Box breathing, also known as 4-4-4 breathing, is a breathing technique that is used by Navy SEALs to help them stay calm in stressful situations. It involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, and exhaling for four counts.
This simple breathing exercise can be done anywhere and can be practiced at any time of the day to relax the mind, calm the body, and improve concentration.
What is Box Breathing?
Box breathing is a type of deep intentional breathing exercise that involves pacing your inhalations and exhalations with a specific rhythm. It’s often used for stress management, anxiety, and reducing high blood pressure.
In addition to its stress-reduction benefits, this breathing technique also focuses the mind. It can help calm errant thoughts, which is especially helpful for people who have trouble focusing during meditation.
Whether you need to settle your nerves before a big presentation or fend off a panic attack, this simple relaxation technique may help. Called sama vritti pranayama, tactical breathing, box breathing, and four-count Breath Exercise it’s easy to learn and can be practiced anywhere-even while sitting on the toilet! But how does it work, and what are the benefits? We spoke to breathwork experts to learn more about this powerful stress-reduction strategy.
How to Do Box Breathing
Box breathing is a deep-breathing technique used by Navy SEALs and other professionals who find themselves in high-stress situations. Its four-step rhythm, derived from the shape of the letters box, is designed to calm and focus the body and mind.
The slow, deep breaths are thought to counteract the physiological response to stress by promoting a healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. The counting also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and lowering heart rate.
Those who use box breathing to help them sleep often say that it helps them fall into a deep, restful slumber. This relaxation may be due to the calming effect of the slow breaths and the sense of control that comes from counting.
There is little research specific to this breathing exercise, but research on breathwork in general, including paced breathing and meditation2 suggests that incorporating these techniques into your daily routine may reduce your overall stress level.
Benefits of Box Breathing
Box breathing can be done anywhere and is a great stress reliever. Its slow pace and long exhale engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest & digest or feed & breed responses).
Research suggests that breathing techniques like box breathing can help reduce feelings of anxiety, improve focus, and encourage positive emotions and a calm state of mind. It can also be used to treat sleep problems by calming the body before bed.
To get started, find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Then, count each breath. This will make the practice more manageable and easier to remember. Belle recommends that newcomers to box breathing choose a time of day they can commit to a short session.
Practicing this technique for several minutes can feel like meditation and may offer the same long-term benefits, such as increased resilience to stress and improved mood. There are many breathwork apps available that can provide guided relaxation sessions, including the popular Breathwrk.
Side Effects of Box Breathing
Practicing box breathing will strengthen your ability to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. It will also improve your concentration. This technique is a useful tool to use before a presentation or other high-stress situations. It can even help you control your emotions and prevent panic attacks.
Stressful situations cause the body to respond with a fight-or-flight response, which leads to sweating, heavy breathing, and a racing mind. While this may be helpful in a dangerous situation, it can be very counterproductive in more mundane situations.
Deep breathing techniques like box breathing can calm the autonomic nervous system, which regulates autonomous bodily functions such as blood pressure and heart rate. Slowly holding your breath increases the levels of CO2 in your blood, which triggers the vagus nerve’s cardioinhibitory response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system to produce a feeling of relaxation. While this may not provide the long-term mental and emotional benefits of meditation, it is a fast, simple, and effective stress management tool that can be done almost anywhere.