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Seven ways better breathing can improve your life

Posted in Press

We do it 20,000 times a day but the way we breathe in different scenarios can have a big impact. From tongue position to finding your D-spot, experts share breathwork techniques.

How to breathe … when you’re exercising

“Running is often where it goes wrong,” says breathing retrainer Jane Tarrant, founder of Link Breathing. “The errors are switching to mouth breathing, upper-chest breathing and thinking you need to go visually big by taking gulps of air when actually you want to breathe low and efficiently into the bottom of the lungs.”

Fast chest breathing will also raise the heart rate, which is natural in exercise, but ideally you want to try to lower it by slowing your breathing down, inhaling through the nose and expanding the ribs out sideways like an accordion. Tarrant suggests pacing your breathing – “Try going in for five, out for five, or whatever you can manage” – which should increase efficiency and help you exercise for longer.

“Humming is good for exercise, too, as it helps open up airways by creating more nitric oxide,” she says, which acts as a blood vessel and airway dilator, helping deliver oxygen to your cells more efficiently. “I hum on my bicycle as it helps me slow my breath.”

7 ways to better breathing - Breathguru® in the Guardian

…to help your core

Breath coach and Breathguru app founder Alan Dolan says he often sees clients who have a “master-servant” relationship with their body, where “they’re amazingly toned but they’re also imprisoned by their core as the muscles are so tight. It’s important to put flexibility into your body as well as tension – if you’re doing core work, what are you doing to release the core?” He recommends some breathwork after every workout.“That might just be stretching – , or the yogic practice of shavasana – lying down on the ground doing nothing, just a very soft abdominal breath.”

…when you need to focus

“Box breathing” is a technique used by US Navy Seals to steel the nerves and increase focus, but it can be applied to civilian life when you have a daunting task ahead, says breath coach Aimee Hartley, founder of The Breathing Room and School Breathe CIC, which teaches primary schoolchildren the benefits of breathing well. “Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, then hold for four.” This technique is effective because you produce more nitric oxide on a breath hold, which helps lower blood pressure and calm the mind. “It’s a proven breath technique that I often use in sessions when I’m coaching CEOs,” she adds.

…when you’re struggling to sleep

Hartley recommends left nostril breathing if you’re trying to drift off. This activates the right part of the brain, which stimulates the parasympathetic – or “rest and digest” – nervous system. Just lie on your side, block your right nostril and slowly breathe with your left.

Otherwise, Tarrant says two minutes of conscious breathing with an extended exhale – “a simple in for four, out for eight” – will help slow down the heart rate and relax the body, while Dolan recommends Yoga Nidra, “a beautiful guided relaxation throughout the whole body” which uses gentle abdominal breathing. Try YouTube for videos.

…when you’re feeling stressed

A stressed person is like an upside-down pyramid, says Dolan: “The mind is super-stimulated and there’s not much connection to the body.” The best way to flip this is to focus on your feet. “Stand still, with one or both hands on the abdomen and do a slow, abdominal breath through the nose. Then bring your attention to your feet – do this by envisaging the soles touching the ground, rather than physically looking at them – sending those energetic roots into the earth to recharge.”

Another good stress-reduction technique is coherent breathing, says Hartley. “Try going for a walk, breathing in for five steps and out for five steps. Depending on your pace this can bring you to the optimum breath count of about five breaths a minute.” Most of us are overbreathers, with the average adult breathing at rest between 12 and 18 times a minute. Slowing things down can reduce stress and improve circulation and heart health. “To be healthy you need to have a variety of spaces between heartbeats – like five milliseconds, 10 milliseconds, six milliseconds – ,” she says. “This is called heart-rate variability, which coherent breathing has been proven to help with.”

…when you’re having digestive problems

Deep abdominal breathing massages the vagus nerve, which runs down the body through the diaphragm, and is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system. “We breathe between 17,000 and 20,000 times a day, so if each one of those breaths is massaging the vagus nerve it will help create a healthy digestive system,” says Hartley.

One way to practise deep abdominal – or diaphragmatic – breathing is the “belly bag” method. “Lie on the floor, legs bent, hip-width apart with knees touching,” says Hartley. “Place a book or wheat bag on your stomach below the belly button. Breathe in for five, out for five, and feel the resistance of the book’s weight as you breathe in. It comes with practice but this will eventually activate a diaphragmatic breath.”

