African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance (AJPHERD)
Vol. 17, No. 3 (September) 2011, pp. 517-525.
A report on the evaluation of a breath workshop for stress
management by sport psychology students
S. EDWARDS1 AND J. BEALE2
1University of Zululand, South Africa
2University of East London, United Kingdom; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Received: 04 March 2011; Revision Accepted: 08 April 2011)
Breath control is a fundamental, learnable skill from which all other forms of psychological skills
can develop through practice. Sportspersons, in particular, benefit from breath based
psychological skills training, especially in the management of arousal and stress. This article
reports on the evaluation of a brief experiential, breath workshop for stress management by sport
psychology students. Despite its limitations, main findings indicated the effectiveness of the
workshop in decreasing perceived stress and as initial experiential instruction for breath based
psychological skills training.
Key words: Breath workshop, stress management, sport psychology.
How to cite this article: Edwards, S. & Beale, J. (2011). A report on the evaluation of a breath
workshop for stress management by sport psychology students. African Journal for Physical,
Health Education, Recreation and Dance, 17(3), 517-525.
In everyday life, we experience breath as a constant life energy flow, within and
between our bodies and the wider world. Breath constitutes our main form of
access to and energy exchange with the universe. We may live two months
without food, two weeks without water but only a few minutes without air. The
vital link between breath, life and health has provided the foundation for various
spiritual traditions concerning preservation and promotion of life in this world
and in the afterlife. It also forms an historical and conceptual foundation for
Psychology as an academic and health profession. For example, in its original
meaning, psychology is concerned with breath as energy and consciousness
(Hergenhahn, 2001). In sport, breath constitutes a most essential vital function
and fundamental, learnable skill from which all other forms of psychological
skills can develop through practice.
Breath and stress are intimately interrelated. In general all forms of stress are
associated with shallow or inhibited breathing. While this may have short term
benefits as in sprinting or controlling impulses, if such breathing patterns
become habituated, they lead to various psychological disorders ranging from
everyday emotional problems to forms of psychosomatic illnesses, neuroses,
518 Edwards and Beale
character disorders and psychoses. For example, everyday breathing
observations readily reveal how anger is associated with huffing and puffing,
how grief may bring very short sighs, how fear may cause a withholding or
retention of breath, how worry is accompanied by shallow breathing and how
excessive joy may put a strain on the heart from various forms of extreme
inhalation and exhalation.
Breathing exercises: We are grounded in our experience of the lived body. This
bodiliness accounts for the primarily pathic mode with which phenomena of the
lived world are initially revealed to us. In dialogue with the world, the lived body
is a source of pre-reflective intentionality, meaning and goal directed behaviour
(Merleau-Ponty, 1962). An essence of this bodiliness is the comforting presence
of our breathing, which is also a precondition for transcendence. During times of
clarity and equanimity we are also comforted by the rhythmic regularity of our
breathing and its harmony with the bodily phenomena that appear to our
consciousness. Still sitting and moving forms of breath co-ordinated behaviour
form the foundation for all forms of healing and transcendence as exemplified in
alpha conditioning, biofeedback, transcendental meditation, !Kung healing dance
and Tai chi (Edwards, 2008; Hewitt, 1977; Reid, 1998). Healthy breathing
experiences, that have been bodily re-experienced as anchors, provide a
phenomenological foundation for various forms of imagery, light, sound, colour,
touch and movement used in breath work, expressive therapy, progressive
relaxation, systematic desensitization, crisis intervention and other forms of
caring, healing, counselling, psychotherapy, illness prevention and health
promotion (Edwards, 2009; Ivey, D‟ Andrea, Ivey & Simek-Morgan 2002).
Breath based psychological skills training has been widely used in health and
sports contexts (Edwards & Edwards, 2007).
In sports contexts, breath based psychological skills training can be summarized
into six main points. Firstly, athletes need to practise conscious diaphragmatic
breathing regularly and as much as possible in the actual sporting context.
