- 1 Colonel Grossman says:
- 2 Tactical breathing in practice
- 3 Using tactical breathing in field action
- 4 Debrifing, New
- 5 New approaches to Debriefing: “Process Debriefing” and “Debriefing of Val-de-Grace”
- 6 Other useful applications of tactical breathing
- 7 Conclusions
Tactical breathing is a very simple technique that you have to learn to do because it can help you in different contexts and can be used in a stressful situation to slow down your heart rate, reduce hand tremor, maintain a deep tone of voice so as not to speak with a shrill voice that denotals fear in communication and to feel pervaded or pervaded by a sense of calm and self-control.
It is a method that helps to keep the sympathetic nervous system under control after an episode of high stress in addition to the fact that this breathing technique is very effective in separating memories from emotions by being able to process what happened in a more rational way.
Let’s start to understand how it works:
If we analyze the relationships between the body and the mind we can consider the body divided into two sections, one controlled by the voluntary nervous system, the other by the autonomic nervous system.
- The somatic nervous system is involved in voluntary and conscious activities (moving an arm or kicking).
- The autonomic nervous system is involved in activities that do not depend on conscious control (such as heartbeat and breathing).
Now apart from words, the best way to understand it better is for you to try to do this and in an instant you will understand the difference between the two nervous systems:
Exercise 1 – Test the somatic nervous system, raise your right arm, or lower it. Bravo, you just showed that you can control the somatic nervous system.
Exercise 2 – We test your autonomic nervous system. At my “way” you raise your heart rate to 200 bpm, start sweating and, if you make it, you also manifest a slight stress diarrhea. Are you ready? Via. What’s going on? Can’t you? Quiet is a normal thing because you can’t consciously control these actions, even if you want. It’s called the autonomic nervous system precisely because these activities are completely involuntary.
As I told you but you know since you were born even breathing (composed of two acts or phases, inhalation and exhalation) is an automatic act.
If breathing is subject to conscious control, falling asleep you will die but try to take a deep breath and then exhale, you can do so in breathing unlike other actions you can move the control of breathing from the autonomic nervous system to the somatic one.
Breathing and blinking are the only two activities of the autonomic nervous system that you can bring under your conscious control at any time.
Breathing can be considered as a bridge between the somatic and autonomous nervous system.
Imagine your autonomic nervous system as a large and complex motor, vibrating and moving but from which a single control lever protrudes.
Breathing is this lever, and it’s the only one you can reach and grasp.
If you control your breathing, you control your entire autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of the nice and from that parasympathetic And with appropriate breathing techniques, you can control the reactions of the sympathetic nervous system, related to fear and anger that if you think of them in terms of self-defense becomes something extremely important because they are two components in case of aggression or danger always present.
Unbridled anger and fear are both manifestations of the activity of the mesencefalo, the primitive, animalistic and irrational part of our brain, the one that transforms us from a safe person into a agitated child who cries.
Tactical breathing allows us to put a leash on your inner puppy.
The more you practice this type of breathing, the faster it becomes its effect, thanks to the mechanisms of operational conditioning because again the same rule applies as for any other type of training.
The more you practice it, the more you learn and make this gesture simple.
Today we continue to discover new advantages and areas of application of tactical breathing, but to be honest it is not a real innovation.
Yoga, zen and martial arts practitioners have been using breathing control for centuries, and although the practices of yoga, zen and martial arts also give it a kind of mystical connotation, but if we remove the nuance of mysticism the core remains a simple procedure to voluntarily control the unconscious nervous system and put it at our service.
Even common sense says this, think about how many phrases of daily use describe these conditions of heavy stress:
- “I didn’t see us in fear anymore” or
- “I was doing it on me.”
- I couldn’t speak
- I was stuck with fear
- I was shaking like a leaf
These are all commonly used ways of saying that express very simply the psycho-physical phenomena we are talking about.
