Breathing inside (and outside) the box – Sherborne Times Article

Breathing inside and outside the box

Box Breathing or Square Breathing is a well-known breathing exercise used by health and wellbeing practitioners to help their clients relax their bodies and calm their minds. I learned it as part of my yoga training as ‘Rhythmic Breathing’ but it’s the same principle. It is simple to learn so is accessible for children or for most of us adults with busy lives and short attention spans!

Ideally follow the ‘settling in’ steps below and practise for 3 – 6 rounds to begin with. However, the beauty of this technique is you can do it anywhere at any time.

So the next time someone pulls out in front of you without indicating, you realise you’ve missed a deadline or if you feel overwhelmed for any reason… picture your box and breath around it for just 3 rounds.

It won’t change the problem in front of you but it will have changed the way you react to it.


•Find a comfortable sitting position resting your hands on your legs or in your lap.
•Close your eyes and begin to draw your attention to yourself rather than the sounds around you.
•Check your posture by tucking under your tailbone and lifting up through your spine, head centred.
•Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders as you exhale.
• Soften your face maybe swallow to release tension around the jaw or down into your throat.
•Breathe comfortably, don’t try and control it just breathe at your own pace for a few moments.
•Now with eyes open or closed visualise a square in front of you and focus on one of the corners.

 You will be using each side of the square to keep track of where you are:
• Inhale for the count of 3
• Hold the breath in for the count of 3
• Exhale for the count of 3
• Hold the breath out for the count of 3

The holds should be a gentle pause in the rhythm not a strain. Once you are comfortable you can increase to a count of 4 – this is the usual count given and if your aim is to calm anxiety or to gain focus, this is a good pace. If you are aiming to gently increase your lung capacity and improve your breathing function you can increase the count but always seek the advice of a health professional if you are unsure or new to breathing exercises.

I wanted to cover this exercise despite it being well known as there are a few variations I have found useful when helping people in my classes. In particular when they are finding it hard to focus at the start of the class or experiencing anxiety in their lives.

Rectangle breathing

Often to begin with holding the breath in or out can be difficult to manage, especially if starting this exercise in a state of stress where your breathing is more shallow.

Follow the same process as above, the inhale and exhale remain equal but you shorten the hold in and out, for example:

• Inhale for the count of 4
•Hold the breath in for the count of 2
•Exhale for the count of 4
•Hold the breath out for the count of 2

Use the image of a rectangle: the longer sides for the in and out breath, the shorter for the holds. Equal breath If the holds are still a struggle, try dropping them completely and instead focus on equalising the in and out breath. Start with a count of 3 and build up to 4.

All versions of this exercise work so well by calming your nervous system quickly. It decreases stress within the body but also gives your mind another focus away from the cause of your anxiety. It breaks the cycle of negative feedback between brain and body, giving you a chance to regain control.

As well an effective ‘quick win’ technique the more it is practised both in and out of stressful situations, the greater the benefits in reducing long-term stress. Definitely one to add to the daily routine!

The Sherborne Times

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