Though there is more to IBS than poor breathing, it doesn’t help that many of us are in “fight or flight” mode at mealtimes, adds Tarrant. “Your body will struggle to digest if you’re in a stress state. The best thing to do before mealtimes is take some conscious slow breathing, just in the time it takes to walk to the kitchen. Slowing your breath down will switch your nervous system into ‘digest’ mode.”

…when you’re having a panic attack

Tarrant says: “Someone having a panic attack will think, ‘I need more air’, but what they actually need to do is pause, and restart with a slower breath. It’s also important to stop upper-chest breathing, which is shallow, anxiety-inducing and inefficient.” She adds that when an attack comes on you should try to focus on your “D-spot” (the point just below the split of the ribs, where your diaphragm is– see Find your D-spot, below ) – to bring the breath down into the bottom of the lungs and breathe as quietly and calmly as possible.

Carbon dioxide acts as a dilator, which opens up the airways and blood vessels, says Tarrant, so by pausing or prolonging your exhale, you allow oxygen to be more efficiently delivered to the body’s cells. “During optimal breathing, imagine you have three red buses side-by-side on a ‘motorway’ [blood vessel] carrying oxygen to the cells. CO2 keeps the road wide as well as letting the oxygen off the bus, like porters opening the doors. The CO2, finishing its shift, gets on the bus and goes back around to the lungs to be breathed out, but it needs time to do its job before it leaves. If you start to over-breathe, you don’t maintain enough CO2 and your blood vessels reduce down to two lanes, and if you become panicky, then one lane. That’s why you can’t think clearly.”

7 ways to better breathing - Breathguru® in the Guardian

Getting the breathing basics right

Breathe through your nose
“Inhaling through the nose is better for a number of reasons,” says Tarrant. Unlike the mouth, “it filters out viruses, bacteria and allergens, and it moistens the air and warms it in the cold.” The latter is particularly important for asthmatics, as cold, dry air can trigger an attack.

“Then there is nitric oxide, which you make through nose but not mouth breathing,” says Tarrant, and which can help lower blood pressure and boost exercise performance.

While some people have structural issues which can prohibit nose-breathing, Tarrant says for many of us it’s about retraining. “Start with nose breathing for a minute, then two minutes, and slowly build up from there over time.”

Find your D-spot
Place one hand on your chest and with the thumb of the other hand find the “bouncy” spot just below the split of your ribs, where your diaphragm is – this is what Jane Tarrant calls the “D-spot”.

When we breathe in, the diaphragm is meant to plunge downwards, moving your thumb outwards. “If you picture the lungs as an upside-down tree, we should be breathing into the canopy, with a slight flare of the ribs, but most of us are breathing into the lower branches (or upper chest breathing),” says Tarrant, which will move the hand on the chest upwards.

Don’t forget your tongue
The position of the tongue plays a crucial role in supporting good nose breathing, says Tarrant. Ideally the tongue should be sealed against the roof of your mouth, but not touching the front teeth, in the shape it would be if you said the letter “N”. This will open up the nasal airway.

“Try dropping your tongue to the bottom of your mouth while nose breathing, and you will notice that it feels narrower,” Tarrant adds.

Ulrike Feinde, Breathguru Graduate, February 2023

Client Feedback

Posted in Client testimonials

“When I applied for training with Alan I had only got in touch with breathwork a few times and found it interesting and appealing. Little did I know what this journey ahead was all about and maybe that was good at that point. Diving deep into one’s own shadow and traumas is a big part of the Breathguru training and in retrospect I think it really is the only way to become a good facilitator.

Alan is a fantastic mentor and definitely has become an important companion in this part of
my life.

I think the training is for everybody who is willing to dive deep and be vulnerable about their own journey as much as learning about the breath technique itself. I think the combination of embodying the breath as a tool of healing yourself and learning how to share this with others carries the most potential of becoming an authentic breathworker.

I am more than grateful for those past months which made me grow so much and took me further towards living my full potential. It’s a new piece of the puzzle of understanding what I came to this planet for.”

Ulrike Feindt, Breathguru Graduate

Client Feedback

Posted in Client testimonials

“I did a lot of research when deciding who to do my Breathwork training with. I found Alan through several recommendations & decided to go with him / Breathguru. I couldn’t have made a better choice. Alan himself is so knowledgable & yet so grounded. He is there for you every step of the way, to answer questions, share wisdom & hold space.

