Controlled breathing: features and how to perform it

Controlled breathing brings the respiratory processes to our conscious sphere and allows us to observe its characteristics: rhythm, cadence and depth. We train ourselves to know how to do it and modify it in order to achieve the objectives we set.

Breathing is normally an automatic act. that the brain controls and modulates through the brain stem without our conscious intervention. It is influenced by many factors in our emotional and psychological sphere. In addition, it is a source of information for our endocrine system in regards to stress hormones secreted in the adrenal glands.

The characteristics of controlled breathing give us multiple benefits, some of an immediate nature. Before going on to explain how to do it, we will make a brief review of the respiratory processes.

Breathing physiology

The function of the respiratory system is twofold. On the one hand, you must drive the inspired air to the pulmonary alveoli, where the oxygen it contains will pass into the blood, and, in turn, collect the carbonic anhydride or COtwo product of cellular metabolism to, through expiration, evacuate it abroad.

This mechanism allows cells to convert carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy for proper operation.

Subsystems of the breathing process

  • Driving system: formed by the nose, nasopharynx, larynx, trachea, main bronchi, secondary bronchi and terminal bronchioles. It is the area through which the passage of air to the lungs is verified.
  • Respiratory system: it is formed by the alveolar sacs, the alveolar membrane and the arterial and venous capillaries. In this area, the gas exchange is carried out, collecting CO from the arterial capillariestwo and yielding Otwo to the venous capillaries.
  • Muscular system: referred to the muscles involved in breathing. The most important is the diaphragm, although intercostal and clavicular muscles are also involved to a lesser extent.

The circulatory mechanism of breathing requires that blood containing carbon dioxide COtwo reach the pulmonary capillaries and this can be released in the alveolar sacks. The greater the blood flow, the greater gas exchange occurs.

As the circulation starts from the right ventricle, less muscular and powerful compared to the left, most of the blood flow goes to the bases of the lungs which, paradoxically, is the area that we worst ventilate and with which we breathe worse.

Types of breathing

Based on the location of the breath, we can divide it into abdominal or diaphragmatic, thoracic or costal and clavicular.

Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing

In this type of breathing the diaphragm descends leaving space to the bases of the lungs to expand its capacity. It is the most effective and, however, the least used breathing.

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Chest breathing

In chest breathing the rib grill exert a brake, marks a limit to the central expansion of the lungs and, therefore, is not as effective as the abdominal.

Clavicular breathing

It is the least effective. We can say that it is a residual breath due to covering the smallest area of ​​the lungs and its expansion mechanism is very limited.

Controlled breathing allows full use of All types of breathing Base your functionality on breathing abdominal, it maximizes the capacity of thoracic respiration and does not neglect clavicular respiration, despite its poor influence on the respiratory process.

We will detail below what is controlled breathing, its characteristics and how to perform it.

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Characteristics of controlled breathing

Controlled breathing allows us to be aware that we are breathing, which forms the basis of how to do it. Therefore, we can vary its characteristics and train them on how to do it. We become aware of the respiratory process and influence its cadence, rhythm and depth, adapting it to our greatest benefit.

In controlled breathing We perform between 8 and 12 breaths per minute. It is a calm breath that allows air to be distributed throughout the lung and facilitates gas exchange through the capillaries.

In addition to these benefits, affects and modulates stress activation mechanisms through the endocrine system the sympathetic nervous system.

Unconsciously, the mind relates a quick and shallow breath with a danger It threatens the person and, therefore, triggers the mechanisms of stress through the release of cortisol by the adrenal glands.

Breathing, fast and shallow, is what we observe in people who are going through diseases of extreme gravity. It has been called "intensive care unit breathing." This type of superficial and rapid breathing acidifies the internal environment and has negative consequences on a physical and cerebral level, complicating the prognosis of patients.

When we install a controlled breath, we can vary the frequency and depth pattern, moving to a moderately deep and slow breath that is interpreted by our subconscious as a state of calm and peace.

With a moderately deep and slow breathing, endocrine processes that remove stress hormones are triggered (cortisol and adrenaline, fundamentally) and stimulate the production of endorphins and the so-called 'happiness hormones': dopamine and serotonin.

How to perform controlled breathing

At first, to properly perform controlled breathing, we will need to put all our conscious attention. With practice it will become a habit and will only become aware in times of stress, anxiety, fear, etc.

Technique to perform controlled breathing


  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
  2. Place the palm of the right hand on the abdomen and the left on the chest.
  3. If the posture is uncomfortable you can perform the exercise standing or lying down.


  1. Inspire and expire through the nose. If there is any difficulty, it can be done by mouth, but it is less advisable.
  2. Take a slow breath trying to direct it to the abdomen to notice how it rises with inspiration and descends with expiration. We will notice that the right hand will move rhythmically as the air enters and leaves.
  3. We take a breath while we count to 3 and we also expel it by counting to 3. At the beginning, it requires all our attention and something difficult can be done, but little by little it is being done more easily.
  4. You can count 1 when you finish inspiring by retaining the air and then expiring.

It is convenient adapt the breathing rate to make us comfortable; slower or faster according to our sense of well-being.

To integrate the technique, once we have practiced Several times, we can enter variants. We can do the same standing exercises without doing activity or doing something, do it in bed before sleeping or just after waking up.

When we already have some skill, we can increase the depth of breathing and the duration of pauses after inspiration and expiration.

Some benefits of controlled breathing


  • Improves metabolism performance: greater energy and vitality.
  • Facilitates oxygenation of the body and, above all, of the mind.
  • Reduces muscle tension, pain in general and migraines.
  • Stimulates sleep reconciliation and reduces fatigue.
  • Power physical performance and the functions of the immune system.


  • Increase self-esteem and stimulate decision making.
  • Improve concentration and performance.
  • Strengthens emotional balance and enhances creativity.
  • It helps disperse negative thinking and rumination.
  • Facilitates relaxation and sleep reconciliation.

There are also other benefits that affect the emotional, spiritual and social dimensions. We can conclude that the knowledge of the breathing process and the application of controlled breathing will improve many aspects of our life and, above all, it will raise our energy and wellness levels.