What Is Square Breathing? How Breathwork Can Help You De-Stress

Discover the transformative power of square breathing. It is used across the globe by many people in their efforts to find peace. rom its simple instructions to the science behind its effectiveness, let’s uncover the power of deep breathing and learn how to incorporate it into our daily routines.

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on May 13, 2024

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The modern world can be stressful. Whether it’s demands from our boss, troubles at home, or mounting financial pressures, sometimes we feel like we just can’t catch a break. That said, there’s one simple technique that aims to mitigate our stresses and provide us with a much-needed sense of calm when we need it: square breathing.

Square breathing — also called box breathing or four-square breathing — has been used across the globe by many people in their efforts to find peace. Its premise lies in regulating the breath by inhaling, holding, exhaling, and pausing, all for an equal count of seconds. With its ability to bring a sense of tranquility and restore balance during tense situations, box breathing can be an effective tool for calming anxiety.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the art of the square breathing technique and explore its remarkable benefits. From its simple instructions to the science behind its effectiveness, we’ll uncover the power of deep breathing and learn how to incorporate it into our daily routines.

What Is Square Breathing?

Square breathing is a simple yet powerful tool that can help us effectively manage stress and promote overall well-being. “Square breathing is a breathing technique that can reduce feelings of stress and instill a feeling of calm,” says Cynthia Mobley, a licensed independent clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. “Unlike other breathing practices which use different, and at times, hard-to-remember breathing patterns, square breathing is simple. Breathe in, pause, breathe out, and pause again, all for an equal length of time.”

One of the most significant advantages of square breathing is its accessibility. It can be practiced anywhere, any time, making it a convenient tool for stress relief. Whether at work, in the comfort of your home, or even on the go, square breathing can be incorporated seamlessly into your daily routine.

The Science-Backed Benefits of Square Breathing

When it comes to managing stress and promoting overall well-being, square breathing offers a range of science-backed benefits. Some of these benefits include better nervous system functionality, improved mental health, and stress reduction. Let’s explore each in more detail.

Square Breathing and the Nervous System

When we engage in square breathing, the deliberate and rhythmic nature of the practice stimulates various areas of the brain. This activation leads to improved functioning of both the cortical and subcortical structures, which are responsible for regulating our emotional responses and physiological states.

The psychological and behavioral outcomes associated with these changes are profound. Individuals who practice square breathing often report increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness. By deliberately slowing down our breath and engaging in square breathing, symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion are effectively reduced.

Square Breathing for Mental Health and Stress Reduction

Regarding mental health, square breathing emerges as a powerful tool for mitigating stress, reducing anxiety, and promoting a sense of relaxation. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of breathing exercises — including square breathing — on mental well-being.

One notable study explored the effects of various well-being practices, including breathing exercises, on participants’ mental health. The results revealed a significant increase in overall mental well-being after participants incorporated breathing exercises into their daily routines. This finding emphasizes the potential of square breathing to enhance our emotional state and promote mental wellness.

Further reinforcing the efficacy of square breathing, an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) mentions box breathing as a notable breathing exercise. This recognition further attests to the effectiveness of square breathing in improving mental health outcomes.

The beauty of square breathing lies in its simplicity and accessibility. Regardless of where we find ourselves, we can use this breathing technique to anchor ourselves, regulate our emotions, and create a sense of inner calm. By consciously inhaling, holding the breath, and exhaling for equal lengths of time, we activate the body’s relaxation response and promote a state of  centeredness.

How to Practice Square Breathing: A Step-by-Step Guide

The benefits of practicing square breathing are undeniable. That said, how exactly can we use this practice in our daily lives?

Step 1: Find a Comfortable Position

Begin by finding a comfortable position, whether seated or lying down. Relax your body and bring your awareness to your breath.

Step 2: Inhale for a Count of Four

Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, counting to four as you fill your lungs with air. Allow your belly to rise as you inhale deeply, focusing on the sensation of the breath entering your body.

