Breath of fresh air

Patricia Hamilton signed up for a breathwork course to discover if it would have an effect on her MS symptoms

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2000, although I had experienced what I now know were symptoms since 1975. They started with a numb patch on my right leg, and then problems with my left hand when I was studying as a viola player at the Royal Academy of Music. In 2000 I had leg weakness and then optic neuritis, which led to my diagnosis. I continued teaching music until 2007, when a slip in a shopping centre damaged my right knee.

Over the years I have had double vision once and a number of broken bones – tibia, both femurs (at the same time) and in June 2023 the inaction of a not very good carer broke my right hip. The hip will always be a broken hip because the nail down the centre of the femur means surgery is not possible.

I have osteoporosis and had awful neuropathic pain in my feet that was only relieved by acupuncture. I still have some numbness in both legs. On the plus side, I have a high pain threshold, which probably helped a lot with broken femurs and hip!

Beginning to breathe

My physiotherapist recently mentioned she was reading a book entitled Breath by James Nestor. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I had heard that name before, maybe in an email from BBC Maestro. I checked as soon as I could, and there he was, presenting a course on breath work. All I had to do was sign up, pay up, and begin the course.

I’ve learned that James Nestor (a science journalist) kept getting sick with respiratory problems, including mild pneumonia. At that time, he didn’t know breathing could be done in so many different ways. But since learning the techniques, and practising breathwork, he has said goodbye to those respiratory problems.

James’ book, Breath, was the result of ten years’ research into breathing techniques. During those ten years he met with Free-Divers, Buddhist Monks and many others. The techniques he learned from them allowed him to sleep better, work-out harder, and calm himself down.

I’ve been around the block a bit – never been on steroids, or any MS drugs, but I have been on the Ashton Embry Best Bet Diet for 23.5 years. However, the introduction to the breathing course sounded very promising, and if it didn’t improve my MS problems, it could relieve stress – lower my blood pressure and heart rate, expand my lungs, and reduce inflammation

Getting started

I did the first couple of lessons straight away, and from then on enjoyed breathing more deeply whenever I thought about it (always breathing through my nose). I practise when I am in bed or sitting in my wheelchair. I do not practise breathing for a set amount of time each day, just as and when. James communicates very well and gives ample practise time during the lesson.

During each lesson, James demonstrates a technique, talks you through it, and then helps you to practise it. I have learned about slow breathing, box breathing, breathing less, coherent breathing, and more. James explains what each technique can help with and often cites either his own, or the experiences of others who have practised the technique. The course is very accessible even for those who know nothing about beathing, or where their diaphragm is.

James also pops up on YouTube, being interviewed and explaining some of the techniques. In one interview he speaks about Katharina Schroth, a German lady who healed herself of scoliosis by breathing properly.

I began the course with no massive expectations, but five days later, when transferring to a stand-aid from my wheelchair, both my feet went down flat on the platform of the stand-aid. For a long time prior to that, and due to bilateral knee contractures, my heels would sit on top of the metal bar behind the footplates.

I cannot say for certain whether this progress is a result of better breathing, the physio, or a combination. I don’t want to give anyone false hope, but this is what happened.

My carers and I were amazed, and I happily made a chart and gave each foot a gold star. Since that day I have continued the breathing, and my feet have continued earning lots of gold stars.