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Everything you need to know about the calming power of breathwork

Michael James Wong, author and founder of Just Breathe, shares his tips for implementing this wellness-boosting practice

By Chloe Lawrance

We've all been there: between the non-stop nature of each day - work, social events, keeping up with family - it can be hard to take a moment to stop and just, well, breathe. But finding meditative practices that enable you to slow down and relax is an essential part of any wellness routine.

As part of the Babington Wellness Retreat - a two-day escape celebrating 25 years of Cowshed at Babington House - we were introduced to breathwork by Michael James Wong. The founder of Just Breathe led our guests in breathwork sessions designed to both calm and energise, using simple exercises to turn off and tune in with ourselves.

To help you bring the restorative power of breathwork into your everyday, we asked Wong to take us through the basics of the practice. But first, it's important to create an environment that will help you to fully decompress: the Cowshed Relax Candle and Diffuser Set includes a gently fragranced duo with a calming Lavender and uplifting Eucalyptus scent. Once your space is prepared, settle in and follow Wong's simple guide…

What is breathwork?

'Breathwork encapsulates different techniques and modalities of breathing,' Wong explains. 'In the practice, we use the breath in sequences, each designed to create different responses within the mind and body. Breathwork itself has a number of origins: many techniques come from the yogic tradition of Pranayama, and some have more modern, scientific foundations. Together, breathwork techniques can be essential tools for your wellbeing each and every day.

'Breathwork can be done anywhere, but it's important to choose your technique or practice wisely, depending on your need, situation or location,' he adds. 'Think about breathwork the same way you think about eating. Some things you can eat on the go, and others are best when you sit down and take it slow. There is a time and a place for different techniques, but there is always one that can be effective, no matter the situation.'

What are the benefits of breathwork?

'Breathwork can be used in response to stress, nervous system dysregulation and overstimulation. It's a great tool for gaining a little calm,' Wong says. 'What makes it so powerful is that the effects are immediate - it's a Swiss army knife to be used against life's ups, downs and everything in between.'

Using breathwork to calm

'When we need to down-regulate the nervous system and create calm in the mind, use techniques like extended exhale breathing,' Wong explains. 'Focus on taking a deep breath in, followed by a long extended breath out; this should be almost twice as long as the inhale. Do this a few times over to reduce stress and introduce a sense of ease.'

Using breathwork to energise

'Techniques that warm and up-regulate the body can help to bring energy into moments when you're feeling a little sluggish,' says Wong. 'Try the Bellows Breath technique. Breathe in and out through the nose rapidly, like the bellows that stoke a fire. Repeat this a few times during moments when you need to be at your best.'

The physiological sigh

'This is the one breathwork technique everyone needs in their arsenal,' says Wong. 'We should all know how to sigh properly; it's the fastest and most effective way of removing stress from the body and regulating the breath.'

Here's how the physiological sigh works:

  1. Inhale through the nose, breathing in as fully as you can.
  2. With a second inhale, still through the nose, breathe in again, filling up any space left in your lungs.
  3. As you exhale, open the mouth and sigh audibly. Let your body feel a release as you do so.
  4. Repeat three to five times.

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