A young woman practicing the box breathing technique outdoors. Her eyes are shut and her face looks calm.

PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Box Breathing Is Easy, Versatile, and Can Calm You Down in Only 16 Seconds

This breathing technique is used by Navy SEALs to find calm in moments of stress, but it’s incredibly simple for anyone to practice, anytime.

By Jessica MigalaMay 1, 2024


One of the best things about deep breathing is that it’s not just about, well, taking a deep breath. There are so many different types of breathing exercises you can tap into depending on what you need at the moment, whether that’s relaxation or focus. One particularly prevalent type of breathwork is box breathing—and it’s especially great for calming and centering yourself. 

“In the last few years, I’ve noticed box breathing become really popular,” says Peloton instructor Denis Morton. “I think it’s because it’s so simple, accessible, and effective.” 

But what, exactly, is the box breathing technique? Read on for step-by-step guidance on how to try it, plus all the benefits involved with this breathwork practice. 

What Is Box Breathing?

Box breathing (also known as Sama Vritti Pranayama or square breathing) is a simple breathwork technique that can boost relaxation. “It involves taking an inhale, holding your breath at the top, exhaling, and holding your breath again at the bottom,” Denis explains. 

Even US Navy SEALs use the technique to stay calm in times of stress and anxiety, Denis says. But you don’t have to be in the Navy to try box breathing: “It can be used anytime you need a moment to feel more grounded, relax, or reset,” he says.

How to Practice Box Breathing

Box breathing involves four simple, equally timed steps (hence its name, which references the four sides of a box). Here’s how to practice the technique: 

  1. Inhale to a count of four. 

  2. Hold this breath for a count of four.

  3. Exhale for a count of four.

  4. Hold empty for a count of four.

One round of box breathing (which takes just 16 seconds) may be all you need—or you may want to repeat the sequence. “You can practice box breathing for as many cycles as you need,” Denis says.

If you’d like extra guidance getting started, you can take instructor-led box breath classes on the Peloton App.

When Should You Practice Box Breathing?

The box breathing technique can be practiced anytime, anywhere, but it can be especially beneficial during times of stress.

When you’re worried or stressed, you may notice that your breath gets quicker and shallower. But when you respond with slow, deep breaths, you send a calm-down signal to your nervous system that can help you weather your emotions or react with intention to the problem in front of you. “Where our breath goes, our body follows,” Denis says.

Check in with yourself right now. Are your shoulders and jaw tense? Try box breathing. Did you recently get some news that made your stress levels shoot up? Box breathing could help. 

Box Breathing Benefits

The box breathing technique is simple and easy, but it can provide big payoffs. Specifically, here are a few notable benefits of box breathing:

It Reduces Two Types of Stress

Deep breathing techniques, including box breathing, tap into a “bottom-up” approach for managing stress and anxiety, says Marlynn Wei, MD, a board-certified holistic integrative psychotherapist and psychiatrist based in New York City. “‘Bottom up’ uses the body as a way to send feedback to your brain and mind that you’re in a safe space so you can reduce the effects of the stress response in the body,” she explains. 

The stress response (aka your fight-or-flight response) is regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, which releases hormones in times of stress that increase your heart rate and make your breathing shallow, Dr. Wei explains. “This can change into chronic stress over time without relief,” she says. Often, you can feel the impacts of this stress in the form of headaches and migraines, body aches, irritability, and gaining excess abdominal fat, Dr. Wei explains. 

That’s where box breathing comes in. It can address both acute episodes of stress and chronic forms of stress, Dr. Wei says.

“One to two minutes per day of conscious breathing can have a dramatic impact on your health,” Denis adds. “You get such a big reward for such a low investment.” 

It Invites Awareness and Introspection 

Something that sets box breathing apart from other breathwork techniques is that you hold for four counts at the top and bottom of the breath. This hold can be surprisingly powerful: “It allows people to pause, which is good for focus, attention, and stress reduction,” Dr. Wei says. 

It Can Be Done Anywhere

The great thing about your breath is that you take it everywhere—and the box breathing technique is especially accessible, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Thanks to its simple, uniform structure, it’s easy to remember how to do it, which makes it extra approachable for breathwork beginners.

