Book Review: How to take a breath

How to take a breath

By Tania Clifton-Smith

Published 17 August 2021 by Random House NZ

Surely breathing is simple, right? Well it’s not but Tania makes it easy to understand.

“Breathing is the conductor of the orchestra” and Tania knows how to make sure your conductor facilitates the magic that is breathing well. She also knows how to formulate all the pertinent information, so it is easily understood, and the reader puts the book down convinced of that magic.

Tania Clifton-Smith is a PNZ Honorary Fellow who has over 30 years’ experience in the field of breathing dysfunction, breathing pattern disorders and hyperventilation syndrome. She co-founded Breathing Works clinics 1998 with Dinah Bradley, and established the BradCliff Breathing Method in 2008, a physiotherapy treatment programme for breathing dysfunction. Her published books on breathing pattern disorders and breathing dysfunction include: Breathe to Succeed, Dynamic Breathing—managing your asthma, Breathe Stretch & Move, and Breathing Matters.

In Tania’s latest book How to take a breath she packages the important points in digestible chapters with language this is easy to understand, making it a valuable resource for health professionals and patients alike. This way everyone can understand why breathing well is so important, the steps to take to make sure you are breathing well, and who to see if you are not. There is currently increased growth in the Health and Wellness Space and an eruption of business owners offering “breath work”, even in the absence of any relevant training or qualifications. In this book, Tania highlights the role that appropriately trained physiotherapists have especially with our strong background in pathophysiology.

Breathing is so much more than respiration and this book discusses just that. How to take a breath starts by laying an excellent foundation in pathophysiology and clearly highlights why we would all want to progress towards having energy efficient breathing. The foundation information is so easy to understand it is a ready to go addition in any clinicians tool box.

The book is divided into easy, read alone chapters. Throughout each chapter, there are brief case studies, related activities to try to learn to notice your breath and body and how that makes us feel and a beautiful succinct summary at the end. At the end of the book there is a section containing exercises, strategies, resources, a glossary and an index. Tania has created a book that can be digested all in one go, in sections or as a reference to a specific question or need.

Early on in the book, alongside explanations relating to anatomy and biochemistry, Tania takes the time to define and normalise the emotions of fear and anxiety and linking the body and mind connection in a way that is easy to understand. She highlights the importance of understanding and listening to your body, stress connections and triggers and psychological adaptions. She makes reference to the need for us as a society to regain the sensation of noticing how our body exists in space and feels.

Further along in the book there are specific chapters for—breathing well through the ages, highlighting the unique needs during the antenatal and the menopausal period in females lives. A separate and well needed section for teenagers includes commentary on hypermobility and vaping and specific chapters for sports, speech, cough and pain/fatigue/sleep disorders round off the book. For the final chapter Tania has commentary from Jolie Davis giving a Māori perspective on breathing.

How to take a breath is rightly highlighting the value of breathing well and the role cardiorespiratory physiotherapists play in this space. Once again Tania is flying the flag for physiotherapists while doing what she does so well and ensuring everybody has access to the knowledge and understands the science around this.

A valuable addition to every clinic, library and home bookshelf for all the health professionals, therapists, patients and future patients alike.

Reviewed by Brigitte Eastwood (on behalf of the Cardio-Respiratory Special Interest Group).

Page updated April 2022