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Extending the Self-Trigger Technique: Breathing isn’t just for Yogis


If you’ve been following our recent posts, you’re probably beginning to recognize the state-to-error pattern. Over 95% of our injuries and most of our performance errors are caused by these four states: Rushing, Frustration, Fatigue, and Complacency. You’ll also see that when you start implementing the Critical Error Reduction Techniques (CERTs), you have a much better chance of preventing critical errors before they cost you the game, your spot on the podium, or worse, cause an injury. 

Breathing is a critical component of the Self-trigger CERT and self-regulation. In an intense, high-risk situation, you can actively steady your breath to re-energize and re-focus. In this article, we are going to highlight nasal breathing and the box breath as an extension of the Self-trigger technique.

“The breath is a bridge between mind and body, feeling and doing. Balanced, natural breath brings you back to the present moment.”
Dan Millman (Way of The Peaceful Warrior).

Why talk about breathing?

Many of us feel stressed out and overstimulated during our daily lives. This leaves us in a constant state of fight or flight response, especially when we’re playing our sport and the game is fast-paced, or the level of competition creates lots of pressure. Instinctively, our behaviour falls back on our baseline habits. But are those habits necessarily good? Some yes, some no. For example, how easy is it to resort to poor breath control (panting/mouth breathing) and bad decision-making without being consciously aware?

When you self-trigger and recognize your state (rushing, frustration, or fatigue), rather than thinking about why you are rushing, who or what’s making you mad, or when you’ll get some rest, bring your awareness back to the moment. An effective and easy way to calm your mind when you’ve self-triggered is to control your breathing.

Let’s get technical about nose breathing:

Breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which stimulates the lower lung to distribute more significant amounts of oxygen throughout the body. And with these fuller breaths into the lower lung, we activate an abundance of parasympathetic nerve receptors which help regulate our internal state between body and mind. Whereas the upper lungs, which are stimulated by chest and mouth breathing contribute to hyperventilation and trigger our sympathetic nerve receptors which are closely linked to the fight or flight reaction. So, when we’re talking about rushing, frustration, and fatigue, using the self-trigger technique is the mental cue to control the breath and manage those states appropriately. (Lawrence)  

How do you practice nose breathing?

Exactly how it sounds. To practice, inhale and exhale through your your nose. A good place to start nose breathing is with the box breath, which is a great way to regulate your state. Nose breathing and the box breath is a staple practice among Navy Seals and is common in the professional sports community.

Practice the box breath:

Practice this in a slow-paced environment like when you’re on the bench, in a timeout, or any time during play where there isn’t lots of physical exertion. Box breath intervals can be between 4-7 seconds, but let’s start with 4 seconds.

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds
  2. Hold for 4 seconds
  3. Breathe out for 4 seconds
  4. Hold for 4 seconds
  5. Repeat

For some athletes, three phases of box breath is all it takes to completely reset their focus in moments of fatigue, frustration, or despair. It also helps bring awareness to how complacency could be affecting your performance. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing, being able to self-trigger and use your breath is a best practice in sharpening your connection between body and mind.


“I think controlled breathing is the most fundamental tool to develop before any other form of training, being that it works to strengthen and tame the body and mind. Physically, learning to control your breathing allows you to preserve energy, expand your lungs, and weather extreme environments. Mentally, it helps reduce your stress, mitigate your anxiety, retain your heightened state of self-awareness, and focus with a calmer state of being.” Mark Divine CEO of SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind.

Check out other breathing techniques at Laird Hamilton’s
(Big Wave Surfer) XPT Performance Breathing: https://www.xptlife.com/performance-breathing/

What’s next?

You don’t want to leave it to the last minute to connect with your breath. It’s something you practice. In the moment, performance falls back on preparation. So, you can start activating your breath when you’re at home, lounging on the couch, at work, during training, in competition, or while driving. We know that rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency, compromise decision-making and our ability to control the moment. Continue to self-trigger and use breathing techniques to help increase eyes and mind on task for better focus and concentration.

Author: Cameron Smith, Co-founder of Headstartpro Performance Training


Harvard Health Publishing. (2015, January). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Retrieved September 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response.

Lawrence, G. (n.d.). Breathing Is Believing: The Importance of Nasal Breathing. Retrieved September 2019, from https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/breathing-is-believing-the-importance-of-nasal-breathing.

Performance Breathing: XPT®. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2019, from https://www.xptlife.com/performance-breathing/.


For more info on HeadStartPro, the Critical Error Reduction Techniques, a full list of performance-related habits, and other strategies for achieving peak performance, check out our online courses for coaches and athletes:

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