Do you want to know how to breathe better? How to improve focus, or how to relieve stress and anxiety? You’ve come to the right place! In this article, we explore breathwork benefits with Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod and the ultimate guiding guru to help us hack and harness the power of our breath.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques that are performed to improve our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Scientific research shows that 2/3 of our energy comes from our breath and 70% of toxins are eliminated through breathing. Closely linked to our nervous system, in becoming more aware and taking control of our breath we can use it as a tool to shift the way we feel. We breathe on average 20,000 times a day without even having to think about it. By understanding our breathing and aiming to take more conscious breaths, we can embrace the bounteous breathwork benefits and use them to biohack our bodies.
Physical breathwork benefits include:
- Higher energy levels
- Better sleep
- Increased detoxification
- Enhanced respiratory capacity
- Strengthened immune response
- Improved metabolism and digestion
- Relief of muscle tension
Emotional breathwork benefits include:
- Enhanced creativity, concentration and expression
- Increased peace, clarity and joy
- Deeper relaxation
- Release of past trauma and repressed emotions
- The ability to access a higher state of consciousness
Breathing exercises for stress
Feeling anxious or stressed? ‘If in doubt, breathe it out’ – the motto Stuart swears by in order to become the ultimate zen warrior. When we’re stressed we need to pause, decrease our rate of breath and stimulate our vagus nerve. The saying ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ doesn’t apply to it however. When stimulated, the vagus nerve is crucial for sending messages to our bodies that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which leads to long-term improvements in mood, wellbeing and resilience.
The following technique produces powerful anxiety and stress busting breathwork benefits. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system (so we move from flight or fight mode to rest and digest) reduces our heart rates, causing our bodies to relax and minds to slow. Why not try it to aid sleep or even before eating to prepare your body for digestion?
Rest and digest:
For this exercise you need to double exhale length to inhale.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, using your diaphragm so your belly rises before the chest
- Hold your breath for a count of 4, keeping calm and relaxed
- Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8, relaxing your shoulders, face, body and mind
- Repeat 4 rounds or more
How to improve focus and concentration?
Breathing through alternating nostrils can restore balance, ease the mind & body and bring us energetically back into alignment. By making the brain solely concentrate on achieving this tricky technique, we are forced to be present and our mind opens up. It’s the perfect way to mentally hit the reset button and get into the focused zone to nail a stressful project or meeting.
Time to focus:
- Sit comfortably, spine straight
- Close eyes, take a deep breath in & out nose
- Focus inhaling only through left nostril slowly and steadily for a count of 4
- Pause as you swap sides consciously and breathe slowly through right nostril for a count of 4, pause briefly at end of exhale
- Inhale through right nostril slowly and steadily for a count of 4
- Pause as you switch and breathe out slowly through left nostril for a count of 4
- Repeat for 4 cycles or more
Box breathing technique
Access your flow state with the box breathing technique favoured by navy seals. Balancing out levels of O2 and CO2 within your body while also regulating the autonomic nervous system, this technique holds endless breathwork benefits. From lowering blood pressure, to providing an almost-immediate sense of calm and improved mood, this technique is our ultimate go to for getting us in the zone.
Go into your flow:
- Inhale through nose feeling belly rise for a count of 4
- Hold breath for a count of 4 (try not to clamp down muscles when holding breath, simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds)
- Exhale through the nose for a count of 4 feeling belly fall
- Hold Breath for a count of 4
- Repeat 4 rounds
How to boost your energy
Stuart has used breathwork benefits with Olympic athletes and UFC fighters in order to enhance their performance. It is crucial to recognise that not all stress is unwanted. Eustress is a positive form of stress which has significant effects on our motivation and performance. In order to produce this we need to increase our rate of breathing in order to create a stress response, which in turn gets us ready for action. In need of a pre-workout buzz? Swap your caffeine with this energy boosting technique that is guaranteed to leave you feeling electric…
This exercise hacks your brain activity to stimulate an alert response, it will help purify your blood and stimulate the solar plexus to generate heat and release natural energy throughout the body so you’ll be left feeling fully charged up!
It’s a 2-part inhale to 1 part exhale – belly – chest – exhale.
