October 6, 2020

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

By: Audrey O.

Man and woman with eyes closed head tilted back, smiling and breathing.

 

We all experience stress in our daily lives to some degree, and there are so many ways we choose to combat these anxieties. Some are nervous eaters, while others choose exercise or reading as a means to calm down.  

How many of you have turned to meditation when you are feeling overwhelmed? If you have never tried deep breathing, it is highly recommended. Meditation is a simple, yet effective way to calm your body and mind. Conveniently, it requires no equipment, money, or training.  

There are countless deep breathing techniques available with just the click of a button. This in itself can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. Luckily, the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique requires just a couple minutes of your time and can be accomplished by anyone.

Meditation truly pays off, as there are so many benefits that come from this method of relaxation. Although deep breathing might not be your initial thought when brainstorming how to decrease your stress, it is definitely an exercise that should be considered and utilized.

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique originated from a form of yoga called Pranayama. It is easy to complete and provides a great introduction to the world of meditation and breathwork.

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is the yoga practice of regulating one’s breath. The word has Sanskrit origins and has been practiced since ancient times by thousands of people all over the world.

Traditionally in yoga, the breath, or prana, is said to be the root of a person’s vital life source. Yama means control and together Pranayama signifies breath control.

Some yoga gurus believe pranayama is even more important than asana, the more widely known aspect of yoga poses because it is a way to connect the body with the mind.

Studies reveal that “yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”1

Therefore, it’s extremely important to improve the quality of our breath through mindful exercises and techniques. The goal is to calm the mind through breath control and reduce anxiety.

Pranayama is a wonderful introduction to meditation because it involves something we can control- our breath. With some practice, you will notice that breathwork is extremely effective in reducing stress. This form of meditation allows you to regain control of your thoughts and be more productive.

"Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders."

Headshot of woman with eyes closed taking a breath and smiling.

The 4-7-8 Method

There are numerous breathing techniques that can be learned and practiced on a day-to-day basis. One that has gained recent popularity is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, which was espoused by Dr. Andrew Weil.  

This technique was created in order to bring your mind and body into a state of relaxation. It is simple to learn and can be utilized whenever you need to take a moment to destress.  

To begin this exercise, it is imperative that you find a place to sit or lie down comfortably. Be sure to practice good posture, especially if it is your first experience with this technique.

Throughout the practice, you’ll rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. Practice this with several breaths as you’ll need to be comfortable with this position, especially while exhaling. Exhaling can be easier for some people when they purse their lips.

The technique itself involves a series of inhales and exhales for given periods of time. A detailed explanation of how to complete this exercise is provided below.

It might feel difficult at first to hold your breath for a long period of time and that is okay. This method of deep breathing requires practice, and luckily you can practice this exercise as many times throughout the day as you would like.

Benefits of the 4-7-8 Method

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique naturally calms the nervous system. It allows you to reduce anxiety on your own, during any time of the day. You will experience immediate relief and it is encouraged to repeat the cycle as many times as needed.

One specific benefit of deep breathing is that it has been shown to lower blood pressure and, in turn, reduce anxiety.2

Additionally, deep breathing can improve your digestion.3 Stressful moments increase heart rate and often cause discomfort in your stomach. This is due to the fight-or-flight response that is triggered by anxiety or fear.  

By taking a moment to focus on your breathing, you can relax your mind and body. This will decrease the pressure on your stomach and soothe your internal organs.

This breathing exercise also enables you to regain focus. By decluttering your mind, you can be more productive during the day and sleep better at night. Many people struggle with falling asleep and remaining asleep throughout the night. Breathwork enables you to enter a state of relaxation that will allow you to sleep comfortably.  

Anyone can do this exercise and it benefits everyone. The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise can help you fall asleep, be more focused at work, and avoid stressful situations by choosing deep breathing over a sudden reaction.

Click here to view the 4-7-8 Breathing Method

How to Perform the 4-7-8

You can complete the 4-7-8 Breathing Method by following the four steps below.

1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound

2. Close your lips and inhale silently through your nose for four counts

3. Hold your breath for seven counts

4.Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds

Repeat this cycle four times. Once you master the basics you can add additional cycles and incorporate various breathing techniques and meditation exercises into your daily routine.

It is necessary to note that sustained, controlled breathing can sometimes lead to lightheadedness. It is recommended to complete this breathing exercise while sitting or laying down, especially if you are new to deep breathing techniques. If the breathing counts are too long, you can lower the counts while keeping the same ratio. This will allow you to experience the same calming effect while working toward the full 4-7-8 count.  

Click here to view the 4-7-8 Breathing Method in action. minder by obVus Solutions provides instructions on how to complete this exercise and shows you real-time biofeedback.