Stuart Sandeman, the UK’s leading breath expert, on how breathwork can transform your life – and why taking a dip in the icy sea could give you the health kick you never expected
One simple breath
I came to breathing through grief. I lost my girlfriend to cancer and was really struggling to deal with the pain I was feeling. By chance, I took part in a breathing workshop, which was an incredibly powerful experience. I couldn’t believe that something as simple and accessible as breathing could help me when I was going through something so difficult. That first experience with breathwork was so profound that I wanted to find out more.
Pause for thought
Practising breathwork can be life-changing. There are the physical benefits: better energy management, oxygen delivery, detoxification, digestion, and sleep. Then there are the everyday emotional changes: reducing stress and anxiety, increasing creativity. Most transformative are the deep emotional changes: being able to let go of our past, integrating trauma and breaking negative patterns in how we think and feel that we’ve often been stuck in for years.
I felt like I had to share breathwork with other people as it had been so helpful for me and others I worked with, so I founded Breathpod, which offers breathwork sessions for health and performance. I’d also seen how breathwork could help people connect with something deeper within themselves, something that brings all of us together, a consciousness. In the future, we want to continue to help and support as many people as we can through our workshops, events and online sessions.
People like extreme athlete Wim Hof use breathwork and cold water to achieve things that seem almost supernatural. Essentially, swimming in cold water forces us to use our breath to calm our nervous system. We have a shock response when we enter the water and we then have to calm ourselves down, and that trains us to deal with stress of all kinds – not just the kind that cold water causes us to feel. There are lots of other benefits to cold exposure too, from improved circulation, better immune defence and higher libido.
The key with tackling that first dip is to start slow. Try just putting your hands in cold water or splashing your face. Taking cold showers or turning the tap from hot to cold at the end of a shower is also a really good way to start.
Top spots to chill
There are lots of amazing beaches to go cold water swimming at around Scotland. There are the lochs as well. I love them all. Whenever I see water, I just have to get in! I tend to be in Edinburgh a lot visiting family, so I often go to Portobello Beach if I want to go sea swimming. There’s also Threipmuir Reservoir in the Pentlands, but it can be quite wild there, so swim with caution.
Stuart Sandeman is the founder of Breathpod and host of BBC Radio 1’s Decompression Sessions. Head to breathpod.me/ and instagram.com/breathpod/ for more info
Go to wildswimming.co.uk for info on staying safe while cold water swimming