Here’s Why You Should Try Box Breathing to Reduce Stress

What if someone offered you a way to relax your body, clear your mind, and enhance your focus in a few minutes – for free? Would you wonder what the pill was, or the catch?

Well, there really is a way to receive those health benefits in a few minutes, and you can do it virtually anywhere. All it requires is breath.

It’s called box breathing.

It’s a simple relaxation technique that involves breathing in and out and holding in between. It’s designed to facilitate a calming response after experiencing something stressful.

The best part? It’s easy and it works!

What Is Box Breathing?

Box breathing is a deep breathing technique designed to calm the mind and body after a stressful experience. Also known as equal breathing, four-square breathing, or just square breathing, the technique’s roots come from the ancient yoga practice of pranayama (breath control); the Sanskrit word for box breathing is sama vritti pranayama.

Pranayama involves regulating the breath, which may improve mental and physical well-being.

Just as a box has four sides, the breathing sequence involves a slow count to 4 for a total of 4 times. Here’s how it works:

  1. Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out for a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.

Repeat 4 times.

Today, box breathing has gained popularity due its use in medical settings and in the U.S. military. Patients use box breathing to help manage feelings of anxiousness and pain during procedures. Navy SEALs use it to boost mental focus and promote calm in high-stress scenarios – as well as help ward off panic attacks and reduce feelings of anxiousness in combat situations.

It’s no doubt valued because it delivers measurable results, having been shown to have a healthy impact on blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (the body’s main stress hormone).

Benefits of Box Breathing

Box Breathing 2 Box breathing is actually a form of deep (diaphragmatic) breathing, which has myriad proven benefits. Here’s how it works.

In times of stress, your sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert, readying your body for fight or flight. The breathwork from box breathing helps to calm the stress response and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” nervous system. When this happens, all the physiological changes of the stress response can return to normal.

Indeed, markers of relaxation have been noted in multiple studies following deep breathing exercises. A 2017 study showed a reduction of cortisol as well as improved attention following deep breathing. It also noted that deep breathing may be helpful in calming stress, reducing feelings of anxiousness, and boosting low mood.

The breath counting used in box breathing can be meditative too. In another study, breath counting was associated with greater focus and better mood.

What’s more, research shows that yoga, which incorporates deep breathing, especially over time, may help an individual react differently to stress in the future. Evidence suggests that the relaxation response resulting from deep breathing may alter how certain genes are switched on. Also, it may help to reduce the activation of genes associated with stress and inflammation.

In a recent study, it was demonstrated that box breathing produced a greater stress-reducing impact on the body than mindfulness meditation – although mindfulness meditation did have benefits as well. One measurable effect was a greater reduction in heart rate.

Imaging studies of brains after deep breathing exercises show changes that tend to increase comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, energy, and alertness, while reducing arousal, feelings of anxiousness, low mood, anger, and confusion.

Box Breathing for Well-Being

Breath is a powerful tool available for you to use at any time of day, virtually anywhere.

You can adjust the counts of each step as needed but keep them consistent. Experts say it’s effective before, during, or after a stressful event. It doesn’t require a calm environment to work.

Try it in an airport before you board, during an exam, or after a difficult conversation. Practice it at your desk in the afternoon to relieve stress, refresh your focus, and boost your energy. Use the technique as a ritual before you go to sleep. Or start your day with it and add in some positive affirmations.

The benefits are waiting!


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Kim Henderson