Square Breathing

By Gordon Harris, Adapted by Trenna Ahlstrom

Teens who struggle often have problems with anxiety. Square Breathing is a simple, easy to learn mindfulness practice that can help students with dealing with stress and fear-based reactions, anxiety, and the fight or flight response. Using mindfulness practices, teens are able to better self-regulate their emotions rather than having their emotions control them.

Square Breathing is the second mindfulness practice brought to RedCliff Ascent by Gordon Harris [Link to Mindfulness 1 of 4]. Unlike the Loving-Kindness Meditation featured last week [Link to Mindfulness 2 of 4], Square Breathing is not a form of guided meditation. It is a focused awareness, breathing technique. Gordon first learned about Square Breathing while he was serving in the military. Another name for Square Breathing is Combat Breathing because soldiers sometimes use this technique to better manage their fear and anxiety.


Square Breathing is a method of focused, mindful breathing. It can help reduce the sometimes overwhelming effects of the fight or flight response and of anxiety-related conditions.


  • Time: 10-12 minutes
  • Positioning: You can practice Square Breathing while seated or standing. Pay careful attention to your posture. Detailed instructions are below.


This practice is called Square Breathing because it involves four breath cycles which are each given equal time. At the beginning of the practice, start with a 4 or 6 second count during inhalation. Hold your breath for the same length of a count, then exhaling slowly for 4 to 6 seconds. Finally, completing the cycle by holding with your lungs empty for the same length of time.

The length of the breath count used for the practice is almost always increased over time. As you practice square breathing more often, you might increase the breath count. For example, you might start with 4 to 6 seconds as your initial count and end-up utilizing 12 to 20 second as the count after some practice.

This is a breathing exercise that should not be performed without critical attention paid to body position, spinal alignment, and abdominal breathing.

Instruction for Sitting

Keeping your spine straight is the key to most meditations that focus on the breath. Imagine a string dropping down from the sky as it attaches to the crown of your head. It lightly pulls the crown toward the sky as it lengthens your spine. The spine and core should be in good balance: erect, but not tense.

Keep your shoulders comfortably back and slightly down. Your hands can rest in your lap or on your knees. The purpose of this position is to remove any unnecessary muscle tension from your neck, shoulders, or arms.

Instructions for Standing

Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Do not lock your knees. Keep your spine erect, yet relaxed, and keep your shoulders back. Let your arms relax loosely at sides.

Instructions for the Breath

When you practice Square Breathing, try to inhale through your nostrils, and exhale through your mouth. This is less of a hard rule and more of a best practice. It is essential, however, that the breath is deep and from the diaphragm (belly breathing). Some people intuitively breathe from the belly from the start. If you find yourself not breathing from your belly, then you may need to practice. Keep in mind, breathing from the upper chest can force the body into an anxiety state, such as fight or flight.

After creating space and adjusting body position, verbal instructions are as simple as keeping time while providing a reminder of the current breath cycle. Instruction at this point may be as simple as: Inhale, two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Exhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four…

Next Week

Next week will feature the concluding installment on the Mindfulness Practices. Noting Meditation is a modern adaptation of an ancient meditation practice. You can learn this simple but powerful meditation practice in minutes, but it can take a lifetime to truly master.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

By Gordon Harris, Adapted by Trenna Ahlstrom

One of the primary goals of RedCliff Ascent is to help teens build healthy relationships with family, friends and themselves. Loving-Kindness Meditation is a small part of a bigger process. It was the first mindfulness practice RedCliff Ascent chose to use.

Assistant Field Director Gordon Harris brought the practice of Loving-Kindness Meditation to RedCliff Ascent . The Loving-Kindness Meditation was chosen because it is simple to learn, easy to facilitate, and produces a near-immediate positive response from students. It is recognized as a useful tool to help teens reach a mental state where they are ready to heal and improve their relationships.


