Box Breathing for More Balance in Your Life
No More Walking Around in a Constant State of Stress
- Imagine a square.
- Now breathe in as you count to four. As you do so imagine a line going up one side of that square.
- Once you are at the fourth count you will also be at the top of that side of the box. Hold for a four-count as you imagine that line going from one side of the square to the other.
- Exhale for a four-count while imagining a line going down the other side of the square.
- Finally ending with a hold of four while completing the box.
Congratulations you just completed your first round of box breathing.
This form of breathing is simple, but also powerful. The aim is to clear the mind, help you relax, and improve your focus.
This highly effective technique can be used when you are facing a stressful situation or when you need to return your breath to its natural rhythm.
When you’re at work and your stress shoots through the roof, box breathing can help take your nervous system out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) state once a threat has passed. This technique is great for anyone looking to balance out their emotions.
All of us have moments in life when it’s good to be in a fight or flight mode. For instance, a fireman answering a call to a burning building or a teacher breaking up a fight on school property. There are other less heightened examples too like cramming for an important test or deadline. These are all examples of when it’s natural for our bodies to be in a fight or flight mode.
The problems come when we don’t know how to get out of that response once the stress has passed. You have probably experienced getting yelled at or embarrassed publicly by a boss, co-worker, or random lady at the gas station when all you were doing was pumping gas into your car.
We all have.
We end up replaying the heightened feelings of this event over and over in our heads. This leaves your body in a sympathetic (fight or flight) response all day. Just as a police officer on the beat will have a heightened response while on duty. Your body doesn’t know the difference between the event and the replay so you stay wired.
Box breathing is one way to balance out your nervous system.
By focusing on your breath it will naturally slow down. This sends signals to your body that you are safe. Moving you closer to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode.
We often hear about rest and digest as the place we want to be, and yeah, I totally love being there. But both have their place, and both are valuable at different times.
You don’t want to be in a rest and digest mode when an earthquake hits, or you’re participating in the running of the bulls. No. You want to hightail your butt in gear and find safety.
Box breathing is one of my favorite techniques for balancing out my nervous system. It’s fast, simple, and easy to learn.
Below are simple steps you need to follow to master this balancing technique.
You can box breath almost anywhere. I always like to remind people that focused breathing exercises should never be done while driving, operating heavy machinery, or while there is any potential danger for drowning.
However, in a parked car, at your work desk, in a Starbucks, at the mall, or (my preferred place) at home on a meditation pillow surrounded by plants.
If you are in a chair or on a couch I recommend moving to the edge so your back is free of any support. Allowing your spine to stand straighter. Plant your feet on the ground hip-width distance apart. If you are used to meditation, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position.
- Close your eyes
- Breathing through your nose only, inhale to the count of four slowly filling air first into your abdomen, then moving up into your chest.
- Hold your breath with full lungs while slowly counting to four. If it’s helpful you may plug your nose with your thumb and pointer finger
- Slowly exhale for four seconds. Do your best to release first from your chest and then out of the abdomen. Almost as though you are pulling your belly button towards your spine.
- Hold your breath empty with no air in your lungs while slowly counting to four. Again you may use your thumb and pointer finger to hold your nostrils closed if this is helpful.
- Repeat these steps in a slow four count while visualizing a line going…
- up on the inhale
- across on the hold
- down on the exhale
- across connecting the square on the bottom hold
- Do this for five minutes or until you feel yourself in a more balanced state.
This may seem a bit challenging if you are new to breathwork. You can modify it to have the technique meet you where you’re at. The point of all breathing exercises is to help you balance your nervous system as appropriate for the class, situation, or time of day.
Triangle breathing is sometimes easier to digest. It’s done by doing all the same steps minus the four second hold at the bottom of the breath (when the lungs are empty). Creating a triangle space rather than a square.
You do want the four counts to be equal on all sides of this exercise. You are in control of your breath, so you decide how fast or slow that four count is.
Vital for your Health
Being able to reset your breath is not only good for your nervous system, but it also helps strengthen your mind-body connection.
The more in tune you become with your breath the easier it becomes to notice the needs of your body. It doesn’t take long for your breath to start to share with you what’s happening within. You will feel where your body holds stress and places air moves less freely. All signs as to the state of your body’s well-being.
Let’s say you just gave a big presentation and your whole body is feeling jazzed up. Right after you go to lunch and eat a big meal. Returning to work you jump right into all the emails and questions and everything surrounding this presentation’s success. Your whole body is in a sympathetic nervous system response. Fight or flight. But your body can only digest food when it’s in a parasympathetic nervous system response. Rest and digest. So what happens?
Your body stores that food instead of processing it. This leads to all kinds of inflammation, digestion issues, high blood pressure. Doing this once or twice is no big deal, but us humans on the go go go do this all the time! And after years of this real problems begin to show up.
Now if you had taken 5 minutes to duck into an unused office or sat in your care and practiced box breathing then you would return to work fully nourished and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Your ability to regulate your breath allows you to live a more stress-free lifestyle. You are telling your body that things are in your control.
There are endless ways to breathe mindfully. The more you practice the more you will find what you naturally gravitate towards.
Box breathing is one of my favorites and one I find myself returning to time after time. Generally, I sit with my breath for at least half an hour a day. Box breathing is a balancing breath that allows me space to meditate. I add a mantra to my square that helps guide me into a healthy mind space. But that is a blog for another time.
Reach out with any questions you might have and let me know what comes up for you in your practice.
If you are interested in knowing more about breathwork and how a breath coach can help, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org