April is Stress Awareness Month in the UK, and whilst my blog, ‘What is stress and how bad is it for us?’ explains how and why it happens, here I want to give you some amazing breathing techniques that will help to reduce your anxiety and relieve stress.

Why practise box breathing?

Essentially a box breath is one that is in equal length when inhaling, pausing, exhaling and pausing again before breathing in once more – visualising a breath with four sides to it.

In times of stress and anxiety, we tend to use only the top fraction of our lungs, resulting in shortness of breath, heightened heart rate, and a lack of oxygen which can make us feel dizzy, or even faint. Box breathing encourages the use of the whole lung and helps us learn to control the breath and flow of oxygen.

With slow, deep breathing our heart rate lowers, and since I know you love a bit of science, here it comes!

Box breathing calms the ‘sympathetic nervous system’, the part that is responsible for our fight or flight response. Therefore, your adrenaline, noradrenaline and epinephrine come down, allowing your ‘parasympathetic nervous system’ to take control and take us to a state of relaxation, reducing blood pressure.

How do you do box breathing?

My Slow Flow classes often include box breathing. When we begin to focus on the breath, we practise quieting the mind and using the full capacity of our lungs. Here’s how we work towards a perfect box breath.

Tip: When pausing the breath, practise closing the throat with the back of your tongue.

  1. Begin by sitting or lying down comfortably, notice how your body is in contact with the floor or bed, gently move the feet, legs, arms shoulders, neck etc until you are in the most comfortable position
  2. Breathe normally, through the nose, for around 4 breaths
  3. Gently lay your hands on your abdomen to help you remember to breathe into the very bottom of your lungs
  4. Begin to control the next inhale, making it last for around 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts and do this around 4 or 6 times
  5. When you’re ready, and the inhale and exhale are equalised, you can introduce a pause at the top of the inhale, for maybe 2 counts
  6. Your breathing pattern is now: 4 in, pause for 2, 4 out
  7. Now introduce a pause for 2 counts at the bottom of your exhale too
  8. And to complete the box breath, lengthen the pauses to equal the inhale and exhale.

You don’t need to use a count of 4 to practise box breathing. After a while, you will find your own balance. I hope this technique helps you to sleep better and control your anxiety during the day. But, you don’t need to be ready for bed for it to work, you can go straight into it when you feel your heart beginning to pump and your body going into the stress response.

Try it in a traffic jam – it really helps!