Meditation Box Breathing Techniques and Benefits By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD Twitter Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 12, 2020 Reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by mental health professionals. Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Megan Monahan Reviewed by Megan Monahan Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don't Hate, Meditate. Learn about our Review Board Print istockphoto Despite the somewhat exotic name, box breathing is a very simple and even familiar type of stress management exercise. If you've ever found yourself inhaling and exhaling to a rhythm while you run or listen to music, you've taken the first steps. Box breathing is a type of paced breathing that follows a certain rhythm, and it can help you to minimize stress. How Box Breathing Works Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, involves exhaling to a count of four, holding your lungs empty for a four-count, inhaling at the same pace, and holding air in your lungs for a count of four before exhaling and beginning the pattern anew. Other Techniques Box breathing doesn't carry the physical benefits of exercise or the long-term mental and resilience benefits of meditation, but it definitely has its place as a stress management technique. For one thing, it's very simple to learn and to practice. Also, it can be practiced virtually anywhere and anytime—when you're showering, watching tv, or even working. You can give it a try anywhere when you're overly distracted or exercising so strenuously that you can't talk through it. Also, you can practice box breathing for only a minute or two and experience the immediate benefits of a calm body and a more relaxed mind, or you can practice for several minutes and experience that plus the longer-term benefits of meditation, including increased resilience to stress, decreased feelings of depression, increased positive feelings, and more. What's Stressing You? Try This! What the Research Says Unfortunately, there's not a lot of research specifically on box breathing, as this is a relatively new technique. However, there is quite a bit of research on breathing exercises in general, and on paced breathing as well , which is the category of breathing exercise this would best fit. There is also research on visualization and meditation, of course, and the practice of box breathing can facilitate both of these. For visualization, simply imagine that you are inflating and draining a balloon with each cycle, for example. For meditation, you can add affirmation as you breathe. Here are some study findings that may support the possible benefits of box breathing: Research on deep breathing shows that it is useful not only for stress management but also for reducing blood pressure and minimizing hypertension as well. Studies have found that simple practices like breathing exercises are effective in reducing stress in everyday situations like the experience of test anxiety, sometimes to a greater degree than more complex stress management techniques. Studies on transcendental meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction—another form of meditation—have found that meditation (mantra-based and mindfulness-based) can both lead to decreased stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, greater feelings of happiness, and reduced feelings of depression. While this isn't specific research on box breathing, box breathing may be helpful for getting into a meditative state. 8 Meditation Techniques to Try How to Practice Box Breathing Box breathing is exceedingly simple to practice. Simply relax your body and do the following: Let out all of the air in your lungs to the count of four.Keep your lungs empty for a count of four.Inhale for a count of four.Keep your lungs full for a count of four. That's it! You can vary this in a few different ways. As mentioned before, you can invite in the silent repetition of an affirmation by syncing it with your breath rather than counting to four. "Mississippi," or something with four syllables can work well—"I feel so calm," "I'm here right now," or even just "O-o-m-m," stretched out to four counts can work. Another variation is to visualize four sides of a box changing to a new color, one after the other, or in a line as though the box is being traced by a colored pen you hold with your mind, making this into a visualization exercise. If you practice for longer—10 to 20 minutes, for example—it can fall under the umbrella of meditation practices. Research on the possible benefits of box breathing is still needed, but incorporating meditative practices into your life may have lasting benefits. Apps to Try There are several apps that can help you practice box breathing or other types of paced breathing for stress relief. What's great about these apps is that they can add a visual element to your practice. If you're a visual learner, you can practice these breathing techniques with the app to the point that you really connect with them, then visualize what you experience in the apps even when you're not using them, like in the shower or while driving. This makes it easier for many people to both learn the techniques, and enjoy them more. Here are a few of the top apps for box breathing and other types of paced breathing exercises: Box Breathing App: This one can be downloaded for Apple or Android devices, and has nine levels of use that can help you to really get a firm grasp on the practice of box breathing and make it part of your daily routine. The makers of this app also stress that this technique can also help you achieve a flow state which is an additional benefit you'll enjoy besides the stress management referenced earlier.Breathe 2 Relax: This app is also available for both Apple and PC—oriented users and has a wide range of timed breathing exercises to use. It was developed by the National Institute for Telehealth and Technology, an organization within the U.S. Department of Defense. One of its strong points is that it has a graph feature that can help you to determine where much of your stress originates.Universal Breathing: This is also available for iOS and Android users, and has a variety of visual exercises that work with your breathing. They become increasingly challenging, helping you to gain more complex skills with your breathing exercises. This can be particularly enjoyable for those who love a challenge and may become bored with an app that may feel repetitive, but want the benefits of practicing calming techniques like breathing exercises. 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Malchiodi CA. Trauma and expressive arts therapy: brain, body, and imagination in the healing process. The Guilford Press. 2020. Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, et al. How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:353. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353 Fontana D. Creative Meditation and Visualization. Penguin Random House;2012. Cho H, Ryu S, Noh J, Lee J. The effectiveness of daily mindful breathing practices on test anxiety of students. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(10):e0164822. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164822 Priya G, Kalra S. Mind-body interactions and mindfulness meditation in diabetes. Eur Endocrinol. 2018;14(1):35-41. doi:10.17925/EE.2018.14.1.35 Additional Reading Brandani JZ, Mizuno J, Ciolac EG, Monteiro HL. The hypotensive effect of Yoga's breathing exercises: A systematic review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017;28:38-46. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.05.002 Holt A. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and transcendental meditation: current state of research. Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews. 2015;2(2):64-68. doi:10.17294/2330-0698.1199 By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.