I tried this 1-minute breathing exercise every day for a month, and it was surprisingly effective

Man breathing outside in a forest
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I don’t normally think about how I breathe — my body takes care of it automatically, and that suits me just fine. But sometimes my brain focuses on it, and I suddenly find it harder to take regular deep breaths. It’s a strange experience, especially since it doesn’t happen while meditating.

During my daily meditation, I can focus on the breath without changing it, but not if I accidentally bring my attention to it throughout the day. So when I stumbled across this 1-minute deep breathing exercise from Centr, I decided to give it a go.

You use a technique known as box breathing, where you extend each stage of your breathing to 4 seconds. I already use Centr as my workout app of choice, so I was interested in delving into the team’s mindfulness and well-being training as well.

How to do the box breathing exercise

Unlike working out with dumbbells or other weights, you don’t need any equipment to try box breathing; you can do it at home, at work, while traveling, or at any time throughout the day. You don’t even need to do it for a specific amount — a few breaths should do.

The aim is to breathe deeply and bring a sense of calm to your body and mind. You can follow Centr’s tutorial to get started, but all you really need to do is breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and repeat.

Although you can do box breathing whenever it takes your fancy, I aimed to do a minute each morning for a month. This way, I could add it to my routine before work, making it easier to stick to, and to see if it’d make a difference to how I felt throughout the day. Here’s what happened.

I felt calmer

Box breathing encourages you to take long, deep breaths. This is a slower pace than the way I usually breathe, where each inhale and exhale only takes a couple of seconds. Slowing your breathing changes the amount of oxygen you can inhale and helps slow your heart rate too.

So, even practicing the technique for just a minute would leave me feeling more relaxed. After all, there’s a reason people use breathing exercises for sleep. That doesn’t mean you’ll want to nap after box breathing, but it was surprising how a small intervention could make such an impact.

And there were other benefits, too. I have a chronic health condition that means my heart rate can get pretty high, even when I’m resting. Having a racing heart when it’s not needed can make you feel quite anxious, so deep breathing helped reduce these feelings and slow my heart rate.

It was easier to be mindful

I’ve regularly meditated for almost a decade and have spent a lot of time focusing on my breath. But as with most things, you need to regularly train to see the benefits. However, I was impressed at how quickly I noticed that box breathing helped me be more mindful throughout the day.

As I inhaled, I could really feel my chest expanding to accommodate the air, and the immediate calming effect of the out breath. I was more at ease after the 60 seconds were up, but this carried on throughout the day, too, which was even more surprising.

I think, that because I meditate with my eyes closed, the experience of box breathing helped me focus on the things around me, like the early-morning sun glinting in through the window, the breeze gently grazing my face, and the sounds of people as they passed by the house.

I didn’t always stick to a minute each day

Although I’d do my box breathing each morning, I found myself regularly adding it in at random points throughout the day. Sometimes, this would be because I could feel my heart rate had rocketed, but other times it was because I fancied a moment to chill out.

As someone who works from home, it’s not always easy to remember to take regular breaks without others around to chat to. When I’d notice that I had my head wrapped in a task for too long, I’d do a quick round of box breathing and grab some water to relax.

But I also occasionally used box breathing while out walking in the park. I did this challenge as spring gave way to summer, so the plants had flowered and trees emerged from winter. Taking a moment for a few deep breaths made me feel more connected to the world around me.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym. Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones. He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.