“We’re busy rushing around, trying to juggle all these things, we’re trying to be successful, make money, build a career, have a family…” Does that sound like you? For many of us, stress is a constant part of our day – it just comes with the territory of modern life.
This is what ex-rugby player Richie Norton recognises we’re all struggling with, and what he’s now dedicated his life to helping through teaching breath work, mindfulness, meditation and yoga.
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After being forced to quit his professional rugby career due to injury, Norton found himself at a loss and his mental health was suffering. This is when he started practising breathing techniques – and because of this he says he’s “physically fitter and healthier” than he ever was.
He adds: “The mind and the body are often so disconnected, especially in big cities. We really neglect just checking in and taking a little step back to see where we are.” This is where simple breathing exercises come in.
I met up with Norton to learn some of his de-stressing breath work techniques and stretching exercises first-hand.
Firstly, he asked me to breathe using just my mouth, and then through my nose. It’s remarkable how much calmer I felt just by breathing through my nose – as if no longer expelling all the extra energy, heat and angst of breathing through my mouth.
One exercise, that felt perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, went like this: through your nose breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts, hold for four counts, and repeat. If you try a few rounds of that, you might be surprised by the immediate and noticeable change in your mental state.
Norton says he’s adamantly against any kind of “woo woo” (his phrase) that might come with breath work. His reasons for the exercises are clear: “Stress is killing us, and long periods of stress are doing real damage.”
Doing a few rounds of breathing exercises can help calm you down when you’re feeling keyed up, but Norton also uses it as a preventative to start his day right.
And he’s not wrong about the stress epidemic. In a 2018 YouGov poll for the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people said they have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect on our mental health and also our physical health, as some turn to unhealthy eating, drinking or smoking to ease the pressure. Studies like this one found that modified slow breathing can “significantly” reduce perceived stress, blood pressure and your heart rate.
As a few rounds of breathing exercises are so quick to do, Norton doesn’t think time should be a barrier. “If you can take a few minutes out of your day to find movements and practices that instantly give you that release, you’ll make it a regular habit because you’ll then know how much it transforms how you feel, behave and act,” he explains, adding that five minutes a day is “all it takes”.
Norton is all about demystifying breathing and the power it can have on your mental state, and when explaining his methods, he almost tears up and says: “I get a bit emotional talking about this when I think about how this has changed my life.”
Of course, breathing shouldn’t be your only tool against stress, and it’s unlikely to solve more serious, deep-rooted mental health issues. But if you’re an office worker who’s increasingly finding it hard to deal with life’s pressures, why not try a few deep breaths?
- Press Association