Breathing is essential to any living organism. Thanks to it we obtain oxygen, which is a fundamental element to be able to manufacture the energy we need to face the day to day.

Without proper breathing we are hindering the correct functioning of our body, that is why it is so important to train Controlled Breathing .

The importance of using your lungs well

Surely many of you will think: why do I need to learn to breathe in a “different” way? Well, it is possible that we do not breathe in the most efficient way for the organism , and that can lead to some symptoms such as hyperventilation, fatigue, feeling that “the air is not reaching us” or shallow breathing, anxiety, etc.

An interesting trick to see if we are breathing slowly and regularly is to watch how a baby breathes, or at least imagine it. When you breathe in, does your belly or chest swell? How many seconds between breathing in and out? Is it slow and relaxed, or fast and hard? Is it regular or irregular breathing?

It is curious to realize how, as a result of our rhythm of life or the demands of the environment, we “unlearn” how to breathe . One of the objectives of this article is to analyze the way we breathe, to know what Controlled Breathing is and to acquire some guidelines to start training it, it will only take 10 minutes out of your day.

What is Controlled Breathing?

Controlled breathing is a technique widely used in psychotherapy that helps to reduce physiological activation and, therefore, to cope with anxiety (it is important to note that it does not eliminate anxiety, but rather helps to cope with it and can contribute to reducing it as a consequence). It is a simple exercise that anyone can train and incorporate into their routine.

It consists of learning to breathe slowly: 8 or 12 breaths per minute (normally we breathe between 10 and 12 times per minute at rest), not too deep and using the diaphragm instead of breathing only with the chest .

Why learn to oxygenate like that?

Controlled breathing is characterized by being slow and regular, by the use of the diaphragm and by not being too deep. We will try to explain the scientific basis of why it is better to breathe this way.

It is important to breathe slowly and regularly because that habit is related to the drop in vital signs (heart rate, muscle and blood pressure). Let’s remember the example of the baby: when we are sleeping or about to sleep we breathe more slowly and regularly than usual in our routine. If we feel more nervous or restless than usual, it is advisable to breathe more slowly.

It is convenient to use the diaphragm, a muscle unknown to many, because in this way we oxygenate our organism better . When we are anxious we breathe very shallowly, and fill our lungs little, which means we are not providing all the oxygen our blood needs.

On the contrary, if we breathe to the bottom of our lungs, more oxygen reaches the blood. By doing this the diaphragm contracts, presses on the abdomen and it rises . Controlled breathing is related to (and can stimulate) a parasympathetic response.

It is advisable not to breathe too deeply, otherwise there will be an excessive drop in CO2 in the lungs and we may hyperventilate (and if interpreted negatively, we may experience a panic attack).

How can I start practicing this habit?

To begin with, the main thing is that the person finds a place where he feels comfortable and safe (lying on his back, leaning or sitting) and reserves 10 minutes. You should gently close your eyes and place one hand on your abdomen , placing the little finger just above the navel.

With each breath the abdomen should rise, so the hand placed on top of the abdomen should rise. The aim is to bring the air to the end of the lungs , not to take in a large quantity of air (remember that if this is not possible, hyperventilation will occur).

Breathe in through your nose for 3 seconds using the diaphragm, and breathe out (air out) through your nose or mouth for 3 more seconds, and pause for a short time to take in air again . Some people find it useful to play relaxing background music, others find it useful to repeat in their head and slowly the word “relax”, “calm”… For the most imaginative people it is useful to imagine that the tension escapes with the air exhaled. There are people who find it more useful to pause after breathing in, that is: breathe in – pause – breathe out. But, in general, it will be as follows: breathe in (3 seconds) – breathe out (3 seconds) – small pause and start again.

We should try to breathe 8 to 12 times a minute. For those people who find it difficult to keep track of seconds while practicing controlled breathing, can record themselves before performing the exercise indicating when to breathe in and when to breathe out.

Since controlled breathing is a learning process like any other, it needs practice. It is convenient to do this exercise 2-3 times a day for 10 minutes to acquire fluency (preferably, in easy and calm situations), and thus be able to generalize it to other situations in which it is more difficult to relax or we tend to get more nervous (e.g., at work, in a traffic jam, after an argument…).