Today I will be talking you through the box breathing exercise for stress and anxiety relief.
What do Yoga teachers, meditation leaders, mindfulness practitioners, Navy SEALs, firefighters, paramedics, and elite athletes all have in common? Take a moment to think about the relaxed state many of these different categories of people can be in. Even in high-stress situation soldiers, firefighters and paramedics can keep their shit together and get the job done.
Often undervalued, breathing is one of the most important things you can do to control your anxiety and stress. The military has been using tactical breathing techniques for years. Soldiers rely on these techniques to reduce stress and calm themselves down in crises.
The exact breathing techniques have been adopted by elite athletes to gain focus and control in the heat of competition. Tactical breathing has been shown to help control anxiety and nervousness in high stress situations.
During stressful moments conscious breathing allows you to shift and release negative energy, instead of storing it in your body. This is important because stored-up energy often manifests as muscle tension and other physical ailments.
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Box Breathing Exercise – For Stress & Anxiety Relief!
Box breathing is also known as box breathing or 4×4 breathing (or even four-square breathing!).
Did I mention that the box breathing technique is really simple? Here’s all you need to know about the technique itself.
- Step 1: Inhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 2: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 3: Exhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 4: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 5: Repeat
This is what it looks like:
The benefits of Box breathing
Box breathing is a powerful tool for reducing stress, and it has an immediate impact. Square breathing is used by the US Navy Seals and in professions such as law enforcement and medical care, where managing high stress situations is a critical part of the role.
Here are some of the benefits identified by the Mayo Clinic:
- Eases anxiety, depression, and other stress related issues
- Increases alertness
- Allows your body to release toxins more readily
The Mayo Clinic also identifies a neurological foundation to the benefits of square breathing:
Many studies have found that deep, yogic breathing helps balance the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary bodily functions, such as temperature control and bladder function. This may help ease symptoms of stress-related disorders and mental health conditions such as anxiety, general stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
All very profound!
Below are the benefits of box breathing as I experience them:
Reduces stress instantly
I think of the box breathing technique as ‘the body regaining control over the mind’. The deep breathing triggers a relaxation response which regains control over the body’s fight or flight response to short-term stress.
When I’m feeling stressed at work a few minutes of box breathing really helps. And it’s so practical because I can do it at my desk (I don’t need a darkened room, and I don’t have to close my eyes to feel the benefits).
Increases focus and control
If I’m feeling nervous or becoming frustrated with a certain situation, box breathing can help.
With the reduced stress comes an increased focus and control which enhances my performance with my work.
A useful weight-control ally
This may seem like a strange benefit! Here’s how square breathing helps me manage my weight.
Towards the end of the afternoon I often get hungry and low on energy. My previous habit was to walk over to the cupboard for some biscuits or a chocolate bar.
Now, when I get that little bit hungry / low energy feeling towards the end of the afternoon I do 5 minutes of square breathing.
It’s enough to refocus me and recharge me to get through until my next meal.
A quick and effective break from work
Ideally, we take regular breaks through-out the day, to recharge and refocus. But sometimes that’s just not possible. There’s just too much on.
When that’s the case, try just 3 minutes of square breathing, it really helps.
How to get started with box breathing
Try it out using the gif provided above. It’s really simple, but a little practice will give you the confidence to use it when you need it.
Sit comfortably in your chair, relax your shoulders, have your hands comfortable (perhaps resting in your lap).
Practice: inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat.
When you first practice, don’t worry about how long you are practicing, just focus on the rhythm (even just for 3 or 4 cycles is fine).
Here are some additional tips:
- Don’t strain your diaphragm by over-inhaling or over-exhaling, experiment with the level of inhale and exhale that is comfortable for you.
- If at any time you feel a little dizzy, just stop, rest in your seat a minute and come back to the practice later.
- As you become more practiced, you might want to set a timer on your phone and explore longer sessions of square breathing (though I’ve never felt the need to go beyond 5 minutes).
- You can also explore the durations of the inhale, the holds and exhale. You can explore a ‘bigger box’ (eg: a 5 x 5 square breathing practice), or you can keep the holds to a count of 4 and extend the exhale and inhale (creating an oblong breathing practice!).
This is a simple technique that can be extended as you become more confident.
Box Breathing Exercise – Final thought
Unarguably, box breathing is a great way to enhance your attention and concentration and lower stress and anxiety in tour daily lives. Like many breathing techniques, box breathing has been shown to bring short- as well as long-term health benefits to its practitioners.
While more research is required, the current findings are enough to regard box breathing as an extremely effective way to boost focus, deal with stress, boost mood and mental state.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
If you have any questions please reach out to me via email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
I really hope you found inspiration in this article.
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Hello! My name is Adam and welcome to my space on the internet. Here you can find me writing about topics such as self-care, self-development and all things wellness. Connect with me on my journey and come and join the community!