What I love most about the program is that you’re guided on your own healing journey, this deep inner work has definitely made me a better Breathwork Facilitator. Venturing off to Lanzarote for the in-person modules is definitely a highlight too, those modules were life changing experiences that I’ll forever be grateful for.

I started the program feeling nervous & doubtful about my abilities, but it was an exciting, rewarding, eye opening experience & I graduated feeling so confident!

I have hosted 4 breathwork workshops in the short time since graduating, all of which sold out within days & I just can’t thank Alan enough for his mentorship & teaching.

If you want to be trained by the best then invest & go with Alan / Breathguru.”

Kady Gummerson, Breathguru Graduate

Take A Breath

Posted in Press

Many of us know breathwork as meditation with benefits, helping unwind the stress from our bodies. But when Brigid Moss tried it, she gained a greater life lesson than she expected.

You can tell by the new name for breathing – ‘breathwork’ – that things have got serious. There are now apps, podcasts, books and workshops. They promise not only to increase your lung capacity and fitness, but also to use something we do without thought, simply to keep ourselves alive, to release emotional and mental blocks. And even, perhaps, to reach a higher state of consciousness.

Breathwork has its roots in the 1960s. When LSD was banned, researchers who’d been using psychedelics for therapy and to explore consciousness looked for new ways to reach altered states. They came up with holotropic and rebirthing breathwork, both of which were pretty hardcore: all-day sessions, drumming, therapy work in pairs. They were based on controlled hyperventilation, changing the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood and so changing your brain state. And oxygen has an advantage over LSD – it’s legal.

Take A Breath

I hadn’t heard any of this 13 years ago when I had a trial session with Alan Dolan – a breathwork teacher who now trains the new wave of teachers. Alan was taught by a protégée of one of the 1960s gurus and his updated technique is a lot more user-friendly. Now, you only need to do five to 20 minutes a day, and you can do it alone.

When I met him back then in a hotel function room – at the cusp of the breathwork renaissance – I didn’t know what to expect. I remember him looking like a yogi: slight, with blue eyes and a blond-grey ponytail. After a brief chat, he instructed me to lie back, keep my mouth open and breathe in, down into my belly (see overleaf for the full instructions).

I lay back on the soft mat and tried to breathe as he suggested… but I couldn’t. My breath stuck in my throat. Alan put his hand on my stomach to help me, and I froze. He sat behind me and asked me to lean back on to him, to breathe with him. I panicked. I made my excuses and left. I chalked up my inability to complete the exercise to anxiety and a sleepless toddler. Plus, I wasn’t expecting to get into such an intimate clinch with a stranger. In the 1960s, they would have called me uptight.

Fast forward 13 years and I’m a lot looser and happier. Therapy has helped me work through my anxiety. But I still feel stuck in old patterns; sometimes jittery, dark or angry. I learned from Donna Lancaster, author of The Bridge, that old emotions can get stuck in your body, so it takes working with your body, not talking, to release them. I kept hearing that breathwork can act like a reset button, fast-forwarding therapy by getting the old stuff out, so I decided to revisit Alan. Could breathwork help me finally learn to let go?

Alan still teaches in London, but he now spends most of the year running four-person retreats in Lanzarote. He invites me to come for two days of breathing. The villa is in a pretty village of white houses called Nazaret, nestled in the hills between two coastlines, with a blue-tiled pool and a view of black volcanoes.

There is delicious vegan food – falafel with orange sauce, and vegetable tempura with cauliflower rice – and there are bodywork sessions to release knots in my neck, skull and sacrum. But I’m here for the main event: the one-to-one sessions with Alan. They take place in a square, white room, the floor filled with a futon covered in cushions. There are crystals and oils on side tables and the room smells of palo santo wood, used to cleanse the space.

I’m nervous. Alan seems exactly the same; gentle voice, maybe a little greyer. He says I look completely different to when he first met me; I feel it too. He tells me people release their pent-up stuff in different ways; yawning, sneezing, runny nose, farting. My bum cheeks clench: oh god, I hope mine isn’t farting.

We start the breathing. My breath dries in the back of my throat. It’s bloody uncomfortable. I still can’t do it! But when Alan holds me this time, I manage not to seize up completely. I struggle through 30 minutes.