Secondly, athletes need to consciously practise longer out-breaths when
relaxation is needed and longer in-breaths when needing to increase arousal
and/or stress levels. Thirdly, conscious four-stage breathing may be practiced for
energy and concentration. Fourthly, breathing methods may be complemented
and their effect amplified by various athlete and context appropriate forms of
imagery. Fifthly, actual breath-coordinated sporting movements combined with
appropriate imagery and any other form of relevant psychological skill may be
developed and practised to groove sporting performance. Finally, the special
value of such breath based psychological skills training programmes lies in their
potential to promote health, prevent illness and equip athletes with breathing
skills for life after sport (Edwards, 2008; Edwards & Edwards, 2007).
A report on the evaluation of a breath workshop for stress management 519
Stress management: Survival is a matter of stress and adaptation. Life brings
both negative and positively experienced stressful events or distress and eustress
(Selye, 1976). Multiple factors such as the intensity, duration, perception and
context of stress will determine whether it is experienced as positive, negative or
both (Western, 1999). Healthy living is realized through monitoring and
managing stress. Because of their demonstrated effectiveness, stress
management workshops have become integral components of public health
promotion programmes in many countries (Brown, Cochrane & Cardone 1999).
Relaxation and/or physical exercises, which promote rhythmical, abdominal
breathing are typical integral components of stress management programmes
(Berger, 2001). Jacobson‟s progressive relaxation exercises integratively
counter-balance the experience of tension and relaxation (Jacobson, 1929).
Arguably the most essential component of all such programmes lies in the
effectiveness of their breathing exercises.
There are various means of assessing stress, such as the social readjustment
rating scale developed by Holmes and Rahe (1967), which quantifies life
events/crises such as death of a close family member, member and retirement.
While many of such events are common to most people, the extent to which they
are experienced negatively or positively, as crises or opportunities, is dependent
upon individual perceptions (Frankl, 1959). In breath workshops, probably the
simplest objective method is simply to ask participants to rate their perceived
stress level on some quantifiable scale.
A breath workshop for stress management: Breath workshops for stress
management typically include instruction and experiential practice with regard to
relaxed diaphragmatic breathing and various breathing exercises, the most
essential of which is to observe how stress increases with longer in-breaths and
decreases with longer out-breaths, and some form of evaluative pre- and post-
testing of breath and stress levels. Time, location, group needs, individual needs
and various other factors will affect the depth and quality of individual
instruction possible in such workshops.
Both authors routinely instruct psychology and sport science students as well as
offering breathing workshops to various participants in diverse health, education
and sporting contexts. Research collaboration presented the opportunity for an
international evaluation of the effectiveness of such workshops on stress
management and as an introduction to further instruction in breath based sport
psychological techniques. In view of our previous experience indicating that
breathing exercises improved stress management, it was hypothesized that a
breath workshop would have a significant effect on decreasing levels of stress
both within the group and as compared to a control group which did not receive
520 Edwards and Beale
Design and participants
A pre- and post-test quasi experimental and control group design was used to
record participants‟ current stress level perceptions and workshop evaluations.
Experimental group participants consisted of 57 second year sport psychology
students at a large university in the United Kingdom from whom complete
questionnaire data had been obtained. Control group participants consisted of a
convenience sample of 14 third year students who were simply pre- and posted
on the same questionnaire.
An appropriate departmental ethical clearance, informed consent and guaranteed
confidentiality were obtained. All participants were informed that the research
was concerned with the evaluation of a breath workshop for stress management
which involved pre-testing and post-testing. Participants were assured that they
should participate only if they were happy and willing to do so and requested not
to write their names on any questionnaires they handed in.
Data collection procedure
The questionnaire eliciting biographical data and pre-test and post-test
quantitative and qualitative information on breath, stress and workshop
evaluation was handed out to all participants. During pre-testing participants
recorded their current stress levels. In the experimental group, before and after
the breathing exercises, participants recorded their number of breaths per minute
and current level of stress along a simple 11 point scale where 0 was equivalent
to no stress and 10 was equivalent to maximum stress. Owing to overcrowding
and the unavailability of a suitably large venue, the breath workshop was limited
to very basic instruction with regard to breathing exercises as time honored
method of meditation in various healing traditions, and as means of stress and
arousal control and the above-mentioned basic breath based psychological skills
training widely used in health and sports contexts. Experiential practice focused
on breath control for arousal and stress levels, visualization and imagery
techniques, arousal experience through making in-breath longer than out-breath
and relaxation experience of making out-breath longer than in-breath. This latter
technique was practised for ten minutes following which participants were post-
tested. They recorded their number of breaths per minutes, level of stress and
quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the workshop.
