Ever wondered why we breathe? Well, over the weekend, Richard Bostock of Xhale Breathwork – a certified instructor of the Wim Hof Method and a Transformational Breathing Facilitator – asked that very question at his Stress No More workshop at Method Movement. The answer? Yes, to survive, but more specifically we breathe to facilitate cellular respiration, as it is red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body, and in order for cells to in turn create cellular energy (ATP) by breaking down glucose into carbon dioxide and water.
And why is breathing important? Way back when, our breath served as a stress response for fight or flight situations – you know, those real life or death situations. Our secondary breathing muscles kick in during fight or flight as we start to breathe faster, creating increased glucose in the blood for more energy to react. These are automatic body responses that we have no control over. We can, however, control our breath – which influences these automatic body responses. When we slow down our breathing we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind into a state of rest and digest.
Ironically, in this day and age of relative security, we live in a state of perpetual stress – worrying about our careers, about money, about relationships, you name it. We suffer from chronic anxiety that often translates into chronic physical pain as our high adrenaline and cortisone levels lead to illness and disease. There’s never been a more important time for us to learn how to breathe.
Practicing breathing exercises can relieve stress and anxiety, reduce blood pressure, detoxify the body by releasing toxins, break through emotional blockages, improve sleep, aid digestion, strengthen muscles and bring clarity to the mind. I’m sure the list goes on!
So what breathing exercises does Richard recommend? His first suggestion was that breathing day to day should consist of four things: low (deep), slow (drag exhale out longer), through the nose (as it filters the air), and let go (do not use any energy to exhale).
In his workshop, Richard started with a very simple deep breathing practice whereby you lie down on your back placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. As you take a deep inhale, you want to breathe into your hand, allowing it to rise and fall with your breath. When this happens, your diaphragm contracts moving downward to increase the space in your chest and subsequently pushing your stomach out, making it seem as though you are breathing into the belly. The exhale should then be slow, natural, and slightly longer. Using a heart beat indicator, he displayed how different ways of breathing increased or decreased your heart beats per minute (BPM).
A technique he then introduced he referred to as 5pm breathing – taking 5 breaths per minute. In the span of 60 seconds, you inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 second, and hold for 3 seconds, then repeat. And the last technique we worked with is called AIPE breathing, which stands for Active Inhale, Passive Exhale (through the mouth). This type of breathing is very common in transformational breathing practices.
Because it comes so naturally to our livelihood, we take breathing for granted and surprisingly often don’t even do it right. In a world where stress seems to rule our lives and we feel like we have no control over the direction we are going in, it’s time to wake up to the power of breathing. In sanskrit the yogic breathing practice of pranayama is translated as “extension of the life-force” stemming from the belief that we are born with only so many breaths, so the slower, longer we can learn to breathe, the longer we will in turn live. The difference in your life really can come down to a deep breath.
One of the easiest ways to calm the mind is to shift your focus to your breathing and practicing these techniques that Richard showed us. With a quieter mind we are able to think more clearly and make the right choices for our own wellbeing, while breathing, as previously mentioned, has countless positive effects on the body (and mind!). After all:
“Breathing and thinking are the two most important processes, one for sustaining life and other for giving it a purpose.” – Tasneem Hameed
I highly recommend Richard’s classes and workshops – to stay up to speed on where he will be next, be sure to check him out on Instagram (@xhalebreathwork) and Facebook ( https://goo.gl/x8cMBo )