Similarly, breathing techniques, even if not in technical form, have been used since you were a child and you were told, when you were afraid or agitated when your parents told you “Take a deep breath”, already understanding the solution, with the difference that you will now understand more about a more specific type of breathing, which involves at least 4 or 5 deep cycles of abdominal breathing.
The appropriate technical term would be “autogenic breathing”, but in military departments it is now commonly known as tactical breathing or “combat breathing” and if many have spoken about it it is said that Gary Klugiewicz is the pioneer who spread its principles.
Tactical breathing is increasingly used by special wards, federal agents and even surgeons (to maintain control over fine-wheel drive during a difficult and stressful operation), by athletes before pulling a penalty, a free throw, a service in tennis and students to overcome exam anxiety.
For more than 100 years, even sharpshooters have been systematically learned and applied breathing control.
It also tells of people who used tactical breathing to save themselves during a heart attack and serious injuries from accident and that after four deep abdominal breathings managed to lower the heart rate.
Colonel Grossman says:
“Over the years, many agents have contacted me to tell me how they used tactical breathing to perform desperate shots on which the life or death of themselves or some innocent depended, or how they taught their children to use it when they are injured, but my favorite anecdote comes from one of my high school students.
I had taught him breathing techniques when he took part in my introductory course in psychology.
A couple of years later, this student and I met in a supermarket in my town and said, “Hey, Colonel Grossman, do you remember those breathing exercises you taught us? That stuff really works!” I asked him to explain what had happened.
“I had a car accident,” he told me, “and my car was upside down and I was trapped inside with a broken leg. I started to panic and suddenly I remembered his teachings.”
(Our mind is like this: it always preserves what we need, and sometimes pulls it out without warning.)
“Suddenly it was as if she was by my side during an exam helping me breathe in the right way.
I started to do as he had taught us: inhale with his nose, hold his breath, exhale and again hold us a moment before filming.
Think about it, it just worked, I calmed down quickly.” I asked him what happened next. “What could I do? I was stuck in my car.
I managed to turn on the radio on my favorite station and waited for someone to come and help me.
When the rescue came and they pulled me out, they told me I’d probably die if I panicked.”
The degree to which you control fear and anger determines your control over hatred and suffering, and your goal is to prevent fear, anger, hatred, and suffering.
Now let’s see how to perform it in practice, because what matters apart from the theory is that basically perform this type of breathing.
Tactical breathing in practice
The most natural breathing for your body is the diaphragmatic one that is typical of children, which many of us lose over time growing up starting to use chest breathing.
First of all it is good to distinguish thoracic breathing from diaphonic breathing but now I do not want to explain the benefits of diaphonic breathing but I will explain how to do it.
Sit down so that your back is straight and rests on your back, rest a hand on your belly and do a deep inhalation with your nose, avoiding swelling your chest, but swelling your belly.
The hand helps you to “feel” the correct movement. Let’s imagine we have a straw that inflates our belly.
Now exhale with your mouth open until you totally expel the air from your lungs, helping you by retracting your belly backwards as much as possible and starting again.
Now that you’ve figured out how to do it, how do you apply diaphony breathing to tactical breathing?.
You have to count to four in a sequence of inhalations and breaths: it still takes a lot of research to determine exactly the appropriate duration of each sequence, but this empirical count, quite simply, works.
In practice, you can adapt the technique to your physiological characteristics.
You may find that it is better for you to count up to three or up to five. It doesn’t matter: focus on the technique and fine-tune it until you realize you have the maximum possible effect.
At the beginning to practice counts up to four.
Start inhaling with your nose by slowly counting up to four, expanding your abdomen as if you were inflating it to make it round.
Hold your breath counting up to four and then slowly exhale from your mouth counting up to four as you feel your abdomen deflate like a balloon when you soft your finger holding the point.
Hold your breath counting again up to four, then start breathing again.
You don’t have to do anything else, a simple but effectivesequence.
Repeat the cycle at least 4-5 times.
