MenTal(k) Health is a weekly series that focuses on the way that men look at health and beyond.
So far, we have spoken to mental health experts, cancer survivors, actors and nutritionists about what it means to be a healthy man every day.
This week, we speak to 28-year-old Richie Bostock, more commonly known as The Breath Guy, who tells us about how he ended up in his field of ‘breath work’ after his dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago.
According to the NHS, multiple sclerosis is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms.
These symptoms manifest themselves as problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
As a lifelong condition it can cause serious disability, but can also be occasionally mild.
It was this that led Richie to think about other forms of treatment, and ultimately ‘breath work’, the technique of using breath to improve mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Richie told Metro.co.uk: ‘I got into breath work purely by accident – or fate, if you believe in such a thing – because of my dad.
‘My dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the autoimmune disease, and like all autoimmune diseases there’s no magic pill to cure it.
‘It’s a thing you have to learn to deal with perhaps for a lifetime and I was always on the look out for various alternative therapies and lifestyle changes that might be able to help.’
In his research, he came across a man called Wim Hof.
Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete who has been noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures, setting numerous Guinness world records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and withstanding extreme temperatures.
He still holds the record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow.
Richie said: ‘Wim Hof created this method which ended up being called the Wim Hof Method, that is used to improve people’s health and well-being by using breath work to manage putting the body through extremely cold temperatures to shock the body’s environment.
‘It involves breathing techniques, cold exposure (such as using cold showers and ice baths) and it seems to be really effective for people who have autoimmune issues.
‘This caught my attention and I started to do a little more research and found out he does retreats in Poland in the middle of winter where you spend a week and you learn the techniques and do all the crazy stuff he does.
‘So I ended up going to Poland and spent a week doing the Method.’
In Poland, Richie definitely experienced extreme cold. They swam in ice lakes, hiked around in the snow bare foot and climbed a mountain just wearing shorts.
He said: ‘We hiked around in the snow bare foot just wearing shorts for two hours in -6 degrees. We even climbed the tallest mountain in Poland, the Rysy, just wearing shorts at -19 degrees of wind and snow taking us four hours to get to the top.
‘There were 25 of us – men, women, fit, not fit, young and old – and we all made it to the top and made it through the entire week and no one got as much as a sniffle.’
In all of the exercises, he was particularly drawn to the breath work side of the retreat.
He said: ‘The breath work was life-changing, and I remember the first session I ever did with Wim Hof.
‘Coming out of it was such a sense of clarity and confidence and belief in myself, and I remember thinking, “how crazy is it that not everyone knows about this” and people can feel this way doing a little bit of breathing.’
When he showed his dad the photos of his experience in Poland, and explained how the Wim Hof Method could help his MS, he was convinced that he should give it a go.
Richie said: ‘He started having cold showers everyday, he changed his diet in a big way which is very important for any autoimmune issue, and the progression of the MS just stopped in its tracks.
‘So that was pretty crazy for my family, and that’s when I started to research further into breathing.’
Richie was born in London and moved to Australia when he was two, growing up in Brisbane for most of his life.
For the last five years he’s lived out of Australia and traveled across the world and has lived in UK for more than two years.
Richie explains breath work as people taking it for granted since it’s something we all do.
H said: ‘The words “breath work” in itself can even be a little confusing for people because I think so many of us take breathing for granted as this thing that just happens.
‘When you put “work” next to breath or breathing, people tend to react strangely. Some people ask, “why, doesn’t it just happen? Why would I need to just work on my breathing?”
‘But, what people don’t realise is that breathing and the way that we breathe affects every single system and function in the body, whether that be the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system and even the digestive system.
‘Every one of those systems are affected and impacted by the way that you breathe.’
According to Richie, breath work is simply when you become aware of your breathing and work out how to use it or change it to create some physical, mental or emotional benefit for yourself.
On the spectrum of breath work, its simplest end there’s just learning how to breathe correctly.
He said: ‘So many of us just behave and breathe in ways that are functional.
‘Or even just learning the technique you you can do for just two to three minutes to help you when you feel stressed and to aid you to relax, or even to gain energy if you’re feeling tired and lethargic – that’s it at its simplest.
‘But on the other side it’s complex form is that you can use it as a form of therapy, believe it or not there are ways to breathe to access the unconscious mind to unlock emotional issues, mental blocks and limiting beliefs negative thought patterns.
‘So think of it as a talking therapy on rocket fuel, and then in between you have the traditional ways of breathing in meditation and yoga and various ways of breathing for athletic performance to help increase recovery times and even improve output and endurance.
‘Anyone can do it, as long you have a mouth, a nose and at least one lung then you’re good to go.’
Opportunities came to Richie with the rise of breath work, but the recent Sweatlife festival was successful, and some others coming this summer such as Wilderness Festival as well as having an online course on Fiit app.
He said: ‘What’s really cool is, since the term has grown the classes have become bigger and bigger and that collective energy is amazing.
‘Everyone supports each other, and that bigger group creates a bubble where everyone seems to have a great experience. Having had over 300 people in the room is really exciting.
‘The session we did was about changing the way your body reacts, creating new thoughts and perceptions to open new doors and possibilities for yourself.’
What is MenTal(k) Health?
MenTal(k) Health is a weekly series that speaks to men who have a lot to say on a range of health issues from mental and physical health to fitness, sexual health, and emotional intelligence.
If you know someone who might be great to speak to, please email: [email protected] or connect on twitter @AlexReads__.
Last week’s MenTal(k) Health with Kenny Ethan Jones and his experience with body image as a transman.
Keep a look out for next week’s feature of MenTal(k) Health.
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