Self Care - a breath work exercise to calm the mind

Box Breathing/ Square Breathing

With our busy and hectic lives we are in fight or flight mode far too often within our day to day. This can be quite damaging to our mental and also physical health as it can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, gut health problems and also immune system issues.

Different breathing techniques have been proven to reduce stress, focus your mind and improve your mood.

Box breathing is one of these techniques which incorporates slow inhaling and exhaling through the nose with holds between each breath.

The slow holding of breath allows CO2 to build up in the blood. This can calm the mind and help to trigger the parasympathetic system, bringing you into your 'rest and digest' state rather than 'fight or flight'.

The PSNS manages lots of responses in the body, stimulates digestion, slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles and also produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind. Connecting to this nervous system at night before bed can also help you to sleep. Box breathing can even be efficient at helping with pain management.

I personally have learnt to use box breathing when I am having a flare with my Crohn's, the counting and holding of the breath helps me to focus my mind away from the pain and also helps me to feel like I am gaining back some control of my body when suffering from symptoms which are out of my control. It also helps me to feel more in control mentally when feeling stressed and anxious because of my physical symptoms.

How to box breath

Make sure you are sitting comfortably, either on the floor, in a chair or laying down (you can even do this in bed if you are unwell or trying to cope with pain)

You can take your hands to your belly to connect to your breath or simply relax the hands in your lap or by your sides.

Close your eyes and make sure you are comfortable and relaxed.

This exercise is called box breathing because you inhale (for the count of 4), hold the breath (for the count of 4), exhale (for the count of 4) and hold again (for the count of 4). So the breath can be visualised as a box or square.

Start by equalising your inhale and exhale to the count of four. After about 5 long breaths you can add in the holds, start with the inhale first.

To release you can remove the holds and just come back to the equal inhale and exhale for another 5 long breaths, before returning to your normal breathing pattern.

To keep your mind from wondering and starting to think about your to do lists for the day, you can imagine a special place where you feel comfortable and safe. Visualise any sounds, smells or maybe textures that you may experience there. This will help you to stay relaxed and focused. I always go to an empty beach!

When you are ready to finish your breathwork you can slowly turn your attention back into your space and to your breath.

A minimum of 5 minutes is recommended.


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