You may feel a slight sense of intoxication or vice versa not notice anything different if you were already relaxed but now it is well known that in a situation of high stress this simple exercise can have a revolutionary impact.
It’s about learning to have conscious control over the unconscious part of the body.
Using tactical breathing in field action
“Our unit was recently involved in a deadly firefight with a suspect in a building. The suspect was a gang member, a former inmate, wanted for murder, and was trapped after breaking into a private home while fleeing police.
After the incident, one of our shooters made comments that I think might interest you.
The officer was positioned a dozen metres from the suspect when he fired the decisive shot with his M4 rifle.
The area was dark and the officer was wearing a gas mask because of the tear gas previously fired at the facility.
During the negotiation, the suspect had repeatedly stated that he “would come out firing” and that the cops would do well to be careful because “he would wipe out the first ones he saw”.
The officer who shot him down later talked about how he had prepared himself mentally moments before the suspect rushed out.
He said that in that time he thought back ‘to what Colonel Grossman had taught us about how to prepare for a deadly confrontation’ and added that he had carried out ‘those breathing exercises that
Grossman has shown us and demonstrated.’ The agent specified that his lectures and the reading of his book On Killing were instrumental in making him able to react effectively at that juncture.
I want to thank you for your valuable contribution to the preparation of my agents, both to do what is right, dutiful and necessary in the field, and to maintain their emotional balance and mental well-being later.”
(a SWAT lieutenant, private correspondence with the author)
Tactical breathing can be used before, during and after a combat situation.
First, it can calm you down quickly and prepare you to “work” at your best in a hostile context.
Let’s say you’re a SWAT team member ready to break in through a door; while you wait, your heart rate squirts into Red Condition.
In this state, any stimulus, however unres significant, could blow you up and overreact.
In the moments before entering, use tactical breathing to bring your heart rate back to the lower limit of the Red Condition or, better yet, yellow condition.
Many agents report that they have personally made many stupid mistakes during a chase, and often in our country there have been legal cases resulting from such mistakes, to the point that in certain jurisdictions it has been possible to prohibit agents from throwing themselves into a chase.
If a driver’s heartbeat accelerates excessively, tunnel vision is triggered and rational thinking processes jam, perceptions of depth and distance are lost, motor control of fine movements deteriorates: are not the ideal premises for a high-speed chase.
Some instructors of safe driving courses and emergency procedures report that, after introducing tactical breathing techniques into their programs, the participants’ performance exceeded all previous standards.
Charles E. Humes has introduced an innovative and interesting training method, whereing police officers automatically learn to breathe appropriately, as a conditioned reflex, in response to the sound of the siren.
You can tell if an agent is calm by the tone of his voice in radio communications.
If he’s calm, even in the middle of a 200-hour chase of armed suspects, his voice will sound like that of the Apollo 13 astronauts: “Houston, we have a problem.”
Those guys were in space, outside Of Earth Orbit, when they saw a red light suddenly flashing and immediately after they heard a loud bang.
At which one of them, Jack Swigert, calmly announced on the radio, “Houston, we have a problem.”
The entire crew kept calm: for the most part they were former military pilots or experienced testers, and they had learned from experience that the best way to save their skin is to keep calm even in situations of greatest danger.
If a tester loses his composure, he easily leaves our skin.
The same goes for a cop, for any warrior, in a context of lethal combat.
If you have a supervisory or command role, and you are listening to the radio communications of a high-speed chase, pay attention to the voice of each agent: if it is acute, shrill, it may be the case to withdraw it from the action, because those who lose the end motor control on their voice are probably losing it on their hands as well.
If the agent’s voice is as calm and controlled as an astronaut’s, let him proceed.
Debriefing is a structured and group psychological-clinical intervention, conducted by an expert psychologist of emergency situations, which is held following a potentially traumatic event, in order to eliminate or alleviate the emotional consequences often generated by this type of experience.
