Box Breathing: One Simple Exercise to Calm Your Mind and Focus Your Body

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Does picturing the start line put you in a panic? Relax. You’ve got this.

If you’re like most runners, there are times when feelings of stress and anxiety can creep up on you. Let’s be realistic — if you are like most other human beings, these feelings are all-too familiar. Start-line nerves, pre-race jitters, and night time anxiety are well-known feelings for those in the competitive crowd, and the stresses of daily life can take a toll on just about anyone.

Unless they want to go crazy, competitive athletes need to find ways to channel nervous energy and ward off feelings of pre-competition anxiety. Whether you’re feeling nervous about an upcoming event or just stressed out at work, Box Breathing is one technique that may prove helpful.

When we experience feelings of anxiety, fear, or anger, we tend to breathe very shallowly or even hold our breath. Box Breathing is a simple technique using deliberate, controlled breathing to restore a calm, clear state of mind. Intentional deep breathing can actually help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions like temperature and blood pressure. Box Breathing can reduce stress, improve your mood, and even help with insomnia. Best of all, it is something that you can do anywhere at just about any time.

Box Breathing

  1. Inhale slowly through your nose for the count of 4. Think of filling every section of your lungs from bottom to top.
  2. “Top it off” for the count of 4. This is sort of like holding your breath, but also maintaining an open feeling and allowing yourself to expand your lungs to full capacity.
  3. Exhale slowly through your nose for the count of 4.
  4. “Bottom out” for the count of 4. Really squeeze all the air out of your lungs.

To practice Box Breathing, a calm and quiet environment is helpful (though not absolutely necessary). When you first begin practicing, you may find that it’s difficult to breathe quite so slowly and maintain focus. If you find yourself getting dizzy or beginning to yawn after a few rounds, just take a break and resume normal breathing. A little bit of practicing each day will go a long way in making this technique feel more normal and applicable to stressful situations.

Tracie is a former teacher and a lifelong learner who loves exploring. Most at home in the mountains, she enjoys tearing up and down the trails on her mountain bike, and occasionally leaves the wheels at home for a run through the trees. Having recently earned her personal trainer certification, Tracie thrives on helping others reach their athletic goals.

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