Mindfulness: Pranayama Series, Box Breath

In this series of #HBHealthAtHome mindfulness blog posts, we will begin reviewing Pranayama exercises. These exercises focus on controlling the breath in different ways to support new meditative goals. Pranayama exercise can be used for a variety of benefits. They can be used to improve reduction in stress and anxiety, support in coping and healing, or even providing your body with more energy at the beginning of your day.

Today we will review the Box Breath. This breath supports the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system which is the system that helps our body to relax. The optimal use of this method would be in times of extreme stress or anxiety. You can also use this method of breathing at the beginning of meditation to settle any residual energy and ground your body. Utilizing this breath as a preventive measure prior to facing a difficult task can encourage a mindful or grounded approach to the task ahead.

This breath includes retention or holding of the breath. Holding breath can sometimes feel uncomfortable however the holds and exhale of this breath are most important as they activate the parasympathetic system.

If you feel that you may be uncomfortable with holding your breath, for the first time trying this breath method remind yourself: that you are in control of your breath, you are safe, and you can release the focus of breath at any time. 

To begin, find your natural breath rhythm by being mindful and focusing in on your typical inhale-exhale for a moment. Begin the exercise when ready.

Visualizing a box

You will inhale for four seconds

Retain/hold your inhaled breath for four seconds

Then exhale steadily for four seconds

Lastly, retain/hold the exhaled breath for four seconds

 Repeat the box up to 3 times before releasing focus of your breath and returning to your natural breath rhythm

During the first few attempts of this breath, it may feel forced or strenuous. However, encourage yourself to remain controlled and smooth in your transition from active breathing to the holds and vice versa.

If you feel this practice resonated with you, the next level of this breathing exercise is to increase the box to a rectangle. Meaning you can increase the inhale and exhale by a couple of seconds and increase the holds by three or four seconds. As you become proficient in this practice you can experiment with the number of seconds you exhale and retain the breath as they are the primary focus for optimal benefit.

About the Author: Jennifer Kneeland is the lead Expressive Art Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor for Home Base. As an avid creative artist, Jennifer strives to encourage the healing power of creativity and imagination in her clinical work. She aspires to embody the principles of expressive arts therapy to strengthen internal growth both in clinical and personal experiences