The classic technique
The “classic” Debriefing (Mitchell, 1983), also known as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing / Psychological Debriefing (CISD/PD) – itself only one part of the broader and more complex protocol of the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM function) – should be aimed exclusively at relatively homogeneous groups of rescuers (and therefore not victims), and is composed of seven distinct phases (a factor considered by many to be an aspect of excessive functional rigidity of the initial protocol).
Normally it is carried out between 24 and 96 hours following the event (i.e. when the experience was able to psychologically structure at least a minimum, but it has not yet “crystallized” completely in the experience of the people involved).
There is, however, a wide-ranging debate in the scientific literature on the problem of the best “timing” for intervention, a very delicate and controversial technical issue.
CiSD allows, through the structured and “significant” exchange of the group experience, to reduce the possible negative consequences of a traumatic event at the psychic level, such as the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (from the English Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other related syndromes.
During the course of the group work, through the various stages, facts, thoughts, emotions and symptoms are progressively addressed, in order to propose a first reworking and re-establish a better understanding of the event, to allow to reintegrate it in the course of one’s existence giving it at least a partial meaning, consistent and shared with the other members of the group.
The seven “classic” phases of Mitchell’s protocol are:
- Introduction (to situation and teamwork)
- Discussion of Facts (reconstruction of events that took place, through the “narratives” and the multiple perspectives of the participants)
- Discussion of Thoughts/Cognitions (which participants had during the event)
- Discussion of Emotions (sharing those experienced during the event, and thus understanding that it is “legitimate and normal” to feel uncomfortable after a critical event, and that other colleagues may have had emotions similar to their own)
- Discussion of Symptoms (possibly experienced in the hours or days after the critical event)
- Provide information (about post-traumatic reactions and any “contact points” in case of future personal needs)
- Conclusion (which “closes” the experience, fading after – sometimes – towards an even informal closure – often drinking and eating something together to strengthen the social group ties after the critical event and the “emotional fatigue” of Debriefing)
In some European approaches, an additional phase, called the “Rite” (of particular symbolic value) is added between the sixth and seventh phases.
Generally, the Debriefing is preceded by a meeting of Defusing,especially with the aid specialists (nurses, firefighters, rescuers, etc.; if carried out at the end of the service where the critical event occurred, the Defusing is called Demobilization).
Effectiveness and criticality of Debriefing
Since its initial proposal, Debriefing has experienced rapid development and considerable success in the field of emergency psychology,coming to be perhaps the most well-known and widespread operational technique.
By the mid-1990s, CISD had become the standard technique for handling critical events involving a more or less structured group of people, and research into its effectiveness and applicability became the mainstream of emergency psychotraumatological research.
Most clinicians considered it an important technique to prevent the onset of post-traumatic forms in people exposed to critical incidents.
From the early years of the new century, with the publication of some important articles reviewing and meta-analysis of its effectiveness, doubts began to be raised about the effectiveness of the technique in achieving this result: in many cases, in fact, its profile of effectiveness in the prevention of Ptsd was little if not none, and the occasional iatrogenic effects of the procedure itself began to be discussed in the literature..
The prevailing bias in previous research was identified precisely in the “magic expectation” of many clinicians compared to the Debriefing procedure, an expectation linked to an extremely optimistic attitude with respect to the technique itself.
Indeed, to assume that a single group processing session of a very serious critical incident, lasting an average of 90 minutes, may cancel out the risk of developing a post-traumatic disorder in predisposed subjects it is undoubtedly very optimistic, and in contrast with clinical data psychotraumatological, data that underline that, despite the risk of developing a Ptsd however, it is on average very low even in those who present pathological emotional reactions in the immediate post-event, effective clinical-preventive interventions can never be of the “one-shot” type (occasional), but must on the contrary be much broader and more complex (for example, through the use of a complete procedure CISM function).
