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NMU 122 – Box Breathing and Stress

Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No 122 (March 14, 2019)

with Dr. James Meschino


Topic: How Navy Seals, Special Force Commandos, and First Responders are Taught to Diffuse Anxiety and Tension: An Important Stress-Reduction Technique for the Rest of Us.

Source: Natural News (February 2019)


I think we all agree that modern-day life can be quite stressful at times. But think about the extremely stressful situations in which Navy Seals, first responders, and Special Force Commanders find themselves. How are they taught to diffuse stress in these situations, so they can remain composed, make good decisions and mitigate the effects of stress on their body and mind? The answer is “in-the-moment Box Breathing”. Box breathing is a simple breathing technique used by these professionals in stressful and life-threatening situations. It can calm a person down when feeling stressed, and mitigate the impact of the stress response, which can otherwise harm the body and the brain and even trigger mental and emotional health problems. In Box breathing, each exhaled breath lasts longer than each inhaled breath. I’ll explain how it diffuses stress in just a moment, but for right now let’s learn how to do it, as most of us can benefit from this anti-stress technique. Simply inhale with the diaphragm while counting to 5 and fill the lungs to maximum capacity; then exhale slowly to a longer count than 5 (maybe a count of 6 or 7 or 8). When filling the lungs don’t be shrugging your shoulders, but rather try to expand your belly, as filling the lower aspects of the lungs with air depresses the diaphragm. This sends signals to the nervous system to calm it down. Once the five-count box breathing technique is down pat you can alter the ratio between inhalation and exhalation by trying to exhale to a longer count. As you get better at it you can advance your technique to move to deep breathing ratios of 8:16; 10:20; 22:44; or 30:80 (this is the elite level).

So, How Does it Work?

Box breathing signals the brain to tone down the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight part of the nervous system), which stops the adrenal glands from releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation part of the nervous system) that releases relaxing chemicals to counterbalance stress responses of the sympathetic nervous system. Humans have two responses to danger: to either stand their ground and fight; or flee the situation for their lives. This is called fight or flight response, which is triggered by any kind of stress, including work-related stress, relationship stress, financial stress, etc.

Modern society has evolved to be an endless stream of all sorts of mini-stressful events or triggers that can work to keep a person locked in stressful states for long periods of time. Most of us experience this and deep down we know that it affects us on some level. Either by weakening our immune system, producing insomnia or sleep disturbances, shortening our emotional fuse, triggering headaches, exacerbating other health conditions, prompting us to eat comfort foods that may increase body fat and or blood cholesterol, possibly raising our blood pressure or triggering other physical or mental health conditions or feelings of anxiety. Box breathing is a simple and proven, natural way to mitigate the impact of stress, as it interrupts the fight or flight response that normally overrides normal functions of the mind and body. Box breathing also triggers alpha waves linked with constructive activity in the brain, which is emitted when we experience inspirational and creative thoughts – meaning that it can help improve your own productivity and ability to make rational, sound decisions when under stress.

As our modern-day society delivers an ongoing series of daily stressful events, many of us would benefit from taking 5-minutes once or twice a day, to employ box breathing. This can help calm us down, reset and balance our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and thereby decrease the impact of stress on blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and improve our digestion and digestive health. It can also help to prevent stress from triggering headaches, triggering or exacerbating mental health or emotional health challenges, and help to prevent the stress-related decline in immune system function that makes us more prone to colds and infections. It may even help to reduce inflammation in the body, including flare-ups of joint inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases.

So, why not experiment on yourself and see if 5-minutes of box breathing, once or twice a day, can improve your feeling of wellbeing, creativity, and compliance with your wellness goals, reduce feelings of tension and stress, and even reduce flare-ups health challenges.

I’ve included references for Box Breathing in the text below.







Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great

Dr. Meschino

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