior to breathing through the mouth. Is that true? If so, why?

Think of your nose like an air-conditioner that filters, warms and humidifies the air you inhale, before it reaches your lungs. Nasal breathing increases oxygen delivery to your cells, keeps carbon dioxide levels in your blood balanced and can even improve the overall capacity of your lungs. The nose creates more resistance to the inflowing air than breathing through your mouth, therefore slowing down your breathing rate and providing a more relaxing effect on your nervous system. Nasal breathing also helps to produce nitric oxide, an important gas whose antiviral and antibacterial qualities work on the destruction of viruses and parasites in the airways and lungs. Nitric oxide also acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the muscles of blood vessels and causing them to widen, which helps with circulation.

Can you give us a practical tool to take away with us for addressing stress through breathwork?

Here’s a technique used by Navy SEALS to calm their nerves before going into combat. If it is good enough for the SEALS before entering a life or death situation, then it’s good enough for me! Not only does this breath help to relax your nervous system, its balanced pattern helps to instil a feeling of being in control.

It’s called box breathing. The breath is broken down into four equal parts, like the sides of a square. The length of each part should be whatever feels comfortable to you.

  • This can be done seated, standing or lying.
  • Exhale through your nose.
  • Inhale in through your nose slowly for a count of 5 seconds. Remember your diaphragmatic breathing!
  • Hold your breath for a count of 5.
  • Use this breath hold as a good chance to scan your body for any tension and release it.
  • Exhale slowly through your nose for a count of 5.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 5.
  • Again, focus on releasing any tension held in your body.
  • Repeat this pattern of Inhale – pause – exhale – pause for at least 3 minutes, or until you have felt yourself fully calm down.

Eventually, this breathing pattern will be such an anchor for relaxation for you that you may only have to do it once or twice and you will feel much more relaxed. While a good place to start is 4 or 5 seconds, you could make the lengths even longer if you like.

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Richie Bostock, or “The Breath Guy”, is a leading figure and evangelist for Breathwork, the next revolution in health and wellness. He is a Breathwork coach, author and influential speaker. His mission is to spread the life changing possibilities of Breathwork to the world.

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