If you’ve attended a yoga class lately at Canyon Wren Wellness Center, or have visited with me as a client, you know how excited I am—in a very calm way, of course— about a simple breathing exercise known as “4-7-8” breathing (a.k.a. “Relaxing breath”).
There are many different breathing techniques that are effective in activating our parasympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system designed to calm us down), and rhythmic breathing itself is a core part of yoga practice. But I have found the 4-7-8 breathing technique to be especially powerful in providing immediate results, especially when it is practiced regularly, which helps teach the body to expect it to do exactly that when practiced on the spot.
I learned about the technique from a friend who, hoping to avoid or to minimize the need to take medication for recently-diagnosed hypertension, visited Dr. Andrew Weil’s website (https://www.drweil.com/) hoping to find some effective integrative (combination) medicine approaches, which is where he found the directions for this technique. To his happy surprise, he has been able to significantly reduce the amount of medication needed to lower his blood pressure (by his report) to healthy parameters, by using this technique on a regularly basis.
So I went to Dr. Weil’s website to learn more, and found that this 4-7-8 breathing can help with many conditions, including anxiety, insomnia (according to an article in Medical News Today some people report being able to drop off to sleep in one minute by using this technique), managing cravings, and controlling or reducing anger responses.
What’s not to like?
How to do it:
1. Find a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of your tongue on the spot where the top front teeth meet the roof of your mouth.
2. Empty your lungs by breathing out through the mouth once, fast and forcefully enough to make a “whoosh” sound.
3. Breathe in quietly through the nose to the count of 4 (about 4 seconds)
4. Hold the breath for a count of 7 (about 7 seconds)
5. Exhale through the mouth, pursing the lips for 8 counts/seconds
6. Immediately breath in through the nose again to begin the next round (you don’t do that initial “whoosh” again between rounds), and repeat the cycle for a total of 4 rounds.
Note that the speed of the count is less important than keeping steady rhythm. The friend who told me about the technique uses a metronome, but as long you feel the count is “even,” and the speed of the count feels comfortable to you, you’re doing it right, even if your count is faster or slower than one second per count.
Dr. Weil recommends practicing the technique at least twice a day, since the effectiveness of the technique when you need it increases the more regularly you practice it. He also suggests that people avoid doing more than four breath cycles in a row until they have more practice with the technique.
Some people feel lightheaded after doing this the. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try this technique when sitting or lying down to prevent dizziness or falls.
As we face the happy-and-otherwise stresses of the Holiday season, what better time than now to add a quick-and-easy (and free!) stress-reducing technique to your repertoire.