The Art of Breathing

The average person takes about 15 breaths a minute.  Breathing is something we do with little thought. However, when we are feeling angry, anxious or frightened our breathing quickens and oxygen moves from our brains and is sent to our limbs in a Fight, Flee or Freeze response.  The part of our brain responsible for this is called the amygdala and its primary purpose is to keep us safe, but it can sometimes think we are in danger when we really aren’t.  When we are in a Fight, Flee or Freeze response and less oxygen is reaching our brains, we often fail to think clearly.  This is when we have to get more oxygen back to our brains and we can do this by paying attention to out breathing.

I remember being told to breathe when I became anxious prior to exams; but breathing in and out often left me feeling more anxious and often is a state of panic. The advice to breathe slowly was sound but what I failed to know was that there was an art to slowing my breath.

Square breathing was introduced to me by an elementary school teacher and it has become so beneficial to not only me but others who are trying to calm themselves. It is very simple.

With your finger, trace a square in the air.  Each line of the square should take four slow counts.

  • Now breathe in for the first line of the square, as you are breathing slowly count …1,2,3,4
  • Hold your breath for four counts as you trace the second line … 1,2,3,4
  • Exhale for four counts while still tracing the square … 1,2,3,4
  • And hold for four counts as you trace the last line … 1,2,3,4

Continue inhaling, holding, exhaling and holding for 2 minutes.  Check in with yourself, how are you feeling? Like anything new, learning ‘calming breath’ takes practice.  Be patient with the process and with yourself. Practice throughout your day and as you improve you will likely be able to increase the hold count for a longer stretch. 

Thank you, Mindful Moose


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