• Amarildo Prendi

The Secret of Sleeping Well

Sleep better and reduce stress with breathing exercises – they will supercharge your life, and your gym workouts, experts say
Taping his mouth before sleeping helped Patrick McKeown get a good night’s rest. Now he is one of many breathwork experts promoting ways to breathe better
Breathing patterns are important for exercise, but the benefits can extend into daily life too, such as for stress relief, relaxation, energy and focus

Leading breathwork experts, like Aigul Safiullina at Respira Breathwork in Hong Kong, want more people to employ breathing techniques in their daily lives. Photo: Antony Dickson When Patrick McKeown was young, he suffered from chronic asthma. He sought relief through medications and inhalers, without ever getting a good night’s sleep. Doctors assured him and his parents that he would “grow out of it”. As he reached his 20s, and his asthma grew worse, the Irishman became interested in the breathwork teachings of the Russian Konstantin Buteyko, who developed the Buteyko method of low, light breathing through the nose. Exasperated by his poor sleep and constant feeling of sluggishness, McKeown followed the instructions, clearing his nasal cavity before bed, and then literally taping his mouth closed before lying down to rest. The impact, he said, was almost immediate. “Within a few days, I really started noticing a significant change in my sleep, and I was waking up feeling alert,” said McKeown. “I’d never woken up feeling alert before.” Patrick McKeown is among a new era of breathwork instructors who believe the way we breathe can impact our entire state of being. Photo: Handout Fast forward two decades, and McKeown has become a leading breathwork expert with bestselling books including The Oxygen Advantage, global speaking engagements and contracts to assist professional athletes and sports teams to improve their performance. “[Breathwork] is evolving, the whole aspect of breathing is evolving,” said McKeown. He is among a new wave of breathwork instructors who believe the way we breathe can impact our entire state of being On his website, McKeown details his explorations in breathwork with YouTube videos, masterclasses and podcasts. McKeown’s latest book, The Breathing Cure, is a comprehensive guide to breathing exercises for adults, children and teens. Participants in a special breathing class during the Bali Spirit Festival in Indonesia in 2015. Athletes have long been aware that breathing patterns and the biomechanics of breathing are important for performance, but the benefits can extend into daily life and continue to improve fitness levels the more it is practised. “I teach a variety of methods focusing on the biomechanics and psychology of breathing,” said Aigul Safiullina, an instructor at Respira Breathwork in Hong Kong. “[Breathwork] has always been important, but 2020 became a turning point when we had to reassess our values, learn to adapt and respond to external reality using the strength within us.” Safiullina, from Russia, was first trained under Liubov Bogdanova, who runs the Russian chapter of the Global Professional Breathwork Alliance and is an author of Seven Parameters of Breath – a holistic method that helps to build a tailored breathwork practice based on each student’s needs. “This method is a perfect way to begin to explore breathwork and learn the techniques that can be applied in daily life such as breathwork for stress relief, relaxation, energy and focus,” said Safiullina. Her second trainer was clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, the author of Breathing for Warriors. Safiullina is an instructor at Respira Breathwork in Hong Kong. Photo: Antony Dickson Vranich founded The Breathing Class, which addresses dysfunctional breathing patterns, posture, stress and sleep, and pelvic floor health through specific breathing techniques and active meditation. “I mostly teach Vranich’s method as it incorporates a lot of movement, activating the primary breathing muscles, and is widely used by athletes and high performers,” said Safiullina. “These are the techniques that can and should be used daily to restore healthy breathing patterns.” Safiullina employed Vranich’s teachings when she trained to compete in the Lantau 70, a 70km (43 mile), 3,500-metre (11,500 feet) elevation trail race. She is a committed trail runner As breathwork’s benefits become more widely known, some instructors are finding new ways to broadcast the practice to newcomers and promote its relevance to overall wellness seekers. “It’s really important for people to have an inner practice where they can learn to access a deeper sense of who they are and to reach a deeper sense of groundedness in the present moment,” said Steve Rio, founder of Nature of Work and the Enfold Institute. Rio was a serial tech entrepreneur before leaving New York to relocate to a remote island just outside Vancouver, Canada. Steve Rio is the founder of Nature of Work and the Enfold Institute. Photo: Handout There, he launched Nature of Work, which aspires to reprogramme our habits by teaching a more conscious, holistic approach to life, technology and work – with breathwork being a core value. Rio enlisted breathwork instructors worldwide to comprise a new kind of music soundtrack that can help breathwork newcomers practice the discipline at home, the first of which will be released for free on Spotify. “The music we have produced is really customised to the experience of breathwork in that it rises and falls, it’s epic in its sound – it is rhythmic breathing to the beat with an instructor,” said Rio. He draws similarities to a spin class in which your workout is synced to a soundtrack that builds at times of strain then calms in rest periods, a concept that has become standard in all kinds of high-intensity-workout studios worldwide. The rhythm coupled with the benefit of an instructor, whether in person or online, helps to make the practice more fluid and easier to follow. However, Rio’s musical approach is just one side of a multifaceted approach to breathwork. “What we really want to do with the music and our work is demystify breathwork and show people it is safe and it is a very valuable tool for entering into a deeper state of being,” said Rio. “Breathwork is an amazing form of accessing a heightened state and you can do so in your flat, you don’t need any equipment, you don’t need to go anywhere, you can do it right from home.” Although many experts acknowledge that breathwork won’t be suitable for everyone, McKeown and his peers believe that the basic teachings are worth investigating as you never know whether your breathing patterns may be causing imbalance in your body. “You cannot adequately address things like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder , unless we address the biochemistry of breathing,” said McKeown. “We need to teach techniques that people can bring into their everyday life – during rest, during sleep and during physical exercise.” As for general advice, McKeown keeps it simple. “Breathe light, breathe slow and breathe deep through the nose.”

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