Helpful Resources in a Time of Fear and Uncertainty #5

Every day this week, leading up to my online retreat, I’m going to share with you a resource that I have found deeply useful to help me center, calm my nervous system, and find steadiness in meeting the unique challenges of this coronavirus crisis.

Today, I want to share with you a technique taught to me last week by my wonderful nurse coach, Tree Dunbar. It’s a simple technique you can use anytime, anywhere when you feel fear or panic. It’s called “Box Breathing” and it’s used in emergency medicine and the military and is often referred to as tactical breathing.

While very simple, it is highly effective in stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Although this is under the category of relaxation breathing, it is often used during stressful moments of intensity and can help reduce fear and agitation, or a panic attack.

You will simply count to four for each inhale, hold for four seconds, exhale to a count of four, hold for four seconds and begin again. Eventually the practice becomes entirely kinesthetic and the counting will become irrelevant. It is called box (or sometimes square) breathing because we imagine each part of the breath to be a side of the box.

  • Find a comfortable position, and quietly observe your breathing.
  • In preparation to begin, slowly exhale all of the air out of your lungs. Now you can begin.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. Count very slowly, inhaling through your nose, feeling your lungs fill up completely with air, 1-2-3-4
  • When your lungs are full, hold your breath for another slow count of four, 1-2-3-4
  • Slowly begin to exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, feeling the air being released from your lungs, 1-2-3-4
  • Hold your breath in this space for a count of four. (This should feel comfortable, not like you are having to hold your breath to avoid gasping for air, 1-2-3-4
  • Then, begin again.

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