With more and more people turning to breathwork to support them through tough times, Vitality Editor Becci Vallis looks at the techniques you can add to your treatments
It’s part of the norm to start a treatment with three deep breaths to get your client to slow down and connect with you but spas and therapists are increasingly dedicating more time to incorporating breathwork into their repertoire. “It affects every process in the body so to ensure that our treatments work effectively we pay a lot of attention to breathing so clients can achieve a faster and deeper relaxation in the body and the brain – before, during and after the treatment,” explains Annemarie Wortman, co-founder of The Tides Wellness. “Our aim is to constantly stimulate the activity of the vagus nerve to increase vagal tone, which has an immediate effect on reducing physical, mental and emotional stress. We find that it’s a natural way to obtain relaxation for both the therapist and the guest and to synchronise the contact between both which in our view is crucial for a successful treatment.”
WHY THE BREATH IS SO BENEFICIAL
Obviously breathing is the thing that keeps us alive but there is more evidence emerging that by focusing on the breath it can make you healthier, happier and improve both physical and mental performance. From increasing our immunity to helping manage symptoms associated with anxiety, depression and insomnia, the possibilities are endless. Certain types of breathwork like the Wim Hof Method where you perform short, sharp inhalations and exhalations followed by an elongated breath hold can even increase your amount of red blood cells as the pathways that deliver oxygen to the cells become stronger.
It's also something that everyone can do, anytime, anywhere which is why as a therapist it’s a brilliant way to give clients a take home benefit so the serenity they feel in the treatment room continues long after they’ve left. “If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t do it, or they’d abandon it after trying it once,” says Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod and who teaches online and in-person breathwork classes. “Taught in the right way, it’s an incredibly empowering and accessible tool and we can use it to turn our stress to calm, to help us through daily challenges, to resolve trauma, to improve sleep…the list goes on.”
For something so simple, there are several breathing methods that you can train in, and many practitioners use a combination to achieve the best results. “There is conscious energy breathwork which is mainly aimed at dealing with trauma, forms of yogic breathwork (pranayama) which is designed to calm the nervous system and then things like functional breathing and sports breathing which is why it’s really important to seek out an experienced practitioner,” continues Stuart.
The Tides use diaphragm, hara and synchronised breathing techniques to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system while aesthetician and facialist Abigail James calls on the techniques she learnt in her training as a yoga teacher. She’s even dedicated a chapter to the practice in her new book, The Glow Plan.
But you don’t need to become an expert to incorporate it into your treatments - start small with extended exhalations. All you have to do is make sure your clients exhale is twice the length of their inhale. So, if they breath in for three seconds, they must exhale for six. If they breath in for four, get them to breath out for eight. Repeat for 2-3 rounds and they’ll instantly feel calmer. “This allows the body to connect to the rest and digest system as opposed to the fight or flight mode that we tend to stay in during times of stress,” explains Annemarie.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
With the pandemic prompting people to look towards more holistic methods to decompress and reboot, Relaxing and Beauty Therapies West Midlands saw it as the perfect opportunity to offer breathing-based relaxation sessions to their clients. “I am trained in breathing techniques and in response to feedback from our clients about anxiety during lockdown, I decided to offer one-to-ones via zoom or send a download to their phone to help reduce their worries, induce sleep and quell a busy mind,” says owner, Faye Tonkinson. The techniques now form part of their ‘3 Point Body Balance’ treatment and it’s been so popular they’re now looking to expand the service outside the salon by taking it into the community via several support groups in their local area.
Katie Garrett, owner of Concept Beauty Academy also decided to add breathing exercises to their Pregnancy Body Massage treatment. “Due to the diaphragm being elevated during pregnancy, expectant mothers can experience shortness of breath, nasal congestion and even vocal changes. The breathwork sequence we teach gives them the opportunity to open up their lungs and really focus on their breathing, plus it’s a lovely way to make that first contact with the client as we breathe with them,” says Katie.
Of course, not every client will be on board with breathwork but that doesn’t matter says Abigail. “There is an element of feeling confident to adding it into your treatments – your client might not be expecting it and not everyone is holistically minded but be brave, be calm and sneak it in! Hold your client’s feet or shoulders and by you taking slow breaths, it’s amazing how the client will probably stop talking and automatically slow their breathing down.”
TAKING IT BEYOND THE TREATMENT
Aromatherapy blends are a great way to get people focusing on their breath so if you have any retail products that will help prompt clients to inhale/exhale for longer, make them known. “We developed The Tides Breath Hacker Aromatherapy Roll – a rollerball that contains a beautiful blend of airway clearing aromatherapy oils to soothe and calm the respiratory tract to support a clearer, healthier respiratory system,” says Annemarie. “It also comes with information on how to activate one’s vagal tone through breathing in order to calm the nervous system to find a surge of clarity, focus and breathwork whenever they feel they need it.”
There’s also a growing number of apps and tutorials that take a deep dive into the how, what and why of breathwork so you can dip your toe in before you commit to a course (of which there are plenty online and across the UK) or direct your clients there. As a starting point Breathonics and Breathwrk both offer free guided breathing exercises while the app Calm now has a ‘Breathe’ function that provides six timed breathwork practices to help you do everything from relax and unwind to focus and energise. Stuart Sandeman also holds live online sessions every first Wednesday of the month from 7pm-8.30pm live on his Instagram (@breathpod) where you’ll get an understanding of how you can release physical and emotional tension via your breath.
“Our Instagram sessions are especially popular with about 600 people tuning in and wanting to get better at understanding how to control their thoughts and emotions or looking for support through long covid. Breathwork has a broad appeal and works equally as well for those going through trauma, high-powered business execs who lead very stressful lives or even those trying to improve their breathing for a given sport,” admits Stuart.
With so much scope and opportunity and 100% inclusive, don’t limit breathwork to massages either. A body scrub, pedicure, facial, even a brow thread appointment could all have a breathwork beginning, middle or end – and not just the standard ‘three deep inhales’ (although that’s still a good launchpad). Just don’t forget to use the techniques on yourself too – “I feel it’s a topic that should be taught in school and it’s an amazing tool for therapists to use at the beginning or the end of a day when they need energising or calming down,” says Abigail. Free and at your fingertips whenever you need it, no wonder breathwork is booming!