Breathing Techniques Help Youth Deal with Impulse Control

A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that teens who went through a four-week program where they learned about yoga-based breathing techniques had better impulse control than teens who didn’t go through the program. The program, called “YES! for Schools,” was developed by the nonprofit International Association for Human Values.

Researchers had 524 Los Angeles area high school students go through the four-week program. They also recruited 264 teens to be in a control group that didn’t go through the program. After the four weeks, the students who went through the program reported feeling less impulsive than those who didn’t. The researchers noted that the findings are important because lack of impulse control is linked with classroom misbehavior, as well as potentially more risky behaviors, such as substance abuse.

These findings are not surprising. In the Raise Responsibility System, developing a procedure for impulse control is a key component. And the breathing techniques the teens in the program used are just one example of a procedure that can help a person redirect their thoughts and control their impulses.

Following is an example of how a seemingly simple procedure can redirect attention and the resulting emotions, thereby prompting responsible behavior.

Picture a traffic light with the red, yellow, and green lights all lit. At the first emotional outburst, stop (red in the signal) and then breathe as though you were gasping for a breath. Take a deep gasp a second time and notice that your jaw drops open and your tongue drops to the bottom of your mouth. It is impossible to gasp with a closed mouth. This simple procedure of taking a gasp of air immediately relaxes the jaw as well as the tension in the nearby nerves that otherwise would send the stress throughout the body.

Now, in the moment that it takes to gasp and release the tension, your mind has the opportunity to redirect thinking so you can consider options (yellow in the signal). Having considered a few options, choose one (green in the signal). This redirecting your thinking will immediately relieve the negative emotion. The only sure way to relieve or change an emotion (and thereby control impulses) is to redirect your thoughts.