Ask an expert: How does breathing to relax actually help me?

Adam Scott smiles during the final round of the PGA Championship.

GOLF’s new performance columnist Dr. Greg Cartin is the founder of GC3 Performance Consulting based in Belmont, Mass. He works with PGA Tour players and athletes of all levels and ages. Send your questions to

Q: I know I’m supposed to breathe to relax, but what goes on during the process that actually makes it work?
—Rich R., Oyster Bay, N.Y.

A: From a psychological perspective, I’ve seen clients who actually become more anxious when they deliberately alter their breathing. Think about what would happen if you tried to alter the way you walk, consciously focusing on each and every movement and step. Your normal, smooth gait suddenly becomes awkward and cumbersome. Same can be said for controlling your breath. If you’re looking to relax, breathing’s a good place to start. All you have to do is anchor your focus and attention on it, not make wholesale changes to how you breathe.

The anchor is what allows you to “stay in the moment”—that elusive state where performance can best reach its peak. That alone may provide enough clarity to allow you to make your next swing without fearing the outcome or dwelling on the pain induced by a recent mistake. In the end, be careful not to fall for “if it works for them, it must be good for me” traps—breathing techniques included.

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