Introducing Anna Gough
Anna Marie Gough is an expert in the field of breathwork and cold water therapy and is passionate about educating and supporting people with these ancient healing methods to optimise both our physical and emotional well-being. We’re huge fans of Anna’s work here at Ancient + Brave, so much so she now appears on our channels monthly guiding our community through live sessions using her methods. Our In House Nutritionist Jo Woodhurst sat down with Anna for a chat to find out more.
Jo - Anna, you’ve already made such a huge impact on all the team here at Ancient + Brave. You speak so passionately about helping others to find their calm and happiness through the tools you use. For many of us working to support others with their health, there is usually a turning point or catalyst within our own life story which drives us. How did it all start for you + what brought you into the wellness space?
Anna - It started 27 years ago, when out of the blue I had my first panic attack. I’d recently had my second son and my husband was working away for up to 9 months a year with his job and I think I’d just hit burn out. Many things from my childhood and also having a husband in the public eye were hugely triggering for me. I spent many years exploring both talking and holistic therapies, and also spent a lot of my time researching and listening to people who inspired me in order to help me understand more about the mind and body connection.I also had a very challenging health condition six years ago and went through months of various therapies to help with the symptoms of Lyme Disease.
Wow, thank you for sharing that Anna, it’s safe to say you gained a lot of experience along the way with everything you went through. You once said that breathing was the root of our wellbeing. What changed for you when you understood the power of the breath?
It’s like a light bulb moment. Something so simple, our life force from birth, until we pass. Dysfunctional breathing, which sadly for many is the case, can have huge implications on our physiology. My physical symptoms from anxiety were actually just a result (although terrifying) of over-breathing. I did lots of study and my own practices and haven’t had a panic attack for 22 years. We can’t always avoid our external stressors but we can change how we control our nervous system and reactions.
I absolutely agree! For those looking at trying to optimise their own breathing - how would you know if you’re not breathing ‘right’ - what are the main signs to look out for?
Become aware of where you’re bringing the air in… is it through the mouth? And when observing the body only the chest rises and falls
Is your mouth dry?
Do you sigh a lot?
Are you exhausted even with optimal hours sleep?
Do you have lots of aches and pains?
Do you snore?
Do you yawn a lot?
Do you have any gut issues?
Suffer from headaches or brain fog?
Are you anxious or depressed?
How interesting - the breath really does affect the whole body as a system doesn’t it. You are also trained in the Oxygen Advantage Method, which has helped Olympic Athletes achieve their full potential. Can you take us into that at a deeper level + what that means practically for those wanting to understand more about it?
The Oxygen Advantage is a method created by a master in the breath work industry - Patrick Mckeown. It works from three dimensions of breathing, biomechanics, biochemistry and cadence. Specific exercises and programmes are tailor made to suit each individual to increase their tolerance to CO2 by simulating altitude training, with a foundation of full time nose breathing. Not only is this gaining huge credence with athletes but also those who are struggling with long covid, sleep apnea and asthma sufferers.
This was also my first introduction to mouth taping at night. The expression on my husband's face the first night I did it was worth the challenge! But I encourage everyone to introduce this to their sleep routine. To simplify; we’re keeping the mouth closed, only using the nose and therefore oxygenating the body by up to 20 percent more during our healing hours of rest.
I’m yet to try mouth taping - I think I may have to now. For me, learning to breathe was very much tied into a meditation practice. Breathing helped me to become present in the moment and allowed me to focus on just one thing, which is so calming. When do you think it is best to use a breathing technique? Do you have different techniques for different needs?
We should always be aware of how we’re breathing. Yes there are some effective emergency methods for example box breath (nasal only) in for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, out for 4. This is very effective for anyone who’s struggling with stress, anxiety or nervousness and need a quick ‘go to’ and others to bring energy and clarity, for example Wim Hof breathing is fabulous for that.
My way of teaching is to educate those who I coach to not wait for the alarms to ring, but to engage from the moment you wake until the moment you go to sleep with functional breathing.
I love that. Often we don’t realise we’re in a health crisis until something major happens - as ever, prevention is so much more important. Cold water and ice baths are a big part of your practice too. I love wild sea swimming but haven’t yet braved it past October! What does the cold teach you? Has it brought up anything unexpected for the people you work with?
The cold can be merciless, yet so magnificent, if you’ve had the right preparation. There’s nowhere for the monkey mind to go. Your focus is primarily within and controlling your breath and surrendering into the sensations of the body. I can enter the ice bath with a busy, chaotic mind and step out a few minutes later with a sense of calm and clarity.
For some who I’ve supported they can find it quite emotional during and after, the breath work before and then the immersion has a way of bypassing the conscious mind and can access deep feelings which have been difficult to express or let go of. For others, a sense of peace and stillness, but for all - this burst of energy and lightness. It really is quite special to witness.
The greatest lesson is realising that we can adapt to stress by controlling our breath and we are so much more resilient than we think.
There’s absolutely an element of safety when it comes to cold water and contrast therapy, hence why it makes sense to have a professional such as yourself to guide people. What are the do’s and don’ts of ice baths and using cold exposure?
There are health conditions which make a small percentage not suitable to take into the cold, but putting those aside, my advice to anyone is to prepare. Firstly just reduce your shower temperature for a few seconds at the end each day. Gradually turn the temperature down until you hit the coldest temperature and gently increase the time every few days. The key is to focus on your breathing, there’ll be a tendency to gasp when the cold hits, keep the breath slow and full and only through the nose. This sends messages to the nervous system ‘all is well’.
Never stay in extremely low temperatures for too long. I advise 1 minute per degree.
Warm up with some gentle movements, remove your wets and get dry. This is the most important part of the session to avoid something called the ‘after drop’ , an internal chill which can go on for hours. People must be aware the body is still cooling for up to 45 mins after your dip or swim.
I love that you take a really holistic approach to wellness and that you have many tools in your toolkit which you guide our audience in. Using techniques encompassing flow writing, following moon cycles, grounding; Do you think it is important for people to explore different wellness styles or should you just commit to one and do it consistently?
I have the biggest wellness toolbox!! Having spent so many years trying different things I would always encourage people to be open and curious. You then develop a clearer sense of what YOU need, as that can change from day to day. Consistency is important with your fundamentals which for me are; Breath work, exercise, ice baths and nutrition... The rest are beautiful additions that I bring in depending on my needs.
As you know, we’re big on daily rituals here at Ancient + Brave and believe they are the keystones on which we build our health upon. Which daily rituals do you live by?
Time in nature
Dose of nature? Barefoot in my garden listening to the birds. But I especially love lakes and mountains
Way to relax? Warm salt bath with a delicious oil in
Ancient + Brave product? Wild marine collagen
Way to connect with others? Ideally in person, I love walking with friends and having a good chat and laugh
Happy place? My home
Things that make you laugh? People who don’t take themselves too seriously and can laugh at themselves! Laughter is contagious