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What Is The Box Breathing Method? And How It Helps To Relieve Stress

by Jananie Chandrarao. |


Box breathing that also goes by the name of four-square breathing or Sama Vritti Pranayama is a breathing technique used mainly for relaxation of the mind and body and allow you to refocus on the present moment. It is a rhythmic inhaling and exhaling that works in four steps and goes on like a cycle repeatedly, just like a square shape. Thus, the name box or four-square breathing technique. 


We’re not breathing right!

Breathing, just like heartbeat and blood pressure, is controlled by the medulla oblongata, which means that it happens continuously without our conscious awareness of it or control. However, even if it is something that we carry out every day and every minute of our lives, most of the time we aren’t breathing properly. This is due to a bad posture where slumping causes us to have the worst lung capacity and expiratory flow than normal sitting and standing posture. Not forgetting how the right way to breathe is to breathe from our stomachs. Moreover, having the norm of how having difficult feelings is not supported, bottling up your emotions can cause irregular breathing. 


How can box breathing help you?

Box breathing can help you to calm down during stressful and anxiety-inducing situations and is said to be so effective that it is even used by U.S. Navy SEALs to relax during tense scenarios.


In a typical stress response, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, adrenal glands release adrenaline which increases your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This is called a fight-or-flight response.


Our ancestors highly relied on this response to survive in dangerous environments. However, with less immediate danger present around us at a time like this (you don’t have a tiger chasing after you), we still experience inaccurate fight-or-flight responses over much less stressful things such as giving a presentation. Continuous exposure to this response causes long-term stress that can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other critical illnesses.


In times when your fight-or-flight responses are inaccurately activated, we can use the box breathing method to calm ourselves and our nervous systems down. It helps you unwind your mind in overwhelming situations. Breathing techniques as such has reported decreasing the anxiety level in adults.


When the practice of box breathing is done for a longer period, it can be considered to fall under the umbrella of meditation practice. Conscious breathing is said to be a powerful meditation in its own right, says the spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle. It helps you shift your mind from indulging in all the worrisome thoughts to the present; to the now. Not only does it help to calm your mind from overthinking, but it can also help you build resilience towards stress, reduce negative emotions, increase self-awareness, and tolerance.


How to practice the box breathing?

Source: Zencare


As mentioned previously, there are only four steps based on its name itself, four-square breathing. Before beginning, please try to find a suitable place for you to practice it. It's preferable to have a quiet environment. Then, sit in a proper position (either on the chair or cross-legged on the floor) with your hands on your lap. Ensure you have a straight body posture. Begin with exhaling all the air from your lungs.


Step 1: Inhale. Start to inhale through your nose as you count to four. You don’t have to say the numbers out loud, but just keep a count in your head. Ensure you’re breathing with your abdomen where your stomach expands and not your chest. Do this until you feel your lungs are filled with air,


Step 2: Hold. Hold your breath to another count of four. 


Step 3: Exhale. With another count of four, exhale all the air from your lungs through your mouth.


Step 4: Hold. Hold your breath to another count of four. Now, repeat steps 1-4 for another complete cycle. 


The count here can be changed according to your readiness and progress of practising box breathing. You can slowly increase the count of four to eight and then twelve according to your level of comfort. Apps like Breathe and Box Breathing can help facilitate practising box breathing through helping you keep count and changing the account according to your preferences.  


Breathing is an inherent part of us. It does not only keep us alive by delivering oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, but also by helping us remain calm during stressful situations. It also helps us face worrisome and overwhelming thoughts through meditation or just as a breathing practice itself. With consistent practice, hopefully, it helps you to live a better, less stressful, and happier life. 

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