Special force SWAT teams, police officers, and Navy SEALs are consistently involved in high-stress situations. They serve, protect, and are often the first ones in the line of fire. In fact, these jobs could be considered as some of the toughest jobs in the world.
In the midst of these critical situations where split-second decisions have to be made under immense pressure, how do they fight the stress reaction and maintain control?
They employ a little tactical breathing.
While most civilians may not find themselves in criminal or hostage situations, those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks can probably relate to the feelings of stress and fear that soldiers and officers face.
Tactical breathing isn’t just reserved for those with special training. It’s a method that’s available to anyone to calm the mind.
Breathing: we spend our whole lives doing it, yet seldom do we truly tune into it. You probably already know that the deeper you breathe, the more oxygen you intake. You also might have an understanding about the power of oxygen in relation to your mental, physical and spiritual wellness. However, did you know that your breathing is also something you can practice and improve?
A Little More Specific
Our diaphragms make inhalation and exhalation possible. Doing breathing exercises strengthens the diaphragm muscle, helping our lungs obtain more oxygen, and preventing other muscles from overcompensating. Ultimately, learning how to breathe with intention through a regular breathwork practice strengthens your diaphragm and intercostal muscles, curing a number of mental and physical ailments.
What Does Breathwork Help With?
- Helps to heal emotional chronic pain
- Calms the autonomic nervous system (the system that is in charge of involuntary bodily actions)
- Contributes to a greater sense of happiness, confidence, and energy
- Reduces feelings of anger and grief
- Helps reduce the effects of anxiety, depression, and PTSD
- Regulates blood pressure and aids cardiovascular function
- Assists with insomnia
- Reduces cortisol levels, which in turn reduces stress
- Invites a start of deep relaxation
- Helps inspire creativity
Belly Breathing/ Diaphragmatic Breathing/ 360 Breathing
To do this exercise, begin by relaxing your neck, shoulders, back and belly. Rest one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. When you breath in, you should feel your stomach rise, and your chest stay fairly still. When you breathe out, press lightly on your stomach, and repeat.
This exercise is especially helpful for women who have been taught from a young age to suck their bellies in. In doing so, they’ve disabled their ability to take deep belly breathes, making breathing into their stomachs that much more important.
Rib stretch breathing forces you to breathe all around your rib cage and into your back. To do it, begin by standing straight, arching your back, and breathing out completely. Then, inhale slowly until you can’t inhale any more, hold for 10 seconds, and breathe out slow. Repeat this.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing forces you to take longer exhales, which in turn relieves shortness of breath and removes excess carbon dioxide from the lungs to allow more oxygen in. To perform this exercise, inhale deeply, then purse your lips on the exhale and breathe out slow. Repeat.
Box Breathing and 4-7-8 Breathing
Box and 4-7-8 breathing are based off the yogic technique of pranayama. These breathing techniques give the body an oxygen boost and regulates the breath. To box breathe, you have to first exhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a count of four. This is followed by an inhalation for a count of four and a hold for four. Ideally, you would repeat this four times. To 4-7-8 breathe, begin by resting the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your top teeth. Slightly parting your lips, exhale completely through your mouth, then close your lips. Inhale through your nose to the count of four, hold your breath for the count of seven, exhale for the count of eight, and repeat. Do this four times at first, eventually working up to eight rounds after some practice.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Practiced in yoga, alternate nostril breathing is known as nadi shodhana pranayama. To do it, start with your left hand on you left knee, exhaling. Then, close your right nostril with your right thumb and slowly inhale through your left nostril. Once your lungs are at capacity, plug your left nostril and open the right one. Exhale through it, inhale through it, then close it. Finally, open your left nostril and exhale through it. Repeat in this exact order.
If you’re the kind of person that needs an extra push for direction, thankfully there are a lot of useful apps that you can use to help guide you through breathwork exercises. Some popular ones include: The Breathing App, Breathwork: 4-7-8 Breathing, and Prana Breath: Calm and Meditate.
Ultimately, you should practice your breathwork for at least 10 minutes twice a day to begin seeing results. Once your body gets used to it, you can up the duration and frequency incrementally. Though quiet spaces are best to practice your breathwork, the beauty is that you can practice these exercises whenever you need them, wherever you are, and for however long you want.