Bondi Lifeguard Dean Gladstone and the breath of life for ocean swimmers

Dean ‘Deano’ Gladstone is a man of many talents; most of you would know him from the Logie award-winning Aussie TV show ‘Bondi Rescue’, but not only is he one of the ‘boys in blue’ he’s also a champion surf swimmer, personal trainer, Wim Hof instructor, breathwork coach, yoga teacher and holistic health coach. 

In this feature, Suzie Ryan talks to Gladstone about his journey into holistic health and how ocean swimmers can benefit from breathwork, functional breathing, and cold water therapy. 

From lifeguard to breathwork instructor 

Mr Gladstone got into swimming from a young age to help manage his asthma and regulate his breathing but it wasn’t until later in life that he decided to explore the practice of breathwork. 

“It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I found yoga and I found that it started to regulate my breath the same way as swimming did,” said Gladstone. 

“I have always intuitively found that swimming was a form of breathwork, so now when I teach breathwork, I always reflect upon that and see swimming as a form of breathwork. 

“This really interested me so I decided to do some more research and training in it and eventually became a yoga teacher, health coach, personal trainer, breathwork coach and Whim Hoff method instructor.” 

Back on Bondi Beach, Gladstone was also discovering that breathwork was connected to his work as a professional lifeguard, more than he had originally thought. 

“Funny enough, breathwork ties into lifeguarding as well because when people get into trouble and need to be rescued, they go into a fight or flight stress response and are generally panicking,” said Mr Gladstone. 

“In these moments, they lose control of their breath and a lot of what I teach people now is to understand and influence their stress response through the power of the breath and through breathing to reduce your stress levels.” 

Mr Gladstone practising breathwork and yoga

What is Breathwork? 

Breathwork is a form of breathing exercises and techniques that can help bring balance to your body and calm your stress. 

Breathwork has been proven to help improve your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. 

There are many benefits to breathwork including: 

  • Calming the central nervous system 
  • Balancing blood pressure 
  • Improved deep sleep 
  • Stronger respiratory function 
  • Better immune system 
  • Release of stress hormones in the body 
  • Better mental focus 
  • Improved energy levels 

Breathwork for ocean swimmers 

In his time teaching breathwork, Gladstone has found it to be beneficial to ocean swimmers, but it comes with a caveat – everyone’s experience with breathwork will be personal, and it’s not for everyone, he says. 

“The practice of breathwork absolutely helps ocean swimmers, but I have found that different things work for different people. 

“There is no one size technique that fits all. Some swimmers are very good at some techniques but others really struggle.” 

For many swimmers, holding your breath can be a stressful experience, especially if you feel like you’re losing control in the surf, but Mr Gladstone says that it is not an uncommon fear. 

“When doing breathwork I really try to understand what’s going on when people get stressed. I help them understand physiologically what’s going on and then teach them how to influence that with the power of the breath,” said Gladstone. 

“Most of the time people are worried about holding their breath, so my general advice is to start practising some breath-holding techniques on land and then you can transfer them to the water later. 

“Usually, I teach people to start holding their breath for 15-20 seconds because that is generally how long a decent wave would take to come and go, and that can help people understand what their fight or flight response is. From there, they can work on managing their response so they feel in control, and increasing the time they hold their breath for.” 

Mr Gladstone teaching breathwork

Are you a functional breather? 

Functional breathing is the breathing system’s ability to adapt to physical demands in both activities and in rest through breathing through the nose. 

“Swimming is a non-functional sport because we are breathing through our mouth, so I have found that when I have worked with swimmers, including myself, they are non-functional breathers because they are breathing through their mouth even when they are not in the water,” said Mr Gladstone. 

“And we really need them to breathe through their noses especially at night.”

Gladstone explains it’s quite easy to tell if you are a non-functional breather as there are many common symptoms. 

“Usually, if you’re a non-functional breather and not nasal breathing, you’ll find that you’re getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and you wake up feeling sluggish and not wanting to jump out of bed in the morning,” said Mr Gladstone. 

