Ex-pro rugby player, Richie Norton, on the mind-body connection
We sat down with ex-pro rugby player, Richie Norton, to talk yoga, meditation and breathwork and the positive effect that these practices can have on the mind-body connection.
What was your first experience with yoga, meditation and breathwork?
It took me a few attempts to get the swing of yoga and my first visit was tough. I chose hot yoga to kick things off – wow, that was an experience. A few weeks later, I tried another class and didn’t really get to grips with it. I got frustrated with my poor mobility, lack of focus and trying not to let my competitive nature take over. I gave up and decided to wait another 5 years until an Osteopath pushed me into giving it another try and this time finding a teacher that I connected with, deciding to let go and just flow with it really helped me. That was the start of this incredible journey.
How can breathwork and meditation help to focus one’s mind? What are some simple exercises that you can recommend for bringing a wandering mind back to the present?
I have a bust ‘monkey mind’ like many others, plus ADHD constantly testing my focus. In my personal practice, ‘breathwork’ helps me ‘meditate’ – If my mind is highly distracted, I’ll use a counting practice where I will inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, then hold again for 4 seconds. This will calm you and settle the busy head so you can get back in the zone.
Often, we think of using meditation and breathwork to calm the mind. How can meditation and breathwork be used to boost energy?
Breathwork has been a powerful tool for my own training as well as my performance athletes. Priming the ‘system’ prior to exercise to help prevent injuries, stimulate the mind and body to create laser focus and settle nerves. A controlled way to do this would be to add breath holds into your practice as well and some short ‘super ventilation’ in and out of the nose, try 10-20 breaths and then a hold. Repeat for 3 rounds.
As the face of the Headstrong initiative by AXA PPP healthcare, you are a champion of the idea that mental and physical health must be viewed as one. Personally, how has your mental health benefitted from physical exercise?
I used to be someone that just trained the physical side, eventually, my body broke, and it was the connection to the power of my mindset that changed everything. Now my breathwork, meditation and movement training are combined together so I can get the best of all worlds. I’m able to train smarter, control stress and perform at a higher capacity without doing unnecessary damage – that’s why working with AXA PPP healthcare on this campaign is important to me, as we all need to view our mental and physical health as one complete health.
When you are feeling mentally strong and stable, do you also feel stronger in your body?
100%! If your mind is distracted or overwhelmed in some way, it’s very hard to have your body working effectively. When you are mentally switched on and ‘present’ you have more awareness and control physically, providing a fast connection and stronger signals to your cells/muscles to help recruit more strength.
As we know, men can find it difficult to speak about mental health issues. How do you think yoga, meditation and breathwork practices can help men to take care of their mental health?
All of these practices create a safe space for guys, breaking down the simple tools we all have to release some stress, unlock built up tension, learning how to channel energy in the best way and have an environment where you can go at your own pace.
What have you found are barriers for men to engage in these practices?
I feel there are a lot of intimidating images of what you have to look like or be like to take part in these practices, but also the fact that men, for many years have had to be this macho, strong presence, often finding it hard to share their true feelings, This then leads to all sorts of mental barriers. I feel all the practices have the power to transform and save lives.
If you’re having a bad mental health day, do you have a specific practice or exercise that you go to for help?
My go-to practice would be a form or counting while doing a form of breathwork to distract a busy mind. Usually, an inhale of 5 seconds, a hold of 2 seconds, then exhale of 10 seconds. Repeat for 10 rounds.
Are there any other men that you’re aware of who are championing this space as you are?
I’ve seen so many great coaches and practitioners come into ‘the space’, sharing wisdom and knowledge that dates back thousands of years helping us reconnect with nature and unleash our true human powers. My crew: Stuart Sandeman @breathpod, Rich Husseiny @husseinyperformance, Tony Riddle @thenaturallifestylist
AXA PPP healthcare has launched Headstrong, an initiative to help enable an active approach to our mental wellbeing. As part of this, Richie Norton, founder of wellbeing brand The Strength Temple has also created a workout series that explores desk exercises, breath work to help with sleep, with mindfulness, and to help beat stress and improve focus. More information can be found at https://www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/headstrong/