Box Breathing: Techniques, Benefits, Research, and More

Practice
December 19, 2021

Introduction

Breathwork continues to grow in popularity, as many are discovering the ways it can help them to breathe better. There are many great breathing techniques that can help you achieve benefits like healthier breathing patterns, and box breathing is one of them.

You’ve likely heard of box breathing, but might not be entirely sure what it is. If this is the case, this article will help you learn everything you need to know with the following topics:

  • An overview of the box breathing technique
  • 6 benefits of box breathing for your health & well-being
  • Box breathing research: what the science says
  • 5 box breathing exercises you should practice daily
  • 5 box breathing apps you should check out

Before we describe how to practice box breathing, we’ll first give a broader explanation of what exactly box breathing is.

If you’d like to explore some other breathwork techniques, check out our ultimate guide to holotropic breathwork.

An overview of the box breathing technique

A man practicing breathwork while sitting in waves

Before you can truly benefit from practicing box breathing, you have to know everything about it. This section covers the basics of the box breathing technique.

What is box breathing?

For those who have wondered “what is box breathing?”, it's a breathwork technique that involves breathing at specified intervals on a cycle. Most exercises using this technique will have you inhale, exhale, and hold your breath for equal lengths of time. However, there are some variations.

Other names for the technique include square breathing, 4-4-4-4 breathing, or sama vritti (its pranayama name). If you’re wondering “why is it called box breathing?”, this is due to the visual square or “box” that can be used to represent the steps involved in the box breathing exercise. Many breathwork guides will use a box to help breathwork beginners follow and learn the technique.

How to do box breathing

When it comes to how to box breathe, you can practice this exercise anywhere at any time. To practice on your own, simply inhale, hold your breath, exhale, and hold your breath again for the same length of time. Then just continue to repeat these steps in a cycle. You can also follow along with breathwork apps and online videos.

We’ll outline the box breathing instructions for a variety of exercises in a later section.

Is box breathing good for you?

Yes! While it’s understandable to be concerned about the safety of breathwork, box breathing is a simple exercise that can be practiced daily for the benefit of your physical and mental health. Any concerns you have should be discussed with your doctor before you begin your practice.

6 benefits of box breathing for your health & well-being

There are many great box breathing benefits you can reap when you incorporate the technique into a regular breathwork practice. These are some of the top benefits of box breathing.

1. Relieves stress and anxiety

A group of people bonding outdoors

Breathwork, in general, is known for its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. In fact, US Navy SEALs practice box breathing for precisely this purpose. Box breathing’s instructions help you to slow your breathing, which produces a calming effect on your body. Practicing box breathing for anxiety or stress relieves the symptoms of both by informing your body that it’s safe.

2. Activates parasympathetic nervous system

When your body believes you’re in danger, your sympathetic nervous system puts you into fight-or-flight mode. This turns all bodily functions towards helping you escape the danger. By practicing box breathing for stress, you inform your parasympathetic nervous system that you’re safe. This allows all of your body’s systems to return to normal functioning, including establishing a regular breathing pattern and avoiding hyperventilation.

3. Helps you sleep better

Box breathing and sleep are also linked to each other. Those who have difficulty sleeping, including those who struggle with insomnia, can benefit by practicing box breathing before bed. This is because breathwork helps to relax the body and thoughts, allowing for achieving a calm and restful state.

4. Improves focus

A group of people standing on rocks

Breathwork techniques like box breathing are also great for helping improve focus and attention span. When you’re feeling stressed, you have difficulty paying attention to the things you want to focus on. Box breathing helps calm these stressful feelings quickly, so you can focus on the things happening around you instead of the things you’re anxious about.

5. Lowers blood pressure

Box breathing and blood pressure are also connected to one another through the parasympathetic nervous system. When your body is under stress, your blood pressure can increase. And if this happens repeatedly, it can lead to health problems. By calming your body with box breathing, you can lower your blood pressure to a healthy rate.

6. Promotes relaxation

Whether you’re looking to relieve your stress after a hectic day or just looking to relax on your day off, box breathing is a great way to help yourself feel calm. As mentioned, box breathing exercises help signal to your body that it’s safe. This allows you to let go of any worries you have. So practicing box breathing for a few minutes will get you into a relaxed state and allow you to rest comfortably.

Box breathing research: what the science says

A woman lying down on a yoga mat with her hands on her chest and stomach

The available box breathing research and science of breathwork has backed the technique as an effective aid for mental and emotional health. A study published in 2017 found that its participants saw a decrease in their levels of cortisol – the chemical produced when the body is under stress – after practicing box breathing and other diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Another study from 2018 also supported the positive cognitive and emotional effects of slow breathing exercises. It noted that participants showed improved relaxation, focus, comfort, and energy, as well as decreases in negative mood and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

An additional 2012 review of research studies that explored pranayama techniques, including box breathing science, demonstrated these breathing exercises’ positive effects on mental and physical health. The studies backed claims of reduced stress and anxiety and improved cognitive functions, and also documented improved physical health of cancer patients.

