Square Breathing, Stress Relief, And Assorted Tangents

I thought I would put this out there, as it is something I have found helpful: square breathing, also sometimes called four square breathing, is a technique that is, as I understand it, useful for calming anxiety and panic attacks, as well as a really simple, no-mantra way to meditate.

It is basically just breathing in for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath on the inhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, exhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath after the exhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, inhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4…and repeating. Sometimes I have seen it suggested this be done for four minutes, but I find even if you repeat it for a shorter time it can be helpful. You can always try for longer, too, I suppose, if it suits you. I would also add I think it is a good practice even when you aren’t feeling especially stressed or triggered or anxious. (I think overall since you are briefly stopping your breath between inhales and exhales it helps to slow your breath even if you are breathing rapidly and counting fast.)

There are plenty of descriptions out there, if you want to read a set of instructions that might be more clear to you, or find out why this is recommended, or what other people’s experiences have been; searching either “square breathing” or “four square breathing” should bring up relevant results.

This also reminded me, tangentially, of Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk, because one of the things she addresses is research that suggests that helping someone else when you are stressed out can reduce its negative impact on your health.



I don’t know if it is applicable here, since I am not even sure this will ever be read by anyone at all, and maybe it is simply the stress-relieving effect of doing something that requires concentration (which Guy Winch discusses in one of his talks, I believe the one I will share the link for here; but the reason this occurred to me to write about was waking up and being too anxious to fall back asleep, and now I feel calmer and might be able to sleep, so I am not really prepared in the moment to rewatch a long video – if I fucked it up, I will try to remember to change it later on), but I feel better now than I did before I started writing this.

Granted, I generally find writing can help, especially when ideally there would be a person to talk with and there is not, but I don’t know that everyone would feel the same. I tend to like writing, anyway. Could be some people would find more relief in doing some other activity they enjoy.



I hope this is helpful to someone – like a lot of things, though square breathing is not something I have just learned, it would have been helpful to me to have known about it earlier on in my life than I did. Maybe I can help someone else find their way to something useful sooner than later in their own experiences that might be helpful on their journey. And I think both talks are worth watching, as both provide some information on strategies for dealing with stress and other uncomfortable emotions.

Should you be more of a non-verbal mind at the moment, I will throw in another link, this one to a long version of Marconi Union’s “Weightless,” which a friend suggested to me not too long ago when I was looking for lyric-free music for relaxation/sleep.



Now I am going to try to get some sleep. Best of luck to you.

*   *   *

No dice on the sleep, unfortunately, but aside from being tired, I still feel better than I did when I woke up.

I do find myself thinking I wish I had better equipment for taking and editing photos at the moment, and for digital drawing, because I do miss this being a more art/visual blog; and for the people who enjoyed that aspect, I can understand the reversion to the much-earlier word-based blogging might be a let-down.

That is not to say I am not going to carry on with the writing – being considerate is one thing, self-abnegation another. But at some point I will either resign myself to lower-quality images, or repair or replace some equipment when I am able, and there will be visual art again. It has been a long, long, long series of…well, decades, really.

I wish I had more resources to get past the current tidal wave of bullshit and spend more time and energy on artwork. Visual art is certainly another thing I have found useful in getting through the worst of times. I don’t know whether that is something that might make for general advice – again, a thing I enjoy anyway, so I can’t even claim my own experience to be a strictly therapeutic one.

I can see where it could be a general-use stress-relief practice, provided a person is not painfully self-conscious about how well or poorly they believe they can draw or whatever. I have personally made a lot of shit even I didn’t particularly enjoy the look of, and the work I have liked I am sure many people could find fault with. The end product can be alright, but for me, the real joy is the process – and typically the pieces I like best in the end are those I most enjoyed making.

Again, I’m not really feeling like reviewing something I have watched previously to summarize it in detail, but this talk seems relevant, insofar as the speaker talks about a lot of the benefits of idly drawing, and I think it applies whether or not you think of it as art, or yourself as an artist, or believe you have any particular skill:



Personally, I think all of the limitations people try to put on what gets to be called art or who gets to be called an artist is mostly people doing what many people who are injured, insecure, and immature often do – trying to dictate a set of “rules” that include themselves where they wish to be included, but fear they don’t belong, while simultaneously excluding a lot of others. Both because of projecting their own insecurities and self-loathing onto other people, and wanting to limit the in-group to themselves and people who have qualities they envy or admire or both, with whom they wish to be equated – the unhealthy, ineffectual practice of trying to counter insecurity by seeking to associate oneself with others with admired qualities, thinking those will then be seen as belonging to oneself, while simultaneously seeking others to feel superior to, others I tend to think are perceived as possessing the very qualities the person who feels insecure feels insecure about. And before I digress into subjects I have already discussed and provided links to related material about, I will just throw a link to that piece here, if anyone feels inclined to follow the digression elsewhere:


I think if you create something, without doing harm, with honest intention, expressing truth as you understand it – not trying to mess with people’s minds to sell a product or a candidate or a belief – with some honest feeling behind it (for the sake of the artist, I hope some enjoyment in the process), then calling it art and the person creating an artist seems well fair. That doesn’t mean everyone (or anyone) will like the end result, but that is rather my point. You don’t have to let someone else decide if you are an artist, or what you make is art. If they don’t think so, well, no one is obliged to agree with you. And you can still think so. In short, I guess, I see artists very broadly as creators. I think there are artists in every non-harmful profession and pursuit.

