How to Relieve ANY Type of Stress and Relax Yourself Instantly With This Simple Breathing Trick

Maybe you’ve already heard of square breathing. It’s a fairly common practice in yoga, martial art, and fitness circles among other places. It has many uses, one of which is to relieve stress. And it works – every single time – because it’s based on a fundamental physiological mechanism that is hard-wired into the human body. In fact, most people can measurably, and more importantly, noticeably decrease their level of stress by merely doing one quick square breathing exercise for 48 seconds. Professional athletes, military operators, and yoga practitioners are known to use this exact technique to help them relax, control their stress levels, boost their recovery and enhance their performance – and it can work for you, too.

I’m not real big on quick fixes, except when they actually work, and are NOT used as a crutch to avoid dealing with a bigger issue. So, if you have chronic stress, then you’ll need to address that with other more appropriate solutions. But for those of us who just want to relax and de-stress and also boost recovery and performance, here is a quick square breathing exercise that takes less than a minute to complete. You can follow along with this video. Please excuse the goofy voice and New England accent.

How to Relieve Stress, Boost Recovery + Performance, and Relax Yourself With Square Breathing


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So, here’s that square breathing drill again…

1) Inhale through nose for 4 seconds to fill lungs completely
2) Hold for 4 seconds without letting any air escape
3) Exhale through mouth for 4 seconds to purge air completely
4) Relax and hold for 4 seconds without letting any air in

Again, this can be done standing up, sitting down, or laying down (or tied up like a pretzel if you’d like), but remember that it’s important to maintain good posture throughout the entire drill. And the most important thing you can remember is to breathe deeply into your belly to maximize your lung capacity every single breath.

Also, do keep in mind that this formula is just a general template, and does not need to be followed verbatim. There’s nothing magical about the 4×4 second protocol – it’s just a generally good format for most people. However, there are individual considerations, like cardio-respiratory fitness and lung capacity among other things that would merit you figuring out your own ideal protocol to follow – maybe 3 second intervals, maybe 6 seconds, etc. Try to work WITH your body, instead of trying to adhere to a set of ambiguous recommendations.

And never forget, recovery is king! The faster and more fully that you can recover, the better for your results. So, if you’d like to learn more about dynamic relaxation techniques, do-it-yourself stress reduction exercises, and recovery-enhancing drills, then I’d strongly recommend diving into the following resources (in this order): 1) dynamic joint mobility training, 2) the RESET vibration training technique, and 3) Prasara yoga. These certainly aren’t the only things that will help you achieve those goals, but they are among my daily arsenal, and I have yet to find a collection of resources that is nearly as effective.

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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9 Responses

  1. This reminder couldn’t have come at a better time. I used to do square breathing a lot but somehow got out of the habit. Just sat down at my desk at work (where’s my standup desk? put in request weeks ago!) and thought about everything I had ahead of me this week…. Let’s just say my hop over to Physical Living was a tiny bit of procrastination that paid off HUGE today. I’ve put a sticky note reminding me to breath on my monitor and I’m hoping for the best.

  2. Wow. Surprising how much difference this practice made in so short a time.

    • Pretty cool, huh? Without fail, every time I’ve gone to bed stressed out about something, doing square breathing for a minute or two always helps and it usually gets me sleepy, too. It has so many applications.

      • Have you tried the 4-7-8 breath that Dr. Weil recommends? Any thoughts on how the 2 methods compare in terms of results?

        • I have not tried that method, but one thing I do know is that results may vary with an exercise like this – widely vary, in fact. There are so many factors involved in as simple an exercise as square breathing that some people may benefit much more from a completely different protocol. The 4×4 is a guide, but just a loose guide. Feel free to experiment, and if the 4-7-8 seems to work best for you, keep it up!

  3. When I did this exercise I constantly felt like I was short on breath. I think my normal breathing pattern is shallow breaths done quickly.

  4. it really help me instantly……….i hope i may help in future also when i face this type of situation……..

  5. Thanks so much. This really helped me out today. Anxiety gone.

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