Ideally breath workshops are conducted in the morning, with a small sample of
participants who are able to explore their experiences in some depth over an
extended period of time. For example, in order to experience the effects of
relaxed diaphragmatic breathing with longer out-breaths, it is ideal that
A report on the evaluation of a breath workshop for stress management 521
participants have a breath rate of about six or less per minute (Edwards, 2008;
2009; Edwards & Edwards, 2007). Although this breath workshop violated most
conventions, was very limited in length, was conducted in the late afternoon, in
an overcrowded venue with limited seating facilities and lasted just over an hour,
significant and meaningful findings were still obtained. It was therefore decided
to communicate these in the form of a brief evaluative report.
Quantitative data were analyzed with ANOVA for repeated measures and t tests
from the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), Qualitative data
readily lent themself to content analysis (Bryman & Cramer, 2008; Terblanche,
Durheim, & Painter, 2006).
Results and Discussion
Students t tests run on the data indicated that the experimental group had
decreased significantly in breath and stress, whereas this was not the case with
the control group: Experimental group breath (t = 9.4, p < .001), Experimental
group stress (t = 6.6, p < .001), Control group breath (t = 0.6, p = 0.53), Control
group stress (t = 0.0, p = 0.1). ANOVA with repeated measures for between
group factors and age and gender as covariates indicated significant differences
between the groups for stress (F = 7.8, p = .007) and no significant effects for
either age or gender.
Table 1: Means and standard deviations for experimental (N= 57) and control (N= 14) groups
3 F 11
F = Female; M = Male
The evaluation column indicated a score of 6.3 for the experimental group and
5.3 for the control group. This was based on an effectiveness rating given by the
students where 0 is totally ineffective and 10 maximally effective. Both scores
were low in comparison with previous workshop ratings, which are usually
around 8 for similar presentations. Furthermore, although the experimental group
mean was based on all experimental students‟ responses, the control group data
reflect a mean score of only seven of the 14 participants who actually evaluated
522 Edwards and Beale
the particular lecture from which control group data were gathered. However,
these data were valuable as an indication of students‟ evaluation of the
effectiveness of the workshop, which the authors consider accurate and
appropriate, in view of its presentation being compromised by an overcrowded
lecture room, limited seating facilities and consequent time limitations, all of
which are indicated in the following qualitative evaluations.
In addition to the quantitative rating, participants were requested to provide a
very brief qualitative evaluation of the workshop. With various exceptions and
indications as to the limitations of the workshop, which reduced its effectiveness,
content analysis of participants‟ qualitative evaluations provided consistent
evidence that they generally found the breath workshop to be effective, relaxing,
calming, good, helpful, insightful, informative and interesting. The following
evaluations represent individual participant ratings below and above the mean of
6.3 respectively. Quantitative evaluation scores appear in brackets after the
Examples of evaluations below the mean
It didn‟t do much for me. Nothing much changed. It was carried out well (0).
Breathing techniques do not fascinate me (1). I did not find it useful (1). It was
nice to have a few moments of calm but I found it hard to concentrate and stay
focused for that amount of time. I couldn‟t “feel” a heartbeat without a pulse.
Also I have a very slow heart rate, so breathing out for 10 beats was impossible
(2). There was lots of philosophical experience and techniques used in religious
and psychological worlds, but in all a useful way of relaxing if given time to
practice (3). I feel that this workshop has relaxed me to a stage where I nearly
dosed off, but overall it was good (3). The workshop was calming and showed
how breathing calmly can relieve stress, but I don‟t feel it would work for me
(4). It made me feel even more relaxed than when I came into the room. It also
made me realize you can either leave breath alone or use it, which I knew before
but it hadn‟t clicked (4). I found it hard to concentrate for long. My thoughts
drifted from the task when we were left to breath. I could not hold a happy image
for long (4). It had little value for me, poor organization, overcrowded room, too
much information on beliefs, too broad, needs to include more applications (4). It
was very effective and it could help me in life to know how I could control my
breathing (4). It was tiring (4). It was OK (4). It was good. Breathing in and
breathing out for different lengths of time made me realize the difference
between stress and relaxation (4). There were various techniques of controlled
breathing. It was interesting (4). It was enlightening but too long (4). It was
good to know about the effects of breath control (5). I learnt a few new things. I
had a bit of trouble understanding breathing techniques. It was relaxing (5). A
A report on the evaluation of a breath workshop for stress management 523
good idea, but should have been organized better in terms of space, and would
then have been more effective (5). It has increased my knowledge a bit. It was
clear (5). It was OK, but there was not enough room to accommodate all
therefore effectiveness was less than it could be (5). It was very enjoyable (5). It
was good. It was very helpful (5). It was very relaxing (6). It was pretty good as
it showed the different ways breathing can help one (6). The workshop may have
been better if everyone had sat in a big circle facing inwards with the speaker in
the middle (6). An effective method of breathing techniques, but a different
location and fewer distractions would have made it more effective (6).
