Breathing is a unique process in the human body. Unlike, for example, digestion, breathing has both an involuntary control mechanism as well as voluntary; it can shift between being piloted and being left on autopilot.
I first learned to control my breathing while practicing martial arts during my SEAL training, and the techniques I was taught proved invaluable later during the chaos of combat.
My favorite breathing practice, which I developed to continue my breath training after the SEALs, is something I call “box breathing” because there are four parts of the practice. It is something you can do anywhere—and any time, so long as you are not performing a highly complex task. I practice it in the morning, before a workout, while standing in line, while I’m stuck in traffic and whenever else I can. It helps me slow down my breathing rate and deepen my concentration. When I perform box breathing, even just for five minutes, I am left with a deeply calm body and an alert, focused state of mind.
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To begin the practice, expel all of the air from your chest. Keep your lungs empty for a four-count hold. Then, perform your inhalation through the nose for four counts. Hold the air in your lungs for a four-count hold. When you hold your breath, do not clamp down and create back pressure. Rather, maintain an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling. When ready, release the hold and exhale smoothly through your nose for four counts. This is one circuit of the box-breathing practice.
I recommend you repeat this cycle for at least five minutes to get the full effect. I have found that the best approach is to do one practice session for 10 to 20 minutes a day, then do a few one- or two-minute “spot drills” as opportunities present themselves during the day. Box breathing with this four-four-four-four ratio has a neutral energetic effect: It’s not going to charge you up or put you into a sleepy relaxed state. But it will, as mentioned, make you very alert and grounded, ready for action.
Adapted from Kokoro Yoga: Maximize Your Human Potential and Develop the Spirit of a Warrior—the SEALfit Way by Mark Divine, U.S. Navy SEAL and founder of SEALFIT.