Last week I was sitting in the surgery waiting room feeling anxious and nervous. I sat trying to distract myself with a book, but I couldn’t read. The chairs in the waiting room were hard and uncomfortable, and I’ll have to admit I was feeling decidedly grumpy. I happened to look up at the ceiling and I noticed it was one of those dropped ceilings with square tiles in metal frames and I suddenly remembered a stress relief technique which was perfect for the waiting room.
The technique is called Square Breathing. You find a square, in my case a ceiling tile, and follow the outlines of the square as you breathe deeply in and out. It works like this:
Start in the upper right hand corner of the square. Breathe in as your eyes move clockwise, to the lower right hand corner of the square and on to the lower left of the square.
- Breathe out as your eyes move to the upper left corner of the square and return to the starting point.
- You have now “breathed a square”.
I repeated this several times and found that I felt calmer. I decided to experiment and came up with several variations.
- Take a breath in or out for each side of the square, rather than covering two sides in one breath.
- Follow the square in the opposite direction. This felt very different and I decided I liked clockwise breathing better than counter-clockwise.
- Alternate breathing larger squares (4 ceiling tiles) with smaller squares (1 tile).
- Challenge yourself to breathe v-e-r-y slowly on each side of the square.
- Try and see how deeply you can breathe.
My neck was developing a crick, so I started looking for other squares, and discovered lots of rectangles in the waiting room; paintings, doors, windows, magazines and a table. Rectangles are fun, because your breath has to be shorter on two of the sides. I practiced short inhalations and long exhalations, and then the reverse.
To tell you the truth, I was able to spend about 15 minutes, happily engaged in breathing squares and rectangles and playing with different combinations. I forgot to worry about my reason for being at the Doctor’s for those 15 minutes. I took in more oxygen because I was deep breathing, and I didn’t feel quite so tired. By the time I snapped back to awareness in the waiting room, I was much calmer.
The Square Breathing technique combats stress in several ways. When we are anxious or stressed our breathing becomes shallower, so we get less oxygen. The deep breathing of the Square breathing technique increases the oxygen in the bloodstream. By using your eyes during Square Breathing in conjunction with your breath, you disengage your thinking processes and allow calm to creep in. So find a square and give it a go!