Catherine Spann, Ph.D.
Breathing for Relaxation: The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Here is a mental exercise focused on breath control designed for relaxation. I've been doing it to help me fall asleep, but it works in any scenario where you need to quickly and immediately calm down.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique, taught widely by a pioneer of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, is a simple breathing exercise to use when you need to calm your body and mind.
It takes less than 90 seconds, so try this exercise right now!
Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.
Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and slightly purse your lips.
Exhale completely and forcefully through your mouth. You should make an audible whoosh sound.
Zip your lips.
Inhale through your nose to the count of four.
Hold your breath to the count of seven.
Exhale through your mouth (make the whoosh sound again) to the count of eight.
Repeat the cycle three more times.
Holding your breath may be difficult initially. You will be able to slow it down with practice. What is important is to focus on exhaling for double the time that you are inhaling.
When you make the exhale longer than the inhale, and you do this several breath cycles, the accumulated effect is that you will slow the heart rate down.
Slow, deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve influences the activity of many internal organs and also sends information from those organs back to the brain. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness and relaxation spread throughout the body. Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and muscles relax. The vagus nerve then tells the brain about this relaxation in the body, which further increases feelings of calmness.
Try to practice the 4-7-8 breath twice a day, but no more than 4 rounds of breath during a single practice.