Breath retraining

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What is breath retraining?

Stress is often associated with a change to upper chest breathing which may in some clients become habitual causing the development of a breathing pattern disorder. Breath retraining methods teach the client to consciously breathe from the diaphragm, providing a method of controlling and managing the stress response.


Breath retraining provides the client with a simple method which they can use to

  • Reduce their stress level while they are being affected by a stressor
  • Reduce the built-up effects of chronic stress on their body

Another benefit of breath retraining is the development of breath awareness. If the client is regularly practicing breath retraining, the feeling of having a full, unrestricted breath becomes normal to them. When their breathing pattern changes as a result of a stressor affecting them, the client will be more likely to notice that they are becoming stressed. They can then use diaphragmatic breathing to manage their stress response.


Breath retraining may be very simply based on the breathing cycle as in the first mp3 recording below, or can incorporate other cues such as visualisations of light or energy filling the body with the in-breath, then darkness leaving the body with the outbreath.

Practice guidelines

Most breath retraining methods are fairly simple, and 2-3 times practicing the method may be sufficient before the practitioner is comfortable instructing their client in the use of these techniques.

The client is also likely to pick up these techniques fairly quickly, and in most cases it will be sufficient for the practitioner to observe the client in the initial session, and again in a follow-up session within 2 weeks. The use of recordings such as the one above may be useful in helping clients to effectively practice breath retraining.

When a client is first using breath retraining they should practice it for 5-10 minutes at least once per day for a week. Once they become familiar with the technique they should be encouraged to use it whenever they notice that they are feeling stressed. After the first week, the client should be encouraged to practice the technique regularly to help manage their stress.

Cautions and Contraindications

Control of the breath should be de-emphasized. Breathing is normally an unconscious response. Controlling the breath can lead to the development of a breathing pattern disorder

Stress is often associated with emotional overload. When this is the case, working with the breath can bring up these unprocessed emotions. The practitioner should bear this in mind, and when a client's case history indicates that emotion and/or relationships have been key, this chance should be discussed with the client.

Mental illness - As discussed previously, working with the breath can bring up emotional issues. When a client presents with a history of mental illness, it is advisable to work in conjunction with a psychological health professional.


  • Payne, R. (2005). Relaxation techniques - a practical guide for the health care professional (3rd ed.). PA, USA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.