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Breathwork and First Responders by Dan Brule

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Breathing Training is a must for people who work in high stakes, high stress, or life or death situations. Breathwork Training is the next major key skillset that high performing individuals need to have.

Professionals need to show up at their best, every day, no matter what. In order to bring our best to an event, interaction, or a situation, we need to be in touch with ourselves and our internal resources; we need the energy to perform, and a certain level of comfort and ease in our body; and we must have with mental clarity and emotional balance.

People whose job it is to protect and save lives, to manage crisis situations, and coordinate emergency activities need to have guts, need to a head on their shoulders and need to be in touch with their heart.

First Responders need to know how to manage their physiology in order to maintain the clarity and presence required to ensure effective communication, organization and coordination of activities and resources.

Breathwork is a tool that can be used to focus awareness and channel energy. It is also the perfect tool for developing the qualities of mindfulness, resiliency, empathy, and intuition.

In an emergency, we need people who can remain calm and alert, relaxed and energized. In addition to operational skills, first responders need to know how to manage their mental and emotional state; and they need to be good at arousal control and attention control. And all of this comes down to breath control.

As my friend James Cook, retired Army Ranger General says: “Some fears and problems are real, but they can also be fabricated by the mind. We need to be able to know and feel the difference; otherwise in those moments when you only have a split second to react, you can do the wrong thing.”

General Cook uses breath awareness and breath control to put himself into “the zone.” When he enters this resourceful state, he says it comes over him like “a blanket of calmness and peace.” Stig Severinsen, world free diving champion and multiple Guinness Book world record holder, and author of “Breatheology” calls it being in the “flow-state.”

Wim Hoff, “the Iceman” has been buried up to his neck in ice for two hours with no ill effects. He has run marathons in the desert and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in his underwear. He is able to control his autonomic nervous system and his immune response, and he teaches others to do the same. His secret? Breath Awareness and Breath Control, in other words: Breathwork and “positive psychology.”

Breathwork keeps these peak performers at the top of their game and sharply focused in the present moment. Breathing puts us in our body and takes us out of our head. With breath awareness, our perceiving mind comes online, and our situational awareness is heightened. We find ourselves noticing things and intuitively responding to things that the average person misses, or struggles to perceive.

Managing our internal dialogue, guarding against performance degrading self-talk, (steering clear of negative emotional/mental states) and visualizing positive outcomes are some of the important keys to peak performance.

We’ve all had the experience of saying or doing something when we are upset or under stress, that we later wish we would not have said or done. Conscious breathing keeps us aware of our thoughts and feelings and keeps us from reacting in ways that don’t serve us, our team, or our mission.

The practice of conscious breathing leads to the ability to catch ourselves when we think or feel or do something that is not in harmony with our purpose, or our vision of ourselves. We can use the breath to interrupt the habits and patterns that keep us from performing at our best. Michael Jaco, another Navy Seal and author of “The Intuitive Warrior” says it even leads to clairvoyant and other so-called “psychic” abilities.

When it comes to stress and anxiety, anger or upset, it’s easier to keep up than it is to catch up. It’s best to learn breathwork techniques to manage our physical, mental and emotional states as they arise rather than allowing them to build up to distracting, disturbing, or unmanageable levels.

Breathwork Techniques for First Responders fall into four practice categories:

1. Daily Breathing Ritual or Routine

A) Breath Awareness. Call it “Breath Watching.” Put aside at least ten minutes twice a day, and simply focus on your breathing. Let the breath come and go by itself, and just tune into it, observe it, feel it, experience it. This is a meditative practice called mindfulness. It is attention training, or concentration training. And it has profound health and performance benefits that carry over onto the job and in life.

B) Conscious Breathing. This refers to specific breathing exercises and techniques suited to individual abilities. A good general breathing practice would be a “Balancing Breath,” where your inhales and exhales are equal in length; for example, a five second inhale and a five second exhale, practiced for five or ten minutes.

A very powerful practice is to do rapid deep breathing (hyperventilation) followed by breath-holding. The idea is to go back and forth between these two breathwork exercises. Perhaps taking twenty or thirty deep breaths, like you are blowing up an inner tube or an air mattress; then immediately hold your breath for a minute or two.  Hyperventilate again, then do breath-holding again.

