While hundreds of studies stand testament to the positive effects of deep breathing, there’s one such exercise that may stand above the rest. Known as box breathing, it’s a simple, four-step technique that’s known to help people alleviate their stress, and can even aid in treating anxiety, depression and pain, according to a report in US-based psychology news website Psych Central.
Box breathing is often used by American Navy Seals to help calm the mind and reduce tension in high-stress scenarios. It gets its name because it helps people pace their breathing in four steps, using the image of a box with four sides. It’s a handy technique that can be used anywhere, in any kind of anxiety-inducing situation.
Here’s how you can practice box breathing to calm your mind and release stress in your body:
First, close your eyes and visualise a box with four equal sides. With each step, imagine you’re tracing one side of the box, starting from the top corner and working your way around.
As you trace the top side of the box, breathe in slowly through your nose and count to four. When you follow down one side of the box, hold your breath for a count of four. Then, when tracing the bottom, breathe out slowly for a count of four, and when tracing the final side, hold your breath again for four seconds. Repeat the sequence three or four times.
According to a January 2023 study of breathing exercises in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, participants who focused on daily, five-minute breathwork (like box breathing) reported greater improvement in mood and physiological responses than they would in mindful meditation.
There are other forms of breathing exercises, too, that pull focus away from external stimuli and help you centre and calm yourself. Mindful breathing, for instance, helps focus your attention on your breath. The idea is to observe your breath without trying to change it, and to still your wandering mind as you concentrate on breathing for five to seven minutes.
Another technique, according to PsychCentral, is 4-7-8 breathing, which is based on the pranayama yogic practice of controlling your breath.