Monday, December 30, 2013

Loren Christensen - Combat Breathing

The Power of Combat Breathing 

by Loren Christensen

Four-count breathing is a highly effective and easy-to-do technique that slows your thumping heartbeat, reduces the tremble in your hands, clears your mind, and envelops you in a sense of calm and control. Although this powerful tool has been used in the martial arts, yoga, and medical field for a long time, it’s only been in recent years that it’s has been popularized in the military and law enforcement communities by authorities such as Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (On Combat) and others.

The technical term for the procedure is autogenic breathing, but police officers and soldiers call it tactical breathing or combat breathing. SWAT officers report that they have used it just before making a high-risk forced entry or a critical sniper shot. Soldiers use it to bring calm to their minds and bodies before they go into battle, and again after the battle to “come down” from the adrenaline rush. High school and college students are finding that it reduces test anxiety, and many surgeons use it before beginning a delicate operating procedure where optimum fine motor control is needed. Even serious car accident victims have reported using it while waiting for the Jaws of Life to release them from the twisted metal.

The first time I used it was as a police officer outside the doors of an abortion clinic. I was the first to arrive at a massive brawl between pro-choice and anti-abortion people. Because fists were flying and protest signs were clobbering, I pushed through the mob without waiting for backup. After knocking a couple of people down who had swung signs at me, I found myself with my back against the locked doors of the clinic as the mob pushed against me in their effort to break through the doors.

My hands were shaking, my thumping heart was making my badge bounce, and my eyes were watering so badly that I could barely see. During a short lull in the pushing and shoving, I commenced to do the four-count breathing without anyone knowing. By the second cycle, my hands stopped shaking, my heart rate moved below the red danger zone, and my vision improved. After the third, I was once again in control of myself, and thus able to calm those closest to me as I stalled, waiting for my backup to arrive.

On another occasion, I did it while jammed in a police van with several other nervous cops, racing through predawn streets on the way to a high-risk raid on a gangster house. Not one person in the van was aware I was doing it.

How It’s Done

Begin by breathing in through your nose to a slow count of four, feeling your lower belly expand. Hold for a slow count of four, and then slowly exhale through your lips for a count of four, letting your belly deflate. Hold empty for a slow count of four and repeat the process. Here is the entire procedure.

  • Breathe in through your nose two, three, four. Hold two, three, four.
  • Exhale out through your lips two, three, four. Hold two, three, four.
  • Breathe in through your nose deep, deep, deep. Hold two, three, four.
  • Exhale out through your lips. Hold two, three, four.
  • Breathe in through your nose two, three, four. Hold two, three, four.
  • Exhale out through your lips two, three, four. Hold two, three, four.

That’s it. Simple. You don’t need to sit before a candle, burn incense, or bleed out a baby cow. You can do it anywhere and anytime. The beauty of this wonderful tool is that you can adapt it easily to your needs. Most people find that the described three-cycle procedure works well to bring calm to their minds and bodies. But you might need four to six cycles to get the benefits. If you want to hold each count for five seconds rather than four, do it. It’s about making it work for you. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a dangerous situation to experiment. Practice this breathing procedure once or twice a day to learn what method works best for you (and to award yourself with a few moments of calm and clarity). Practice now so that it will be there for you when you need it most.

Loren was a military policeman in Saigon during the Vietnam War and retired from the Portland, Oregon, Police Department after more than two decades of service. He can be contacted through his website at


My sincerest gratitude to Loren Christensen for his kind permission in reposting his article to my site.

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