If you’ve ever found yourself in a moment where your stress is through the roof and you struggle to calm down quickly, or you’re fighting against another sleepless night, this breathing technique is for you.
The 4-7-8 breathing method, focuses on the three parts of your breath – the inhale, the hold, and the exhale – all for a timed amount in 4, 7, and 8 counts respectively. The first time I heard of the 4-7-8 breathing method was from Dr. Weil.
Dr. Weil is a leading expert in integrative medicine, which is a practice that approaches medicine holistically encompassing mind, body, and spirit. He is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Centre for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, clinical professor of medicine, and professor of public health.
Needless to say, this man knows what he is talking about, so I thought I would give it a try. Today you will learn how to practice the 4-7-8 breathing method and the benefits of doing so.
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4 7 8 Breathing Method – Ultimate Guide!
4-7-8 Breathing Benefits
Dr. Weil calls this breath a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system”and clarifies that it “gains in power with repetition and practice.” Although there isn’t a large amount of clinical research on this specific technique, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence from those who use this technique regularly (including myself.)
According to Medical News Today, who conducted a review on the 2011 Health Science Journal article, revealed some potential benefits of deep breathing – especially if that is deep breathing from the diaphragm.
Some of those benefits include:
- Decreased fatigue
- Reduced anxiety
- Better stress management
- Reduced hypertension
- Improved migraine symptoms
- Helps induce sleep
A systematic review was conducted of 15 articles pulled from 2461 abstracts on the psychological and physiological changes of the brain-body interaction of the voluntary slowing of breath frequency in relaxing practices. These slow breathing techniques alter the body’s heart rate, central nervous system activity, and brain waves.
The review results state: “Psychological/behavioural outputs related to the abovementioned [biological] changes are increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigour and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion”
The same review concluded that slowed breathing techniques are linked to emotional control and psychological well-being in healthy patients. If one of your main goals of this breathing technique is to reduce anxiety, this article has a few other techniques that are helpful. If your main goal of this breathing technique is to induce sleep, this article on valerian root is also a good resource.
The origin of the method
Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the University of Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, is a celebrity doctor who brought these fascinating ancient Indian breathing techniques closer to the Western population. According to his own words, he was surprised by how little research there was on ancient Indian yogic techniques considering how beneficial they are.
There is a very limited amount of written evidence, because in India these techniques are passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition. This ancient practice called Pranayama in Sanskrit is about manipulating rhythmic breathing for its various health benefits as well as relaxation of the body and mind.
The three phases we already mentioned are crucial for pranayama – inhalation, retention, and exhalation. There are many methods for slowing down breathing, 4-7-8 breathing being one of the most popular.
These breathing exercises help reduce stress, improve attention, and boost cognition. They also increase speed in activities which include simultaneous physical and visual action.
How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing method
The 4-7-8 breath originated from a pranayama, or yoga, breath. Dr. Weil further evolved this breathing technique to relax the mind and body. This breathing technique is effortless to practice, involves nothing but your body, and is finished faster than it began.
- Sit or lay down.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth.
- Push all the existing air out of your lungs before beginning.
The 4-7-8 breathing method:
- Breath quietly in through your nose for a count of 4
- Hold your breath for a count of 7
- Breath out of your mouth for a count of 8 while making a ‘whooshing‘ sound
- Repeat for 4 breath cycles
- Open your eyes and wallow in the bliss
Dr. Weil suggests practicing at least 2 times a day. For me, practicing once when I wake up and once before bed is a simple way to keep track of the practice. If you have been practicing for a month or longer, you can repeat for 8 breath cycles, but no more.
The ratio of the 4-7-8 is more important than how long you are performing one breath cycle – keeping a steady rhythm, regardless of speed, is crucial. The more you practice this technique, the slower you will be able to practice.
Using the 4-7-8 Breath In Real Life
Dr. Weil suggests practicing this technique for 4-6 weeks before attempting to use it for relief in a specific situation. After practicing this technique for some time, I personally found value when amidst an anxiety attack.
I was overwhelmed with everything that was going on in my life. My heart was pounding and my mind was racing, but something magical happened that day. For the first time ever, I successfully used a breathing technique, the 4-7-8 breath, to stop a full-blown anxiety attack.
How did I remember to use it? Well, I had been practicing it regular, so when it was game-time, my muscle memory jumped right to it. Typically, in times like these, I would try to ‘think’ my way out of overthinking. Counterproductive, I know. This time was different – this time I had a tool my anxiety attack had never seen before.
I sat on a chair, closed my eyes, and performed the four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing cycles. I paid close attention to the breath and close attention to my counting. When I opened my eyes, I realised my brain had quieted down a little. I felt better and calmer. Of course, I still felt some anxiety, shame, and guilt but it was all much more manageable. Plus, I had dodged a full-blown anxiety attack for one of the first times in my life.
Some other real-life scenarios you can consider using the 4-7-8 breath:
- feeling anxiety during social engagements
- experiencing overwhelm at work
- navigating intense shame or guilt after an argument
- working through a busy and stressful schedule
- having trouble calming down to fall asleep
The 4-7-8 breath is uncomplicated and takes no more than a minute to complete. It is a technique that has added extreme benefit to my life and the lives of many others that practice this technique both daily and in times of need. Maybe, just maybe, this breathing technique will be the one that changes your mind and reveals to you the real power behind the phrase – just breathe.
4 7 8 Breathing method – Final thoughts
The 4-7-8 breathing technique comes from a very old Indian breathing practice called pranayama, and people have used it for so long because of its numerous health benefits. People turn to this technique because it helps them fall asleep, deal with everyday stress, and reduce anxiety.
The cool thing about this method is that everyone can learn it. It is simple and free, and it takes just a few minutes of your time. If you complete this practice twice every day, you should see the results soon, and the longer you use it, it should become better and more effective. It is a great relaxation tool to have in this crazy modern world.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years! If you have any questions please reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!
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