He explains to me how our breathing is intrinsically linked to our nervous system. “The way we breathe directly affects our mind and body. If we breathe calmly, we will create a feeling of calm and calm thoughts will follow. Often when stressed we are breathing erratically, in fast or in short breaths.” In short, if we fix our breath, the rest will follow.
Many people, he explains, are also stuck in patterns of stressful breathing which he calls “breathing archetypes”. You may be a “chest breather” who breathes up between the ribs, a “reverse breather”, where your belly sucks back towards your spine when breathing, or perhaps (as he tells me I am as I garble questions to him over the phone) a “breath grabber”: someone who snatches a breath before talking.
You may also have dysfunctional breathing as a result of trauma, “We all have past experiences stored in our unconscious mind that constrict our breathing,” he says. This may come after a horrific event, or equally via what he calls “everyday trauma”, for example, a child shouted at in class who then holds their breath fearfully in lessons. You may have had a stressful week at work that caused you to squeeze your breath and it became a habit. “People get stuck in a stress response, which affects sleep, relationships, and can make you ill.”
Breathe In, Breathe Out suggests regularly checking in with your breath and correcting poor habits. One of its lessons is to breathe more through your nose, which Sandeman points out is a vessel literally built for breathing, “The nose filters airborne bacteria and pollen and helps create the perfect temperature for the lungs.”
It features various breathing exercises intended to reduce anxiety, help sleep, improve digestion and manage pain – Sandeman says the “calming breaths” exercise done for just five minutes a day has the power to increase parasympathetic activity of the nervous system, which causes blood pressure to drop. He promises you will feel calmer, your creativity will increase, and you will make better decisions as your brain becomes responsive rather than reactive.
The most important wellbeing tools are often right under your nose.
Breathe in, Breathe Out: Restore Your Health, Reset Your Mind and Find Happiness Through Breathwork, by Stuart Sandeman, published by Harper Collins, is out now.