Richie Bostock is a Breathwork coach, author and speaker. He has made it his mission is to spread the life-changing possibilities of Breathwork to the world.
In this interview, we speak about his journey to discovering the power of the breath, and how we all need to re-learn how to breathe properly in this hectic modern world.
Richie also took us through a breathing technique that you can try at home – and explains what you can expect to experience by attending one of his many classes.
Thanks for speaking to Human Window, Richie. Could you give us a bit of a background about yourself and your story up until now?
Sure. There’s no university degree for breathing – it wasn’t what I was originally planning to do in life, teaching people how to breathe! I really came across Breathwork purely by accident.
Quite a few years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which is an autoimmune issue. Like with all autoimmune problems, you can’t take a magic pill and it disappears. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that most people have to deal with for a lifetime.
I was always on the lookout for things to help my dad, whether it was alternative therapies or lifestyle changes. I came across this guy on a podcast called Wim Hof. He’s known as the Ice Man and for anybody who’s not heard of him before, he’s called that because he holds more than 20 world records all related to cold exposure, so things like swimming under ice and sitting in ice baths.
He clued onto the fact that breathing is important for managing his state and through his own experience, created some breathing techniques. He eventually combined those techniques with the cold exposure techniques he was already doing and created something called the Wim Hof Method, which is great for everyone’s health and wellbeing.
On the podcast, he very specifically mentioned how his breathing and cold exposure techniques are very good for people with autoimmune issues. That caught my attention, so I did a bit of research and found out there’s a breathing technique, taking cold showers, ice baths… I went to my dad and said: ‘this guy called the Ice Man says that if you do some breathing and take a cold shower, it will help your MS!’. You can imagine his response, because it sounds a bit nuts and a bit crazy. Sometimes you have a really good feeling about things, and you have a gut feeling that there’s something there.
I ended up travelling to Poland and doing some training in the Wim Hof Method with one of his instructors. It was just the absolute most incredible experience. What really hit home for me was the power of breathing and what breathing could do. We went into a basement under the hotel we were staying at and did these 40-50 minute breathing sessions where we were having very strong reactions.
After the very first session I ever did, I remember coming out of it feeling this incredible sense of clarity, confidence and power. I had an enthusiasm for life and felt like nothing could hold me back. I remember having breakfast after that and thinking: ‘If I did that just by breathing and I feel this way, why doesn’t everybody know about this?’.
To cut a long story short, I came back home, taught my dad to do the techniques – so he does the breathing every morning, takes cold showers every morning and changed his diet, which is very important with autoimmune issues. The progression of his MS just stopped in its tracks. That was very powerful for my family but I continued to research breathing.
Thanks to Google I found out that there’s this thing called Breathwork, and it’s a whole underground community of people who are doing really interesting things with breath.
That started about three years of travelling all over the world over five continents learning about breathing from anybody who was doing something interesting with it. As it turns out, there are a lot of different ways to breathe. That’s my mission now: to share the benefits of breathing and teach people to breathe with purpose so that they can shift the quality of their lives.
You mentioned that you noticed some strong reactions when you did the Wim Hof Method for the first time, what happened?
We were doing very intense breathing exercises and if you define Breathwork as any time that you use your breathing to create some physical, emotional or mental benefit for yourself, we were probably on the more intense end of that spectrum. If you’re feeling stressed out, you can give a big sigh of relief, and that’s a certain type of breathing plus an affirmation.
But we were doing 45 minutes of deep breathing techniques. It’s almost like controlled hyperventilation, where you create all sorts of physical effects in your body, affecting things like your cardiovascular system, your nervous system and which parts of your brain are firing. It can create a whole host of different effects.
You can use breathing as an incredible form of therapy to work through issues, whether it’s emotional issues or limiting beliefs, or you can go into deep meditative states of altered consciousness where you might ‘meet God’ or see yourself in a completely different way.
There are so many different ways to use breath, but that was a really deep Breathwork session and everyone had very different experiences. Some people would see lights and colors, some people were in the place of ‘no mind’ or had emotional cathartic releases. I experienced an incredible sense of power, this almost primal feeling of ‘I can do it, nothing can stop me’, and all just with a bit of breathing. Who knew?
It’s something I notice in my everyday life. For example, on my way here, I was running a bit late, I was getting on the Tube and I’ve noticed that when we’re stressed, our breathing tends to become much more shallow and I feel that in the modern world, it’s even more common. How important do you think what you’re teaching is?
That’s great awareness actually, that you noticed that your breathing changed. The way that we breathe is a fantastic representation of our internal state at that time. If you’re stressed, you’ll breathe in a certain way, if you’re relaxed, you’ll breathe in a different way. Even if you’re feeling happy or sad, frustrated or angry, these emotions are all reflected in different ways of breathing. It’s a beautiful form of introspection for yourself.
It you start to pay attention to the way that you breathe, you can really tell a lot about your internal state at that time. The way that you breathe throughout the day is probably just as important as sitting down for 10-15 minutes and doing breathing exercises. I have a lot of people who come and do hour-long sessions of deep breathing techniques, which have some really profound moments. But then afterwards I’ll talk to them and tell them to focus on this for the rest of the day.
Breathe in a way that supports your health and your happiness, because the way that we breathe is going to affect these things. So many of us, because of this over-stimulating, stressful lifestyle where, particularly in a place like London, everything is ‘go go go’, it’s reflected in the way that people breathe.
What happens then is that even if that stress disappears, like they go on holiday for example. It’s a great example – when people go on holiday how often is it that they will say things like: ‘I got to the beach but even for the first four or five days at the beach I couldn’t relax’. It’s because your nervous system is so good at being in a sympathetic state, or what we call ‘fight or flight’ mode – it’s the part of your nervous system that’s active when you feel stressed. It becomes a bit rigid so that you stay there.
