Being calm under pressure is a skill that can be learned. How do we learn it? By learning to control our breath. Simple — right? I have written a number of times about breathing. In addition to cultivating calm, there are numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, to controlling your breathing.
Here is a simple technique for remaining calm that the Navy Seals use. It’s called Box Breathing. There’s more below but the technique itself is simple:
–Breathe through your nose for 4-6 seconds
–Hold your breath for 4-6 seconds
–Breathe out for 4-6 seconds
–Hold your breath out for 4-6 seconds
Repeat for 5-10 minutes
Try this when you feel your stress level rising (like in traffic, a long meeting with your most irritating customer, when your kids are driving you crazy, etc). Once completed, you should have a clearer mind to tackle the issue at hand.
In today’s world, calm is becoming paramount.
Rule # 4 from my book The Fantastic Life: All of Life is Connected
Breathing is one of the most natural things in the world. And yet, everything in life relies on it. Our physical health is grounded in breath, and so is our mental health. When we exercise, when we have anxiety, when we just need a minute to relax, breathing can bring us back to the moment at hand.
How the NAVY Seals Remain Calm Under Extreme Pressure
An average retirement may not be your cup of tea, so here’s how to step up your game.
By: Andy Murphy | Published on August 21, 2021
Being a NAVY Seal has to be one of the most hardcore jobs there is. It’s hard to even imagine what they have to do, see, and process on a daily basis. If they didn’t have ways to self-regulate, stay calm, and keep focused right there in the moment when they needed it most, they’d be screwed.
It’s been famously documented now that they use breathing exercises to do just this. They can’t rely on fancy machinery or on any special equipment to help them in the intensity of combat, they have to use tools that are a lot closer at hand than that. The breath is as close as it gets.
The brain is firing and wiring electrical impulses at a rapid-fire rate and then sends those messages throughout the body via the vast network of nerves that makes up the nervous system. These impulses are heavily influenced by the innate animalistic impulses built with every being to aid relaxation or get them to safety. That impulse has been called the fight or flight response.
NAVY Seals are in a sustained fight or flight state for extremely long periods of time which means their nervous systems are highly alert, engaged, and focused. For most people, this would be enough to burn out at best or cause heart failure at worst. That’s why NAVY Seals have learned a few tricks to let them tap into their nervous system to keep it balanced.
The nervous system
The nervous system is made up of two parts: The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Each one controls different parts of the human body and what’s interesting is that we activate both when we breathe.
When we inhale we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. When we exhale we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Each breath is designed to balance the nervous system out as the breath comes in and as it goes out.
As we breathe in our diaphragm contracts and moves downwards. Our heart also contracts. This sends an incredibly speedy message up to the brain that then sends an incredibly speedy message back to the heart that says, ‘you must speed up’ so it does. Then as we breathe out the reverse is true. The diaphragm drops and the heart opens. This sends an incredibly speedy message up to the brain that then sends an incredibly speedy message back to the heart that says, ‘you must slow down’ so it does.
*You can test this out on yourself now just for the fun of it. Close your eyes for just a few breaths and start to feel your heart — notice if you can feel its changing rhythm as you breathe.
This communication is all done at rapid speed via the pathways of nerves that run from our brain to our heart and then spread throughout our body via our nervous system. Whatever messages are sent thereafter create the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, and the behaviors we act out.
If the breath directly affects the nervous system, could every thought, every emotion, and every behavior be directly linked to the quality of our breath? It’s an exciting question! And if yes, (which I believe to be true), we have the power to change these messages whenever we need to with a few simple breathing exercises!
The NAVY Seals believe so too.
Imagine a set of scales that tips from one side to the other with every breath that you take. Inhaling tips to the left, exhaling to the right. Oxygen is on the one side and CO2 is on the other. When we breathe in, the scales tip to the left as oxygen comes in. When we breathe out the scales tip to the right as CO2 goes out.
A simple explanation to how the breath and the nervous system interact would be to say that inhaling brings oxygen into our bodies and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response), it dilates our pupils and provides energy. Exhaling expels CO2 and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for relaxation).
The breath, heart, and nervous system are designed to perfectly and beautifully balance the nervous system out if the breath is steady. If it’s not, all hell can break loose.
The NAVY Seals have, among many things, mastered their breath. Here is the famous way in how.
This technique is great for building emotional resilience, relieving stress, and creating a calm inner state. Its simplicity is its power.
Box breathing has gained tremendous popularity in recent years ever since the NAVY Seals revealed they use it to relieve stress. It’s also a powerful technique for anxiety.
How to do it
- Breathe in through your nose for 4–6 seconds
- Hold your breath in for 4–6 seconds
- Breathe out through your nose for 4–6 seconds
- Hold your breath out for 4–6 seconds
- Repeat for 5–10 minutes
I told you it was a lot closer than you might think!
And now, if you’re wondering if something so simple can really work? Try it for yourself!
Oh and one more thing… here is another fantastic tool for finding peace and tranquility whenever you need it.
This is a beautiful technique to calm the mind and create deep relaxation. Looking out at an open, expansive horizon has the same effect but that’s not always available. The good news is that we can create this experience without an expansive horizon.
The tools I love to share are those that are free and accessible in every situation. They’re for when peace and balance need to be restored quickly.
Like the breath, our eyes can reflect our inner state of being. Sharp, focused eyes often reflect high concentration or alertness. Soft, relaxed eyes often reflect a calm, open mind. When we’re on high alert our pupils dilate, and we narrow in on a specific object. This has been evolved to keep us alive. This kind of alertness helps us to pay close attention to imminent danger by blocking out the surrounding environment. Wild animals do this a lot in real life and death situations (as do the NAVY Seals).
Humans do it more nowadays from high levels of stress, overwhelming workloads, and anxiety. The way to restore balance is to oscillate between these highly focused states to more open, relaxed ones. And just like how the different rhythms of our breath can support this process, so too can how “soft” we allow our eyes to become.
This practice is a great way to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, open up space for creativity and intuition, and for staying present.
Putting it into practice:
- Sit comfortably and allow your breath to relax and deepen
- Look straight ahead whilst also seeing what’s in your peripheral vision
- Expand your awareness to the spaces up and down whilst continuing to look ahead
- Allow your focus to be on ‘all things’ as your eyes ‘soften’
- Stay connected to your breath
- Stay here for as long as comfortable
We have all the tools available to us at every moment. The breath and our vision are here to support, nourish, relax, and uplift us. Creating ‘soft eyes’ can be done anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. By expanding our vision, we allow the nervous system to relax. This is a beautiful tool for whenever you need it and combined with the breath, it can very powerful indeed.
- NAVY Seals have found a way to “hack” into their nervous system to self-regulate. They’re just human beings like you and I, so you can do it too.
- Learn to master your breath to find inner peace, clarity, and calmness.
- Allow your eyes to “soften” to further enhance peace, clarity, and calmness.
- Stay connected to your body.
- Become a soft, gentle, ninja-hacking nervous system badass.
Discover another powerful breathwork technique here.
It’s my favourite! But don’t tell anyone.