Loving-Kindness Meditation is a guided imagery, mindful practice that helps to develop feelings of connection, kindness, and compassion towards others. Compassion, kindness, and empathy are foundational emotions for all living beings. Regular practice of Loving-Kindness meditation can help develop cognitive and relational benefits including an increased sense of well-being, relief from illness and discomfort, and improved emotional intelligence.


  • Time: 12-15 minutes
  • Positioning: Sitting comfortably in a position where you can hear the instruction clearly.


Loving-Kindness is a guided imagery meditation. There are five people, or groups of people, that are used as the focus of the loving-kindness attitude. These are the (1) self, (2) the positive person, (3) the neutral person, (4) the difficult person and (5) the “world”. The world represents everyone that we know or have known. There are four energies that are sent to the universe on behalf of each of these sets of people. They are (1) happiness, (2) health, (3) safety, (4) ease and comfort.

When they are led through guided meditation practice, students at RedCliff Ascent hear a script similar to the one that is used below.

Meditation Script

Take a moment to get physically comfortable, to take a few deep, centering breaths and then…

…Imagine yourself in a beautiful meadow. It is a large, open space.  Surrounded by majestic trees. Maybe it is a warm and sunny day and this feels good on your skin. Perhaps there are wildflowers blooming in your meadow, perhaps there are birds singing in the distance. This is your creation, you create it. You decide.

The Self

Recall a time in which you felt particularly good about yourself. Maybe this was a time in when you were very kind, accomplished some great task for yourself or for others, or maybe you were very generous. Notice how that feels. Are you smiling or do you feel expansive? Sit with this wonderful feeling for a moment. This feeling is natural and accessible to you any time you choose.

Send these four intentions to the universe on your behalf: (1) may I be happy, (2) may I be healthy, (3) may I live in safety, (4) may I live with ease and comfort.

The Positive Person

Next, invite the positive person into this space. This is someone you have particularly strong positive emotions for. This could be your mom or dad, your sister or your brother, or a close friend or relative. See them there, at the edge of the meadow. Look at the set of their shoulders and the color of their hair. Invite them to come and to sit with you here in this beautiful meadow of your creation.

And we send these four intentions to the universe on their behalf: (1) may they be happy, (2) may they be healthy, (3) may they live in safety, (4) may they live in ease and comfort.

The Neutral Person

Next, invite the neutral person into this beautiful meadow of your creation. This is a person for whom we have no particular positive or negative emotions for. This might be a classmate or a neighbor. See them there on the edge of the meadow and invite them to come and sit with you. Watch them as they walk over and notice the shape of their nose and the color of their skin.

Send these four intentions to the universe on their behalf: (1) may they be happy, (2) may they be healthy, (3) may they live in safety, (4) may they live with ease and comfort.

The Difficult Person

Next, invite the difficult person. Maybe this is not the most difficult person in our lives, but it is someone who is difficult to get along with. They emerge from the tree line, there on the edge of our beautiful meadow. Notice the radiance of their smile and the color of their eyes. We invite them to sit with us, here in this beautiful meadow of your creation.

Send these four intentions to the universe on their behalf: (1) may they be happy, (2) may they be healthy, (3) may they live in safety, (4) may they live with ease and comfort.

The World

Now, invite your world into this space with you. Invite every single person you know. All of your relatives. All your neighbors. Your classmates. Invite them all to sit with us here in this place of our creation. As they sit here with you, you might pick out some familiar faces.

This is good, for it brings you joy to see them again. Send to the universe on their behalf, these four intentions: (1) may they all be happy, (2) may they all be healthy, (3) may they all live in safety, (4) may they all live with ease and comfort.

Focus once again on your breath. Inhale deeply. Pause. Exhale. Breath deeply from your belly. Follow your breath for a while as you sit with these feelings of compassion and connection. Bring these emotions with you as you slowly guide yourself back into this space. When you are ready, open your eyes and join us here and now.

Next Week

Next week, the series on Mindfulness practices will continue with a feature on Square Breathing. This breathing technique is used both by the US Navy Seals and mindfulness practitioners alike. Practicing this breathing technique can help improve our response to states of fear and anxiety.