When was the last time you noticed your breath? Today, maybe this week, or maybe you're like me and have trouble remembering.
We live in a time where being busy and productive is expected of us leaving little room for daily relaxation and self care routines let alone committing to new ones. This is why I like to bring up Box Breathing to clients who are looking for ways to incorporate stress reduction into their days when they have limited time, or want to start using mindfulness but are unsure where to start. Box Breathing or Square Breathing is a simple mindful breathing practice that draws attention to the process of breathing through slow deep breaths, focusing on inhaling, exhaling, and holding. It is a useful practice to use right before, during or after a stressful event to restore a sense of calm or groundedness. According to research deep breathing techniques can be effective because you can do it anytime and with continuous use can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and help lower blood pressure (1). This can be helpful for those who find themselves with elevated levels of hyperarousal due to anxiety or chronic flight or fight responses as continual exposure to stress hormones can cause problems such as weakened immune system, digestive issues, memory and cognitive difficulties or insomnia (2).
To begin Box Breathing start in a comfortable position, this can be laying down, sitting, walking, or standing.
1. Begin by inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose as you count to 4. As you inhale imagine your lungs expanding like a balloon from the bottom up.
2. As your lungs fill up completely, hold your breath as you count to 4.
3. Exhale slowly through your mouth making a whooshing sound as you count to 4. As you exhale, imagine completely emptying your lungs like a balloon deflating.
4. Hold your breath again as you count to 4.
5. Repeat the count of inhaling for 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4, and holding for 4.
6. Continue the breathing as needed until you reach a level of relaxation that is most desired.
As you incorporate Box Breathing into your routine, aiming for twice a day can be a manageable goal. Starting with when you wake up in the morning, and right before you go to sleep at night, could be helpful times, or placing a post it in your office or at home to give you a visual reminder throughout the day. As you become more comfortable with Box Breathing you can increase the count number from 4 to 6 or 8. Remember to keep your breathing slow, gentle, and relaxed as your focus is on the feeling of the breath as it moves in and out of your lungs.
Interested in adding meditation into your self care routine but are unsure where to begin?Starting with Box Breathing can be a useful way to prepare yourself by encouraging the connection of mind and body. Focusing on the mind and body connection is important in our daily lives because our thoughts and emotions have a substantial influence on our physical and mental health (2). Adding in practices that aim to connect the two is one way we can take steps to reduce tension and stress and improve our emotional and physical well being.
Box Breathing is ultimately a mindfulness on the go tool, because it doesn't require a set time or space. Paying attention to our breath creates a link to being present in our bodies which is the first step towards befriending the body. When taking time to notice breathing body sensations, it can be helpful to start from a place of curiosity, hopefulness, and openness to whatever arises while you breathe, whether it is neutral, comfortable, or uncomfortable. This may be difficult if you have bodily pain, breathing challenges or some forms of trauma. It is also not a one size fits all model, and some may need more breath time some may need less. For some the act of breathing may bring frustration or discomfort in which case trying another mindfulness practice might be the right choice if you feel it is not working for you. Ultimately making time for our breath can help center our days and bring more relaxation, calm, and groundedness than before. It can be a first step to creating space for our mind and body and maybe even connection to parts inside us we haven't met or are curious about. I wonder what adding in daily Box Breathing might do for you?
(1) Cho, H.; Ryu, S.; Noh, J.; Lee, J.; Manalo, E. (2016). The effectiveness of daily mindful breathing practices on test anxiety of students. PLOS ONE, 11(10), e0164822–. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164822
(2) Zaccaro, A.; Piarulli, A.; Laurino, M.; Garbella, E.; Menicucci, D.; Neri, B.; Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12(), 353–. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353