If you suffer from anxiety or simply have difficulty calming down and focusing, an incredibly simple exercise known as box breathing could be a great tool to help you get things together.
What is Box Breathing?
Box breathing gets its name because like a box with 4 length sides, it breaks up your breathing cycle into 4 equal segments: inhale, hold, exhale, hold. The technique requires you to spend an equal amount of time, usually 4 – 6 seconds, in each segment. Simple right?
Basic Box Breathing Exercise
Box breathing can be done anywhere, but it’s best to do it in a quiet space where you can relax. Turn off the TV for silence or have relaxing music playing in the background. You’ll want to be sitting upright with a strong posture.
Inhale for 4 Seconds
Inhale through your nose to the count of 4. Concentrate on filling your lungs from the top down to the bottom. Expand your chest as your lungs fill up.
Hold for 4 Seconds
Hold your breath to the count of 4. Remain still, and focus on the count instead of your surrounding or outside noises.
Exhale for 4 Seconds
Exhale through your mouth to the count of 4. Concentrate on emptying your lungs completely, but don’t force it. Resist the urge to crunch forward as your lungs empty; maintain a tall posture.
Hold for 4 Seconds
Hold your lungs empty to the count of 4. Maintain a straight back and strong posture and focus on the count.
Repeat the Cycle
As you can see a 4-second box breathing rotation only takes 16 seconds. Typically you’ll want to do it for a few minutes, but you may feel calmer as soon as the second or third rotation.
Box breathing is convenient because you can do it anywhere and you don’t need any special equipment. Sometimes I’ll do it while I’m driving home from work, or at work if I’m having a particularly stressful day.
Box breathing also works well during meditation sessions, if you’re into that sort of thing. And if you’re not into meditation, it can certainly help you realize some of the benefits you might get from starting a meditation regimen.
What are the Benefits of Box Breathing?
Much of the benefits associated with box breathing are anecdotal. For example, I feel better after doing it for a few minutes – as do most people who perform the technique. But there is also some scientific evidence to draw from.
Studies have shown that box breathing can significantly lower the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body resulting in a lower stress & anxiety level.
Other publications have also determined that box breathing, among other breathing exercises, can help to reduce pain and increase focus.
Box breathing is so beneficial that it’s used by the US Navy Seals and by many high stress professions such as nursing and policing.
Box Breathing Guide
There are lots of tools out there to help you with your box breathing exercises. One of my favorites is this 10-minute guided box breathing video on YouTube:
You can also find animated GIF files and apps for your mobile device. But my go-to is still YouTube. There are hundreds of different videos that guide you and provide great background music to help you relax.
Whether you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or just loss of focus, box breathing is an amazingly simple breathing exercise that will help you regain control.
It’s used worldwide by people everywhere, and I have used it for years with much success in controlling my anxiety. It’s not a silver bullet to cure everything, but it does help – and that’s what’s important.
Sources & Additional Reading:
1. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults
2. Mayo Clinic: