Two Simple Breathing Exercises for Letting Go of Stress

Holden QiGong
5 min readJul 22, 2021

Breathing is our most immediate way to access Qi. With every breath, we’re able to take in life-giving energy that our body needs to function.

Throughout the day, most of our breaths occur involuntarily. In other words, we don’t usually think about our breath. It’s something that happens all on its own whether we’re running, eating, or sleeping.

Although breathing happens naturally, that doesn’t mean we always breathe in the way that is best for us. Luckily, we can control our breathing… if we put our attention there.

This post will discuss the relationship between breathing and stress. We’ll also share two simple yet powerful breathing exercises to quickly let go of stress and replace it with peace and tranquility.

Breathing and Stress

Breath and stress are closely connected.

When you’re stressed out, your breath becomes quick and shallow. If you’ve ever paid attention to your breath when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, there’s a good chance you noticed that you were breathing rapidly and not taking full, deep breaths.

Quick, shallow breathing is usually a reflection of your sympathetic nervous system being activated. This is the “fight or flight” response that might have helped your ancestors fend off tigers that threatened their families.

In modern life, the sympathetic nervous system can still be useful. However, most of the time it’s “overactive” and doesn’t actually help you. More often, it just makes you stressed out and prevents you from staying focused and at peace.

Just as stress can affect your breathing, the relationship can work in the opposite direction as well…

Breath is the bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind, as well as between the conscious mind and the autonomic nervous system. In other words, if you work with your mind in a conscious way, you can positively affect parts of yourself that you otherwise can’t control.

By bringing your attention to your breath and working with it in an intentional way, you can quickly influence your thoughts, emotions, and even your relationship to physiological stress. This makes breathing a powerful tool for peace and wellness.

Most breathing practices seek to calm the body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows you to feel calm, relaxed, and at ease. It also allows healing to take place within your body, as well as digestion. In fact, one of the big reasons why stress can have such negative effects is because it prevents the body from being in a parasympathetic state that is conducive to rest, digestion, and recovery. Without being able to let down your guard and relax, it’s impossible for the body to perform many of its necessary functions for health and vitality.

When you’re able to slow your breathing and take deep inhales and exhales, your body naturally shifts into a parasympathetic state. Deep breathing also allows you to take in an abundance of Qi and circulate it throughout your entire being.

Not only does this process feel good, but it also provides you with more energy. Even though stress can sometimes feel like energy, it isn’t sustainable. True energy is based on having a reservoir of Qi that is calm, focused, and full of authentic vitality.

Below, we’ve included two simple breathing practices that you can use to quickly let go of stress and gain more energy.

These two practices are pretty similar to one another and have the same effect. Both of them focus the mind and help eliminate stress. Before trying these practices, we suggest reading through the instructions for both. Because they’re quite simple, it shouldn’t be difficult to memorize the instructions.

You can try both of these in order to see which one you like the best. Also, feel free to make any variations to these exercises based on what feels right to you.

Square Breathing

Sit or stand in a comfortable position, Make sure that your abdomen has room to expand and contract.

If you’re sitting, be sure that you’re in a chair with your back straight and your feet planted on the floor. Allow your hands to rest comfortably on your thighs.

If you’re standing, try to position your legs about shoulder-width apart and stand upright. You can either have your hands resting on either side, or place one hand on your belly and the other over your heart.

Once you’ve chosen your position and feel comfortable, it’s time to start the breathing exercise.

To begin, take a slow, deep inhale as you count to four. Of course, this means you’ll need to time your breath so it takes about five seconds to reach your full inhale.

Hold your breath at the top of your inhale for a count of four. Then, release your breath slowly while you count to four. At the bottom of your exhale, hold your breath out for four seconds.

Repeat this process. Inhale for four seconds. At the top of your inhale, hold your breath for four seconds. Then, release your breath slowly for another four seconds. At the bottom of your exhale, hold your breath out for four seconds.

We call this exercise “Box Breathing” because the inhale, exhale, and breath holds are all four seconds, making each breath a “square” or “box.”

As you do this exercise, try to focus your mind on counting as you do each breath. This creates a blend of physical and mental exercise. The physical exercise of slow, deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system. Bringing your attention to counting, helps to quiet the mind.

You can continue doing this exercise for as long as you like. If you have a lot of time, perhaps spend several minutes with this practice. If you’re limited on time, even just three to five minutes of Box Breathing can have a significant impact on your level of stress and wellbeing.

Rectangular Breathing

Rectangular Breathing is very similar to Box Breathing except with slightly different time intervals. Just like for Box Breathing, start by sitting or standing in a comfortable position that allows your back to be straight and your feet to rest solidly on the ground.

In Box Breathing, all of the inhales, exhales, and breath holds are four seconds. In Rectangular Breathing, each inhale and exhale is five seconds and each breath hold is two seconds.

Here are the instructions for the guided Box Breathing practice:

Once you’re in position, start to inhale slowly as you count to five. At the top of your inhale, hold your breath and count to two. Then, release your breath slowly as you count to five. At the bottom of your exhale, hold your breath as you count to two.

Repeat the process. Inhaling for five, holding for two, exhale for five, holding for two.

Just like Box Breathing, you can vary the duration of your practice based on your schedule and needs.

If you’re interested in learning more Qi Gong exercises to release stress and cultivate vitality, be sure to check out our Free Two-Week Qi Gong Trial.

When you sign up for the Free Two-Week Trial, you’ll get immediate access to five unique Qi Gong classes taught by master teacher, Lee Holden. In addition to offering wonderful breathing exercises, the classes also offer many other forms of Qi Gong movement and meditation practices.

Click here to give it a try and discover for yourself the healing power of Qi Gong.