What Is Box Breathing?
Box breathing is a type of breath exercise build on yogic breath practices that focuses on deep, slow breathing. It is a technique which helps you slow down, relax the nervous system, reduce stress and improve focus and concentration. Simple, yet powerful, box breathing allows you to adjust your breathing into a relaxed and rhythmic pattern, helping you clear your mind and induce a sense of peace and tranquility. Box breathing is also known as square breathing or in yogic terms, full yogic breathing. It is also known as Sama Vritti Pranayama.
What is the starting position for box breathing
It is best to sit in the Easy Pose, Lotus Pose or Thunderbolt Pose with the back straight. You can also sit on a chair with your spine straight and feet on the floor. Alternatively, this is also one breathing technique which you can practice in a lying down position (the Corpse Pose), with one hand on your chest and one hand on the stomach. Keep the eyes gently closed and relax your breathing before you start.
How to practice box breathing?
- Once you are in a comfortable position, observe your chest and stomach rising and falling with every breath.
- Be aware of each breath so you can ensure you are breathing deeping into the stomach and not doing shallow breathing (only into the chest).
- If this is your first time practicing box breathing, push your stomach out while focusing on smooth, deep breaths.
- Now, slowly exhale completely and then gently start breathing in till the count of four. Feel the air filling your lungs, chest and stomach filling up with air. The air fills up one section at a time.
- Hold the breath (internal retention) for up to four seconds if you can.
- Slowly start exhaling through your nostrils or mouth for four counts, one section at a time (first the lungs, then chest and abdomen). Be conscious and aware of the air leaving your lungs.
- Repeat the same pattern a few times till you feel relaxed and centered.
When to practice box breathing?
You can practice box breathing at any time. If you have just had a meal, wait for 30-60 minutes before practicing. Due to its calming effect, this deep breathing practice is great to do even when you are sitting at your desk working or feeling stressed for any reason. You can practice box breathing before starting your yoga asana practice to center yourself and at the end of a session to bring back balance and calmness. It is also great to practice before meditation.
Benefits of box breathing
Box breathing helps reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This improves mood and emotional balance. It helps one cope with worries, panic and feelings of being overwhelmed. The counting helps take one’s attention away from a panic or worry-inducing situation to a more focused and controlled response. It helps improve the quality of sleep and even insomnia. Box breathing is also impactful in controlling hyperventilation, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Box breathing technique heightens performance, focus and concentration. It’s no wonder that this wonderful technique is popularly practiced by United States Navy SEALs, police officers and nurses!
Box breathing is also a recommended practice in the management and treatment of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The best part about box breathing is that your parasympathetic nervous system gets activated which immediately relaxes the mind and body, ensuring immense calm and peace. Holding the breath also allows carbon dioxide to build-up in the blood, which enhances the cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve when you exhale and stimulates your parasympathetic system. This also contributes to the calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body.
Contraindications of box breathing
For those with high BP and heart issues practicing with retention (Khumbak) is not advised. It is best to simply inhale and exhale, without holding the breath.
Shvasa tips for box breathing
- If you notice that your chest is rising but your stomach is not, you are breathing in a shallow way. So before beginning the box breathing technique, start breathing into your stomach and activate full relaxation in the body.
- If you are lying down or seated on a chair, you will feel your back pressed against the surface when you take a deep breath. Don’t worry if this happens.
- If four seconds is too much, you can start with 2 or 3 seconds. As you get used to the practice, you can increase your count to four.
- Initially, if you feel any dizziness, stop the practice, breathe normally and then start again.
- Make sure you are practicing in a relaxed, quiet and dimly lit environment.
Box breathing has an immediate effect on your body as it lowers stress and induces calmness. However, when you practice regularly for a few weeks you will begin to notice sustained benefits such as being more calm and relaxed throughout the day, improved sleep quality, more focus and concentration, better productivity and better decision-making skills. Don’t worry if you find it difficult the first time. With practice, you will be able to hold the breath longer and breathe more deeply.
Learn how to practice box breathing the right way from an experienced, certified teacher. This will ensure you are gaining from all the benefits of the practice and will truly feel a difference. Join a live yoga class on a platform like Shvasa where you will learn the different breathing (pranayama) techniques to improve your health and well-being.