Therefore, the goal of performing Debriefing (which should only be a part of CISM) in the immediate post-event should not so much be that of the hypothetical attempt to reduce the risk of developing future structured post-traumatic reactions, but a first moment of group processing of emotional experiences and “speech spaces” of the event that occurred; which, although not closely related to the prevention of PTSD, is still often considered to be of good emotional benefit by the participants.
New approaches to Debriefing: “Process Debriefing” and “Debriefing of Val-de-Grace”
In recent years many changes have been proposed to Mitchell’s original protocol, considered too rigid and with phases too distinct from each other (while the underlying psychological processes are actually much more “fluid” and “continuous”);
In particular, Atle Dyregrov’s Process Debriefing, in which there is less functional rigidity of the protocol, and a greater clinical focus on underlying psychological processes, has been widely disseminated.
In process debriefing, the internal interactive dynamics of the group are not ignored (as can happen in the original model), but are instead considered one of the main work structures during the Debriefing session.
The “School of Val-de-Grace” (military psychiatry French with psychodynamicorientation) has also proposed important structural changes and clinical adaptations of the original 1983 protocol, proposing a reorientation on more dynamic and procedural (and therefore less cognitive and procedural)structures, with an overall simplification of the original seven phases.
The focus of all these attempts to renew the original protocol goes precisely in the direction of stressing that it is the technique that has to adapt to the reality of the psychological processes of the people involved (priority of the Processes psychological), and the opposite should never happen (which is frequent when the classic Debriefing sessions are rigidly bound to respect the phases and times of the original protocol: an iatrogenic occurs Priority of the technical procedure Than Real psychological processes of the people who should benefit from it).
Tactical breathing can and should be used after the event, especially during debriefings, to separate memories from emotions, as we saw earlier when recalling the action.
Why am I telling you this debrifing thing? For two key reasons:
- You’ve been assaulted and process it properly so you don’t have psychological trawls that can affect the rest of your life
- In the case of a complaint and court documents, do not report incidents in an incorrect form that can jeopardize the outcome of the trial because of your contradictions.
The worst reaction to a critical incident is the fear of his memory.
The example of that Arkansas cop who had a powerful backlash of the sympathetic nervous system to hearing the gun of the starter of a swimming competition is a classic example, but there are hundreds of thousands of cases that are never explained or told.
The first time the memory of the event assails you suddenly, you are doubly frightened because you did not expect it to happen because you expect to be frightened during the fight or an assault, but not at a distance of time, without an apparent reason.
After the first time, you live gripped by the fear that it might happen again and the next time could be even worse.
You could create a vicious circle that would plunge you into a spiral of fear and stress.
You must stop this process now:
Use tactical breathing to put a leash on emotions.
Take a deep breath.
Do it now while you’re reading.
It’s something you can do and you have the power to do it whenever you want.
If fear and anger take over, it’s only because you’re allowing it, not using tactical breathing.
Some argue that PTSD (post-traumatic disorder) is a self-inflicted disease, I consider it an exaggerated statement, but it is self-inflicted out of ignorance, and you are no longer ignorant because you know how to do tactical breathing.
If you don’t make peace with your memory, if you haven’t participated in a debrief, if you haven’t separated memories from emotions, there’s a possibility that you’ll also go into crisis when you’re testifying in a courtroom.
You may have tried or tried to escape from memories, to remove them, but in the courtroom you can’t do that and the result can again be very traumatic.
A well-paid and well-prepared lawyer will know how to prick your unconscious, your false month, to unleash it against you and make him take control by making you pale, stutter, sweat, tremble and make everyone believe that you are a liar or at least unreliable.
Imagine this in a situation of sexual violence, or assault, what consequences it can have and unfortunately these are things that happen when there is no overwhelming evidence.
And a malevolent lawyer during a trial could put your sticks in your wheels by exploiting your weaknesses.
The best advice I can give you about this situation is this
“Take your time” You have all the time in the world, use it.
It’s like facing a race that requires concentration or is about to start a match.
Breathe, calm down and, slowly and professionally, shoot straight (in this case, your answer to the lawyer). You have control over your body, not your body over you.
