Have you ever felt like losing your breath in a stressful situation and not being able to focus on what needs to be done to tackle the problem at hand? When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes drastically. Whenever you’re out of breath, need relief for stress or anxiety, or just want to feel better in general, then this practical and well-known breathwork technique known as Box Breathing, can work miracles in improving your state.
Also known as Square Breathing, it is a technique used by everyone from athletes to Navy SEALs, psychologists, and healthcare professionals who are familiar with practical breathwork tools for stress management. It is tremendously helpful in situations where there is any kind of intense emotion triggered and one feels like things are too overwhelming to be solved easily.
Excessive Stress = Fear Response
We all are experiencing some level of stress in our lives daily, be it stress related to work, misunderstandings with fellow humans —yes, human relations are rather complex at times!—, getting closer to the exam period that you haven’t even started to study for, or whatever situation it might be that causes uncertainty and discomfort.
Stress is a code word for fear. Luckily there’s an easy solution: In order to manage stress and reduce anxiety, one can practice a slow breathing technique that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps to activate that ‘’rest and digest’’ mode rather than your “fight or flight response” overdrive which is kicked off by fear (= stress) in your system.
In our last post, we dived into the effects of deep and slow breathing and how specific breathwork exercises are helping us to regulate our nervous system. Similarly to the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, Box Breathing Technique also enables us to slow down our breathing and helps to practice managing our body’s primal, unconscious responses.
Taking control of one’s mind and body
As in Stoic philosophy, the single most important practice is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t, then rather falling into the trap of focusing too much on the external stimulus causing stress, you can direct your attention to your breath and say: ‘’Let’s calm down for a minute. I’m going to consciously slow down my breathing and take control of my mind and body.’’
By practicing one simple breathing technique for managing stress one can experience a huge shift in their emotional as well as in their mental state. As a consequence, the given situation could be solved from a place of empowerment rather than feeling lost amid incoming panic.
How to Perform Box Breathing Exercise (4-4-4-4)
- Start by sitting upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor or lying comfortably in the bed — after you’ve mastered the technique then you can do it everywhere and whenever you need it,
- Keep your tongue loosely against your upper front teeth for the entire exercise,
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four — count to four very slowly in your head and use the diaphragm rather than the chest,
- Hold your breath for another slow count of four,
- Release your breath through the mouth for a same slow count of 4 seconds — the tongue position will help you extend the duration of the exhale and you should hear the sound of the air escaping,
- Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process,
- Repeat several times until notice your state shifting.
You can play around with the number of counts, for example, 5-5-5-5, 6-6-6-6 etc. — the idea is that the pattern is “Box” pattern with equal lenght. If you’re new to box breath, it may be difficult to get the hang of it in the beginning. You may get dizzy after a few rounds. This is totally normal and if you feel any discomfort then resume normal breathing.
One extra tip for the practice which might enhance your experience —it sure has spiced up my breathwork experience before— is to listen to some soothing music in the background: Nature sounds, waterfall sounds and Tibetan bowls.
Stressful experiences come in many forms and managing stress is vital to improve one’s quality of life. By taking control of your mind and body with this simple breathing technique, one can experience an almost immediate sense of calmness. That would allow handling any given situation with more clarity and ease.
You can perform Box Breathing technique on Huma Breath app. Simply go to the app’s exercise library, tap on the Box Breathing exercise and you’re ready to go. The app tracks your progress and guides you through the exercise so you get out the most of each breath!
Here’s a Box Breathing Guide based on Huma Breath app for you to use: