Now Breathe Square
Yesterday, we discussed the importance of breathing in helping you calm and quiet your mind and the powerful effects of controlled breathing on helping you relax and recover from stress. I hope you have embraced the realization that deliberate breathing is a foundational component of self-care. Whatever else you do, you must be deliberate about your breath, and controlling your breath with breathing exercises may be one of the simplest, easiest, and most cost-effective strategies for self-care!
Today, we’re going to try a breathing technique that can help you calm and center. This is Square Breathing, sometimes called Box Breathing, and it’s a great way to focus and quiet your mind. Because this breathing technique involves breath holding, if you have any health condition in which breath holding may be contraindicated (for instance, if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or certain anxiety disorders), please talk with your doctor first.
In Square Breathing, we consider the four components of the breath: the inhalation, the space between the inhalation and the exhalation, the exhalation, and the empty space between the exhalation and the next inhalation. These four components all happen naturally in every breath, and in Square Breathing, we make a deliberate effort to notice them and to make them equal. We are literally creating our breath into the pattern of a square.
We’ll start with a count of four.
First, come into a comfortable seated position. You want to have good posture: an open chest, your shoulders gently rolled down and back, feet flat on the floor, and your head neutral and comfortable. Place your hands in your lap, and if you’re comfortable, close your eyes.
Breathe in and out through the nose.
Inhale gently, remembering the principles of a good, relaxed inhalation from our last lesson.
Inhale to a count of four.
Then, sitting quietly and gently, hold the inhalation for a count of four.
Now, exhale, gently through your nose for a count of four.
And then, hold that empty space after the inhalation for a count of four.
Repeat the cycle: Inhale 4, Hold 4, Exhale 4, Hold 4. Continue for several minutes, noticing how the pattern, like the cycles of the tide in and out of the ocean, brings a sense of calm to your body and your mind.
You may notice at first that you feel a little stressed, worried, or scared during the empty space after the exhalation. This is normal. Allow yourself to let that go and to remember that you will breathe again, that the next breath is coming.
With practice, you may find yourself comfortably lengthening the sides of your square—for instance, up to a count of eight per side. What’s key is that you keep all four sides of the breath even in length, to maintain the square.
Try Square Breathing for two minutes per day. You can do it in the morning, to focus your attention before beginning your day; mid-day as a reset to increase your energy and let go of any stressors that may be impacting your attention; or just before bed, as a way to calm down, quiet the mind, and fall asleep. If you practice regularly, you’ll find that this is a handy tool at your disposal whenever you need to calm, quiet, and refocus your awareness.
Overall, self-care isn’t fancy or complicated. It’s not about luxury spas or exotic vacations—although those can be a fun opportunity to pamper yourself. What’s really important in self-care is taking time, every day, to support your health and well-being. And that’s why deliberate breathing is such an important part of your self-care routine.
Tomorrow, we’ll try another breathing strategy that you can use as daily self-care.
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