How to Reduce Stress by Breathing Like a Navy SEAL

How do we remain calm and productive in our work, in the gym and with our families in these stressful and uncertain times? A technique called box-breathing, used by the Navy SEALS, is a good start. I’ve found it useful for everything from calming myself after a hard Zwift workout to preparing myself for a consulting call.

Breathing is a unique process in the human body. It has both an involuntary control mechanism as well as voluntary; it can shift between conscious control and autopilot. Navy SEALS learn to control their breathing to keep calm and reduce stress during the chaos of combat, but the exercise carries over to stress from everyday life.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.”

–  Bruce Lee

Neuroscience research shows us that, in times of high stress, the amygdala will activate the body’s panic system and release stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).  While the role of the amygdala is to heighten our awareness, this state of stress also interferes with our decision-making ability and makes it difficult to think logically and clearly.

Through a simple breathing exercise called box-breathing, it’s possible to stay calm, reduce stress and remain focused and productive. For Navy SEALS this technique might keep them alive through intense combat. For us civilian folk, it’s a simple trick to keep politics, work stress, gym fatigue, family issues and other stressors at bay.

The best part? Box-breathing only takes five minutes. Here’s how to do it:

How to Breathe and Reduce Stress Like a Navy SEAL

Box Breathing (the Navy SEAL breathing technique)
Box Breathing (the Navy SEAL breathing technique)

Step 1: Inhale for 4 seconds (while the circle is expanding).

Step 2: Hold air in your lungs for 4 full seconds (as the circle stays fully expanded).

Step 3: Exhale for 4 seconds (as the circle contracts).

Step 4: Hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds (as the circle is contracted.

Step 5: Continue the cycle for five minutes, or longer until calm and relaxed.

You can practice this technique anytime and anywhere. In the morning while showering, before a workout or after, while standing in line DMV, or while stuck in traffic.

The Navy SEAL box-breathing technique helps me slow down my breathing rate and deepen my concentration in just 5 minutes. It’s similar to drinking a cup of coffee without the jitters when I need to focus. At night after reading I take five minutes to perform the technique and I am left with a deep calm, relaxed body and a focused state of mind. It’s a great technique for honing grit. I recommend you give it a try.

I learned about this breathing technique at  QuietKit, they also offer free meditation tips you should check out.
This story first published February 7, 2017.