Why Do Navy SEALs Use Box Breathing?

Medically Reviewed on 11/18/2021
box breathing
U.S. Navy SEALs use a breathing technique known as box breathing in high-stress situations to aid in stress management and overall wellness.

To relieve stress, Navy SEALs use a technique known as box breathing.

Navy SEALs are frequently placed in high-stress situations. Box breathing is a valuable mindfulness technique that can aid in stress management and overall wellness.

  • Box breathing is just one of the techniques used by Navy SEALs to stay calm.
  • The name comes from the fact that you divide your breathing into four steps as if you were breathing along the four edges of a box.

4 steps of box breathing

The 4 steps of box breathing include:

  1. Step 1:
    • Inhale slowly through your nose while mentally counting to four.
    • Concentrate on filling your lungs and abdomen with air.
    • Let your body feel how air is filling your lungs.
  2. Step 2:
    • Take a deep breath.
    • Hold your breath and mentally count to four again.
  3. Step 3:
    • Exhale slowly through your mouth while mentally counting to four.
    • Concentrate on getting all the air out of your lungs at once.
  4. Step 4:
    • Take a deep breath.
    • Hold your breath and mentally count to four again.

Return to step 1 and repeat the process until you can feel yourself becoming calmer and more relaxed.

Box breathing is something that Navy SEALs do for about five minutes.

The US Navy SEALs have recently adopted a technique known as tactical breathing to assist soldiers in dealing with high-stress situations during combat and battle.

How does box breathing relieve stress?

Although slow breathing techniques are effective in the long term for stress reduction and heart rate reduction, methods such as box breathing work wonder in high-stress situations by calming your autonomic nervous system.

  • Many autonomous bodily functions such as blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate are regulated by this system.
  • It is made up of two parts, namely, the sympathetic system, which stimulates bodily activity (fight or flight), and the parasympathetic system, which relaxes your body (rest and digest).
  • When you hold your breath, CO2 levels in your blood increase, which increases the cardioinhibitory response (lowering your heart rate).
  • This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a calming and relaxing effect, or, to put it another way, breathe slowly and relieve stress.

4 benefits of box breathing

Box breathing is an effective method for overcoming stress and improving your body's future response to stress and anxiety.

Here are 4 health benefits of box breathing:

  1. Improves mental well-being:
    • Consider learning the box breathing technique if you've ever considered meditating to reduce stress and improve your mental health.
    • Breathing is inextricably linked to cognitive activity such as thinking and reasoning.
    • According to some studies, taking slow, mindful breaths helps reduce stress and feelings of depression.
  2. Heightens cognitive performance:
    • Box breathing clears the mind, allowing for greater focus and concentration.
    • Deep, rhythmic breathing exercises help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder manage impulsive behavior.
    • Taking slow, controlled breaths helps balance our nervous system, which allows us to clear our minds and increase our attentiveness.
  3. Enhances the body’s future reactions to stress:
    • Resetting your breath with box breathing will benefit both your mind and body in the long run.
    • Researchers discovered that regular deep breathing exercises can activate the genes associated with your body’s energy and insulin levels while decreasing those associated with inflammation and stress.
  4. Helps deactivate the fight-or-flight response:
    • The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are two subsystems of the autonomic nervous system.
    • When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the body goes into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode, preparing itself to “fight” for survival by releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) (dilation of the pupils and muting pain perception).
    • A panic attack occurs when the body enters this mode without being triggered.
    • Deep breathing causes the body to enter the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” mode, which helps calm it down in stressful situations.

To practice box breathing

  • Set a timer for five minutes.
  • Sit with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat.
  • Close your eyes and inhale for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale for a count of four.
  • Hold for a count of four.
  • Repeat until the alarm sounds.

What is tactical breathing?

When under duress, Navy SEALs use two breathing techniques to induce a more relaxed state in the body, and anyone can use them to control stress. They use tactical breathing, in addition to box breathing.

Tactical breathing is a technique used when you feel the trigger of the fight-or-flight response.

  • To do this, place your right hand on your stomach and exhale heavily.
  • Then, slowly draw your breath upward from your abdomen to your upper chest by inhaling through your nostrils.
  • Exhale slowly, beginning at your chest and working your way down to the air in your abdomen.
  • Consider your navel to be in contact with your spine while breathing.
  • Once you're comfortable with a full, deep breath, do it again, but this time exhale twice as long as you inhale.
  • Breathe to the count of four, pause briefly, and exhale to the count of eight.
  • Repeat at least three times.

Box breathing and tactical breathing are based on pranayama, an Ayurvedic form of breathwork that originated in India and is practiced in yoga. It has extremely ancient roots, with various techniques for calming, bringing in energy, refining focus, and relaxing the nervous system. However, it was recently popularized and brought mainstream by the military.


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Medically Reviewed on 11/18/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

A Navy Seal breathing technique you can use to keep calm when coding: https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/a-navy-seal-breathing-technique-you-can-use-to-keep-calm-when-coding-f05a66da8067/

What Is Box Breathing? https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-box-breathing How Box Breathing Can Help You De-stress: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/box-breathing-benefits/