What is box breathing and how can it help?

Box breathing is a simple technique to relax your body, clear your mind, and improve focus. It is quick and easy to do, so it can help in stressful situations, when trying to sleep, and in day-to-day life.

“Box breathing is a form of yogic deep breathing employed by the United States Navy SEALs and by stressed-out people everywhere,” according to the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top hospitals in the country. “It’s also known as sama vritti pranayama, born of the yogic practice of pranayama, or focusing on the breath.”

Here are the simple steps you can follow and the health benefits you may notice when you try box breathing.

How to Do Box Breathing

The name box breathing comes from the four steps—like a square. Each step takes 4 seconds:

  1. Breathe in through your nose.
  2. Hold your breath.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth.
  4. Hold your breath.

Repeat each step at least three times. If the technique is too challenging, try doing each step for 3 seconds. Once comfortable, increase the number of sets or the time you spend on each step.

The box breathing technique is versatile, as you can do it while standing, sitting, or lying down. The location is also up to you.

“You can practice it at work, at home, in public, or in a stressful situation,” according to WebMD. “However, you don’t have to practice box breathing only when you are stressed. You can do it to calm your mind and body, allowing yourself to reset and stay fresh.”

Active young woman taking a break after working out at home, sitting on exercise mat taking a deep breath with her eyes closed. Sports and exercise routine. Health, fitness and wellness concept

Photo – Getty Images

Tips for Practicing Box Breathing

  • Find a quiet space with minimal distractions. Put on headphones or earplugs to soften or eliminate any background noise. Alternatively, play calming music without lyrics, which has the added benefit of providing a rhythm you can use when counting.
  • Start alone or in a room with familiar people. Otherwise, you may feel self-conscious about being around strangers and focus on them instead of yourself.
  • Place your hands on your chest and stomach to feel the movement of your breath in your diaphragm. This will also help you visualize your breathing.
  • Relax your muscles instead of using them to push air. This should help you stay calm.

Because focused breathwork is a skill, regularly practicing will make it easier to lean on box breathing when you need to cope with panic or stress.

“Counting helps to take the focus from the panic-producing situation, enabling you to handle and control your response,” according to WebMD.

Health Benefits of Box Breathing

Breathing exercises can lower your stress levels and feelings of depression and anxiety, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. When you are stressed, your body goes into a fight-or-flight state that can increase your heart and breathing rates. A conscious breathing exercise can revert your body to a resting state.

Additionally, breathing exercises can help you pay attention longer than usual, improve your memory, and boost your mood, according to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

Beyond the stress of daily life, breathing exercises may help if you have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

Focused breathing also has physical benefits. For example, it can reduce inflammation, according to research published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Some athletes have even started to work mindful breathing into their training. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from this effect, though—if you have arthritis, you can add box breathing into your routine.

You also may be able to lower your blood pressure with box breathing, according to research published in the JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports.

Incorporate a routine of daily box breathing, and you may begin to notice a decrease in your stress levels and blood pressure and boost your overall well-being.

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