• Box breathing is a technique that involves four simple steps to focus on your breath and relax.
  • Try box breathing by inhaling for 4 seconds, holding it for 4, exhaling for 4, and holding again for 4.
  • Breathing exercises like box breathing help reduce stress, boost focus, and improve sleep.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Box breathing (or square breathing) is a deep breathing exercise that helps you relax as you mindfully focus on counting your breaths.

Unlike other breathing exercises that don't employ breath counting or have uneven intervals between each step, box breathing is unique because it has four equal steps, similar to the four sides of a square.

If you visualize yourself drawing one line with every step of the exercise, you'll end up with a square by the time you finish, hence the name.

"The exercise can be employed at any time of the day. It may be helpful for people to monitor when their anxiety or stress is at its highest point and to practice it then," says David Klemanski, PsyD, MPH, a psychologist at Yale Medicine and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.

Here are the steps and health benefits of box breathing.

How to perform the box breathing technique

Keeping true to box breathing's rule of fours, the method has four steps:

  1. Slowly inhale for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale for four seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for four seconds.

The duration of each step may be increased or decreased based on your comfort, but it generally ranges from three to six seconds. You can repeat the entire exercise for about one to five minutes.

It's up to you whether you want to keep your eyes open or not, whichever helps you better visualize drawing a square. You may do the breathing exercise while sitting up or lying down.

"There is no commonly prescribed plan for how often or how regularly one should employ box breathing," says Klemanski.

It's helpful to perform the exercise every time you feel stressed or anxious, but you can also do it at the same time every day to form a consistent routine and have long-term health benefits.

Health benefits of box breathing

"The parasympathetic [nervous] system helps our body calm down, including slower breathing and a decreased heart rate. Breathing training techniques, like box breathing, effectively engage the parasympathetic system. That is, when we breathe slower and deeper, our body tends to be more relaxed," says Klemanski.

Different breathing exercises — including box breathing — provide numerous benefits, such as:

"Almost anyone can benefit from box breathing, but especially those who are experiencing chronic stress and/or anxiety," says Klemanski. 

If you have medical conditions that make it difficult to breathe, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, check with your doctor first to know whether this breathing exercise is appropriate for you.

Insider's takeaway

Box breathing is a deep breathing exercise that you can perform whenever you're stressed or anxious, but you may also choose to practice it regularly when you're not stressed out. 

According to multiple studies, by being mindful of your breathing, you can reduce stress and anxiety, regulate your mood, and increase attention and focus.

"It is not a cure-all for anxiety, stress, insomnia, or any other chronic daily difficulties we face. It certainly has some helpful benefits backed by science, but keep in mind it's just one component of broadening our wellness and ideally should be integrated with other activities," says Klemanski.



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