Everything you need to know about breathwork: A Q&A with Ruth Cooper-Dickson
Can anyone do breathwork?
Ruth: Absolutely! No matter our age – from child to adult – we can all learn breathwork techniques for our self-care tool-box.
In my transformational breathwork classes, I practise something called Holotropic Breathwork. This is a therapeutic breathing practice intended to help with emotional healing and personal growth.
The holoptropic process involves breathing at a fast rate for 40-45 minutes. This changes the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body and can create altered states of consciousness.
You need to be a trained practitioner for this emotional release modality so only try it under the guidance of a trained practitioner. For this reason, I only practise with those aged over 16 years.
It’s important to check your list of health histories and discuss any concerns with a healthcare practitioner before attending a class. Holotropic breathwork isn’t recommended for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding for example.
What are the benefits of breathwork?
Ruth: There are lots of reported benefits of breathwork. The best way to see how breathwork can help you is to give it a try!
Some studies have demonstrated the following benefits of intentional breathwork techniques:
- Promoting the release of toxins from your bloodstream and tissue
- Lowering blood pressure by increasing circulation
- Boosting your immune system
- Improving digestion by reducing stress on your liver and kidneys
- Reducing physical and emotional stress
- Increasing mental clarity and creativity
- Creating new neural pathways in your brain
You can also do different breathwork practices to try and elicit different responses. At CHAMPS, we offer Breathe for Performance workshops for corporate teams. This involves a guided intentional breathing practice designed to help you increase performance.
And how can breathwork practise help people at work?
Ruth: Learning how to regulate our nervous system is paramount, especially in the workplace.
Did you know when the Navy Seals return from a mission they practise the box breathing technique to allow themselves to calm and focus?
Now, you may not be out on a military manoeuvre but knowing how to calm our mind and body down to focus is perfect when we are about to step up and do a client pitch.
Breathwork can be a quick and easy way to regain control over your work day. You could, for example, add some alternate nostril breathing for a few minutes into your day to give yourself an energy boost when you hit that dreaded midday slump. It really can be powerful for all aspects of life… including work.
Is it just breathing?
Ruth: No! Research shows different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, and so changing how you breathe can change how you feel.
For example, when you feel joy, your breathing will be regular, deep, and slow. When you feel anxious or angry, your breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow.
When you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions you’ll begin to feel those corresponding emotions (Harvard Business Review 2020).
The workplace can be an environment where you find yourself in strain. In this situation, your prefrontal cortex is impaired, so logic seldom helps us keep control. Think of a colleague telling you to calm down or not to worry, it never helps!
When in strain, it can make it hard for us to think straight, lead our people effectively and be emotionally intelligent with our team. It is possible, through breathwork, to gain mastery of the mind. So no, breathwork isn’t just breathing. It’s so much more than that.
What can people expect to happen during a breathwork session?
Ruth: The music plays a big part in holotropic breathwork classes and I use it to take the breather on their journey.
Once I’ve explained thoroughly how the class will work, including a demo of conscious connected breathing, the breathers settle into their space (whether this is online or in-person).
We begin with a guided meditation to relax the breather, then the first part of the active breathing begins, usually with a shamanic drum track.
Depending on the class duration, the active breathing continues for 30-40 minutes. The music reaches a crescendo and then there are a couple of active breathing tracks to allow the breather to marinade in the nutrients of their practice.
I close the class with a meditation, allowing the breather to ground themselves and to return back to their body. Feeling relaxed and calm before coming back into their environment, seating themselves and opening their eyes.
It is a really immersive experience that lets you connect with your breathing and yourself.
I know breathwork can be quite an emotional journey for people. Why is this?
Ruth: During a holotropic breathwork practice, the most common experience is emotional release which might include waves of sadness, bursts of anger or shaking from fear.
With the release of emotion can come slow, quiet tears or heavy sobbing. It can also make the breather laugh out loud, whoop, or experience complete euphoria.
Many of us don’t always have the chance to develop the skill set needed to handle our feelings and emotions in healthy ways. When we don’t learn to process our feelings, they have a tendency to be suppressed in the body.
My fantastic instructor uses the tagline that 60 minutes of breathwork is like a year of therapy. It is a great tool if you struggle with voicing your emotions or feelings.
How does breathwork differ from other types of mindfulness or wellbeing practices?
Ruth: It is simply another tool to have in our self-care practice, the same way we can use mindfulness, talking interventions, massages, exercise and moving our bodies, undertaking holistic treatments such as reiki, sound baths and reflexology.
Not every self-care tool is for everybody and that is okay.
Give it a go. It may not be for you but it is about the curiosity of not ruling something out until you’ve understood whether it benefits you or not.
Can you do breathwork practice as a group? And does it work virtually, as well as in-person?
Ruth: I offer 1:1 and group breathwork classes. Currently, my class sizes are no larger than 8 otherwise I ensure I have support for all the breathers.
To be honest, I was wary as to how they would operate online but I’ve had breathers share the most fantastic testimonials from attending 1:1 and group classes online.
The difference with virtual classes is that I cannot as easily correct anyone not doing the technique right. But everyone seems to have the best experience and, for me, that is the most important thing. I also spend a lot of time at the start explaining the technique to help them get the basics. People seem to like this introductory explanation and the feedback has been that this is very useful.
Can you tailor breathwork sessions towards specific goals or outcomes?
Ruth: 100% and this is why I love the transformational sessions — I curate the breathing playlist around a theme.
I also encourage breathers to set intentions before they go into their practice and to journal once they are coming out of meditation to allow for the insights to flow, which they may forget or not make sense in the cold light of day.
One breather told me I had saved them £6K from going to Costa Rica to undertake an Ayahuasca ceremony as they received the insights they wanted in less than an hour of breathwork! I will take that.
Anything else you think people should know about breathwork?
Ruth: Research it, give it a try and see what happens.
Often people’s biggest fear is that they will feel out of control especially in front of others, but the beauty of breathwork is you can hit the red button at any point and call time on your practice. So, you are ultimately in control, you just let your breath be your guide.
Final thoughts: Join us for a Breathwork for Performance practise
There you have it… everything you need to know about breathwork in a short and sweet Q&A.
As Ruth said, the best way to find out in breathwork works for you is to “give it a try and see what happens”. Breathwork has transformative powers both in and outside the workplace, making it a valuable self-care tool to have in your toolkit.