Living in a Box

Way down in the deep depress

Colder than the coldest yes

We know about loneliness

Others to another

Just a place to run and hide

Just a place to free your mind

Just a place to break the chains

And find whatever matters

~ From “A Box”, by Doug Pinnick of King’s X

 

Anxiety & Joy

On social media, a friend in a recent post expressed their frustration with being kept indoors by the quarantine. They wrote they miss being able to gather with friends at their favorite eateries, visit their favorite stores and not having to wear masks during brief forays outside.

On the other hand, I have personally heard from two friends that they are enjoying this down time. They are able to work from home, and find that not having to make the daily commute has opened up time each day for exploring artistic, creative and educational arenas they previously had no time for.

Neither of these polar opposite experiences is better or worse. They just are. And no matter which side of the stay at home fence you feel you are on, more than likely you are wondering when you will be able to move freely in the world again.

Humans are built for mobility; to walk, run, jump and in general move. We are also built for sociability; to meet, to interact, to share. We are nourished and nurtured in the company of the warmth and presence of another human being. Even if we are enjoying the time away from our pre-Coronavirus hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to feel like our world has shrunk. As if we have become boxed in.

I was contemplating how I could possibly serve my friend in need and others, in lessening or eliminating the feeling of daily peak anxiety and/or the onset or exacerbation of depression, all related to social distancing.

And then a friend mentioned a client of theirs who becomes extremely anxious when having to do oral presentations at work. This friend specifically said they thought if the client could learn a way to more properly breathe, that in itself would alleviate at least some of the anxiety and lack of confidence they were experiencing.

A couple hours after that conversation, it suddenly arose, clear as crystal.

Ah-ha! Of course! A simple breath technique will help!

Not only the anxiety my friend’s client is facing, but the anxiety – and even the depression – that people are facing all around the world in the wake of having to severely limit, whether partially or completely, face to face social interactions.

Paradoxically, this breath technique to ease and expand our mental clarity and emotional calm is about creating a box. 

 

Breathing in a Box   

“Box Breath” or “Square Breath” is a simple way of breathing that is done in some Qigong and Yoga practices. As well, it is taught to Navy Seals and athletes. It helps induce calm and relieve stress. And it is very simple to do.

  1. Sit comfortably, with an upright torso. No slouching or sinking into a couch. Gently close your eyes.

2. Become aware of the natural flow of your inhale and exhale.

3. Notice the natural pause that occurs after each inhale and exhale.

4. Begin to consciously breathe through your nose, with the intention to even out the ratio between the inhale, the exhale, and the pause that follows each. Begin with a ratio of inhale 2 seconds, hold the pause for 2 seconds, exhale for 2 seconds, hold the pause for 2 seconds. Continue this for a minimum of 5 minutes, and up to 20 minutes, if desired. When this becomes comfortable, extend the ratio to 3 seconds, then 4 seconds. The 4-second ratio is the maximum needed.

The trick here is that when holding the pause it should feel completely comfortable. No strain in the lungs, the diaphragm, the throat, or anywhere else in the body. No sensations of trying to keep the diaphragm from moving. No feelings of creating pressure in the abdomen or clamping down on the breath.

The 4-second ratio is the ratio that is supposed to be the sweet spot for this method. However, even if you are skilled in different complex techniques of breath control, it is best to begin at the 2-second ratio. The reason being that if you are used to imposing restrictions on your breathing, you may very well find that you naturally seek to make the breath conform to your will when doing Box Breath. That way of practice is self-defeating in this method.

Instead, invite yourself step by step into the process, with an eye toward letting go of control. It is crucial to the effectiveness of this method to have complete ease and comfort as you breathe. That ease and comfort switches on the parasympathetic response of your nervous system. This is the response that supports “relaxation and digestion.” As well, this parasympathetic response will nourish your immune system.

Once you feel deeply calmed, de-stressed and settled when you do this practice with a 2-second ratio, great! Then next time bump it up to 3 seconds. And when that too is able to be done with a feeling of complete relaxation, then proceed to 4 seconds.

Congratulations, you have achieved your goal! Now stick with it!

This method is called Box Breathing because you can visualize drawing a square when doing this breath. You do not need to, of course, but some people find they like this way over counting. Instead, in your mind’s eye, envision a line being drawn by each inhale, exhale and pause. Like this:

1. Inhale and visualize you are drawing the first line in a horizontal stroke left to right.

2. Pause and draw the second line in a vertical stroke down from the end of the horizontal stroke. 

3. Exhale and draw the third line in a horizontal stroke to the left from the end of the vertical stroke.

4. Pause and draw the second line in a vertical stroke up from the end of the horizontal stroke to connect to the beginning of the first horizontal stroke.

You have now visualized a box. Unless your breath was off, which means you now have a rectangle maybe, or a parallelogram. Only kidding about the last one.

Once you find that sweet spot of 4 seconds, and then consistently practice that way daily, you will soon not need to count or visualize, as you will naturally settle into that four second rhythm.

 

Ease of Breath = Ease of Sleep

Once you feel comfortable doing this while seated with eyes closed, you can also do it with open eyes, and while standing – at a bus stop, or on the train, or in line at a store. You can do it lying down as well, even as a lead in to sleep. You may find that your sleep deepens from this practice. Deep sleep means restful sleep. Restful sleep activates – you guessed it – the parasympathetic nervous response. Restful sleep also plays a major role in supporting a healthy immune system. 

From this, we clearly understand the prime importance of taking even just 5 minutes each day to turn our attention to our breath, and practice a smooth circulation of our breath that includes the pauses at the end of each inhalation and exhalation. 

The Box Breath is an excellent breath to do when you are feeling stressed out, irregardless of what you are stressing out about.

Remember, this method is an intrinsic part of the training for Navy Seals! If it helps Navy Seals remain calm and de-stressed in the role that they must play, it is safe to say that practice of Box Breathing will assist you with the day to day stressors in your life. In addition, this method can help us more clearly and steadily face sudden unforeseen stress, no matter what our profession may be. And no matter what amount of isolation is necessary for us to practice.

I highly recommend this technique as a daily practice, to truly imprint its effects on your physiology, mind and emotions. As well, this is an excellent practice when you find yourself suddenly drawn into a downward spiral of anxiety, fear, depression, or even anger. Remember, just 5 minutes a day can make a world of difference for you and the people you are still interacting with.  

Just because we need to shelter in our own little box does not mean we need to consign ourselves to being shrunk down by emotional and mental anxiety. Instead, we can use one box to lessen or eliminate the constraints felt by another.

 

Do you have comments or questions about the above post? What do you think of this practice? Or do you have questions about another topic you would like to know about? Please feel free to post your comments and questions in the comments below.

Warmly,

Mark

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