Why Box Breathing Is Your Best Friend Against Stress

by Nicole Lesmeister

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For those naysayers who feel that breathwork is too “woo woo,” it’s time to bring your thinking outside the box… or rather, in it. Box breathing is essentially controlled breathing in four easy steps of four counts each. (Hence, it’s square nomenclature.)

This practice gained recent fame after Navy SEALs touted its many benefits during tactical training and in high-intensity, real-life situations. While you don’t have to be in life or death circumstances to achieve results, it stands to show just how powerful, simple, and available breathwork can be for our overall health. (Not to mention free!)

How To do Box Breathing

To do box breathing, follow these four simple steps:

  1. Exhale all the air out of your lungs through your mouth for four even counts.
  2. Hold at the bottom of your exhale keeping your lungs empty for another four counts.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for another four counts, filling up the belly.
  4. Hold the full inhalation for four counts. Return to step one for as many rounds as you need, want, or have the time for.

Box breathing is uncomplicated yet highly customizable. You can set time aside to practice it meditatively and bring yourself into a high-vibrational, alert calm. Or, reach for it in a pinch in times of high stress, sleeplessness, physical pain, or anxiety.

Woman Box Breathing for Energy

Box Breathing Benefits

When you practice box breathing in times of high stress, it helps regulate your autonomic nervous system. This subdivision of the nervous system is responsible for involuntary bodily functions such as maintaining temperature and pumping blood.

In fight-or-flight mode, our heart rate and body temperature naturally rise. However, bringing yourself back to a state of calm gives you the clarity to deal with pressing issues in a rational way. (Unless of course you’re running for your life—but we can’t imagine you’ll be box breathing in such a circumstance.)

This skill especially important in modern society because we tend to live in a chronic state of stress. That means our adrenals are pumping as if we’re in danger around the clock with our busy schedules. Adrenals affect every part of our health: sleep, digestion, skin health, hormones, weight, cravings, mood, and relationships. By contrast, slow, controlled breathing may enhance our ability to be flexible psychologically, cerebrally, and autonomically.

Alternatively, breathwork can also provide a rejuvenated sense of alertness, making it an excellent tool for the workplace. How? Studies show that breathwork contributes to an increase in alpha brain waves. These are responsible for a relaxed and calm yet alert state. Likewise, breathwork can contribute to a decrease in theta waves. These are present in REM sleep and deep, meditative trances.

Finally, deep breaths will also provide more oxygen to the brain, which is helpful if you find yourself drifting off at your desk.

When To Incorporate Box Breathing

If you’re someone who wakes up in a panic, already agitated with the workday ahead, try box breathing first thing in the morning. Even just a few rounds will help if you’re pressed for time. After all, even a small amount of breathwork is an entry to understanding your nervous system and powerful to any degree.

Then, if you find yourself constantly putting out fires at work, try practicing box breathing the next time someone comes to you with a problem. Before defaulting to panic mode or making a rash decision, give yourself a moment to control your breath. Even if you only have time for one round of breathing before responding, it can make a world of difference in your ability to assess and respond to problems effectively.

Next, if you tend to experience an energy slump in the afternoons, schedule a few minutes of box breathing for a boost of alertness and productivity.

Finally, if you find yourself restless at night, perhaps reviewing everything from the day and dreading the next, your adrenals are likely overworked. Give yourself as many rounds of box breathing as you need as you soothe your parasympathetic nervous system, preparing you for a regenerative night of sleep and putting your body in rest and digest mode.

But really, anytime, anywhere is the perfect time and place to practice this simple breathing tool.


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