Although we may be heading into an almost restriction-free Scotland, the pandemic has had a profound effect on many of our mental health.

After months of working from home, balancing childcare and limiting our social contact with friends and family, many of us are suffering from a heightened sense of stress and anxiety while navigating how to return to the 'new normal'.

Andrew Ritchie, an award winning outdoor education specialist of over 20 years, knows more of this than anyone.

Andrew, from Glasgow's west end, used to run the outdoor centre for children in Arrochar, but when the pandemic happened the centre was shut down - giving space for Andrew to explore a different passion - breathing.

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“As an ultra marathon runner I have been using breathing techniques as a way to improve my physical and mental performance for many years" he told Glasgow Live.

"I had always used breathwork techniques with the kids as I knew they could get nervous, and it helped them chill out.

"Then the pandemic came, and I had known that was something powerful and could help people, and it powered me on to hone in on those techniques and follow that as a way to manage stress."

Andrew Ritchie launched Performance Breathworks after the outdoor centre he worked in closed due to covid.
Andrew Ritchie launched Performance Breathworks after the outdoor centre he worked in closed due to covid.

A few qualifications in breathwork and mental health services, Andrew is now the founder of Performance breathworks - a revolutionary new concept born during the first lockdown and a business that is making serious waves across the corporate and sporting markets.

Utilising scientifically based research, Andrew implements a wide variety of breathing techniques to boost the delivery of oxygen around the body and brain.

These techniques that ultimately allow us to feel calmer and more equipped to deal with stress, anxiety and can also significantly improve physical performance.

"Loads of people have dysfunctional breathing patterns, and it can be so damaging over time to your health.

"There is a robust amount of literature on research that highlights the benefit to health and longevity through breathing exercises.

"If you think about it, if people are breathing hard and fast out your mouth into your upper chest then that feels like a stress response. All you need to do is the exercise and you can feel that.

"But breathing softly through your nose and into your mouth feels different.

"It's starting to change now but the mindset towards it in the past has been cynicism. "That's just the start of it but when you do a few exercises, and see people engage with it, the ball starts rolling - and it's one hell of a ball when it gets rolling".

Andrew teaching at a movement retreat.
Andrew teaching at a movement retreat.

Working with large corporates such as RBS, Barclays and E Sure, Andrew has created an innovative online platform that allows people to access one-to-one and group sessions that cover a variety of topics such as how to manage stress and anxiety, improve sleep, mindfulness and meditation, and how to increase focus and concentration.

Think headspace - but with a focus on breathing, and made in Glasgow.

And, in the past year with the WFH stress and the pandemic, one can see why companies would be attracted to anything that can help their staff simply calm down.

The other side of his clientele are professional athletes: Andrew works alongside national rugby teams including the SRU, Glasgow Warriors and the professional running industry, to enhance physical performance and aid recovery.

But next up on the client list will be the general public - because (if you didn't know) breathing is now in vogue.

"Breathing, and learning how to breathe properly, is a real pillar of health" says Andrew. "It's just as important as nutrition, exercise and sleep.

"There are only so many walks that people can go for before things had to change. The fallout from all that's happened in the last 18 months shows there are going to be real issues, with mental health being a big one.

"People are really choosing their health, and taking care of themselves, and I think that's another reason why Breathworks is really kicking off right now, for athletes and non-athletes. Because it's simple stuff. You go for a walk, pay attention to your breathing, try a simple exercise and its got a transformational affect."

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Alongside the Performance Breathworks website, which essentially provides individuals with a much needed toolkit to address breathing techniques to manage anxiety or panic, he has also organised a health and wellness day retreat in Ardmay house at Loch Long bringing together all the latest trends in the wellbeing industry.

You can now go on one of the Performance Breathworks retreats to try detox juicing with Juicy on Byres Road, hot yoga with Damn Hot UK, loch swimming and breath work all in one weekend.

"I think it's good to try all those things at once" says Andrew. "This is all of it, the whole package, because health doesn't work in isolation.

"When people leave the day retreats, what they have learnt sticks with them so they’re more likely to do with wee things day to day to be healthier.

"It's also in beautiful surroundings, not too far from the city. We've taken inspiration from companies in the States but that's as far as it goes, because we want to bring the same thing to Glasgow but make it more affordable and accessible."

Performance breathworks ardmay house
Ardmay House, where Andrew holds his retreats.

And making the knowledge that he has harboured in the last 18 months accessible to anyone is top of Andrew's priorities - because breathworks are here to stay.

"You can change technologies and techniques, but it's the attitudes that have to change first" says Andrew.

"We've been lucky with the timing as we're among the first companies bringing this to the UK but it's here to stay.

"Everyone wants to learn how to make yourself younger, but it can actually start from the inside out".

To find out more about Performance Breathworks visit their website or follow them on Instagram @Performance_Breathworks

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