Examples of evaluations above the mean
The workshop was valuable; however, it could have been more valuable if done
in a different environment (7). I thought it was very interesting (7). It was quite
effective (7). The mantra and the relaxation were interesting. I enjoyed the
lecturer‟s tone of voice (7). It was useful to look at breathing in a different light
and to gain a different understanding of different cultures beliefs (7). Relaxation
techniques are very effective (7). There were not enough seats, but otherwise
good (7). It was very relaxing. I almost fell asleep (8). It was enlightening (8). It
was useful in raising consciousness and greater awareness; a simple and effective
technique (8). Very effective techniques, but could be more useful if done one-
on-one (8). It was calming, relaxing and educational (8). I have learnt that by
consciously controlling my breathing pattern I can relax into a state of sub-
consciousness. I would definitely use the exercises personally and with family
and friends to manage stress (8). The workshop was very good, but with so many
people in the room, it was hard for me to tune into my heart effectively. The
breathing techniques made me feel much more relaxed (8). The workshop was
interesting. I think that breathing still will not help in performance, but it has a
good calming effect (8). It was calming (8). It worked very well, took a little
while to get going, but was very interesting and effective (8). It was very
effective (8). The workshop allowed me to think about my breathing as I was
using my whole body to breathe, rather than just breathing passively (8). It made
me understand breathing in more depth: very useful to use in a sporting situation
(8). It was very informative and stress relieving (9). It was interesting and
informative. I would have loved peaceful music and the speaker to use a
microphone. However aside from that, it was a very informative workshop (9).
It taught me an effective technique to remove stress (9). It was worthwhile and I
learnt some things about breathing which I did not previously know (9). I found
it very helpful. The theme of the workshop was well delivered. It is surprisingly
relevant to me life (9). In a word, excellent (9). I feel that the workshop has
allowed me to understand the true meaning behind breathing, allowing one to
regulate mood (9). It gave me a good idea of how important breath control is in
dealing with stress (9). I think it was very effective as it gave great advice on
524 Edwards and Beale
relaxation techniques that can be used in many situations (10). It was very
informative and interesting, gave me a stress relieving technique, but there was
not enough space in the room to feel the true effect (10). I think this workshop
worked very well in making me more aware of how breathing affects anxiety
levels (10). I learnt the effectiveness of a variety of breathing styles (10).
It should also be mentioned that although various breathing techniques were
covered in the workshop, these were necessarily very superficial in view of such
limitations as space and overcrowding as so clearly indicated in the participants
qualitative evaluations. As only ten minutes were specifically allocated to
relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing with focus on longer out-breaths, before post-
testing, it is remarkable that such statistically significant decreases in stress were
recorded both within the experimental group and as compared with the control
group. When supported by quantitative and qualitative evaluations attesting to
the general effectiveness of the workshop, despite its limitations in terms of time,
venue, lowered breath rate and depth of practice, the findings provide
considerable evidence in support of the research hypothesis with regard to the
effectiveness of breathing exercises in managing stress and as an experiential
introduction to further instruction in breath-based psychological skills training as
for example indicated in the above-mentioned section on breathing exercises.
It is concluded that the brief stress management workshop was significantly
effective in decreasing perceived stress levels change in a group of United
Kingdom university sport psychology students both within an experimental
group and as compared to convenience sample control group. Despite the various
limitations of this particular workshop, students‟ quantitative and qualitative
feedback provided further supportive evidence for the effectiveness of breathing
exercises in stress management and as an initial experiential workshop to
introduce breath-based sport psychological techniques.
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