The Box Breath

By Sam Lovett

As we inhale the fresh Colorado air during the first week back at school, we may forget to exhale and let go of what no longer serves us. 

Colorado College students tend to live in their Sympathetic Nervous Systems — our flight or fight systems are always ready to respond due to the intensity of the Block Plan. Our bodies and brains must stay alert and receptive to information for three hours every morning, and continue this attentiveness for countless hours of homework in an attempt to digest it all. 

As CC students, we understand that we need rest, and we save that for our well-deserved, monthly Block Break. However, most of us hit a wall of exhaustion before the break arrives because our bodies crave just one moment in our Parasympathetic Systems — also known as our rest and digestive system. 

You might think you need to attend a full hour-long yoga class to give yourself a moment of peace. You don’t. All it takes is a breathing exercise called the “Box Breath.”

Here’s how it works:

1. Breathe in through your nose for four counts.

2. Hold that breath for four counts.

3. Breathe out through your mouth for eight  counts.

4. Hold that breath for four counts.

5. Repeat for at least 10 rounds. 

It is recommended to close your eyes, but if that feels uncomfortable, set a light gaze on the ground. We breathe out for eight counts because the exhale helps our bodies tap into the parasympathetic system. Although a moment of relaxation in the middle of the day seems inefficient and counterintuitive, the Box Breath can clear and reset the mind. 

Colorado College students are known for being resilient in their work ethic, but the stress builds up. By week three, everyone has a cold because the Sympathetic System compensates our immunity system, allowing us to continue to “fight or flight.” By practicing the Box Breath every day, the body is able to rejuvenate from stress and can support immunity, digestion, and overall well-being. 

This breathing practice works wonders for falling asleep and calming down the mind. In fact, it is most useful when you feel the most anxious, stressed, or panicked. 

The tricky part is keeping the mind focused. It is most helpful to keep the mind steady by slowly counting. Another way to remain focused is by imagining your breath moving in a box-like motion. Some people like to put their hands on the bottom of their belly to feel their breath move up and down their abdomen. 

No one is perfect — it is easy to think about your to-do list when doing this exercise. It is most important to forgive yourself if your mind goes elsewhere. If it does, acknowledge it, and then just try to bring your focus back and count again. Like everything, the Box Breath takes practice; if it feels uncomfortable, know that your discomfort is normal and breathe through it.  

Notice and watch what your body does, naturally, brilliantly, and easily. Give yourself a moment (or two) to breathe — you deserve it.    

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