Breathwork is the practice of intentionally controlling your breath to bypass the mind and enter a different state of awareness. This is what most people seek when meditating and breathwork takes you to that place very quickly. Both therapeutically and as a path of spiritual awakening, breathwork has been used in ancient traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism for thousands of years. Today, the practice of breathwork is becoming increasingly popular with the likes of Wim Hof (The Wim Hof Method), James Nestor (Breath), Dr Andrew Weil (4–7–8 breathing technique) and others raising awareness of the benefits of the practice.

Wim Hof Breathwork

It was in December 2018, at a kite surfing retreat in Brazil, where I first really tried the practice of breathwork via the Wim Hof Method. Jorrit Steinz, a disciple of Wim Hof, led a session on the techniques. We first did 6–7 sessions of Wim Hof breathwork (which involves brief periods of hyperventilation followed by brief periods of breath retention), followed by an ice plunge. When I first went into the ice water, it shocked me, but I set my mind, controlled my breath and experienced a moment of clarity in the water I will never forget.


Once back in Nairobi, I converted a 550 litre chest freezer into my very own ice bath. I plug it in overnight which allows me to jump into a bath of ice and water at a temperature of just above zero degrees, 3–4 times a week. I couple the ice plunge with the Wim Hof breathwork and am now able to stay in the ice bath for 10 minutes comfortably, up from 2 minutes initially. Heightened oxygen levels hold a treasure trove of benefits, and the specialised breathing technique of the Wim Hof Method unearths them all: more energy, reduced stress levels and an augmented immune response.


4–7–8 Breathing

I also practice the 4–7–8 breathing technique, which involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds. When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system commands your fight-or-flight response. When it fires, your heart rate and breathing speed up and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, controls your rest, relax and digest response. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers and your body is guided back into a state of calm and healing. This breathing exercise is therefore a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.

Breathwork can truly be performed anywhere, at any moment, and it is almost instantly effective. I practice the 4–7–8 breathwork technique a couple of times a day — when I feel myself getting stressed or in transitionary periods such as while I am sitting in traffic or before I start a meeting. It is a little like pressing the reset button. My mind is clearer and I am more easily able to focus on the task at hand.

I also do 4–7–8 breathwork every night. This breathing pattern helps to bring my heart rate down and helps me to fall asleep. To maintain nasal centric breathing, leading to an improved length of sleep and overall improvement of sleep quality, I also use nasal dilators (something I learnt about from a breathwork session led by breathing guru Leigh Ewin) and I also tape my mouth.

A Practice For Life

There was a period of time in my life where I felt really unwell — I had a number of gut and digestive issues and a sore and stiff body all the time. That has all disappeared. Considering I now live a healthy lifestyle, the effects that I am experiencing from breathwork are more related to my mental health. Breathwork has taught me to bring my consciousness back to the present moment and has taught me to take a pause — I am less stressed and therefore more focussed, patient, peaceful, calm and happy.

The beauty of breathing lies in the fact that it requires no practice. This is because breathing is something that our bodies naturally do — from the moment we are born. However, the majority of us take this ability for granted and we have actually forgotten how to breathe properly — habitually breathing through our mouths, breathing too fast and breathing too much — keeping our sympathetic nervous systems turned up. Apart from the techniques I use, there are a number of other techniques that can help you practice proper breathing. There is diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, 2–1–4–1 breath and alternate-nostril breathing. Experiment with different options to see which works for you. As Dr. Andrew Weil often says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”





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