You drive because “that lawyer” isn’t even part of the equation.”
Other useful applications of tactical breathing
There are many other circumstances in which it is good to breathe appropriately and sometimes tactical breathing benefits against physical ailments.
There are people who suffer from migraines who as soon as they feel the approach of an attack, practice tactical breathing and most often block it in the bud.
It is not an absolute solution, it can not work in every possible circumstance, but often helps.
You can use tactical breathing to help other people in case of need.
Colonel Grossman says again:
“I experienced it in person with my wife, for the first time, thanks to the Lamaze technique [pre-birth relaxation method invented by the obstetrician French F. Lamaze – NdT] and was very impressed by the effectiveness of the combination of visualization, relaxation and breathing techniques.
Since then I have continued to apply those principles all my life. One of my young soldiers once had a motorcycle accident, and I joined him shortly afterwards in the hospital.
He was stuck, lying on a table, waiting for an X-ray, and he was in severe pain. I helped him by guiding him in an entire sequence of the Lamaze process, with full success.
It also happened to me with my son, and often you can help the injured children extraordinarily, making them breathe and calm down.”
Soldiers, policemen and educators are often the first to intervene on the scene and carry out an informal debrief with those involved in a traumatic event.
Imagine you are a policeman arriving at the scene of a store robbery whose salesman was beaten;
or an officer who must collect the report after an action of his men;
or an educator grappling with a kid who just took part in a fight.
In each of these cases, the operator must ask what happened, and has a moral and professional obligation to ensure that the person making the report maintains calm.
An agitated and anxious person struggles to properly recall the facts and often loses important fragments of information.
You don’t have to be interviewing his mid-back.
The interview must be as productive as possible, but not only.
By helping the person calm down, you will not only collect better and more complete information, but you will avoid the risk of suffering psychological trauma and falling prey to PTSD.
Always remember that, in extreme cases, loss of life is even more likely after a traumatic event than during the event itself.
From the beginning of the interview try to calm the person.
Place a reassuring hand on her shoulder, speak calmly, ask her to take a deep breath while you count to four, then hold your breath as you count again up to four.
Have it exhale while counting to four, and ask her to hold her breath again while you make another count.
If done correctly, this interview can be a real initial debriefing, which helps the person to take the path of healing and serenity instead of that of fear, stress and PTSD.
“On March 24, 1998, I entered Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA, after two 11- and 13-year-old boys killed 15 people.
I offered my collaboration to Jack Bowers and Linda Graham, who led the crisis management team; Jack and Linda immediately agreed: they are two of the most competent and passionate people I have ever met, and it was an honor for me to work under their supervision, along with other wonderful team members.
That very night I taught the rescuers the principles of tactical breathing.
The next morning I conducted the initial debriefing for all the teachers and instructed them on how to continue with their subsequent debriefings, including tactical breathing techniques.
Later, the survivors were divided into small groups and began to work on their experiences.
As soon as someone showed signs of anxiety, tactical breathing was used.
The next day, rescuers and teachers debriefed the children, adopting the same rules and techniques.
The results were excellent. Of course it is impossible to measure success in such circumstances, but there were immediate and observable positive reactions of the participants, and after a long time we collected a quantity of stories and anecdotes that confirmed the effectiveness of the breathing method.”
There were no suicides following the Jonesboro massacre (unlike, unfortunately, the Littleton school massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing) and the national team of experts, led with great expertise by Dr. Scott Poland, who arrived at the scene 36 hours after the shooting, stated that the procedures applied would from that moment present a national standard for the management of post-traumatic crises.
Who practices self-defense, each of you must be a rock: firm and calm even when the world around it is going crazy because when everyone loses their head, your task is to keep calm and pass it on to others.
Everyone needs to be able to anchor to your rock andtactical breathing is a powerful tool in your favor.
Every attitude is contagious: panic as calm, you have to be an example and a guide for others.
Street Fight Mentality