Written by Natalie Morris for Metro
Breathing is a pretty fundamental part of being alive. We all do it. All day. And usually we don’t even notice it.
But wellness guru Richie Norton is encouraging people to start paying attention. He says you can unlock endless benefits by simply breathing in the right way.
His revolutionary new workout, Headstrong, fuses movement and breathwork to bridge the gap between physical and mental health – he says embracing these principles completely changed his life.
The former rugby player embraced a more mindful life after suffering with a spate of injuries – now he surfs, meditates, practices yoga and focuses on his breathing.
We spoke to him about why he’s so invested in the idea of ‘whole health’ and encouraging more men to embrace this side of fitness. ‘I started my career as a rugby player, which is very physical and traditionally “macho”,’ Richie tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Due to injuries, I had to end my rugby career and after a couple of turbulent years, I discovered yoga and breathwork. ‘At first I, like many other rugby lads, felt that this was more for women in lycra, which did intimidate me. But once I got over that, I found that the benefits – both physically and mentally – were incredible.
‘Based on my own personal experience, I believe more men need to channel this movement, as they are the ones who tend to focus more on their physical health but forget about how important it is to be aware of their mental state. ‘What many men don’t realise is that breathwork can actually improve physical performance a lot as it can help you to focus and re-energise, while decreasing mental stress.
‘The way I’ve found has worked best when working with men and introducing them to this concept, is to step away from the more spiritual words, and use language that they are more familiar with. ‘I will say, “move your arm this way to unlock the tension in the shoulder man’s chest” instead of, “open your heart and align your chakras”. ‘It’s those small tweaks that can really make a difference.
‘I’ve worked with elite athletes, the military and many others who have very physically demanding and what some would deem “macho” jobs, but they are embracing this movement and are seeing the benefits.’
So, what exactly is breath-work? It’s all about the control of your breathing. Making conscious decisions about how you are breathing is meant to influence your mental, emotional or physical state. Practitioners claim it can have various therapeutic effects. ‘Breathing is a given, but are we aware of how we should be breathing?’ asks Richie. ‘Breathing properly can positively benefit your mind and body in a number of ways, from increasing or lowering your energy, managing emotional, physical and mental stress as well as increasing performance at work or at a sport. ‘The way we breathe can have a big impact on how we feel internally. ‘Ideally with breathwork, you breathe in and out through the nose as this has a much more calming effect on the body and helps to slow everything and reduce your stress levels. ‘When you breathe through your mouth, that tends to have a much more active stimulation on the body.’
Breathwork exercise to help you sleep
When in a lying position, find a breathing rhythm that is right for you, which will start to help your body relax.
Next, take a full breath in through the nose, and out again. Repeat 5 times and start to monitor how controlled your breathing is.
Place your hands on your stomach, with your elbows by your side. As you breathe in, breath into your lower lungs. Next, let the breath out nice and slow. Keep going with that rhythm at a pace that feels comfortable. Next, whilst still lying, breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and out for 5 seconds.
Keep repeating, but try and breathe out for one second longer each time, for as long as you feel comfortable.
The longer you keep exhaling, the more you will grounded and relaxed, which will help you sleep.
Richie’s workout Headstrong, developed with AXA PPP healthcare, is all about ‘whole health’ – incorporating both mental and physical health. He says you just can’t separate the two. ‘Physical and mental health are two parts of one whole,’ he explains. ‘Our mental well-being is so crucial to how we navigate life and the inevitable challenges we all face – but few of us approach mental fitness in the same way we do diet or exercise.
‘The mental assault course that is daily life is not categorised in the same way Tough Mudder or a bootcamp might be, neither is the way we approach mental health or how we celebrate the victories that come with achievement in that space.
‘Developing Headstrong is incredibly important work for me, giving people the tools to help themselves at their own pace and on their own terms as part of a single mental and physical health approach. ‘A healthy body is lost without a healthy mind and vice versa. ‘We’re aiming to change the nation’s mindset around health, getting them talking about and interacting with mental and physical health as a complete concept.’
Keywords; health, breathwork