Box Breathing

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The square breathing exercises, also known as box breathing, is a relaxation technique used across various settings, ranging from doctors' and therapists' offices to yoga studios and meditation centers.

Notably, even Navy SEAL training incorporates box breathing to maintain composure and enhance concentration during highly intense situations.

Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL, frequently discusses this technique during his lectures on breathing, sometimes referring to it as tactical breathing. He spoke about this at MNT:

“I used it every day in SEAL training … it helped me graduate as the honor man. Now I use it for every challenging situation and practice it daily.”

How Does Box Breathing Work?

As the name implies, the breathing pattern involved in box breathing resembles a square. Each cycle of the practice consists of four distinct phases, resembling the four sides of a box.

The repetition of this four-part circuit should be performed multiple times, depending on the context, activity, and desired outcome.

Whether you aim to achieve a state of calm, improve sleep, or enhance focus on a specific task, the number of repetitions can be tailored accordingly.

Benefits of Box Breathing

Practicing box breathing offer several benefits to individuals who practice it regularly. The key advantages for those who practice box breathing are:

Risks And Contraindications Of Box Breathing

While box breathing is generally considered safe for most individuals, there are risks and contraindications to consider, such as:

How To Prepare For The Box Breathing Technique

While square breathing technique can be done anywhere and anytime, having your initial session at a specific time and place is beneficial to concentrate on learning the technique correctly. Set aside five to ten minutes for this practice.

Get Seated Properly

Choose a comfortable position, preferably on a cushion designed for meditation or mindfulness practice. You can also sit on a chair or floor, ensuring your back is straight.

Avoid lying down or standing, as these positions don't allow optimal lung expansion.

Position Your Hands

Place your hands on your lap, one on top of the other, with palms facing upward. You can rest your palms on your knees if seated cross-legged.

Tip: You can gently close your eyes or maintain a relaxed gaze by lowering your eyelids and loosely focusing your vision approximately three to five feet down and in front of you.

Choose whichever approach feels most comfortable and conducive to your box breathing practice.

How to Practice Box Breathing

To start the breathing exercise, take a few deep breaths then focus on the exhale and emptying your lungs of air.

Take your time and exhale slowly and gently, directing your complete attention to letting go of the breath. Once you feel ready, proceed with the following steps to continue the practice:

Step 1: Inhale

Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs completely. Count to four as you inhale slowly, focusing on the sensation of your breath entering your body

Step 2: Hold

Once you have completed the inhalation, hold your breath for four counts. Maintain a relaxed state without straining or tensing your body.

Step 3: Exhale

Slowly exhale, releasing your breath gently and fully through your mouth, counting to four as you exhale. Focus on the sensation of the air leaving your body.

Step 4: Hold

After exhaling, hold your breath for another count of four before starting the next cycle.

Repeat steps one through four, continuing the process, repeating the four-part cycle of inhalation, holding, exhalation, and holding for at least five minutes.

Gradually, you can increase the duration of each phase or the overall practice time as you become more comfortable.

For example, you might wish to double the length of each cycle:

  • Inhale to a count of 8
  • Hold for a count of 8
  • Exhale for a count of 8
  • Hold for a count of 8
  • And repeat

Varying the count number in box breathing practice can have multiple benefits, such as improving concentration and enhancing deep breathing techniques, particularly in the case of total concentration breathing.

How Does Four Square Breathing Impact The Nervous System?

The autonomic nervous system governs the body's conscious and unconscious functions.

Within this system are two subsystems: the sympathetic nervous system (commonly known as the fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system.

When faced with stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated through diaphragmatic breathing, acting as a "gas pedal" for releasing hormones. This response can lead to symptoms such as sweating, heavy breathing, and a racing mind.

While this reaction is useful in life-threatening situations, it is less desirable during everyday scenarios like giving a work presentation.

Deep breathing techniques like box breathing prove immensely beneficial to regain control over the nervous system in such situations.

Practicing box breathing allows you to slow down and intervene before the fight or flight response takes over.

It aids in refocusing and exerting control over even the most uncontrollable aspects of this vital system, allowing you to navigate stressful situations more effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is It Called Box Or Square Breathing?

Box breathing derives its name from the alignment of the breathing pattern with the sides of a square or box.

The technique consists of four equal steps, mirroring the four sides of a square, each lasting an equal amount of time.

Should You Inhale Through The Nose Or Mouth?

When doing Box breathing, inhale through the nose.

Can Box Breathing Help Manage Stress?

Indeed, box breathing is one of the most effective techniques for stress management. Combining the rhythmic, automatic breathing process with intentional mental focus helps redirect attention away from rumination and stressors.


Breathing Technique for Calm: Tips from a Navy Seal | Time

The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults

Understanding the stress response - Harvard Health

Stress raising your blood pressure? Take a deep breath - Harvard Health


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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