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The 3 Breathwork Buckets, (Dys)Functional Breathing + Book a Free Breathing Taster

🤸‍♀️ Stretch 62

Your Weekly Stretch, aiming to teach you something new about your brain & body in less than 15 minutes per week. Thoughts or feedback? Let me know!

Hey you,

We’re getting close to the end of the year and I’m putting my foot on the gas to hit my final goal/experiment:

Become a certified Functional Breathing Instructor.

What in the world is functional breathing? Well, I’m glad you asked.

For the past 18 months, I’ve been reading and learning about my nervous system practically every day. This has had a massive impact on how I live, work and move. Understanding the breath (however simple it seems) and what it means to “breathe right” has played a huge role.

I’ll go in more detail below about what functional breathing means and, more importantly, why it matters (hint: focus, clarity, a calmer mind.)

AND I’m offering free 1:1 'taster calls’ for anyone interested in learning more about their breathing and how to get started. (I’ve been told my enthusiasm for this stuff is infectious so book a call at your own risk… 😉)

Let’s go!


Before we talk about functional breathing, I want to quickly zoom out and look at “breathwork”—a term more and more people are familiar with these days. This will help us understand the importance of functional breathing.

Jamie Clements, a breathwork teacher I want to be like admire, talks about the 3 big level buckets of breathwork:

#1 Functional Breathing

This is all about developing an awareness and understanding of your natural, reflexive day-to-day breathing pattern: at rest, during exercise, at work, etc. It’s how you breathe when you’re not thinking about it.

The objective is to retrain your breathing pattern to be effortless and efficient, improving your overall sleep, energy levels, moods, performance and cognitive function.

#2 Nervous System Regulation

Nervous System Regulation involves practices where we intentionally use our breath as a tool to influence and shift our nervous system state:

  • Up-regulate i.e. activating the sympathetic nervous system (“fight-or-flight system.”)

  • Down-regulate i.e. activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-and-digest system.”)

(I write in more detail about these two branches here and here.)

With nervous system regulation, you typically follow a specific breathing pattern where you either lengthen or shorten your inhale and exhales, slow your breath down or speed it up, hold your breath, and so on.

You might have heard of techniques like Box Breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4) or the Physiological Sigh (double inhale, extended exhale). These are techniques designed to intentionally shift your mental state.

#3 Conscious Connected Breathwork

Think of this like breathwork with a therapeutic objective—a powerful tool for clearing and processing emotions and past experiences, improve overall mood and wellbeing, give deep insight and clarity and create transcendent and spiritual experiences through altered states of consciousness.

This is a deep healing modality of breathwork, with roots in indigenous cultures across the world. This style of breathwork gained Western prominence in the 60s and 70s, in the form of Rebirthing Breathwork and Holotropic Breathwork.

As you can see, there’s lots of variety which can be quite overwhelming at times.

So where do you start?

Well, think of your body as your house (it kinda is!). You need a solid foundation.

I’m personally most interested in Functional Breathing, with a pinch of nervous system regulation.

Functional breathing is the foundation. You can download the latest breathwork app or watch Wim Hof YouTube videos, but if you’re not breathing efficiently throughout the day and during sleep, you’re unlikely to make a long-term impact on how you’re feeling and breathing.

Even more, as breathing coach Conni Biesalski recently wrote in her newsletter (I’m slightly paraphrasing here), “Diving into world #2 and #3 without also immersing yourself into world #1 is not very effective in the long run and might actually keep you stuck in a dysfunctional breathing pattern and dysregulated nervous system.”

Okay, but why does a functional breathing pattern even matter?

Before we answer that question, perhaps it’s helpful to talk about the opposite of functional breathing first.

Dysfunctional breathing is breathing that is inefficient and effortful. It’s often fast, hard and into the upper chest, causing imbalances in levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Upper chest breathing is also linked to sympathetic nervous system activation, keeping us in a state of high alertness and stress.

For most of us, unknowingly, it’s become a habit to breathe too fast and too much. (We can thank our modern, hectic, sedentary lifestyles for this!)

And unfortunately, this really does matter.

Think about it. You know that how you feel impacts how you breathe. When you’re getting ready to go into a stressful meeting, your breathing is different from when you’re cuddling your partner on the couch, watching a movie.

This process also works in reverse. How you breathe, impacts how you feel.

Dysfunctional breathing impacts the autonomic nervous system and messes with the oxygenation of your brain. This obviously has an impact on our sleep, energy levels, cognitive function and physical performance.

But here’s what’s so cool about all of this:

Breathing is considered to be an involuntary activity, but we can exert quite a lot of control over it.

We can learn how to breathe in a way that is quiet, slow, effortless and efficient.

The 3 dimensions of Functional Breathing Training

The re-training exercises target 3 dimensions of breathing:

  • Biochemical – exercises to normalize breathing volume and balance levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen

  • Biomechanical - breathing ‘low’ into the belly, using the diaphragm and always through the nose

  • Cadence - slowing down the respiratory rate to between 4.5 and 6.5 breaths per minute to improve functioning of the autonomic nervous system—the system that controls your fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest response.

Simply by correcting dysfunctional breathing, it’s possible to bring feelings of calm to the mind and body.



My “coaching” focus will be all about how we can use functional breathing to calm our minds.

That’s something I personally struggle with quite a bit. Daily breathwork has made a massive difference for me which is why I’m so bullish on this stuff, and why I want to delve much deeper into the field + share my learnings with others.

Just reply to this email to let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll send you the details to book in a slot. The calls will be between January 15-31.

What we’ll do in this 30-45 minute call:

  • We’ll go through an assessment of your overall breathing patterns using a few different tools.

  • I’ll talk you through the 4 dimensions of healthy, effortless and efficient breathing: nose breathing, light, slow and deep. If you’ve been following this newsletter for a while, you know I like to nerd about the physiology. Understanding how and why something works makes all the difference, so I’ll probably have some slides prepared for you 🤓.

  • We’ll create a plan for you to develop overall breath awareness and decide on 1-2 breathing exercises for you to incorporate into your life.

Oh and yes, I’ll be certified by then as an Oxygen Advantage Functional Breathing Instructor. ✌️💨

See ya next week!

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