Step 3: Hold Your Breath for a Count of Four

At the top of your inhale, gently hold your breath for a count of four. Maintain a relaxed and comfortable state during this brief pause.

Step 4: Exhale for a Count of Four

Slowly exhale through your mouth, counting to four as you release the breath. Empty your lungs completely, allowing any tension or stress to leave your body with each exhale.

Step 5: Hold Your Breath for a Count of Four

Once you have fully exhaled, hold your breath for another count of four before beginning the next inhalation. This completes one cycle of square breathing.

Practice this square breathing cycle for several minutes, allowing yourself to become fully present and centered. You can gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

Where to Practice Square Breathing

Square breathing can be practiced anywhere, making it a versatile tool for stress reduction. You can incorporate it into your daily routine during moments of heightened stress or to find balance and relaxation throughout the day.

For example, imagine you’re waiting to speak at a presentation at work, feeling anxious and nervous. By taking a few moments to engage in square breathing, inhaling, holding, and exhaling for the same count of four, you can effectively calm your nerves and bring a sense of composure to the situation.

Further, square breathing can be integrated into more focused environments such as meditation or yoga practices. It serves as a valuable technique to deepen your mindfulness practice, enhance concentration, and cultivate a sense of tranquility.

Square Breathing vs. Other Breathing Techniques: Which is Best for You?

Square breathing is just one of the many techniques available. Other methods include:

With several options available, how should you decide which breathing technique is best for you? Well, finding the correct breathing technique depends largely on personal preference. Some individuals may find square breathing too structured or rigid, while others prefer more fluid or dynamic techniques.

It’s beneficial to experiment with different techniques and observe the effects of each one. By paying attention to how your body and mind respond to each, you can identify the most suitable approach for managing stress and promoting relaxation.

Incorporating Square Breathing Into Your Daily Routine

It’s essential to incorporate square breathing into your daily routine to maximize its benefits. Here are some tips to help you establish a regular square breathing practice: 

Find a Quiet Space

Seek out a quiet, peaceful environment where you can practice square breathing without distractions. This could be a designated meditation space in your home or any place where you feel comfortable and can focus on your breath.

Set Aside Dedicated Time

Schedule a dedicated time each day for square breathing. Start with a few minutes and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice. Consistency is key to experiencing the full benefits of square breathing.

Integrate it Into Daily Activities

Square breathing can be practiced beyond dedicated sessions. Look for opportunities to incorporate it into your daily activities. Whether you’re waiting in line, commuting, or taking a short break at work, take a moment to engage in a few rounds of square breathing to reduce stress and bring a sense of calm.

Set Reminders 

To help you establish a routine, set reminders on your phone or computer to prompt you to practice square breathing. These gentle reminders can nudge you to pause, take a deep breath, and center yourself throughout the day.

Focus on Stress Reduction, Relaxation, and Improved Focus 

As you engage in square breathing, remember its primary purposes — stress reduction, relaxation, and improved focus. Use this technique as a tool to find inner calm, alleviate tension, and enhance your overall well-being.

By integrating square breathing into your daily routine, you can harness its transformative power and experience the positive effects on your mind and body. So, make a conscious effort to carve out time for square breathing, seize moments throughout the day for a few intentional breaths, and cultivate a deeper sense of peace and balance in your life.

Final Thoughts

Square breathing is a powerful technique that can offer a range of mental and physical benefits. Its ability to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and promote calmness and balance make it a valuable tool for mitigating the pressures of daily life.

The simplicity and accessibility of square breathing make it an ideal practice to incorporate into our daily routines. Whether at home, at work, or in any stressful situation, we can easily engage in square breathing to find a sense of tranquility and restore balance. It requires no special equipment or location, making it a practical technique that can be used anytime and anywhere.

If you are experiencing persistent stress impacting your quality of life and daily functioning, seeking therapy could be beneficial. While removing all stress is impossible, you can acquire techniques to diminish stress and enhance your mental well-being. Doing so can make you stronger and better prepared to navigate life’s challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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