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Calm and Energize Yourself with 5 Minutes of Box Breathing

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BY Delores C.S. James, PhD 

I recently regained my warrior spirit.  I’m speaking my peace, standing up to bullies, drawing lines in the sand, and taking unbelievable risks.  But warrior living can sometimes be stressful.  So, I use the meditative practice of deep breathing several times a day to both calm and energize me.

Deep breathing is a powerful tool that can improve your overall health and well-being.  Most of the time, we do shallow breathing, or chest breathing, which limits how much air we inhale and exhale.  But, if you want to calm or energize yourself, you need to take deep breaths more often. 

There are many deep breathing techniques that you can use, but I love box breathing (or square breathing).  I do it during faculty meetings, at the doctor’s office, before I respond to an unpleasant email, at the airport, and sitting in traffic.  I also use it when I am stuck on a project or when I need to transition from one project to another.  

Benefits of Box Breathing

Box breathing allows you to harness the power of your breath anywhere and anytime.    Regular box breathing may help you: 

• Relax

• Stay calm

• Reduce stress

• Reduce heart rate 

• Manage high blood pressure

• Manage a panic attack

• Manage pain

• Reduce racing thoughts

• Reduce food cravings

• Curb impulsive behaviors

• Generate creative ideas 

• Stay in the moment

• Focus on a task

• Fall asleep faster

• Improve breathing and reduce symptoms of asthma  

How to Box Breathing

Deep breathing takes practice.  For some reason, it seems that most adults have forgotten how to take deep breaths from the diaphragm.  If you want to see deep breathing in action, watch a baby breathe.  When a baby breathes, the belly expands, and the chest rises as the air flows through the nose. The belly then contracts when the air is expelled.  

Box breathing can be done sitting, standing, or lying down.  I recommend that you sit quietly and practice box breathing twice a day for about five minutes.  Once you master it and feel its benefits, you will be able to do it during difficult times like rush hour traffic or when no one is there to talk you off the ledge.  

So, unclench your jaw and let’s get started!

Step 1.  

Sit in a cross-legged position or with your feet firmly on the floor.  Put your hands on your thighs or knees with your palms up.

Try to stay focused and feel your breath as it enters and leaves your body.  

Slowly exhale through your mouth to get all the oxygen out of your lungs. 

Step 2.

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and count silently to the count of 4. 

Feel the air as it fills your lungs and fills your abdomen.

Step 3.

Hold your breath to the count of 4.

Step 4.

Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of 4. 

Focus on the breath leaving your lungs and emptying your abdomen.  This will feel like your belly button is trying to touch your spine.

Step 5.

Hold your breath to the count of 4.

Good job! You’ve completed a round of box breathing. 

Some of the biggest battles we fight are with ourselves and within ourselves.  Lately, I have been using box breathing as a part of my practice of mindful eating.  I do a few rounds of box breathing to calm my mind and remind myself not to overeat.  I hope that you will add daily box breathing to your self-care toolbox.  Ideally, you should do four to five rounds of to feel some of the benefits.  

Keep It Tight Sisters.

Eat. Move. Breathe.

Delores C.S. James, PhD is a professor, health educator, and a registered dietitian.  She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader and conducts research in the areas of obesity and weight management, mHealth, health literacy, and health disparities. She is also the founder of Keep It Tight Sisters blog and online health community.