Breathing, as you know, keeps us alive. It is one of the most basic functions of the human body, fuelling us with oxygen. We obviously all do it. However, ‘taking a breath’ in this context refers to spending a moment to take a deep breath, or to slow your breathing rate down, to relax your mind and body and to catch up with yourself amidst your busy life.
Why is breathing important?
Breathing expels 70% of the stress hormone cortisol from our body, yet most of us don’t breathe correctly. When we are stressed, we use fast and shallow breathing, which doesn’t expel the cortisol, and instead, heightens our stress response. Breathing techniques are highly effective for generating feelings of instant calm. They are very adaptable and can be used anywhere and at any time, such as when walking, in meetings, when travelling and at home.
It is only when we exhale properly that toxins, such as carbon dioxide, can be fully breathed out, which allows oxygen to flow back in. In addition, a proper breathing technique has various health benefits from sleeping better, being able to digest food more efficiently, improving the body’s immune system and reducing stress levels.
Deep breathing and taking time to focus on your breath, is often used in relaxation techniques to reduce the stress response and rather, evoke the relaxation response.
If you find yourself spiralling down the rabbit-hole of unhelpful thinking or tensing your stomach and taking shallow breaths, engaging in focussed breathing can assist you by concentrating on slow, deep breaths and what is happening in the present moment. A great technique to get you started is called “four-square breathing” or “box breathing” and is used by athletes, nurses, police officers and even US navy seals!
The Mayo Clinic has significant research evidence indicating that intentional, deep breathing, can regulate and calm our autonomic nervous systems which is involved in all the involuntary functions such as blood pressure and temperature regulation.
Box breathing involves inhaling, exhaling and holding the breath in between, each for four counts. By holding the breath, it allows for CO2 to build up in the blood which results in feelings of calm in the body and mind.
So how do you box breathe? Follow the steps below, and watch this to help you get a hang of the process!
Step 1: Slowly exhale
Step 2: Slowly inhale
Step 3: Hold the breath
Step 4: Slowly exhale
Step 5: Hold the breath
Continue and repeat the process four times. You can do this several times a day, as often as needed to de-stress and calm the mind and body.