- Inhale half breath though the nose, into your belly
- Inhale half breath though your nose, into your chest
- Exhale through the nose quickly engaging the core and pumping the navel in towards the spine
- Repeat for a minute
Stuart explains how it was through trauma release that he found breathwork. ‘When my girlfriend sadly passed away from terminal cancer, I found breathing as a powerful tool for unlocking trauma’.
Indeed, when we go through a traumatic event it becomes imprinted in our bodies as tension. When we have this tension, we hold our breath, our diaphragm tightens up and we go into the freeze response. This can happen in devastating times of grief or brief events in everyday life.
It is important to remember that breathwork isn’t just about taking control, but also about letting go of our deeper patterns of breathing that might be impacting our daily lives. If you notice that your breathing is short and shallow, this may be due to past unreleased trauma that has tightened in your diaphragm. In order to solve this we can use therapeutic breathing to release this tension and reset our breathing cycle in order let go of traumatic events. Often this comes with an emotional release, as your body undergoes the cleanse.
How to unblock your nose naturally
Stuart humorously labels the human species as ‘pugs of the primate world’. During evolution our brain growth was prioritised, pushing our once flat noses outwards. This has caused our nose and nasal cavity to be inefficient leaving us frequently feeling bunged up. Don’t panic, Stuart has you sorted with his tried and tested technique:
- Inhale a normal breath in
- Exhale a normal breath out
- Pinch your nose and hold your breath
- Move your head side to side
Save your nasal spray for another day and unblock your nose the natural way!
Why do we yawn?
Yawning is our bodies equivalent of a double espresso. Stuart explains how when we yawn a switch is flicked on, and changes in our chemistry occur. Inhaling deeply allows our lungs to bring more oxygen into our blood and remove more carbon dioxide out of it, as our body attempts to fight off feelings of fatigue.
Ever wondered why yawning is contagious? It is in fact a form of empathising with the person who is yawning and experiencing feelings of boredom, tiredness or anxiety. Interestingly, research has shown contagious yawning happens more between loved ones and that people who don’t yawn when others do are more likely to possess psychopathic traits. Keep a look out!
The best way to stop snoring
Whether you’re waking yourself up with your own sudden snorts, or you’re having trouble sleeping with a snorer, snoring is often the pillager of a good night’s snooze. Caused by breathing through the mouth, Stuart comically encourages taping the lips shut in order to force ourselves to breathe through our noses. Just make sure you use a skin friendly tape!
Breathwork benefits: Top tips on how to breathe better
Become more aware of your breath
Ask yourself: how am I breathing right now? What does the air around me feel like? Which muscles am I using? Take a moment to pause and focus on your breath. If it is short and shallow try to slow it down and breathe with your diaphragm, in and out with through your nose.
By becoming aware of our breathing we give ourselves the choice and control of switching on or off. We are able to override our natural response and choose the approach we take to the obstacles life throws at us.
Remember that the busier you are, the more you need to breathe
Although it may seem impossible taking the time out of a busy working day to breathe, your body will thank you for it. Our modern day lives are filled with sources of stress keeping us in a state of fight or flight. It’s crucial to breathe it out in order to maintain our wellbeing.
Swap the morning espresso shot for a session of energising breathwork
Caffeine only causes more stress on your body. In order to heighten awareness and feel more awake try using the energy boosting method shown above to biohack your body’s natural energiser, leaving you feeling revived minus the cost of an overpriced coffee.
Rest and digest is the new Netflix and chill
Instead of delving into a Netflix binge just before bed, try opting for some deep belly breathing to calm your nervous system and prepare your body for a good night’s rest. Watching films will only result in heightening your awareness – not ideal before hitting the hay.
Liked this article on ‘Breath work benefits according to Stuart Sandeman’. Why not explore ‘Inhale and sexhale: Gymbox’s tantra breathing class’
By guest contributor Helena Holdsworth
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Born and bred in Yorkshire, English Literature student Helena divides her time between the dance floors of her university town of Exeter and her Northern home. And also a fitness and wellness author at WYD. She likes her steak as rare as a Sunday morning gym session and woe betide anyone who tries talking to her before she’s had an oat milk cortado upon waking.