Breathwork — which describes conscious, controlled breathing done especially for relaxation, meditation or therapeutic purposes — is a natural way to help manage stress. That’s because breathing is capable of influencing your mental, emotional and physical state. One example of a popular type of breathwork is called box breathing.
Box breathing is used by meditators, athletes and those looking to improve their concentration. It’s a simple exercise that involves inhaling and exhaling in a rhythmic way that naturally calms the mind — plus it can contribute to other benefits too, such as helping you fall asleep more easily.
Box breathing, also known as square breathing or four-square breathing, is a breathing exercise that involves taking slow, controlled breaths.
It’s used for a variety of purposes, most often to help reduce symptoms associated with stress, improve alertness/focus and in some cases help with physical performance.
Why is it called box breathing? Box breathing got its name because it’s a technique that involves controlled, paced breathing with even inhales and exhales. It has a “4-4-4- ratio” in terms of the timing of inhales and exhales.
You first exhale for four seconds, then hold your breath for four seconds, then inhale for four seconds, hold and repeat. The evenness of your breaths in, holds and breaths out resembles the symmetry of a box.
For the best results, try repeating the box breathing technique described below three or four times in a row.
You can practice several times per day or do it any time you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Before meditating, prior to a big meeting or while you’re trying to fall asleep are all great times to use this technique.
As you practice, picture a box with equal sides, where the inhale, the holding of the breath, and exhale are all four counts. As you complete the breath cycle, picture the sides of a square filling up, which serves as an anchor for your attention.
Here’s how to do it:
Deep breathing exercises can help you to cope with stress and naturally relax your body because they stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a calm feeling both physically and in your mind.
The benefits of deep breathing exercises are due to how they “put the brakes” on the body’s fight-or-flight response and stimulate the vagal nerve, which results in effects such as decreased heart rate, slowed respiration and reduced cortisol levels.
Below are some of the main benefits associated with breathing techniques, including box breathing:
How does box breathing compare to other breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing or pursed lip breathing?
Different breathing techniques have various effects on the nervous system, with some more energizing/stimulating and others more calming.
Diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) is mostly relaxing and involves engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles and diaphragm when breathing. It’s used to strengthen the diaphragm, decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate and decrease oxygen demand.
Square breathing is used mostly as a natural stress relief technique. It can have similar effects to diaphragmatic breathing on your mood, although it may not be as good at improving breathing capabilities, such as for people with COPD another respiratory issues.
Pursed lip breathing (breathing with your lips puckered and slightly closed) also helps open up your airways. This technique is a good option when you’re short of breath or anxious.
It’s similar to box breathing because it involves slowly inhaling and then exhaling for as long as it took you to inhale — however inhale is done though the mouth and not the nose.
While box breathing can be done just about anywhere and doesn’t require any equipment or training, there are some tips that can help you get the most benefit from this exercise:
The post Box Breathing: The Benefits for Calming the Body & Mind (Plus How to Do It) appeared first on Dr. Axe.