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The technique for deep relaxation known as 4-7-8 breathing was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained medical doctor and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
This counting technique has been widely adopted by many individuals seeking to address stress and anxiety through controlled breathing. Specifically, it involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight.
In May of 2015, this breathing technique gained popularity through Dr. Weil’s efforts to assist people in managing stress and anxiety. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is rooted in the pranayama breathing exercise utilized in yoga practices aimed at inducing relaxation.
How 4-7-8 Breathing Works
The activation of our parasympathetic nervous system occurs when the 4-7-8 breathing technique is employed, inducing a state of relaxation. In this process, the opposing system, the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the stress response (such as the fight or flight reaction), is suppressed.
While the technique is effective for immediate anxiety relief, Dr. Weil emphasizes its optimal use as a daily preventive measure. Regular use of this breathing practice leads to the transformation of a voluntary action into an involuntary one.
The speed at which the breathing practice is performed is inconsequential; the crucial aspect lies in maintaining the 4-7-8 ratio, as highlighted by Dr. Weil, where the exhale surpasses the inhale duration.
How to do 4-7-8 Breathing
- Select a comfortable, undisturbed spot to sit quietly.
- Position the tongue gently against the back of the upper teeth.
- Expel all air around the tongue through the open mouth.
- Close the mouth and inhale through the nose for a count of 4.
- Hold breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale audibly through the mouth for a count of eight, ensuring complete release of air.
- Complete four cycles by repeating the previous steps.
Regular practice yields quicker results. Dr. Weil suggests a minimum of twice-daily practice, though more frequent sessions are permissible.
This breathing technique, in just a few minutes, triggers the parasympathetic response, reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Its versatility allows use in various situations, especially during stressful or anxious moments before bedtime, making it an ideal nightly practice. Once accustomed to four cycles, progress to a maximum of eight cycles for enhanced benefits.
This breathing technique primarily aims to diminish the stress response gradually. Consistent daily practice is key for observing long-term enhancements. Nonetheless, employing 4-7-8 breathing aids in maintaining composure during diverse stress-inducing circumstances. This technique proves beneficial in easing symptoms linked to stress, anxiety, and instances of panic attacks.
When to employ 4-7-8 breathing
- During stressful work situations
- While navigating through traffic or commuting to work daily
- Prior to delivering a speech or presentation at school or work
- Throughout university/college exam periods
- When attempting to initiate sleep at night
- Right after waking up in the morning
- When dealing with pre-class jitters in university/college
- In moments of feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed
- While engaging in other relaxation techniques (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery)
- During yoga or tai chi sessions
- While practicing mindfulness meditation
Benefits of 4-7-8 breathing technique
- Mitigated symptoms of depression and anxiety were observed among participants with COPD practicing controlled breathing techniques in one study.
- Enhanced sleep quality was reported in individuals with insomnia after engaging in slow, paced breathing exercises for 20 minutes before bedtime, according to another study.
- Stress reduction through slowed heart rate and lowered blood pressure is supported by the American Institute of Stress, affirming the efficacy of slow abdominal breathing. Moreover, it aids muscle relaxation and increased oxygen intake, fostering relaxation.
- Improved motor memory was evidenced among a group of 16 participants after a 30-minute session of deep breathing, as highlighted in another study.
- Influence on autonomic function and pain perception regarding pain processing has been demonstrated through evidence indicating the impact of slow breathing.
4 – 7 – 8 Technique in practice
- Find a quite location where the exercise can be performed without interruptions from others.
- Ensure comfortable seating with proper posture while engaging in this exercise (avoid lying down).
- Strive to divert attention away from other thoughts during practice. Instead, maintain focused attention solely on your breath.
Initially, adopting this breathing method may seem unusual. Overcoming the initial sense of unease is important. Continuously practice this technique until it becomes a habitual process.
While multiple approaches exist to practice 4-7-8 breathing, alternative methods may suit us better than the one outlined here.
The primary pitfall of a technique like 4-7-8 breathing lies in people forgetting to consistently engage in it. Building this as a routine takes approximately 30 days, so patience is crucial until it integrates into our daily habits.
- Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Enhanced focus and improved sleep quality.
- It’s not a substitute for professional help.