Box Breathing

Written by Nathan Hall |


When we are in a triggered, or in a dysregulated state, we experience a flood of strong emotions.

Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behaviour.

In other words, when we are overcome with emotion, it impacts our ability to think and respond clearly.

Controlled breathing has been identified as one of the best things we can do to help counteract both the physiological and psychological impact that being emotionally triggered can have on us.

Taking slow and deep breaths not only slows you down to give you a moment to collect your thoughts, but it's one of the few actions that enables you to impact your autonomic system (such as your heart rate and other functions you do not consciously control), and your somatic nervous system (the parts of your body that you can intentionally control).

Deep breaths are a bridge between these two systems, and can help you:

  • lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood
  • reduce lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
  • balance levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • improve immune system functioning
  • increase physical energy
  • increase feelings of calm and wellbeing.

How to Box Breathe

Box breathing is a common method of controlled breathing that is used by both Yogis and Navy Seals. It works like this:

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds
  2. Hold the breathe for 4 seconds
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds
  4. Hold the exhale for 4 seconds
  5. Repeat

TIP: To help you focus on your breathe and centre you in the moment, try tracing a box with your finger to visualize the breathing pattern.

When you find yourself becoming triggered, whether in a meeting or speaking to a colleague, taking a moment to breath deeply will help you regulate your systems and improve cognitive ability so you can think clearer and respond with greater intention.

Need some help getting start, try breathing along to this guided video

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