box breathing

Box Breathing: The Technique and Benefits

Nowhere is easier to see the mind and body relationship than how we breathe and how we feel.

Your emotional state controls your breath. In stressful situations, your breathing becomes quicker and shorter triggered by stress hormones flooding the body. But breathing techniques such as Box Breathing can actually have an effect on your emotional state

Since hearing about the box breathing technique, I’ve used it for every opportunity where I feel my fight or flight emotions kicking in – and it works great.

What is Box Breathing?

box breathing - woman practicing breathing

Box Breathing, also known as square breathing, is a simple yet effective breathing technique that can help reduce stress, and anxiety, and improve focus.

This technique involves inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and then holding your breath for a count of four before repeating the process. Box Breathing has a few other names such as:

  • Square breathing
  • 4-4-4-4 breathing

  • 4×4 breathing

  • Four-square breathing

It received a lot of attention from the former Navy seal, Mark Divine when he shared that Navy seals used the practice of Box Breathing.

He also attributed Box Breathing to becoming the ‘honor man’ (the top graduate in his seal training class). It involved breathing and holding in equal measures which how where it gets its name square breathing.

How to Practice Box Breathing

To do box breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back straight and your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  6. Repeat the process for 5-10 minutes.

It’s best to practice Box Breathing sitting down, and if you feel light-headed or faint at any point, return your breathing to a natural rhythm. If this feeling continues each time you try Box Breathing, then seek medical advice.

How the Box Breathing Technique Works

There are systems in the body that work for us automatically and happen in the more primitive parts of the brain.

Everyone has heard of the flight-or-flight response and this is one of those automated systems designed to protect us from life-threatening situations. But sometimes those systems refuse to turn off. Being in a continual state of stress can lead to anxiety and depression, but fortunately, breathing exercises can help.

Box Breathing builds up the amount of CO2 you have in your blood. Normally having abundant oxygen in our blood is a good thing, but this is usually when we want to be more active such as during exercise, or when we are trying to deal with life-threatening situations.

The build-up of CO2 sends a signal to the vagus nerves and in response activates the parts of the body that deal with digestion and rest called the parasympathetic nervous system.

The parasympathetic nervous system tells all those fight or flight feelings and hormones that their work is done and they can go home. As a result, you feel calmer.

The History of Box Breathing

Box Breathing is also known as sama sama vritti pranayama, from the yogic practice of pranayama, or focusing on the breath.

Sama vritti pranayama is Sanskrit, Sama means ‘equal’ and sama vritti pranayama means ‘mental fluctuations’. So the literal translation is ‘equal mental fluctuations breathing exercises’

The Benefits of Box Breathing

Box breathing: Woman in a grass field medtating

1. Better emotional and mental health

In a 2017 study, they found using Box Breathing and other breathing techniques was helpful in reducing stress and anxiety in the participants that used the practice.

2. Reduces stress and stress-related illnesses

I’ve used this countless times, usually before an important presentation, before a tough call, or when I’m about to give bad news. High levels of stress come hand in hand with high blood pressure.

Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, has been shown in studies to counteract the fight or flight response of the central nervous system. Using breathing techniques regularly, not only works with short-term stress but also makes us more resistant to long-term stress and anxiety.

With regular practice of deep breathing, you’ll benefit from lower blood pressure, improved resistance to stress, and reduced chance of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Not bad for taking a few deep breaths.

Related: Best Stress Relief Gifts

3. Improves sleep

If you’re now wondering if Box Breathing is good for sleep – the answer is a resounding yes. I’ve personally used the Box Breathing technique to help me sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep, Box Breathing can help with relaxation and calm a stressed and overactive mind.

I try to go for a longer than the usual count to four. When you’re lying still in bed you have less of a demand for oxygen, so counting more than four seconds is easier.

4. Improves athletic performance

Box Breathing is also used by athletes to improve their performance. By using box breathing techniques, athletes can improve their focus, endurance, and recovery time. It can also help reduce performance anxiety, which can be especially helpful for athletes competing in high-stress environments.

Tips for Using Box Breathing

Woman holding a prayer pose

When you first start any breathing exercises as you can become self-conscious about your breathing. Here are a few tips that can help improve and make your breathing exercise easier.

  • Use videos or apps to help you stay on track with your breathing (why not try the one below)
  • The count to four doesn’t have to be exactly four seconds. If the count is going too slowly for you, then feel free to speed it your pace.
  • Try to focus on the physical sensation of the breath. This helps with the mind and body connection. This could be the air in your nose, or how your body moves as you breathe.
  • Use four square breathing as a preparation for meditation. Sometimes when our mind is racing before a meditation, deep breathing can help us move into a calm state that’s more conducive to meditation.
  • There is no inappropriate time for deep breathing, so try to make it a habit in times of stress.
  • Some have said that breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth works best.
  • Try to breathe into the abdomen instead of the chest. One of the techniques to help with this is placing one of your hands on your stomach as you breathe.
    I used to make the mistake where I thought you just used the abdomen to breathe. The breath should fill the abdomen first and then the chest. If you just use the abdomen, you’re not getting enough air.

The Takeaway

There’s no denying that the simplicity and benefits of Box Breathing make it a great wellness technique to keep ready for whenever we need it. It’s a great way to tame stressful situations and with continued practice, it will have a positive effect on your long-term health.

If you’re interested in learning more about breathing techniques you might like to read: Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress and Feel Calm


You can practice box breathing for as little or as long as you’d like. Even just a few minutes can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. However, if you’re looking to improve your athletic performance or use box breathing as a meditation technique, you may want to practice for longer periods of time.

Yes, box breathing can be done while exercising. In fact, many athletes use box breathing techniques during their workouts to improve their focus and endurance.

Yes, you can practice box breathing while lying down. In fact, many people find it easier to relax when they’re lying down, making it a great technique to use before bed.

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