Breathe in, Breathe Out: A Simple Guide to Box Breathing

By Lindsey Johnson

Stress. We all have it. Our society thrives on it. But what if there was a simple way to combat stress in both the short and long-term that required nothing more than a few minutes of intentional breathing?

When we perceive stress, our bodies enter “fight or flight” mode, primed to take action. This natural response is a survival mechanism that is designed to keep us safe in dangerous situations. The problem is that many of us stay in this fight or flight response for prolonged periods of time with our sympathetic nervous system activated, which can be detrimental to our health. During fight or flight, stress hormones such as cortisol kick in, along with a more rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing and sweaty palms. According to Medical News Today, these periods of prolonged stress can increase our risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke and headaches. 

Box breathing is a simple technique that anyone can do. According to the Cleveland Clinic, box breathing can reduce stress, calm the mind and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest. Box breathing can have immediate results by slowing down the natural breathing pattern and relaxing the body. When completed regularly over time, box breathing can help impact overall stress levels and may help with anxiety and depression. 

This technique is very popular in some high-stress, high-demand jobs such as the Navy SEALs, nurses, police officers, physicians and more. In a high stress situation, performing a couple of rounds of box breathing can help you focus, relax and prepare for the task at hand. 

Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL and the creator of SEALFit and Unbeatable Mind fitness programs, has been practicing box breathing regularly since 1987. Divine says, “I used it every day in SEAL training…it helped me graduate as the honor man, [the] number one graduate. Now I use it for every challenging situation and practice it daily.” 

Box breathing is easy to do. As you become more comfortable with the practice, you can extend the time for each step. Give it a try! 

Box Breathing in 7 Simple Steps:

1. Get in a comfortable seated position. 

2. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. 

3. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. 

4. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds. 

5. Slowly exhale for a full 4 seconds. 

6. Hold again for 4 seconds. 

7. Repeat through several cycles, up to 4-5 minutes. 

Next time you’re about to start a big presentation or your teenager misses curfew, try a few box breaths before speaking to settle your nerves and hone in your focus. You will not only feel better, but you’ll also be doing something positive for your body and mind. 


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