Wim Hof aka The Iceman is speaking almost hypnotically as he encourages me to breathe like I’ve never breathed before.
‘Breathe in, exhale – don’t stop. Give what we have!’ He says I think my lungs are about to burst. After 30 deep breaths, the command comes to exhale completely, hold it there, feel my heart beat, slow it down – and don’t breathe again for a minute.
one minute! No wonder they call that man mad. Then the strangest thing happens. His soothing voice fades and I feel the tension drop from my shoulders south and onto the floor. Peace envelops me like a warm blanket and when I remember to breathe again, I look at my watch. More than a minute and a half has passed. But where did it go?
Welcome to the world of breath: The latest endeavor for the dedicated seeker of inner peace and outer health. It is perhaps no coincidence that a newly discovered interest in it arose during a pandemic that took the breath away of so many. Now it seems it’s everywhere: in online workout classes, at gyms, and all over Instagram.
As far back as 1,000 BCE, Chinese Taoists and Indian Hindus believed that some sort of energy, an inner breath, passed through us, and the best way to tap into it was through respiration.
Among its most vocal supporters is Gwyneth Paltrow. Hoffa was virtually unknown before he breathed his last in The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow and jumped into icy water in January 2020. Within weeks the world had shut down due to Covid and Hoffa was a household name. I Tried to Breathe is one of his YouTube videos – it’s been viewed 50 million times. But what is it, and will it do you any good?
First, controlled breathing has existed for thousands of years as a pillar of meditation. As far back as 1,000 BCE, Chinese Taoists and Indian Hindus believed that some kind of energy, an inner breath, passed through us, and respiration was the best way to tap into it. Hindus call it prana, and it is used in yoga as a form of pranayama, or breath control.
Many scientific researches have found that this type of breathing and meditation can actually help reduce stress and anxiety. Mindfulness (which has breathing as a core element) has proven so effective that it is now recommended by both the National Health Service and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Dr Danny Penman, author of The Art of Breathing – and co-author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, which has sold over two million copies – is a passionate advocate: ‘Breathing depends on the big It is helped by the powerful muscles of the diaphragm, abdomen, and between the ribs, and by the smaller secondary muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper ribs. When you are upset, anxious or stressed, the abdomen becomes tense and prevents the primary muscles from working. Instead, they begin to stretch against each other, leaving the secondary muscles to do all the work. But these are designed to carry only 20 per cent of the load, so they get stressed.
Breathing Do’s and Don’ts
- Breathe slowly – in and out
- let your mind wander
- trust anyone to lead your breathing work – make sure they are properly qualified
- Limit yourself. Doing this twice a day can help reduce stress
‘If this continues, it can lead to chronic tension in the shoulders and neck, headaches and fatigue and increasingly shallow breathing.’
I’m not feeling stressed, but I do some breathing exercises with the penman. He tells me to sit comfortably, close my eyes and focus on my breathing — slowly in for a few seconds, out for a few more — and let my mind wander if I want to. (It’s a myth that true meditation involves thinking about nothing; it’s virtually impossible.) Within minutes I realize I was tense, and now I feel much more relaxed and focused.
Penman, who calls herself ‘as spiritual as a brick in the house’, says ‘simple breathing exercises – even just three minutes of breathing space – will help you calm down quickly. Do this a few times during a stressful day and you’ll have a better day, more in control of your life and the situations you face.
‘And if you are able to meditate for longer than that, your life overall will be better materially. Countless studies now show that breath-based meditations, such as mindfulness, have a dramatic effect on levels of anxiety, stress, and depression.’
But all is not well at the booming Breathwork Garden. Penman, and other businessmen who have been working in this area for many years, are concerned that its sudden popularity is leading to inexperienced self-proclaimed ‘facilitators’ arriving on the scene. During a quick search on the internet, I found ‘accredited’ teaching courses which did not involve more than 15 hours of online teaching. Then, for $500 (£454) plus an annual £130 membership, you can call yourself a breathing instructor.
There is no internationally recognized qualification, nor is there any regulation – a concern, given that some practitioners claim to induce out-of-body experiences, hallucinations and deep psychological interventions to deal with trauma, while Others offer unnecessarily detailed and complicated new age-style courses.
‘It’s a little bit like the Wild West right now,’ says Vidyamala Burch, co-founder and director of respected charity BreatheWorks, which 21 years ago started offering mindfulness teaching courses to help people cope with pain, illness and stress Was established. ‘In mindfulness instruction, you can check with BAMBA (British Association of Mindfulness Based Approaches) to find qualified instructors. Ideally something like this would happen in the area of breathing – you are playing with something very powerful like breathing.’
Tom Granger, author of the award-winning beginner’s book Draw Breath: The Art of Breathing, says that gentle techniques are ‘very infrequent’ to cause problems, but some people may experience anxiety or panic attacks: ‘Any Also techniques that involve hyperventilation have a wide range of contraindications for people with pre-existing health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure or a history of serious mental health problems. A good coach will advise you not to attempt hyperventilatory techniques if one applies to you.’
More than one coach told me that deep techniques designed to overcome physical or psychological trauma should only be used by experienced practitioners. Performances by an inexperienced coach, one said, could ‘do more harm than good’.
Several trainers, including Vanessa Dietzel of the Dutch-based International Breathwork Foundation, told me they were looking for an organization to tame the ‘Wild West’: the US-registered Global Professional Breathwork Alliance (GPBA). Established in 2001, this accreditation body has strict rules on training, practice and ethics. For example, it will not recommend any instructor who has not completed at least 400 hours of training over two years. It has accredited 31 schools worldwide, including some in the UK.
In the boom of new breathing, the more mature members of the GPBA may have been left behind by Instagrammers and internet chancers. But the GPBA is working together, says co-founder Jessica Dibb: ‘We recently installed a new, highly experienced board. We have a more user-friendly website coming, and we’re going to get better with social media.
‘Breath is like a drug, a nutrient that can make immediate changes in the brain. It transcends socioeconomic status, gender, language, culture, disability, race. It belongs to the people, and we will do our best to ensure that it is brought to them properly and safely.’
And if they’re able to do that, we can all breathe a lot easier.
The Book That Helped Me Breathe During My Year From Hell: Sarah Vine Reveals How Breathing Techniques Pushed Her Through a Difficult Divorce
Breathing expert and bestselling author reveals how breathing helped him overcome grief when he hallucinated his girlfriend he lost to cancer and held her hand and talked to her during a breathing session Were staying
Proof Mindfulness Works? Study finds just 10 minutes a day of breathing exercise lowers blood pressure ‘as effectively as medicine’
#benefits #controlled #breathing #millennia