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What Is Square Breathing?

You Can Use This Breathing Technique to Conquer Stress — Anytime, Anywhere

Woman with closed eyes in office with wind turbine model on table
Stress can strike at any time. There's the obvious circumstances — like while you're in a high-stakes work meeting or when you're dealing with money-related issues and the tension headaches never cease.

Then, there's the somewhat surprising moments — like when you've just finished a cup of chamomile tea and you're tucking yourself in bed, or during a Netflix session on the couch.

No matter where you are though, there's a method that can help you conquer the feelings of uneasiness fast: square breathing.

Also known as box breathing or four-square breathing, and named for its four-part process, square breathing can be used anytime and anywhere to relax the mind and let go of tension, Christi-an Slomka, a mindful movement and meditation teacher and community manager at Calm, says.

The breathwork technique, Slomka notes, "soothes the nervous system and helps us to shift from a state of stress to a state of relaxation," thus lowering our stress levels.

It can be done whenever you're feeling stressed, and you can even do it at your desk or in line at the grocery store without anyone knowing — though Slomka says a friend might appreciate the invitation to take part in it, too.

So how do you do it? Check out Slomka's step-by-step ahead.

Inhale:

  • To begin, sit with a tall spine, soften your gaze, or close your eyes and inhale slowly through the nose to the count of four.
  • Place your attention on the expansion of your chest and the sound of your breath.

Pause:

  • At the top of your inhale, pause for another four seconds.
  • Slomka says to think of it as resting your breath, rather than holding your breath. "Holding often causes us to tense up, and we want to try to relax before the exhale," she says.

Exhale:

  • Slowly exhale and let go of all of the air in your lungs for a count of four, keeping your jaw relaxed.

Pause:

  • Rest in between the inhale and exhale for a count of four.

Repeat:

  • Keep going for a few more rounds.

If you need some extra help relaxing your jaw, Slomka suggests bringing your lips to a slight smile. Placing your hand on your chest to feel your breath rise and fall could also help you stay more present in the activity.

While one round of square breathing can make a difference, Slomka suggests trying it for four rounds if you have more time, as well as making it a regular part of your day.

"When life gets stressful, there can be a bit of a snowball effect. Stress begets stress. And if we don't take some time every day to interrupt the 'snowball' from rolling, it gets bigger, faster, and harder to stop, leading to burning out or, to keep with the snowball analogy, crashing into a wall. Square breathing is one excellent way to create an intentional pause in your day," she adds.

Breathing techniques are helpful in managing daily life stressors, but they're not the only option. It's best to speak to a professional about how to best handle your anxiety and stressors.

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Image Source: Getty Images / Westend61
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