After struggling at school for years, Rory Warnock was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 12. At 22, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and immediately prescribed the SSRI Sertraline – a pretty common story that, unfortunately, plenty of young adults will relate to.
By that point, Rory felt like he had no way of ‘dealing with his inner world’ other than relying on prescription medication. He’d graduated from university, and begun climbing the corporate ladder in a sales position, thinking career prosperity would be the key to happiness. But alas, it led to more uneasiness – until his mate suggested he try out breathwork.
Breathwork is ‘conscious breathing’ or ‘breathing in a specific way to create a desired outcome’, and when done correctly, can kind of feel like a natural trip. Its benefits include enhanced emotional regulation, reduced stress and a more resilient nervous system.
These days, Rory is an expert in the space, so we asked him how to get started as a beginner.
What is breathwork?
It is an active practice, unlike meditation which is (mostly) passive. This means that we can change the rhythms, rates and depths at which we breathe to change how we live our lives. Now if this sounds absolutely ridiculous to you, I want to reassure you this has been proven time and time again in scientific literature. For example, breathing slowly can actually increase oxygen delivery into the tissues.
Breathing deeply increases vagal tone, which helps activate the parasympathetic state of the autonomic nervous system, essentially helping us to feel more calm, in real time. Nasal breathing can help athletes perform to a higher ability and for a longer duration while reducing the onset of fatigue.
How did you get into it?
At 22 years old, I found it hard to comprehend that I was now on anti-depressants for the rest of my life. I knew things had to change. I began listening to ‘self-help’ teachers, Tony Robbins, Ed Mylett and Chris Williamson, to help build my knowledge and confidence.
I started using apps like Headspace to try and meditate, but telling someone with anxiety to sit with their thoughts for 20 minutes is kind of paradoxical. I would often battle through and finish feeling worse than when I began. Yoga was particularly pivotal for me. The combination of movements, strength, focus, discipline and breath ticked all the boxes.
As I found myself being more excited and interested in the personal development space, a friend recommended that I go along to a breathwork session. At the time, I’d never heard of breathwork – I thought it sounded a little ‘woo-woo’ to me. I have a degree in science, but you’re telling me that breathing can make me feel better? I thought it sounded ridiculous. However, I’ve always been open-minded, so I thought I’d give it a go.
That session was to be the most profound experience of my life.
I laughed, I cried, I was in shock at how amazing I felt. The best I’d felt for years. I couldn’t quite believe what just happened. Naturally, I became obsessed. I attended a few classes each week, read various books, listened to podcasts and immersed myself in the breathwork space.
How do you actually do it?
4:6 breathing is simple but extremely effective – so I’d recommend it as a great way to start. It’s where you breathe in for four seconds and out for six seconds, always using the nose. I’ve been using this technique for over five years and it continues to provide incredible benefits. As you inhale, your heart rate slightly speeds up as it’s sympathetic driven (fight or flight). As you exhale, your heart rate slightly slows down as it’s parasympathetic driven (rest and digest).
The 4:6 breathing technique is a fantastic way to directly tap into your autonomic nervous system to move from stress to calm in a matter of seconds. I’d recommend using this technique for anywhere between five and fifteen minutes. When we bring our attention to our breath, and our breath alone, we’re not thinking about the past or the future anymore, we’re in the present moment. The present moment is calm and clear.