Master the Art of Coaching on Breathing Techniques to Enhance Your Physiological Well-Being

Have you ever told a client to breathe during a particularly stressful moment and they looked at you quizzically, as if to say “How is that going to help?” 

Breathing, an automatic and vital process for life, holds the power to influence our mental, emotional and physiological states. For health coaches, leveraging advanced breathing techniques can be a game-changer when guiding clients toward better stress management. 

The Science Behind Controlled Breathing

Controlled breathing practices have been shown to positively affect the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates involuntary bodily functions, including heart rate and digestion. By consciously altering breathing patterns, one can shift from a state of sympathetic dominance (fight or flight response) to parasympathetic dominance (rest and digest state), thereby reducing cortisol levels and enhancing mental clarity. This physiological shift is crucial for managing stress and improving overall well-being.

“Breathing affects your respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular, and psychic systems,” says Donna Farhi, a New Zealand-based yoga teacher who has been leading classes for over 40 years. “Breathing also has a general effect on your sleep, memory, ability to concentrate and your energy levels.” 

Studies have found that slow breathing can:

  1. Improve the efficiency of your lungs by reducing the amount of “dead space” air that doesn’t reach the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli).
  2. Increase the amount of oxygen in your blood while decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide.
  3. Increase heart rate variability (HRV), which is a sign of a healthy heart. Higher HRV is associated with a stronger parasympathetic response (the “rest and digest” part of the autonomic nervous system) and a decrease in sympathetic activity (the “fight or flight” response).

By regularly practicing controlled breathing techniques, clients may experience benefits such as reduced stress, improved cardiovascular health, and better overall well-being. The science behind these practices shows that the simple act of breathing slowly and mindfully can have a significant impact on how the body functions. 

Specific Techniques and Their Benefits

Box Breathing (Square Breathing): This involves breathing in for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, exhaling for four, and then holding again for four. This technique is beneficial for calming the mind, improving concentration, and reducing stress.

4-7-8 Breathing: Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this technique involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for seven, and exhaling for eight. It’s particularly effective in promoting relaxation and helping individuals fall asleep faster, making it a valuable tool for clients struggling with stress-related insomnia.

Pranayama (Yogic Breathing): There are several types of Pranayama, but techniques like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) and Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath) are renowned for their stress-reducing effects. Pranayama practices can enhance oxygenation, improve lung function and induce a state of calm and focus.

Incorporating Breathing into Client Sessions

Health coaches can integrate these breathing exercises into various parts of a workout session:

  • Warm-ups: Begin sessions with a brief 3-5 minute breathing exercise to center the client, reduce pre-workout anxiety, and prepare the body and mind for physical activity.
  • During High-intensity Workouts: Teach clients to use quick relaxation breaths, like the 4-7-8 technique, during short breaks in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to help manage heart rate and recovery.
  • Cool-downs: End sessions with a 5-10 minute focused breathing practice, such as Box Breathing or Pranayama, to promote relaxation and recovery, ensuring the client leaves feeling refreshed and de-stressed.

Yoga Nidra and meditation teacher Ntathu Allen, London, UK, says that helping clients learn breathing techniques that they can do at home can go a long way toward helping them deal with the pressures of daily life. 

“Stress is reacting negatively to perceived unpleasant things in your life,” she says. “When you learn to be aware of how you are breathing, it becomes easier for you to stop stress and reclaim your calm.”

Educating Clients About Breathwork

When adding breathwork to your coaching program, be sure to educate clients on the importance of these techniques and their potential impact on overall health. Demonstrating the correct form and breathing patterns, explaining the physiological benefits, and providing handouts or resources for practice at home can empower clients to incorporate these practices into their daily lives.

By understanding and applying these advanced breathing techniques, health coaches can offer their clients effective tools for managing stress, enhancing recovery and improving mental well-being, complementing their physical fitness routines with a holistic approach to health.

Amanda McClure is a health and wellness journalist and registered yoga teacher. 

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