Meditation Spotlight: Box Breathing

It’s an exciting time of the year—the semester is just beginning and classes are getting on their way. With so much going on, sometimes it can be overwhelming to keep on top of everything as you learn to manage your new schedule and without the right tools, alleviating the feeling can be difficult. One tried and true method for stress management is meditation. In this meditation spotlight we focus on a simple technique that can be done from anywhere: box breathing, also called four square breathing. By regulating your breath, you can give yourself an opportunity to minimize and manage your stress.

Box breathing is a meditation practice in which we take slow and deep breaths for the count of four. It can be a wonderful stress reliever and also improve concentration, giving us an edge when we need one. Due to these benefits, practicing this technique is particularly helpful for us students, especially when studying or about to take an exam. Because it’s a flexible and effective technique, we can practice it for one short round or for several minutes.

According to Jeanie Park, MD, of the American Physiological Society, there is evidence that slow deep breathing can calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system. This is the body’s system that is in charge of maintaining and managing heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and digestion. The autonomic nervous system also regulates other involuntary body functions such as temperature and metabolism. When this system is relaxed, it can lower blood pressure and create a sense of calm.

Box breathing can also improve our emotional state and increase our sense of security, as well as reduce stress. This makes it a noteworthy technique that can help alleviate symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression. This meditation practice can also help sleepless nights by allowing us to calm our nervous system before bed. Box breathing is sometimes even recommended for helping with pain management

How do you practice box breathing meditation?

For this technique, breathe in for a slow count of four, hold your breath for four seconds, and slowly exhale for the count of four. At the bottom of your exhale, hold your breath for four seconds. Repeat this however many times you want to.

When you’re ready to practice, you’ll ideally want to be seated or lying down and comfortable. You can keep your eyes open if you prefer, but you might find it easier to focus with your eyes closed. A timer will be helpful as well. In the beginning, we recommend setting your timer for 5 minutes and extending the time as you feel more comfortable with the meditation. The more you practice, the easier it will be to meditate for a longer stretch.

Once you are situated, bring your focus to your breath. Feel the quality of the air as you inhale, allowing your lungs to expand fully for four seconds. Hold your breath for the count of four. Feel the texture of the breath as you exhale, allowing your lungs to completely deflate to the count of four. Hold the bottom of your breath for four seconds. As you continue and your mind begins to drift to another thought or topic, gently bring your attention back to the count of the breath.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you are practicing:

  • Stay in a comfortable, relaxed position. This could be in a chair, the floor with a cushion, a bed, the couch, whatever you have available and are the most comfortable using. You’ll want to keep a straight back while practicing, but don’t hold it so tight that you are uncomfortable.
  • Notice your body. Feel the fullness of your body, feel its shape and weight. Feel the spots of tension within the body and send your breath to those places to help release and relax the tension. Become curious about your body: the touch it feels, the sensations it experiences, the connection with your seat.
  • Experience the flow of the breath. Become absorbed in your breath, feeling the inhale and the exhale flow. Allow your breath to flow effortlessly and naturally. Notice where your breath goes within the body. It could be your chest, your belly, throat, or your nose. Experience the sensations of the breath as it flows through you.
  • Be patient with your wandering mind. While you are practicing meditation, you’ll notice that your mind may wander. This is not a sign that you’re doing it wrong—actually, quite the opposite. It is totally normal. As other thoughts arise in the mind, notice those thoughts and acknowledge them, and then gently redirect your focus back to your breath. The more you practice, the easier it will be to keep your attention on your breath.