TAKE A DEEP BREATH… Siân Ranscombe on seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion through res­pi­ra­tion

Whether for sooth­ing stress or im­prov­ing ath­letic per­for­mance, breath­work could be at the heart of a health­ier life

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By SIÂN RANSCOMBE

Breath­ing: it should be the most nat­u­ral thing in the world. We do it with­out think­ing, some 20,000 times a day. And from their very first gasp, ba­bies respire as na­ture in­tended, ribs ex­pand­ing, torso ris­ing and fall­ing. Yet it seems that this in­stinc­tive abil­ity de­creases as we age, and high-pres­sure jobs, emo­tional trauma, bad pos­ture and re­stric­tive cloth­ing (yes, re­ally) all take their toll.

Prac­ti­tion­ers of a ther­apy known as breath­work be­lieve that such poor breath­ing tech­niques adopted over time are re­spon­si­ble for in­creas­ing stress and anx­i­ety, low­er­ing en­ergy lev­els and even af­fect­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. The good news, they say, is that we can re­v­erse these ef­fects sim­ply by re­learn­ing how to breathe prop­erly. Now, many com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing breath­ing classes to stressed-out em­ploy­ees in need of work­place calm.

‘The way we in­hale and ex­hale is in­ti­mately linked to ev­ery sys­tem and func­tion in the body,’ ex­plains Richie Bo­s­tock, the founder of Xhale Breath­work. ‘When you un­der­stand how to use it prop­erly, you can shift your qual­ity of life in many ar­eas.’

Stu­art San­de­man, a former City worker and the founder of Breath­pod, ex­plains that the brain’s stress­re­sponse sys­tem can be ‘hacked’ sim­ply by chang­ing the breath­ing pat­tern. ‘In a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion, the heart rate in­creases, caus­ing shorter, faster in­takes,’ he says. ‘When we ex­hale for longer than we in­hale, it ac­ti­vates the va­gus nerve and slows the heart rate. In this calmer state, we are able to re­spond bet­ter to those sit­u­a­tions.’ There is a clear link be­tween the breath and our emo­tions, he says. ‘One thing hu­mans do dif­fer­ently to other mam­mals is to hold our breath when we’re an­gry, or if we’ve had some up­set­ting news and need to hold the tears in.’

I join San­de­man for a one-to-one ses­sion of what he terms ‘con­scious con­nected breath­ing’, a deeper form of ther­apy that he teaches to ev­ery­one from ath­letes seek­ing en­hanced per­for­mance

to peo­ple cop­ing with res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments. I start by ly­ing on the floor and breath­ing in and out with my mouth open. Be­sides mak­ing me very thirsty, I no­tice that my ribcage shud­ders on the ex­hale – a sign of a tight di­aphragm, which ac­cord­ing to San­de­man in­di­cates that I am a per­fec­tion­ist who likes to be in con­trol.

There fol­lows an em­bar­rass­ing ses­sion of ‘ton­ing and move­ment’ – in which I must thrash my arms and legs wildly while shout­ing for as long as I can in a sin­gle breath. ‘These tech­niques cre­ate a high vi­bra­tion in the body,’ says San­de­man. ‘We have dif­fer­ent vi­bra­tions for dif­fer­ent emo­tions, in­clud­ing stress, anger and fear. These feel­ings are denser than nat­u­ral peace and joy, so when we cre­ate an in­ter­nal vi­bra­tion us­ing our breath, it al­lows us to breathe into the spa­ces that have been closed down over time.’

Ap­par­ently, the work can cause par­tic­i­pants to weep or laugh un­con­trol­lably, or to un­cover buried trau­mas; the classes are said to help with is­sues in­clud­ing panic at­tacks, sleep­less­ness, anx­i­ety and pain. I was hop­ing to have an emo­tional epiphany of my own, but the only ap­par­ent change is that the ribcage shud­der has gone, and that I look, and feel, a lit­tle drunk. Still, I sleep soundly that night for the first time in weeks and am now very con­scious of how I am breath­ing ev­ery time I go for a run. Hav­ing just signed up for the Lon­don Marathon in April, I have a feel­ing I may be back for an­other les­son in the art of tak­ing a deep breath.

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