“But don’t worry if you experience this, because it’s quite simple to fix, you just need to start paying attention to your breathing and ensure you are breathing through your nose.

“Start by doing some slow nasal breathing and ensuring you are breathing nasally through the night. You can actually use sleep tape that brings your lips together at night to help train yourself to breathe nasally.

“When you start functional breathing you will notice a real difference not only in your swimming but also your daily performance because you will be able to perform better cognitively and physically.

“It will also reduce your overall stress because breathing plays a really powerful role on our nervous system and breathing functionally can help reduce panic and stress in people.” 

Coldwater therapy for swimmers

It was Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete who earned the nickname “The Iceman” because of his ability to withstand extreme freezing temperatures, that attracted Gladstone to cold water therapy.

Wim Hof developed the Wim Hoff Method after documenting his findings while undertaking an impressive list of physical achievements in nature, from swimming underneath the ice to running a half-marathon above the Arctic Circle (barefoot and in shorts, no less).

“I actually went over to Europe a couple of times and trained with Wim and hung out with him at his house which was fun,” said Mr Gladstone. 

“I actually climbed a mountain in Poland with Wim in my boardshorts, which is crazy.

Mr Gladstone with Whim Hoff

“Coldwater (therapy) isn’t a new thing, it has been around for a while and it’s really good for increasing one’s metabolism, waking people up and getting the circulation pumping. 

“A lot of people are scared of the cold and that is probably one of the main reasons why you don’t see as many people swimming throughout winter.

“But what I like to do is empower people with the cold and show them that a little dose of cold isn’t going to make them sick, it’s not going to kill them, they will be ok and it will have benefits for them.” 

If a two-degree ice bath isn’t for you that is ok, Mr Gladstone says that cold showers, or even cold water swims, are a great start to introducing cold water therapy into your routine. 

“Having a cold shower isn’t the same as an ice bath but it is very similar and it’s a great stepping stone for those scared of the cold,” said Mr Gladstone. 

“When having a cold shower you want it to be below eighteen degrees to get a good dose of thermogenesis and you will have to stay in there for a significant amount of time if you want the same effect of an ice bath which would generally be between ten to thirty minutes.

“Because when you are in an ice bath it is usually between two degrees and six degrees and you would stay in there for anywhere between two minutes to thirty minutes, so to get the same dose of cold you need to shower for much longer.” 


What is cold water therapy?

Coldwater therapy is the practice of submerging yourself in water below eighteen degrees. It can be in the form of ice baths, daily cold showers, outdoor swims or cold water immersion. 

Coldwater therapy is proven to help specific health conditions and have a positive impact on your general health.  

Benefits of cold water therapy: 

  • Improve circulation 
  • Deepen sleep 
  • Increase energy levels 
  • Reduce inflammation within the body
  • Speeds up metabolism 
  • Improved focus 
  • Improved immune response 
  • Improved heart health 
  • Increased moos 
Mr Gladstone teaching coldwater therapy

Advice for ocean swimmers 

Having been a professional lifeguard on Australia’s busiest beach for more than twenty years, Gladstone knows his way around the ocean. And, given his passion for breathwork, it’s hardly surprising that his biggest piece of advice is for swimmers not to panic when confronted with a situation they feel out of control in.

“I see people come into the ocean and they get caught in a set and are being hit by waves and they start to panic. As hard as it might seem, my advice is to not panic and stay calm, and breathwork can help with that. 

“When you’re calm, you can make rational decisions that can keep you safe and in control. If you panic, you’ll only start to fight the ocean and that is when things can go bad, quickly.

“With my lifeguard hat on, I would also say always go ocean swimming with a group or with someone experienced in the ocean. Having someone with you who has a piece of lifesaving equipment such as a board or tube is a very good idea because you never know when someone may get in trouble.”  

 To learn more about Deano’s breathwork and cold water therapy offerings, visit deanogladstone.com

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