2-9: Breathing exercises

CPPS is partially caused by anxiety. And if you have anxiety, there’s a strong chance you don’t pull enough oxygen into your lungs – out of habit. You spend a lot of time in “fight or flight” mode (probably at work) and you’re on the cusp of hyperventilation.

So you’re going to practice two techniques: deep breathing and box breathing. And while that sounds like one of those physical therapy hoops, I have good news: deep breathing can transform you into a beast, and box breathing can make your mind as clear as a frosty morning.

When I ran a mud race in 2018, deep breathing allowed me to keep sprinting the whole time. Now when exercise gets tough, I automatically go into deep breathing techniques that help me keep going. It’s an odd feeling of being on the edge of quitting, but never reaching the red line.

How deep breathing works

Belly breathing is something SEALs do in the middle of a firefight to stay calm and focused. According to former SEAL and author Mark Divine,

“The fastest way to calm your mind, along with your body, is through slow and controlled deep breathing. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, set to a rhythm appropriate for your situation, is a simple but powerful tool for controlling your physiological response.” (p. 34)

Deep breathing oxygenates both the brain and the muscles. And in my testing, it turns stretching into meditation and slightly expands your flexible range.

To learn belly breathing, practice this:

  1. Sit down or lay down
  2. Inhale slowly as you allow your belly to expand outward. Keep going until your belly can expand no more. Your expanded belly should hold up your rib cage.
  3. Hold 1-2 seconds.
  4. Exhale slowly.
  5. Hold 1-2 seconds
  6. Repeat.

Really, that’s it! It’s just that belly breathing should be done as much as possible until it becomes habit.

You may feel that your head gets woozy as you practice. Back off a little bit and just breathe normal until that goes away. If you’re getting woozy, you’re pushing too hard. Let the air fill you with calm, and let it out before it’s a burden.

Belly breathing works well under any kind of stress. When running up ski hills for the Tough Mudder in 2018, I found that belly breathing could keep me going at a faster than expected pace the whole way up the hill. Ordinarily I would expect to gas out, but I was just ahead of the cusp. I highly recommend you try it when you reach Unit 4, and add hard exercise back in.

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

Box Breathing – not just breathing in a box

Box breathing is another technique borrowed from Commander Divine’s The Way of the SEAL. Think of it as improved deep breathing – it really slows down your mind and narrows your focus. You can do it anywhere that you don’t have a lot coming at you.

  1. Deep breathe for five breaths to prepare.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
  3. Hold that breath in for a count of four.
  4. Exhale through your nose for a count of four.
  5. Hold for a count of four.
  6. Repeat for five minutes – or longer if you’d like to relax further.

If you’re doing deep breathing as part of meditation, focus on your breath and push away other thoughts.

If your nose is congested, breathe through your mouth. As breathing expert Wim Hoff says, just get the oxygen into your blood – it doesn’t matter.

“When life is foggy, path is unclear and mind is dull, remember your breath. It has the power to give you the peace. It has the power to resolve the unsolved equations of life.”

Amit Ray, Beautify your Breath – Beautify your Life


  1. Practice deep breathing. Take three days to try it out. Try it at a meeting (be subtle obviously). Try it on the way to work. Try it on a walk. And most importantly, use it when you feel stressed out.
  2. Try box breathing during your evening routine. It gives structure to the meditation. We’ll be adding meditation to the routine soon.
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