For instance, try box breathing while you’re watching TV or prepping dinner, while you’re on the train or frustratingly stuck in traffic, or simply throughout the day while you’re sitting at your desk. 

7 Tips for Trying the Box Breathing Technique

Box breathing is a straightforward technique, and all you need to get started is your breath. But there are so many ways you can “customize” the practice so that it delivers exactly what you need in the moment. Here are a handful of box breathing pro tips, including a couple of pointers about how to weave the technique into your routine:

1. Think About Your Position

You can practice box breathing while standing, moving, sitting, or lying down—whatever feels most comfortable and helpful for you is fair game. 

You can also change your palm position depending on what you’re looking to get out of your breathwork routine. Sitting with palms up may help bring your body more energy, while sitting with palms facing down may help you feel more grounded, Dr. Wei says.

2. Start Small

Box breathing can help you find calm in multiple scenarios, but when you’re just getting started, it can be tough to remember to even do it—especially if you find that you’re stuck in the same stress-response patterns. That’s why Dr. Wei encourages people to start with box breathing for about 20 seconds at a time and gradually build up to a minute (and then longer if desired). “Once you tap into it a bit each day, it’s like working out a muscle,” she says. “Your body creates muscle memory—like, ‘This is what I need to do to relax.’” 

Denis agrees. “Just like everything else, with practice, your body tends to get the signal more quickly,” he says. “The more often you use box breathing, the amount of time necessary to feel the benefits will diminish.”  

Long story short: You’ll probably notice the positive effects of box breathing right away, but give it time for the full benefits to kick in.

3. Visualize a Box

When you’re practicing the box breathing technique, it may help to visualize tracing the shape of a box throughout each portion of the breath, Denis says. So, close your eyes and imagine a square. Start at the left bottom corner. Inhale and trace up the square, hold and travel right on the top of the square, exhale moving down the square, and then hold as you travel left to finish your square.

4. Use a Mantra

If you don’t want to count or just feel like mixing things up, Dr. Wei says that you can repeat phrases throughout each section of box breath instead, such as:

  1. I inhale and bring in calm and grounding energy.

  2. I hold here and let that energy sink in.

  3. I exhale and release any stressful energy.

  4. I pause to help my body feel grounded. 

5. Make That Inhale Big

You might notice that you naturally take smaller inhales (especially when you’re anxious), which might make those all-important deep inhales feel unfamiliar at first. But make sure you’re filling your lungs completely on the inhale, Denis says. 

6. Add Box Breathing to Movement

When you go on a walk (whether around your neighborhood or on the treadmill), try taking some box breaths, Dr. Wei suggests. “Because of the even balance between the parts of the breath, it’s easy to pair with mindful walking,” she says. Match the breath with your cadence: Four steps inhale, four steps hold, four steps exhale, four steps hold. 

7. Stack It Into Your Routine

For any new habit you’re trying to incorporate, Dr. Wei likes to use a technique called habit stacking, which involves “stacking” a new routine onto an existing habit to help it stick. For example, wash your face and then do a round of box breathing, or make box breathing the first thing you do when you slip into bed.

“Do it at a time when you’re doing regular things in your day,” Dr. Wei suggests. “It’s a good alert and a way to schedule it into your day in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.”

The Takeaway

Box breathing (aka square breathing or Sama Vritti Pranayama) is a special breathwork technique in which you inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four (mirroring the shape of a box). Not only is it good for relaxation, but it can also bring focus and awareness into your day. “We have the tendency to think that for something to be effective, it has to be complicated. Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact,” Denis says. “Breathing is something we do all and every day, and using techniques like box breathing can go a long way for your health.”

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Headshot of Peloton instructor Denis Morton. He's smiling and wearing a teal Peloton athletic shirt.

Denis Morton

Raised in Florida, schooled in Tennessee, steeped in southern California, and heat-tested in Texas, Denis brings 14 years of fitness leadership to Peloton.


Strengthen your mind-body connection

Enter your email to get articles, expert-backed tips, and updates from Peloton sent to your inbox.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.