Stressed? Try The Box Breathing Exercise to Lower Anxiety and Improve Focus
Every day is a new chance to get it right: Get up and exercise, eat healthily, and set an intention to banish stress and stay calm, powering through our to-do list with super-human determination. Then things go south. The WiFi doesn't work, the AC conks out, or the car needs something or other fixed. But no matter what derails your best intentions, by dinner, or afterward, if the work continues into the late evening hours, things pile up and you feel stressed.
You already worked out. So how to destress? There's always alcohol, but you know that has its consequences in the form of bad sleep patterns and even weight gain. Instead, there is another better way to de-stress, sleep better and even help your body burn fat. It's breathing. Specifically the kind of breathing exercises that calm the parasympathetic nervous system, lower cortisol in the body, and help you sleep better.
Use Box Breathing to Lower Stress and Sleep Better
Box breathing forces your breathing to slow down, and Navy Seals use it in stressful situations in order to stay calm and focus, according to James Nasser, author of Breath.
Here is how to do box breathing:
- Inhale through your nose while counting to 4, filling your lungs with air.
- Hold your breath while counting to 4 seconds.
- Then exhale slowly for 4 seconds.
- Hold breath again with air out of lungs. Then repeat.
As you get better at Box Breathing, hold your breath for 5 seconds, then 6, etc.
Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander who has been using this breathing technique since 1987, shows how to do it in a video.
Breathing has been proven to help lower stress in the body
Studies show that breathing can help lower stress and essentially hit "reset" on the brain's stressed-out "fight or flight" mode, helping your mental and physical state to be healthier.
When in this fight or flight mode, your cortisol shoots up, causing breathing to speed up and your blood sugar levels to spike (allowing for the energy you would need to escape the threat). breathing to quicken, and to boost blood sugar levels. Box breathing can hit the off switch on this stress pattern.
As you exhale, it's like the body's exhaust: You burn calories and exhale CO2
Laird Hamilton, the big wave surfer, co-founder of Laird Superfood, and one of the fittest people on the planet uses breathing exercises to help supplement his workouts and to get more oxygen into his body, and carbon dioxide out. Breathing can be its own form of exertion, he explains.
"What happens when you run or bike? You break carbon bonds. Through breathing, you break carbon bonds," Hamilton explains. "You lose weight through breathing. Bikers, runners, they all break carbon bonds. It is all done with breathing. It's not the pedaling, but the breathing that forces that to happen. You lose weight in your breath."
The science backs this up. Studies have shown that by breathing out CO2, the body exchanges energy as well as the gas of your exhalation. Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia reported in a paper that "when weight is lost, the majority of it is breathed out as carbon dioxide," according to a study first published in the British Medical Journal.
"It's basic biochemistry," writes James Nestor in his bestselling book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. "That carbon dioxide in every exhale has weight, and we exhale more weight than we inhale. And the way the body loses weight isn't though profusely sweating or "burning it off." We lose weight through an exhaled breath."
Laird adds: "You have to get back to basics. We have a breathing app on XPT [the fitness app]. You can go online and get all sorts of breathing exercises."