Understanding Your Skin

Could Breathwork Help To Remedy Your Stressed-Out Skin?

Stress is a natural human response which causes a chemical change in our bodies. This has an effect on everything from our immune system, digestion, and of course our skin. In moments of stress, a hormone called cortisol is released from our adrenal glands. When released at the right time, cortisol is an incredible help in stressful situations. It primes your body to respond to danger in the best way. However, if we are stressed out regularly at a low level, we’ll be producing more cortisol than we need and this is where we can start to see the less useful effects of cortisol come through. 

So, what does this mean for our skin? Well, the release of cortisol sends our sebum production into overdrive, causing inflammation, congestion and breakouts commonly in the lower jaw and chin area. It has also been shown to increase inflammation levels and exacerbate existing skin conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis and contact dermatitis. Stress also has a detrimental effect on your barrier function, with studies showing that stressed-out skin has a higher rate of trans-epidermal water loss. 

Usually, skin clears and improves as your stress levels decrease but if you want to take action, or reduce your chronic stress levels and be more in control, then breathwork is really coming to the forefront as a technique that can be hugely beneficial to do that. 

To discover more about breathwork, we spoke with Artur Paulins, founder of the Breathwork Academy. Artur will also be taking over our #PSLIVE on 12th May for a breathwork session.

I see breathing and breathwork as a remote control for our nervous system...

...and if we can influence our nervous system, we can influence our body and our brain. Mentally, it can help us improve focus, reduce stress levels, improve sleep and overall cognitive performance. Physically, correct breathing can help improve our performance.

For me, there are 2 levels of breathwork. The first level is becoming aware of your breath. Then, as we build awareness, we can start to change and influence our breath to create a state shift.

Breathwork shifted my perspective and suddenly I became more content with the challenging situation I was in

I first discovered it around 8 years ago. I have been training and competing in martial arts and when I was competing in MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu,  I knew I had plenty of tools to train my body and there's plenty of resources to learn about that but I couldn't find any real resources how to manage my mindset which was the biggest differentiating factor. My coach recommended going to a Buddhist centre and I started reading books by freedivers about using breath and that was my first exposure. Since then I’ve been keeping up the practice. 

I rediscovered it at a challenging time when I was injured and couldn't train. I was working a stressful job in architecture in London and suddenly, left to my own devices, I didn’t have something to take care of my mental wellbeing.  So I returned to breathwork and it shifted my perspective and suddenly I became more content with the challenging situation I was in. 

This experience made me want to dive deeper and explore breathwork more so for the last 4 years I've been learning about yoga, coaching people, strength training, working as a personal trainer, exploring more about cold exposure and diving deep into the world of self-improvement. 

In all these practices, breathwork is the common denominator and most impactful. The Breathwork Academy is my attempt to address 2 main hurdles I had seen in other workshops: lack of consistency and lack of community. Breathwork is all about self practise so I wanted to build a programme that would aid this, giving participants different techniques and principles so they maintained self-practice. I also wanted to provide people with a network to help them through the course so there is a group of 12 in each course as a team to motivate and support each other. 

The Science of Breathwork

Using breath has been around for thousands of years, and recently has become more popular which is probably down to the rise of people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression and looking for ways to address it. 

Breathing is so effective as it can influence your nervous system which, to simplify, has two sides:

The Sympathetic Nervous System

This is our ‘fight or flight’ mode that we need in moments of danger and stress

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

This is our ‘rest and digest’ mode which we need to repair, digest our food and eliminate toxins effectively

We can use our breathing to learn more about these systems and how we respond to them. If we shift into the sympathetic state, one of the first responses is our breathing which shortens and becomes shallower. Awareness of this change helps us to recognise when we are in the sympathetic state. 

We can use our breathing to shift states. By slowing the rhythm of the breath, we can reach rest and digest mode. If you excite the breath you can learn what physiological responses are happening in our body in the sympathetic mode and gain hands-on tools to develop an awareness of this state. If we understand the principles of breath we can actually have an influence so we are not powerless in our responses and have a better top-down brain to body control.

Stress is neither good nor bad...

Stress is beneficial when it’s at certain levels. Exercise and fasting are both stressors but in the correct dose, they actually lead to adaptation so you are improving and building resilience. The sympathetic system is also useful for fighting lethargy and tiredness. We can use breathing to excite the nervous system. For example, if we have a call or a meeting, need to improve our focus or just to get going in the morning we can use our breathing to do this. 

Our modern-day lives are filled with people, messages, apps and media all vying for our attention and this can put our bodies to a sympathetic state where we are constantly in a low level of chronic stress which can be detrimental. 

By moving into the high sympathetic activation which is acute stress that happens really quickly, we can learn how to downregulate from acute stress rather than staying in a low burn stress state. We do this by accelerating and then slowing the breath down to return to a relaxed state where our body can go back into self-repair mode -  that’s why going into the parasympathetic mode is so important - we need to be in that state for our body to heal. 

Through exploring my breathing I am understanding myself more

Know thyself- it’s a quote that’s been around forever and it’s a bit of a cliche but I think the most important benefit for me has been through all my practices including meditation, yoga and breathwork especially is building an awareness of myself. I have learnt to become aware of my responses and the responses that might have been unconscious that lead to me reacting a certain way. Through exploring my breathing I am understanding myself more and this gives me a choice and extended reaction time so I can respond to life's events more constructively

If you're interested in starting breathwork, my advice would be to explore different teaching methods and approaches. Breathwork can be used for purely respiratory health, it can be used for mindfulness, it can be part of a therapeutic process which integrates past trauma - there is such a broad spectrum of what we can achieve with breathing. A lot of techniques contradict each other but I believe that there is something to learn from all of them. At the Breathwork Academy, my aim is to try and decipher these techniques and unify them into a more coherent teaching. 

It was a powerful experience meeting Wim Hoff and learning about the extraordinary things he was able to do

I think the biggest takeaway I have from my time with him is that we are all capable of these incredible things. He himself is not superhuman, but he has accessed our innate human capabilities that I believe we have forgotten we possess. It’s shifted my perspective on what is physically possible.

Since my training with Hoff, I have taken people on journeys, some who have never even had a cold shower before and by the end of the week they are climbing a mountain in freezing weather - we are all capable and we have so much potential. 

These abilities are ordinary, we just need to know how to access them.