5 box breathing exercises you should practice daily

If you’re still wondering how to do box breathing, all you have to do is find the right box breathing exercises and start practicing. Below are some popular breathwork techniques that will allow you to easily practice the box breathing method daily.


1. Box breathing

A woman practicing breathwork in a living room setting

Box breathing – also called square breathing, 4-4-4-4 breathing, or sama vritti – is itself a breathwork technique. It’s practiced by inhaling, holding your breath, exhaling, and pausing again for equal lengths of time. Think of it as if your breath is tracing the sides of a square. This exercise is the most standard version of the box breathing technique.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down.
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  4. Exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  5. Hold your breath again for a count of 4.
  6. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

2. Equal breathing

Equal breathing, also considered to be a sama vritti exercise, is a simpler version of the box breathing exercise. The difference is that equal breathing doesn’t include breath holds, but instead just focuses on your inhales and exhales. As the name suggests, your inhales and exhales should be done for the same length of time.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  3. Exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  4. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

3. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is the simplest deep breathing exercise you can do. This exercise involves using the abdominal muscles in order to breathe properly. It‘s based on the same principles as the box breathing method, and it’s simple enough that you can use it as part of box breathing meditation.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose, noticing how your stomach pushes against your hand as you do.
  4. Slowly exhale through your nose, noticing now how your stomach lowers beneath your hand. Your chest should remain still during this exhale.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

4. 4-7-8 breathing

Two men practicing breathwork while sitting back-to-back

4-7-8 breathing is another breathwork technique with its instructions right in the name. While its breath intervals aren’t equal lengths, it still uses the same methodology and produces many of the same benefits as the box breathing technique. It’s also considered to be a great version of box breathing for sleep.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, whether that’s sitting or lying down.
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale through your nose for a count of 8.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

5. Resonant breathing

Resonant breathing, also known as coherent breathing, is very similar to equal breathing. However, it has a specific goal of getting you to breathe at a rate of 6 breaths per minute. This helps to correct your breathing patterns, and is often used to improve heart rate variability (HRV). Despite the specifics, it’s just as easy to practice as similar breathing techniques.

How to do it:

  1. Get into your preferred position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5.
  3. Breathe out through your nose for a count of 5.
  4. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

5 box breathing apps you should check out 

If you’re looking for a tool to help you easily practice box breathing, there are plenty of breathwork apps you can choose from. Here are some box breathing apps that you can try today.

Othership home screen

1. Othership

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: 7-day and 14-day free trials; $17.99/month or $129.99/year afterward.

Features: 500+ classes, inspiring soundscapes, streak & progress tracking, and a global community.

Othership is a guided breathwork app designed to improve your well-being. Our app features over 500 classes that explore different breathwork techniques and their benefits. This includes box breathing and a variety of other techniques. And they’re all taught by top breathwork facilitators. Our app also allows you to track your progress and connect with the global community.

Unbeatable Mind Box Breathing

2. Unbeatable Mind Box Breathing

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: $4.99

Features: Guided breathing exercises, calming audio, progress tracking, and intention setting.

Unbeatable Mind Box Breathing was created to help users make the most of Navy SEAL box breathing. Based on the Unbeatable Mind programs created by Mark Divine, the app serves as an aid to help everyone from corporate leaders to Navy SEALs improve their wellness. It uses visual and audio prompts to guide exercises, and also tracks progress.

Box Breathe guiding visual

3. Box Breathe

Download it Now: iOS

Cost: $1.99; in-app purchases available

Features: Classic & free-form modes, weekly scheduling & reminders, timer, and Apple Health integration.

Box Breathe is a breathwork and meditation app designed to help with anxiety and insomnia. The app has a minimalist design, but contains many customizable settings to help you achieve your specific goals. You can choose between classic or free-form mode, and even set a weekly schedule or reminders to keep yourself on track.

Breethe Today screen

4. Breethe: Meditation & Sleep

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: Free to start using; $12.99/month, $89.99/year, or $179.99 one-time payment to unlock all features.

Features: Ever-growing library, guided meditations & breathing exercises, hypnotherapy, and a personalized toolkit.

Breethe is an app designed to help with sleep, relaxation, and happiness via a variety of mindfulness and self-care techniques. The app is full of many different methods for relaxation, including meditations, hypnotherapy, stories, visualizations, and other audio tracks. Users who are interested in box breathing will be able to get tailored recommendations through the My Life Kit questions.

Breathwrk home screen

5. Breathwrk

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: Free to start using; $66.99/year to unlock all features

Features: Breathing exercises; guiding music, vibrations, and visuals; vast library; and custom reminders.

Breathwrk is another guided breathwork app designed to help users improve their physical and mental health. Combining beautiful visuals with sounds and haptics, the app will help users easily follow along so they can begin to feel the effects of breathwork fast. Its large library is full of many different categories, so users can find the breathing sessions that will help them best with whatever life throws at them.



If you’re now feeling totally ready to try the box breathing technique, explore our available class styles on the Othership app.