This exercise puts you in touch with the same feelings and sensations that can come up during intense moments of life—feelings that can stop you, distract you, or interfere in your performance. The idea is to learn to use the breath to handle that same stress, to relax into it, and to channel that energy effectively when it comes up on the job or in life.

Here’s a tip: when practicing hyperventilating, imagine sending breath-energy in the form of light or feelings of aliveness to every cell of your body. And when breath-holding, deliberately meditate, visualize, or focus on heartfelt feelings of peace and calmness, confidence and especially gratitude.  

2. Breathing To Prepare For Action.

This is something to do on route to an accident scene, a dangerous situation, or any important activity. A standard practice among navy Seals and other Special Forces is called “Box Breathing” or “Square Breathing.” Breathe in for a count of four; hold for a count of four; exhale for a count of four; hold for a count of four. Inhale 4, hold 4, exhale 4, hold 4. You determine the speed of the count based on your own felt sense of comfort.

Another practice is called “Coherent” or “Resonant” Breathing. For this, you breathe at a rate of exactly six breaths per minute. That means a five second inhale and a five second exhale, smoothly and continuously. This can be combined with positive power statements, also known as affirmations or autosuggestions. Visualizing effective, successful outcomes is also a standard practice among high-performers.

3. Breathing During an Operation.

When you hit the ground, or when it’s time to jump into action, something called “Tactical Breathing” is most helpful. In this case, you drop the breath holding that was part of Box breathing, and simply breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four continuously.

At this point, determining your actions as micro goals and baby steps is a key to managing large complicated tasks. Identify the “one thing” you need to do right now, first. Complete it, and then move on to the next “one thing” you need to do. The idea is to break up a big complicated or overwhelming thing into small manageable steps or mini goals. This is where your training kicks in and where your training pays off.

4. Recovery Breathing.

Relaxed Breathing is used during the review and de-briefing phase, and for re-framing negative outcomes. It’s important to make time after every event, operation, or project, to determine what went well, and what did not: what worked and what didn’t.

And it’s important to remember that beating yourself up for making mistakes never helps. No one is perfect. “Shit happens.” The intention and decision to do our best, to learn and grow from our mistakes, and to move on, is what matters. Don’t take your regrets to bed with you.

The breathing we do to recover is focused on the exhales. As extreme athlete and world record holder Stig Severinsen says: “Relaxation is in the Exhalation.” We practice letting the exhale go. We use deliberate exaggerated sighs of relief, while stretching or moving gently to “bleed the stress” out of our system and to release any built up tension from our muscles.

Imagine sending fresh soothing energy to every cell of your body with each inhale, and feel yourself releasing any residue of the shock or trauma with every exhale. Take the time to breathe consciously to recover after an intense experience, no matter how you feel. Don’t just suck it up. Don’t carry it forward, and don’t try to bury it. And don’t think it didn’t affect you in some way. You might need to shout or cry or shake uncontrollably. This is natural and healthy. It’s a sign of strength and natural wisdom, not weakness

All of these breathing exercises and techniques and more can be learned in a single three-hour workshop. And a good portion of the basics of Breathwork can be learned in a little over an hour.

A good coach can save you a lot of time and energy, can shorten your learning curve, and ensure that you are not inadvertently practicing any “bad” habits that will limit your progress or will need to be unlearned later. And, since everyone is unique, a good coach can also help you to customize and personalize your training.

If you have any questions or comments about  Breathwork, please feel free to write to me directly: .

And if you would like to schedule a breathing presentation or session for yourself or your team, please contact . Ask about our special “First Responder Breathwork Training Program.”

Good luck in your practice.

Stay safe. Take care of yourself and others!

And grow yourself: it’s why we’re here!


March 1, 2016


About the Author Dan Brule

Dan Brule
Dan Brule

Dan Brulé is a modern day teacher and healer. He is a world-renown pioneer in the field of Breathwork, and leader of the worldwide Spiritual Breathing movement. Dan is one of the originators of Breath Therapy, and was among the first group of Internationally Certified Rebirthers. He is a leading member of Inspiration University, the International Rebirthers Association and the International Breathwork Foundation. He is a master of Prana Yoga (the Hindu Science of Breath), and of Chi Kung/Qigong (Chinese Medical Breathing Exercises). - See more at:

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