I also think I am just one person and not the be-all, end-all, and someone else’s definition of art might be different from mine and just as valid, provided, from my point of view, that it is not exclusive based on superficial bullshit.

You don’t have to go to school for art to be an artist, you don’t have to use certain materials, you don’t have to be an adult, you don’t have to be a “fine” artist. You don’t have to be getting paid to be making art, any more than you have to be getting paid to be doing work. There is nothing, I think, inherently pretentious in calling yourself an artist or your pursuit art, unless you are a person who fits the selfish, insecure, exclusive-of-others model I described above.

Pretentiousness comes, I think, from believing oneself to be the arbiter of something that is bigger than oneself. “Oneself” being a deliberately chosen word here. One self. One individual.

There is no one living (no one at all, I would argue) who can claim to be the originator of art as a pursuit or a concept. Art has been around for a lonnnnnnngggggggggg part of human history. Long before there may have been a word for it. Hell, I would have to look up whether estimated times for the origins of language predates estimated times for the origins of visual art. One could even argue that a lot of what defines us as human, as we think of that word today, is creativity, is art, whether the earliest simple tools made by our ancestors, or cave paintings, or the oldest sculptures. (Which if I recall correctly are “Venus” figures. My trivia-brain is coughing up “The Venus of Wallendorf,” but whether that is correct I will have to look up. I think it was last I studied the subject, but that was probably twenty years ago, and even if it was the oldest known piece then, could be there have been new finds…

Did a quick search, turns out I was nearly right. Ish.  I was one letter off, the Venus of Willendorf is probably in the vicinity of 30,000 years old; but there has been a more recent find, in 2008. That figure, known as the Venus of Hohle Fels, is estimated to be 35,000 to 40,000 years old. And based on Wikipedia-quality evidence –



– so, you know, probably double-check the information if you are looking for a reference for some scholarly biz. No offense to Wikipedia. It is supposedly generally as reliable as print encyclopedias, at least according to my recall of a description given by Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture – which is an actual lecture he gave, and a book based on the lecture, worth watching and/or reading, in my opinion.



Pausch was a Professor who took an old teaching practice of some professors giving lectures based on what they imagined they would talk about if they knew that it would be the last lecture they’d ever give before they died, but minus the hypothetical aspect, since he knew he had terminal cancer. At some point in his career he was asked to write an entry for an encyclopedia, and he explained what he wrote was what was published, that it seemed that the publication process was simply to hire experts and trust they knew what they were talking about.)

There are plenty of people who work in all kinds of arenas who might call themselves artists. I can think of people of my own acquaintance who I would say are artists in the work they do, paid or not, as aestheticians, as cooks, as parents, as teachers, as friends, as healers, as technicians…

Maybe you express your creativity in the food you make, or the way you keep house, or the way you love. I think everyone is an artist in something, though maybe not everyone acknowledges their artistry, or even allows themself to engage in the work they love.

Writing that, I have to say, I think loving is an art form itself, one too few people really appreciate as such. Love is not just a feeling, love is an action verb. It is how you behave toward people. It is caring about another person beyond your self-interest. About someone else’s happiness, even if their happiness may not involve you. And really, as I am writing, I also think love is integral to art – I think artists are generally people who love what it is they do.

And I do think joy is pretty constantly an element of art – even if it isn’t fireworks-y or high-energy, joy nonetheless. Isn’t that what “flow” is, as a psychological state? I suppose there is another way of defining art in a different terminology – art is wherever we find ourselves in a flow state.

Or art is non-destructive work performed with honest joy and love.

Or art does not have a single, simple defintion…which makes sense, since creativity is essentially conjuring, making something new, something that did not exist before. Kind of hard to narrowly define a process that involves unpredictability and the unknown.

So also, art is peaceful coexistence with temporal reality (because even the next fraction of a second into the future is always an unknown – probability is not the same as certainty, and even if our expectations are fulfilled, it does not change that there was and is ever the possibility they would and/or will not be).

Or artists are all human beings, when we are engaged in non-harmful pursuits we love.

Probably going to hang it up, at least for the time being, since I am not getting less tired, and while I enjoy a good tangent as much as anyone, I still like my assorted tangents to make what is, at least for me, logical sense, and I am probably getting past the point where I can construct comprehensible sentences. But happily got to experience some flow in the writing – and the state known as flow is as purely happiness as anything else I know.

Not bad for a morning that started with waking up before the sun, already feeling stressed out. And so my circle of tangents ends where it began – because this wasn’t just a series of suggestions for possible stress-relieving practices and musings on art, it was a process of finding stress-relief in an artistic pursuit.

Practicing what I preach, and whatnot.

Not bad at all.