Sentinel Handbook

Tips for security, safety, and crime prevention volunteers

Tactical Breathing: Control Your Center, The Rest Will Follow

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Safety and neighborhood patrols can sometimes become stressful. Either you run into an emergency, or find yourself in a confrontation of some sort. Most people are not trained to handle stress well, let alone in-your-face confrontations, or emergency situations. The body becomes tense, breathing becomes shallow, less oxygen gets to the brain, and mental focus turns into tunnel vision. Kiss higher functioning rational thought goodbye and say hello to the more primitive areas of the brain. To paraphrase, Emeril Lagasse, “BAM! You’ve got the perfect recipe for disaster.”

The key to maintaining personal control during high-stress situations is breathing. A common technique that was adapted from yoga by the armed forces, is called combat or tactical breathing. Remembering to breathe might seem like a no-brainer, but studies show (and you may have already experienced this yourself) that people tend to breathe rapid and shallow, or may even hold their breath entirely, during tense, high-risk situations. Training yourself in the habit of tactical breathing during stress situations eliminates this tendency, allowing you to reduce your hear rate, and keep your edge. Practice tactical breathing before, during, and after stressful incidents and you will find yourself more relaxed and capable of handling whatever the situation at hand.

Tactical breathing is very easy. Breaths should be deep ‘belly breaths’, that is, during inhaling, your stomach expands like a balloon. Each step is done to the mental count of four:

  • Breathe in through the nose.. two.. three.. four
  • Hold.. two.. three.. four
  • Out through the mouth.. two.. three.. four
  • Hold.. two.. three.. four

Repeat this cycle at least four times for best effect. Feel free to experiment to find what works best for you. Maybe you’d prefer to breathe in on a longer count, or exhale on a longer count, or vice versa. The point is to establish a smooth, continuous cycle of breathing to calm your mind and body.


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