Richie Bostock, referred to by many as The Breath Guy, is one of the world’s leading coaches and a pioneer in the field of Breathwork. Richie has taught tens of thousands of people across the world in his workshops, retreats and online events. He is the author of the book ‘Exhale’ and Founder of the breathwork app ‘Flourish’. It is his mission to spread the power of Breathwork to the world. (Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Firstly, what led you to dedicate your life to breathwork?
I didn’t come out of high school thinking that I was going to teach people about how to breathe. I started my professional career in management consulting and then became a full stack developer and built an app that became my business for about three and a half years. Around that time, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Once I got the news, I was looking for ways to help him and came across an interview with Wim Hof, The Iceman. He was saying how his technique, The Wim Hof Method is great for everyone’s general health but specifically, with people who have autoimmune issues. I ended up traveling to Poland, and spent a week in a winter retreat where we did all the crazy things that Wim does; swimming in the ice lakes; hiking around in the snow barefoot in shorts while the temperature was minus three degrees outside.
What I found most profound was the breathwork. We would do these 30 to 40 minute breathwork sessions and I just had such profound experiences of different emotions to different visions to states of being and oneness to feelings of complete power and control and confidence in my life. It absolutely blew my mind. I was sitting at breakfast after a session with a spoonful of egg in my hand and I remember thinking, I can’t believe that I can feel this way just by breathing. How come everybody doesn’t know about this?
Is there any research that shows why these practices slow down or even halt the progression of autoimmune diseases?
Not specifically MS, but a recent study showed that the Wim Hof Method slows down or even regresses symptoms of autoimmune diseases, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. What they believe is going on is the down regulation of the inflammatory response through the cold showers and breathwork. The down regulation of inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-8, interleukin six, and interleukin eight, and TNF alpha, and the upregulation of anti inflammatory cytokine interleukin 10. The resulting decrease in inflammation of the body helps stop the progression of these diseases.
How long does it take before you start seeing the results from these methods?
With my dad, we caught the disease quite early and quite soon after he changed his diet, began doing the Wim Hof Method with the breathing and cold showers every day, and he’s never experienced progression since. It completely stopped in its tracks. As we know, MS is a progressive disease. So for that to be the case is absolutely incredible.
Traditional medicine is often used to treat a symptom, and you expect immediate short term results. Whereas with breathwork and other holistic health methods, do you need a more consistent, long term approach?,
Usually, though I’ve had experiences with some of my clients who have had instant remission of symptoms. I had one lady who was at a festival of all places and had rheumatoid arthritis. It wasn’t even a very deep breathwork session and at the end, I always give people an opportunity to share if they would like to. She puts her hand up and she says “I had early onset rheumatoid arthritis and it really affects my right hand in a bad way. So usually, I can’t open my hand more than this. And I don’t understand what has happened…”. Then she opens her hand up completely.
That’s fascinating. Can you tell someone’s health and well-being from the way they breathe?
The way that you breathe is almost as unique as your fingerprint. We all have our unique breathing patterns and behaviors, and you can start to make inferences into how a person is, and what their internal state of being is, through the breath. For example, a very shallow chest breather signals chronic stress, even potential emotional trauma. If we look at someone who struggles to breathe, doesn’t really inhale or exhale, then we’re looking at some form of trauma that is causing them to not feel safe. Their nervous system is stuck in sympathetic activation in a very strong way.
It’s one of my dreams to have doctors and frontline workers trained to be able to look at how someone is breathing and offer suggestions on how to help fix breath. It is the quickest way to make quite profound physical, mental and emotional changes. Our breath is so intimately linked to our nervous system. We can change how our nervous system is firing by changing the way people breathe.
Practising breathwork has existed and persisted for thousands of years in eastern traditions. Is it something that we have learnt to cultivate? Or is it something that we’re all born with, and then through the stresses of life, we learn to disassociate from?
The majority of people are born into the world breathing in the way that mother nature intended. There are cases where there are birth traumas or prenatal issues that can affect how someone breathes. But the majority of people will come into this world breathing naturally and they usually stay that way for the first few years of their life. It is life that teaches us to breathe in a way that is not optimal for us for a whole host of different reasons. Whether it’s chronic stress, impactful one off events, or an accumulation of micro events over time. It could even be lifestyle driven such as sitting down too much, wearing tight clothing, being in a society that places so much emphasis on people’s looks. Some of the worst breathers I’ve worked with are models, dancers, and bodybuilders. People who are being judged professionally for how they look.
Do you see a change in people’s awareness around the importance of breathing well?
Hugely. Obviously, there’s awareness in the East, and the importance there is well understood. But in the West, breathing has been swept under the rug as something that just happens. It’s thanks to Wim Hof and various people who have started to bring breath to the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve always known in some way that it is important, even if we don’t know why. It’s even in our language. When something happens to you, you might say, “Oh, it took my breath away.” If your friend is sad or anxious or nervous and they are panicking, the first thing you say is relax, take a deep breath. You don’t know why you’re saying it a lot of the time. So in some way we know that breathing is important, even if we haven’t consciously put much thought into it. During this pandemic, breathwork has exploded in popularity. I think it’s because the work lends itself to the position that we are in in this world. High stress, a lot of emotional trauma, mental health issues. The beauty of breathwork is that it can be done anywhere. You can be anybody and harness your breath to act.
What do you see as the future of breathwork? How can we make it more accessible?
At a very basic level I can see this work implemented in schools. As kids are growing up, it would be excellent to teach them how to use their breath for purpose. Learning how to breathe to relax if you’re feeling stressed and anxious or if you want to feel more creative or fall asleep. Those are the kinds of generalized methods that you can teach everybody to perform. I also love the idea of teaching people in hospitals how to breathe to accelerate healing. It is very simple to do. People are lying in their hospital beds, without much to do, and could have a poster beside their bed or a guided audio track that can lead them through breathing techniques to be able to heal faster, to relax and to calm their nervous system. So embedding it in health services, having doctors and therapists being able to see their patients and say before we talk about your depression, or your anxiety, let’s work on your breathing first, because I can see it’s dysfunctional. That by itself can be huge.