Breathwork: What It Is & How To Get Started

We take an average of 22,000 breaths a day and experts believe that by harnessing their power, you can transform a state of stress into one of relaxation, and feelings of fatigue into energy. Not only that, your breath also has the potential to enhance your mental health, aid digestion and support exercise recovery – plus, it’s free and you can experience results in as little as 60 seconds. Here’s what you need to know…
By Tor West

First, What Exactly Is Breathwork?

“Most people are unaware of how they’re breathing, but your breath is fundamental to your overall health and wellbeing. Your breath communicates with your nervous system every minute of the day, which in turn regulates your mental, emotional and physical state. Breathwork, therefore, is an umbrella term that describes the practice of breath awareness and a variety of breathing exercises for better physical, mental and emotional health. Many of us breathe shallowly and unconsciously, which can contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, lack of focus and fatigue. When these states become habitual, eventually this can lead to physical ailments. Becoming more aware of our breathing patterns, through controlled breathing exercises, allows us some influence over these states and a bit more physical, mental and emotional autonomy. It can be hugely valuable for those keen to reduce stress, increase focus, and improve their overall health and wellness.” – Tom Woodfin, breathwork practitioner & founder of Perception Architecture

What Happens When You Aren’t Breathing Properly?

“When we are stressed, our breathing becomes fast and shallow. This limits the amount of oxygen entering our bloodstream, which in turn sends a message to the brain that we are in danger. The brain responds by going into ‘fight or flight’ mode and releasing cortisol, our stress hormone. In a stressful situation, this would help to keep us on high alert, but it’s not healthy for the body to be in this state all the time. Over time, this can lead to persistent fatigue, poor sleep, brain fog, digestive issues and low mood. When you take the time to slow down and purposefully breathe, this tells your brain the body is safe, helping it to function normally again.” – Jasmin Harsono, founder of Emerald and Tiger

Many of us breathe shallowly, which can contribute to feelings of STRESS, LACK OF FOCUS AND FATIGUE.

What Are The Signs You Aren’t Breathing Properly?

“If you notice shallowness of breath, typically in the upper chest area, as well as chest pain and anxiety, these are classic signs your nervous system is under stress. Brain fog and fatigue could also be a sign you’re mouth breathing, and not getting the nitric oxide you need from nose breathing, which is what helps move oxygen into your blood. Your breath also helps clear lymph through the body – when this becomes stagnant, it can lead to tension in the body, headaches and poor quality sleep.” – Tom

Aside From Stress Control, What Are The Benefits?

“Aside from reducing anxiety and stress, breathwork can support the immune system and alleviate chronic pain by releasing tension; improve athletic performance by increasing lung capacity and improving oxygen delivery to the muscles; improve mental clarity by increasing oxygen flow to the brain; and support emotional healing by helping you address and process emotions stored in the body. At the same time, a breathwork session can help spark creative ideas obscured by mental and emotional fog.” – Tom

Where Should You Start?

“If you’re a complete beginner, start by learning to breathe properly in three simple steps. Sit in a quiet place for five or ten minutes, and breathe in and out through your nose. Your mouth is not part of your respiratory system, so nose breathing is essential to ensure the air we inhale goes through the correct chemical processes. Relaxing your shoulders will give your chest space to breathe properly, and then breathe into your belly, which ensures your breath is efficiently oxygenating your body. If you think about how babies breathe, they always belly breathe, so primally, this is what we were built to do. These three steps may sound simple, but they will make significant difference with day-to-day anxiety, keep you more grounded and get you in better breathing habits.” – Sophie Belle, breathwork practitioner & founder of Mind You Club


What Are Some Good Breathwork Practices To Try?

For Focus
“Box – or square – breathing helps enhance clarity and focus. Inhale for a count of four, hold again for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts before repeating several times.” – Jasmin

For Stress
“Alternate nostril breathing can reduce stress and anxiety and is very calming. To practise, use your thumb to alternate closing one nostril while you inhale through the other, then switch and exhale through the other nostril. Repeat for several minutes.” – Tom 

For Insomnia
“When you’re lying in bed and can’t think straight or focus on a count when you’re breathing, simply extending your exhale can help. The key is to double the length of your exhale from your inhale – try breathing in for four and out for eight.” – Sophie

For Rebalancing
“The classic 4/7/8 breathing technique is my go-to practice for anxiety and rebalancing. Breathe in for four counts, hold it for up to seven counts and then exhale for eight counts. This never fails to make me feel better – you can use it any time.” – Sophie

To reduce anxiety, DOUBLE THE LENGTH OF YOUR EXHALE FROM YOUR INHALE – breathe in for four and out for eight.

For Deep Relaxation
“Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that combines breathwork with physical relaxation to reduce stress and tension. Start by tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body, such as the hands, arms and legs, while focusing on deep belly breathing.” – Tom

For Energy
“Breathing quickly through the mouth blows off carbon dioxide more quickly, reducing activity in your prefrontal cortex, getting you out of your head and into your body. If combined with breath retentions (like in the Wim Hof method), this can have a very strong effect. Hyperventilation also helps shake the system up by producing adrenaline, while the type of breathing that’s done in ashtanga yoga can help build up energy.” – Tom 

What Are Some Common Mistakes Beginners Make?

“It’s important to be mindful and gentle with yourself when you begin. The most common mistakes beginners make include holding your breath for too long, rushing your breathing, and not allowing yourself enough time to relax into the practice. By holding your breath for too long, you can become light-headed and frustrated. Rushing your breathing can lead to an activated (and potentially anxious) system rather than relaxation, and not allowing yourself time to relax can make it hard to access the emotional and physical benefits of breathwork. Also remember that – like meditation – your mind won’t be totally clear when doing breathwork. The mind is doing its job by thinking, so let it do that, and instead bring your focus to the breath. And it’s called a practice for a reason – don’t be put off if you find it harder some days than others.” – Sophie

Want To Get Started? These Are The Classes To Know…


Mind You Club

Run by Sophie Belle, this online studio offers weekly live sessions to help you decompress and focus, as well as on-demand access to guided breathwork sessions.




Moments from Victoria station, this urban sanctuary offers various meditation and breathwork sessions throughout the week in small group classes.




Whether you’re struggling with anxiety or are a frazzled new mum, this online studio has practices for all levels. Founder Justine is also available for one-to-one sessions in London, Surrey and West Sussex.



The Breathing Tree 

Headed up by internationally renowned breathwork expert Rebecca Dennis, The Breathing Tree hosts events and workshops year- round. You can also book in for a private session if you live near St John’s Wood.



The Breathe Space 

Sign up to this 21-day online programme to master the basics of breathwork and transform your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 




Follow Stuart Sandeman for free guided sessions on IG, and tips for better breathing via his online course.


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