Tree of Life Quest

...it's time to be YOU!

#007
2 March 2023
Reading 4:06 minutes


This is a better and simpler tool than meditation


Change your state of mind and improve your life by conscious breathing for 3-5 minutes

There are many benefits of having bipolar disorder.
For example:
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Inability to focus...
Oops. Wrong list. My bad.

You know what?

If this list sounds like you, then I have good news.

There's a simple solution that can help you manage all these feelings and more. And it’s better and easier than meditation.

It's called box breathing, and I'm going to tell you all about it. Benefits, how to use and customise it for your individual needs, when to perform it, and why it works.

So, what is box breathing?

Box breathing is a simple yet powerful tool.
You inhale, hold breath, exhale, and hold breath again in a set pattern. It's called "box" breathing because each stage of the breath is equal in length, like the sides of a square.

“What's so great about it?"

Well... For starters, it helps to:
  • Reduce stress and anxiety. Your parasympathetic nervous system handles the "rest and digest" response. Box breathing activates it, which helps you to relax and calm down.
  • Improve your focus and concentration. When you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it's easy for your mind to wander and lose focus. Box breathing trains your mind to stay present and focused on the task at hand.
  • Promote relaxation and better sleep. Slowing down your breathing activates the relaxation response. That prepares your body for a good night's sleep.
Box breathing is also an excellent tool if you struggle to meditate. When you focus on your breath, you slide into the present moment. I call it a beginner’s hack to meditation.

But that's not all. Box breathing also helps to:
  • reduce snoring (sleep apnoea, anyone?)
  • manage chronic pain
  • lower high blood pressure
All this is possible because it helps you to improve control of the diaphragm. Which in turn improves your oxygen exchange, which in turn…

You know what? Here is a quote from Harvard Medical School’s website:

“Diaphragmatic breathing (also called "abdominal breathing" or "belly breathing") encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.”

Convinced?
Good, let's check out, how it works.

The technique

It's pretty simple.
  1. Full inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  3. Slow exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
Repeat the pattern for 3-5 minutes.

When I started, I struggled with counting to 4. I felt like I don’t have enough oxygen. I had low carbon dioxide tolerance. I didn’t know then and learned only recently that box breathing can be customised.
I’ve grown accustomed to it over time, but here is the way to avoid that problem. The carbon dioxide tolerance test helps you get the most out of this technique.

Carbon dioxide tolerance test

Here's how it works:
  • Full inhale through your nose.
  • Use a timer to record your exhale.
  • Slow controlled exhale through your nose.
  • Prolong the exhale for as long as possible.
For every 15 seconds of exhale, increase the length of each stage of the box by 2-3 seconds.
For example:
  • If you could prolong your exhale for 15 seconds, use box breathing with a 3-second count for each stage.
  • If you held your exhale for 20-30 seconds, use box breathing with a 5-6 second count for each stage.
  • If you held your exhale for 40-45 seconds, increase each stage to an 8-second count.
  • And if you held your exhale for over 45 seconds, each stage of box breathing can be 10+ seconds.
There is no extra benefit to increase beyond 10 seconds.
(Side note: By practising you will be able to increase the sides of the box over time. I started -and struggled- with 4 seconds, now I am on 5 seconds.)

When and where?

Now, when should you perform box breathing?
Box breathing is a convenient practice because you can do it anytime, anywhere. But there are some specific times when box breathing can be especially helpful:
  • Before bedtime to promote relaxation and better sleep
  • During high-stress situations or when feeling anxious
  • During meditation and mindfulness practices
  • As a daily practice to improve wellbeing

Why does it work?

Well, box breathing activates the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system.

Stress and anxiety activate our sympathetic nervous system. That increases heart rate and leads to shallow breathing.

Box breathing counteracts this by slowing down breathing and decreasing heart rate. That in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation.

There is scientific evidence supporting the benefits of box breathing as well. The benefits I wrote about above were all proven by scientific studies.

So, the next time you're feeling stressed or anxious? Give box breathing a try. See how it can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and promote relaxation.

Wrap

So, there you have it - a simple yet powerful tool that can help you feel more relaxed, focused, and in control. You can do it anywhere, anytime, without any special equipment or training. I hope that I inspired you to give box breathing a try. A few minutes a day can make a big difference in your overall well-being.

So take a deep breath, and let's get started!

Till next time and happy breathing!

(I use this technique for over a year. But this newsletter is inspired by a video from Huberman Lab. Huberman Lab is a YouTube channel of Stanford University professor Andrew Huberman. His video on all aspects of breathing is over two hours long. Here is a link to the start of a 12-minute long section on box breathing and carbon dioxide test.)



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Thank you for reading.
See you next time.

Lubo

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