Talking at lunch, Alan explains how breathwork puts the body into autopilot recalibration. My inability to let go is a fight between my ego – my thinking mind – and my body. My body is relaxing, yawning away. But my ego is taking a last stand, telling me, ‘It’s uncomfortable!’ ‘It’s unbearable!’ Our egos like things to stay the same. To them, what is familiar feels safe. For my ego, my overactive nervous system and holding on to tension feels safe.

That afternoon, there’s a group breathing session with the three others on the retreat. My jaw hurts and I can’t shut my mind up. The others seem to be getting more ‘results’. Jane spends the session crying; afterwards she says she came here to release something specific and she did. Ellen says she produced copious snot. And Harvey says that every session has felt like bliss. Afterwards, Alan says we all hold internalised stress in different places – the jaw, spine, lumbar area – and breathwork helps it leave the body, like sitting on a blow-up mattress to get the air out.

In the next afternoon group session, I begin by feeling the same; pent-up, angry. This time, we are breathing to music, acoustic guitar with sad lyrics, something about fear. Suddenly, I can see my anxious 22-year-old self. I’ve got my eyes closed, but it’s as clear as if she’s in front of me. It’s not a hallucination because I know it isn’t real, but she is there. I feel how scared she was to get on the Tube, to show people her flaws. I start crying about all the things I was too scared to do in my 20s: go travelling to Asia, push myself at work. And then, I feel in awe that I did so much despite the fear: finding work I love; going through IVF and therapy; and moving house on my own. I feel warmth and tenderness towards her – or me. In my mind, I see and feel myself gently hugging the younger me. Afterwards, it feels so good that I have been kind to my anxious younger self.

I’m sad to leave the magical little world of Nazaret, but my sense of calm comes home with me. A few weeks later, I speak to Harvey, who stayed for a full week. He says his lifelong anxiety has gone. Every session, he felt mentally lighter, as if something had evaporated. ‘I’m trying new things, saying yes, but just floating into them,’ he tells me. ‘Whatever used to make me double-think every decision has gone. Every day, I wake up feeling slightly better. I do my breathing and sometimes something from the past pops up, appears then disappears. I didn’t realise I could be this happy.’

I’ve read that researchers think breathwork might put you into a similar state to psychedelics, which change your brain so you can access memories and old emotions and make sense of them. I think my final experience was an example of that. My approach to life has always been to feel the fear and do it anyway. But when we are scared, we hold our breath. And so, I spent a lot of my life holding my breath.

Alan helps me understand this. ‘If you take one thing away, it’s to breathe with your emotions,’ he says. ‘White-knuckling doesn’t work. They accumulate in the body and come out as anxiety, depression, panic attacks or other physical manifestations of stress.’

Something changed in me, and in Harvey, but it was a gentle revelation, not a painful one. ‘The mind anticipates it’ll be a bigger deal than it is. That’s the resistance. But when you come to do it, it’s nowhere near as traumatic as you anticipate,’ Alan says. ‘There is a softer way to get through than toughing it out.’

Breathwork has showed me that the magic happens when you let go. I want to float into things, to say yes. And so, my new life mantra is: feel the fear and keep breathing.

4 Wellbeing Escapes For A Hit Of Winter Sun

Posted in Press

If the plummeting temperatures and dark evenings aren’t exactly rocking your world right now, why not book an autumnal escape to somewhere sunnier? Just a stone’s throw from London, these destinations offer balmy evenings on tap, as well as an assortment of treatments and activities to help you feel happier, healthier and more balanced ahead of your flight home. Below, Vogue’s edit of some of the best to book in for now.

Did you know that the key to inner wellness could lie in something as simple as the breath? But not just the sort of everyday, shallow breathing that is automatic as you go about your business – there is a very specific science to breathing with intention. Just ask Alan Dolan, also known as the Breath Guru, who for the past 20 years has worked as a breath coach. He helps people via “Conscious Connected Breathwork”, which he describes as “the most powerful healing modality currently available to us”. 

4 Wellbeing Escapes To Book For A Hit Of Winter Sun

He explains: “It’s a way of opening up our respiratory systems to the optimum extent, with a view to achieving improved health on every level of our being. In doing so, we tend to divest ourselves of unprocessed emotional and mental energies which we have accumulated in our bodies during the course of our life journey – we get to release our baggage and lead happier healthier lives.” 

In other words, it is the key to reaching optimum mental, physical and emotional health. Dolan now hosts year-round retreats in a breathtaking (pun intended) hillside village in Lanzarote that, through integrative immersion, will equip you with the tools you need to achieve true balance. And breathe.

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