The body is a habit-forming machine. If you are constantly stressed, your body learns how to breathe in a stressful way. If you remove that stress, even though the stress is gone, you’ll continue to breathe in a stressful way, and that will actually affect the way that you feel.
If you took a completely relaxed person and taught them how to breathe in an anxious way, within one minute or 90 seconds, you’d see their heart-rate going up, cortisol going up, and the body going into a stress response. So it’s very important to be mindful of your breath because it can be your absolute best friend or your worst enemy as well.
Why is it do you think that we’re having to re-learn how to breathe?
If you watch a child under the age of five or six breathing, you’ll see that they have a beautiful expansive breath starting in the belly and moving into the chest. It’s flowing and nice and relaxing just to watch it. There are a whole host of reasons why we learn to breathe in a way that doesn’t serve us. It could be as simple as wearing tight belts, tight trousers, shirts and dresses.
Even when you go to the doctor as a young child and they put a stethoscope on your chest to check their breathing, this is actually telling the child, OK this must be where I have to breathe into (the chest). That sinks in, especially when you’re a young child.
Of course, general anxiety is going to cause you to breathe in a stressful way. But even things like wanting to look sexy and slim.
We have a fantastic culture of gut-sucking, where people will suck in their bellies to try and look a little bit slimmer. This causes all sorts of dysfunctional breathing. In fact, bodybuilders, ballerinas and models are some of the worst breathers, quite often because they professionally suck their bellies in for a living.
Things like past traumas can get stuck in the body and cause you to breathe in ways that aren’t completely useful for you. There are lots of different reasons. If you can just start to remember how to breathe, then you’ll experience huge differences and changes in your life.
What different types of breathing do you teach?
I teach a whole range. Wim Hof was the very first style of breathing that I every got into. It was a catalyst to go and research all the different types of Breathwork. I’ve trained in a good chunk of them and read about many others as well. What I teach is really just how to use the breath as a tool, depending on what you need at the time.
It could be as simple as having a two-to-three minute technique to create some energy when you’re feeling tired. Or it could be the opposite, to try and relax yourself. It could be breathing to get into meditative states or to supplement a meditation practice. I work with athletes, teaching them how to breathe better for athletic performance.
And then we also go into the deeper forms of Breathwork, where we start looking at the various forms of therapy, which is how to use the breath as almost like a talking therapy on rocket fuel. You can work through a lot of things just with a bit of breathing.
We’re often living a lot in our heads these days. Are your techniques a way to get out of our heads and into our bodies?
One hundred per cent, and there are some breathing techniques that force you to get out of your head, that will start to shut down parts of the brain that are responsible for that ‘monkey mind’ and that inner voice that’s always going.
I do 30-50 minute classes here in London where people come in and the purpose of it generally is to go into these meditative states of flow to experience stillness like they’ve never experienced before. It can happen within just a few minutes of breathing and you’re in it for the next 20-30 minutes.
There are ways to breathe that, at a physiological level, put you into that state where you are out of your head and into other parts of your body. You can experience levels of stillness, peace, calm, gratitude, joy, love, ecstasy. People have all sorts of emotional reactions, but it’s always in the positive.
Do you think that what you’re teaching might be more integrated with the medical world in a few years?
That’s one of my big goals with this work actually. I’ve seen what it’s done for myself and what it’s done for a lot of other people.
It can cause titanic shifts in how people think and feel, and therefore how they interact with life and the quality of their life. For that to be possible with just a bit of breathing and not have it known everywhere is kind of crazy!
I’m quite fortunate in the position that I’m in because I get to share this work and the audiences are getting bigger and bigger. Just a few weeks ago, I did a breathing session in Hyde Park for 2,000 people. I feel that eventually this is going to catch the attention of policy makers and decision makers in society.
There needs to be a little bit more science brought into it, I believe. And I’m trying my best to get research groups, universities and colleges involved. But it does take a little bit of time.
I do believe that eventually, it’s going to be recognised as a fantastic form of therapy and help, because it is breathing – it’s not like taking a ‘magic pill’, it’s no strange mind-altering technique – it’s just using your breath. It’s a tool – you get taught it and then you can use it without any intervention.
I can’t emphasize how many people have come to me with physical issues like digestive issues, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, all sorts of sleep issues. The doctors have tried everything and it doesn’t really work, and when they come in, you can see their breathing is all over the place. I start to draw attention to the way that they breathe and give them various other sessions as well to help them in various mental and emotional ways as well, and you start to see it all come together.
I’ve had people who have had, for example, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, who have tried every diet under the sun. I give them a 10-minute breathing exercise to do every day and within two weeks, the symptoms have cleared by 70 per cent. It’s pretty quick and it’s very powerful. It’s tough to put breathing into a pill to sell and this has been a little bit of a blocker for research around breathing.
There have been some instances where powerful breathing techniques have gotten to an executive level at various institutions and colleges to fund research because the overwhelming anecdotal evidence is saying that there’s something here, but then it’s blocked at the top. That can’t go on forever. The more this work becomes know, the more demand there is going to be for scientific evidence that shows why it’s working. I’m sure it will eventually happen.
Where’s the best place to keep in touch with your work and what you’re up to?
My website is thebreathguy.com, it has all my information on workshops, retreats and events. I mostly teach classes in London and right now it’s summer, so I’m doing a big festival tour. On Instagram @thebreathguy is where I post my latest news, where I’m going to be and announcements.
I will eventually be releasing a few other things, especially for people who are outside of London, there’s been a big demand. There’s an app coming, the book is nearly done and will be released in April next year.