On 29th September, I mustered up the courage to take part in a unique breathing experience led by The Breath Guy, Richie Bostock at the brand new yoga and health RE:CENTRE in Hammersmith, overlooking the river. I have since returned a few times for yoga classes, delicious coffee and to see the exhibition of their Artist Programme. Also, they have a fun slide to reach reception from the upper floor.
Indoor. Grown up. Slide.
Breath through Ice and Fire
The plan seemed very straightforward:
- 40mins of Breathwork, a unique breathing workshop led by Richie himself.
- Wim Hof breathing in an ice bath. (They brought in 1 ton of ice!!)
- Fire: Infrared light therapy with Red Light Rising.
- Hot cocoa. Because ice bath. Need I say more?
Having not done a pure breathing-led practice in over a year, I will confess to being slightly apprehensive. Why? I’m not too sure… I had been counting down the days from the moment I signed up, as if it meant the end of a chapter or the beginning of a new adventure. My old theatre teacher back home put me in a Lecoq mask at the age of 6; I discovered how to breathe around my injuries and through my body doing yoga and callisthenics; I hiked in high altitude most of my youth, trained in Alexander technique and singing for years. What was so daunting about this experience?
Perhaps the fact that Richie said “we’re going to breathe through our mouths.”
And that had never been something that had been highly recommended in any of the realms of expertise I’d been trained in.
Probably that and the thought of having to breathe in ice 40mins later.
And there it was: the brain, trying to do its brain job of rationalising everything instead of experiencing.
The Breathwork Philosophy
Richie ran us through the schedule, and did not go into great detail as to what the Breathwork would consist of. What he said though, I still treasure today and have been implementing in my daily practice and my work:
Breathing is effortless. It is something you do every day while having a conversation, walking down the street, reading a book, cooking. If you’re in good health, it’s pretty much a default option of your body. After having shown us two different breaths and briefly explained their influences (Kundalini, Budokon, etc), the 70-90 odd people present at the event lay on their mats, closed their eyes and dived in.
I doubt there are words enough words to describe what Breathwork does. All I’d say is it did not feel like 40min. Time evaporated. Your brain and thoughts first roam individually before leaving the space you’re in completely. Coming out of it, I remember slowly sitting up, both dazed and getting used to a new-found sense of awareness. A few mats away over to my right sat a man – a big bearded teddy bear of a man with a strong Scottish accent. Tears still gleaming in his eyes and an expression of utter peace on his face, his deep voice echoing through the room: “What the f*ck just happened?!”
Breathing. Pure breathing, that’s what.
A group of people joined us from the inner courtyard behind us. The Ice had arrived.
A Ton of Ice
Now, I’m sure at some point you’ve contemplated doing things out of your comfort zone. This was definitely one of those times. A blend of excitement, fear and certainty rushed through me. “If you do this now, you won’t be scared of anything ever again,” said a voice.
Onwards and upwards, then.
Breathing Athletes of the Wim Hof Method talk us through the science of this technique, and the key elements we’ll have to focus on:
- Exhaling through our mouths
- Not letting the mind take control
They also showed us a series of movements to do as soon as we’d exit the bath to start warming up the body from within to gradually readjust our temperature: feet anchored to the ground, knees slightly bent, twisting the waist in a fluid rotation from left to right / right to left, holding your hands as if you held onto an invisible balloon. Very similar to a mix of Qigong and Taï Chi gestures.
Just Jump In
Before my group stepped into the pool, we all grabbed each other by the hand and held on tight. It was cold. My lungs seized up, my mind was racing: “get the hell out of here, dude: this is not for us.” The cold takes hold of your chest and tightens your pulmonary chain up. Your brain and nervous system tells your diaphragm to inhale. It takes a good 30-40 seconds to regain control. This is why you should never practice Wim Hof by yourself.
The main coach is behind us: “Ex-hale. Ex-hale.“
Having this voice reminding us all to focus and getting the air out of our lungs was helpful. After a while, your mind steps away seeing that you’re in control of the situation. This is when you can relax, focus and even laugh. With every breath, you allow your body to sink a little deeper. I can feel the ice come closer to my neck. The coaches give us a sign: time’s up. We get out, walk to a spot in the sunlight and start our movement sequence. You can hear laughter, breaths, deep conversations. This is an experience like no other.
Red Light Rising
Finally, we all step back inside and follow the signs that lead to the “Red Light District”. Unlike UV lamps or similar bulbs, Red Light Therapy doesn’t impose outside heat onto your skin. Basically, the red spectrum of light goes under your skin deeper than any other UV. At this depth, photons can enter the bloodstream and be passed through your body. It then travels around and you warm up peacefully from within. It has other amazing health benefits: quicker recovery from intense workouts, rejuvenating the skin, heals rosacea, and many more! For all the science stuff, give Red Light Rising a buzz. They’ll reveal all their enlightened secrets.
Was it on the bucket list?
I spent a good 45mins sat in the sun, cuddled up in a giant hoodie, looking at the river and sipping on a hot chocolate – because I deserved it.
What did I learn?
I re-opened my air column and could feel my diaphragm in a complete state of relaxation. I suffer from occasional spasmophilia and cold can trigger it. Yet – not a symptom in sight. The pre-ice apprehension had left me, and I truly felt on top of the world. As if I could now take on anything, jump into the unknown with my feet firmly planted in the ground.
I don’t think I would ever have actually put this experience on my bucket list voluntarily. But I’m proud anyway and would recommend Richie’s classes and retreat to anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the art of breathing. For people who wish for something more for themselves. No matter the realm.
I signed up because it looked scary. Because it was daunting and crazy.
And they had a fun slide.
Follow Richie on Instagram @thebreathguy for more info on Breathwork events and classes!