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 (Mindfulness is the first). Unlike the Loving-Kindness Meditation featured last week, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.