Using Rhythmic Breathing to Control Emotion

Anxiety, nervousness and even panic are to be expected amongst athletes and are often characterized by breathing quickly and shallowly. Rhythmic breathing is commonly used in Yoga and is a term that may mean different things to different people.

In the context of athletic performance, rhythmic breathing is a technique that players (and coaches) can use to control their arousal or emotional level – to “calm down”. Essentially, it is about taking deep breaths and setting a rhythm for our breathing that is disconnected from the “emotionally charged” rhythm of people around us, whether they are fans, coaches or other players.

As a relaxation technique, rhythmic breathing can be used when a player has time to do so. It can be as simple as synchronizing the length of time between breathing in and breathing out (e.g. 3 heart beats) – breathe in and hold for 3 heart beats then breath out waiting three heart beats before breathing in.

During a game or practice session though may not provide the opportunity for this, however if a player uses it often they may also be able to use it in a game. However, simply taking a slow breath or two can help an athlete “calm down”.

Perhaps the most common example seen is when a player is taking a free throw. Many players will take a measured breath as part of their normal routine, which helps to focus on the shot and not the consequence of missing or making the shot.

Coaches can help athletes by taking breaks during practice and making them take exaggerated and full breaths, not short breaths. Even if this is done in a break as short as 24 seconds, regular practice may help the athlete control their emotions.

It is also very worthwhile for the coach to practice too!