Learning to exhale during lockdown: breathing techniques with Richie Bostock

In our most recent podcast, we explored the meditative powers of waterfalls with breathwork teacher Richie Bostock. At the end, Richie led some breathing exercises that soothed and calmed us from the inside out. It was exceptional. Make sure you give it a listen! 

We wanted to know more about Richie’s story and how he developed his breathing mastery, so naturally we took a deep breath and got chatting...

For anyone who may not know, who is Richie Bostock? 

I am a breathwork facilitator and evangelist, author and speaker. It is my mission to spread the life-changing possibilities of breathwork.

Why is how we breathe so important?

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the way you breathe affects just about every system in your body. Because we have conscious control over our breath, by simply learning how to use your breath as a tool (the way nature intended), you can quickly affect the systems and functions in your body, improving your physical and mental health and performance and emotional wellbeing.

How did you discover breathwork as a practice?

Some time ago my Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune disease with no real widely accepted cure and a myriad of different and sometimes difficult drug treatments. Because there was no set treatment plan for MS, I was always on the lookout for different lifestyle changes and alternative treatments could be useful for him. 

Eventually I came across a podcast by a man called Wim Hof, a Dutch man often referred to as “The Iceman”. What caught my attention is that he mentioned that his method seemed to be really effective in helping people with autoimmune diseases, including MS.

After researching his method more I learned that it had two main elements: cold exposure activities such as cold showers and ice baths; and breathing techniques.  

To cut a long story short, I travelled to Poland to attend a week-long training to learn Wim's technique and found the effects to be so profound, especially the breathing aspects. On return I taught my dad the technique. Fast forward a few years and my dad breathes and takes cold showers every morning and his MS has not progressed at all! 

Now we’re in another lockdown, do you thinkfocusing on our breathing has taken on more importance?

Everyone is looking for tools and solutions to support themselves. During 2020 the number of people doing breathwork has exploded because of its simplicity and effectiveness. 

You don’t have to have had experience meditating or practising mindfulness. It doesn’t require you to have to think or feel in a certain way, you just breathe and you will experience something new. I see breathwork playing a very big part in bringing more peace and balance during these challenging times. 

Can breathwork have links with nature?

I find that consciously breathing in nature can foster a deeper connection to it. Whether you are in a park, at the beach or in a forest, taking a moment to close your eyes and slow down your breathing can take you deeper into the present moment and really soak in all that mother nature has to offer you. 

What’s your best piece of advice when it comes to everyday breathing?

I see a large proportion of the general population 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 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. It is incredibly useful to start to get into a habit of checking in on your breathing throughout the day and pay attention to where the breath is moving in the body. Do you feel yourself breathing up into the chest? If so, practise the ‘coherence breathing’ breathing technique (outlined later), all the while focusing on breathing into your lower abdomen, feeling your ribs and belly expand horizontally while consciously relaxing your neck, shoulders, chest and upper back.

What are some basic breathing techniques we can all try at home?

A simple place to begin to build a relationship with your breath is to start getting comfortable in breathing more slowly. While many people habitually breathe at a faster than natural rate, consciously slowing down your breathing for a few minutes has been scientifically shown to shift your body into your parasympathetic (also known as ‘rest and digest’) response, promoting functions such as digestion, helping you sleep better and to feel calmer. 

You can try this yourself with a technique called ‘coherence breathing’ Research on this technique has shown how breathing at a rate of 5 breaths per minute can help you to balance your nervous system in just a matter of minutes.

• Inhale through your nose for six seconds.

• Exhale through your nose for six seconds.

• Repeat this cycle for at least three minutes, but there really is no limit as to how long you can go.

• If six seconds feels like a struggle, reduce it to five or four seconds and get comfortable breathing at that rate first. 

You can then gradually build it up to six seconds.

How important is your diet as part of your lifestyle?

You are what you eat, right? I think it is super important to be mindful of what you put in your body, but at the same time if you stress too much about what you eat, you aren’t doing yourself any favours either. It is finding that balance between eating the most nutritious food that you can while still enjoy life’s pleasures (who doesn’t love a hot chocolate while sitting by the fire!)  

And finally, what piece of advice would you give to those struggling in lockdown?

The lockdown is the best time to prioritise learning new tools and techniques that you can use to look after your own wellbeing. I definitely recommend researching all the amazing practitioners out there who are offering their services (sometimes for free) so that you can manage to the best of your ability during this time.

I will also be offering free breathwork sessions during the second lockdown on Instagram live. During the height of the first lockdown, I had nearly 1,500 people joining in on my online breathwork classes and the feedback I was getting was that it was such an effective way for people to let go of the crazy world outside of them, and to experience a total mental and emotional reset. 

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