What Is Box Breathing?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on April 30, 2023
3 min read

Box breathing, also referred to as square breathing, is a deep breathing technique that can help you slow down your breathing. It works by distracting your mind as you count to four, calming your nervous system, and decreasing stress in your body.

Box breathing is a simple but powerful relaxation technique that can help return your breathing pattern to a relaxed rhythm. It can clear and calm your mind, improving your focus.

When doing box breathing, it’s good to:

  • Sit in a chair, stand, or lie down on your back with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. When you sit on a chair, ensure that your back is supported and your feet are firmly on the floor.
  • Breathe as you would normally for a minute.
  • Observe the rise and fall of your chest and stomach.
  • If you notice that your chest is rising but your stomach is not, you are shallow breathing. If your stomach is rising, you are deep breathing, activating full relaxation in your body.
  • Be aware of your breath to ensure that you are taking deep breaths, allowing your stomach to rise.
  • If you are lying down or seated on a chair, you will feel your back pressed against the surface when you take a deep breath.
  • If this is your first time practicing box breathing, push your stomach out while focusing on smooth, deep breaths.

Practice this regularly to encourage deep breathing on a daily basis.

Box breathing is easy and quick to learn. Anyone can practice this technique and it’s useful in stressful situations when you want to re-center yourself or improve concentration.

Four Steps to Master Box Breathing

  • Step 1: Breathe in, counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
  • Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.
  • Step 3: Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered.

Repeat this exercise as many times as you can. Thirty seconds of deep breathing will help you feel more relaxed and in control.

Box breathing can be useful in many situations such as:

  • It can help you cope with panic and stress when feeling overwhelmed. Counting helps to take the focus from the panic-producing situation enabling you to handle and control your response.
  • Helps you to sleep when you are having insomnia.
  • Helps to control hyperventilation as you can instruct your lungs to breathe rhythmically.
  • Helps you refocus when you are having a busy or stressful day.
  • Eases panic and worry.
  • Keeps you calm while preparing for the day.
  • When making a big decision.
  • Lowers blood pressure and decreases Cortisol — a stress hormone — which can improve your mood.

One benefit of box breathing is that you can practice it anywhere. You can practice it at work, at home, in public, or in a stressful situation. However, you don’t have to practice box breathing only when you are stressed. You can do it to calm your mind and body, allowing yourself to reset and stay fresh.

If you're new to this breathing technique, here are some tips:

  •  If 4 seconds is too much, you can start with 2 or 3 seconds to help you start practicing.
  • Count the seconds in your head if it is hard to find the beat.
  • Ensure you are comfortable. It is easier to focus on your breath when you are relaxed and in a comfortable position.