Box Breathing - Stress Relieving Technique Used by Navy Seals

July 13, 2021

woman outside with eyes closed

First of all, don’t worry! You don’t have to become a Navy Seal to learn to use this powerfully effective stress relieving technique.

All kidding aside, this group of people volunteer to undergo weeks of some of the most arduous, stressful training imaginable. Plus, once their training is over, Navy Seals are deployed into some of the most dangerous, fear-provoking situations on earth. So, you had better believe that if the Seals endorse Box Breathing to relieve stress, it has to be effective!

But before we get into the mechanics of exactly how to do Box Breathing, let’s take a look at how breathing can affect your level of stress and help you to reduce it. If you take a moment to think about it, you can readily see how breathing patterns are tied to your emotions. People who are depressed or sad tend to sigh a lot. If you are experiencing anger or anxiety, your breathing pattern is apt to be fast and irregular as well as shallow and short. Feeling joyful? Your breathing is very likely to be regular, deep and rather slow.

Turns out that even if you are feeling normal and not experiencing an extreme emotion, you can make yourself feel that way simply by changing the pattern of your breathing to match the emotion! Such is the power of the breath.

A Little Anatomy Lesson

But why does the breath carry such power? It’s all in the wiring. There is a large nerve, called the vagus (Latin for “the wanderer”) which travels from your brainstem all the way down through your chest and into your abdomen, sending branches to nearly every major organ. The vagus nerve is part of your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your “rest, relax and digest” response. This is in stark contrast to the sympathetic, which has “fight or flight” as it’s default signal in response to danger.

So, if you can tap into your parasympathetic nervous system through your breathing, you can activate this parasympathetic response, overriding your impulse to become anxious or upset. Once you do this, you’ll feel calmer and you will be able to think clearly. This is what Box Breathing is designed to do.

How to Do Box Breathing- Four Simple Steps

Box breathing is also known as “square” breathing, because like a square, the procedure has four “sides.” First of all, let’s do a little prep before you begin:

Get in a comfortable position to practice. There is no need to twist yourself into a lotus position to do this! Sit in a comfortable chair with your back relatively straight or lie on the floor or your bed. Try to do “belly breathing” with this exercise. This is also known as abdominal breathing and just means that when you breathe in, let your belly expand, like it is filling up with a balloon. When you breathe out, the belly deflates. Try to allow your chest not to move much but just let your belly do the work. This may take some practice on its own.

The actual Box Breathing procedure is quite simple and has four steps:

Step One -Inhale slowly and easily through your nose to a count of four. While breathing in, be aware of the feeling of the air coming into your lungs.

Step Two - Now hold your breath for a count of four.

Step Three -Next exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of four.

Step Four -Go back to Step One and repeat until you feel relaxed, centered and calm.

Work on this process and concentrate on how it makes you feel.  Practice and repeat it frequently until you can do it with relative ease.  Then you will be able to call up this skill as needed when things heat up.

That’s it! Next time you’re feeling stressed, remember to Box Breathe.



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