Square Breathing Exercises

“All I need is the air that I breathe, and to love you”, The Hollies sang in the seventies.

Breathing is an essential and life-giving activity that we involuntarily participate every moment of our lives. We take it for granted. Many of us are oblivious to how much it affects us every day in our performance as human beings.

When I went for singing lessons, I was surprised to discover that most of the lessons focussed on optimising my breathing. It should not have been a surprise if you think about it. If you take any wind instrument, it just makes sense that the bagpipes will be stronger if the bladder is constantly filled with air.

If you have memories of those old manual church organs, you probably also have memories of the organist’s legs pumping vigorously away to keep sending air through the instrument. And when she faltered, the music faltered as well and the notes would come out squeaky and off-tune!

Our bodies are the same, I’ve learnt. If we can constantly keep air circulating through our lungs, we are able to speak louder, sing better, but—did you know—it can also help us to control our emotions. When we are stressed, when we are in our instinctive brain mode of freeze, fight or flight, our breathing changes. We either stop breathing altogether (when frozen), or we may start breathing very shallowly and fast as we flee our foes! No oxygen is sent to our brains at that time, as all energy is needed to get away!

A very effective way to start controlling our bodies is through breathing exercises. A first and very simple exercise I use to help my clients with to settle their minds, release their anxiety and slow their heartbeats is called square breathing. It has been shown that by slowing our breathing, and especially by exhaling slowly, our brains are flooded with oxygen-rich blood allowing it to fire on all cylinders. We become more intellectual and creative; we get into the mood for problem-solving and facing our challenges head-on! Square breathing is facilitating all of that.

Here are the very words I use to do this exercise:

Find yourself a comfortable position to sit in. Uncross your arms and legs. Feel your body fully supported and grounded.

Start to focus on your breathing and listen to my voice.

We will do the square four times. (Note: You can show the moving dot slide show for people to follow while you speak, or you can get them to close their eyes and simply listed to your voice.)

Start by exhaling all the air in a slow even breath.
Hold it for one – two – three and four.
Inhale slowly and evenly on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Exhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Inhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Exhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Inhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Exhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.
Inhale on one – two – three and four.
Hold it for one – two – three – and four.

Slowly open your eyes and become aware of your surroundings again. Notice how your body feels. If you feel like a big, fat yawn, be my guest. Stretch to heart’s content! Feel how refreshed you feel.

It is not always possible to do this full exercise. When e.g. in traffic, a quick few breaths will help you refocus and refresh. Just before you take any scary jump, a quick breath will be all you need.

Just keep breathing and work on improving your breathing effectiveness. I want to emphasize the control of the breath out. By consciously slowing that down, you will signal to your brain that you are getting ready to use its intellectual parts!

The Hollies sang, “All I need is the air I that I breathe ..”

I wish you many wonderful, life-giving breaths that will propel you to new heights! All you need is the air you breathe …

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