Breathing is an essential function of the human body, but it is often overlooked as a tool for improving health and well-being. One breathing method that has gained popularity in recent years is the 4-7-8 breathing method.
This technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” is said to help reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality.
In this article, we will explore:
- the 4-7-8 breathing method in more detail,
- including its history,
- 4 benefits,
- how to practice it,
- and other related breathing methods.
What is the 4-7-8 Breathing method? Who pioneered this technique?
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a popular relaxation technique that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight.
This pattern of breathing, which was inspired by Yogic pranayama, is repeated for several cycles, usually for a total of four cycles.
This technique is often used to reduce stress, anxiety, and promote better sleep.
The technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a physician and integrative medicine expert at the University of Arizona, in the late 1990s. Dr Weil claims the 4-7-8 breathing method is the best way to get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Dr. Weil was inspired to create the 4-7-8 breathing method after studying various relaxation techniques used in yoga, meditation, and other practices.
He noticed that many of these techniques involved slowing down the breath and focusing on the exhalation, which he believed could help to activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce stress.To develop the technique, Dr. Weil experimented with different breathing patterns and found that the 4-7-8 pattern was particularly effective in inducing relaxation. He began teaching the technique to his patients and incorporating it into his integrative medicine practice.
The 4-7-8 breathing method has since gained popularity as a simple and effective tool for reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
It is often recommended as an adjunct therapy for conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.
How does the 4-7-8 Breathing method work?
Breathing methods, such as the 4-7-8 technique, aim to pacify the body, mind, and nervous system.
The breath functions like a remote control for our autonomic nervous system, which consists of the up-regulating sympathetic (fight-flight) and down-regulating parasympathetic (rest-digest) branches.
By using specific breathing patterns, we can activate either of these branches and responses.
The 4-7-8 breathing method is beneficial for triggering the rest-digest response, which aids in restoring equilibrium to the body and moderating the fight-or-flight response, especially if you’re plagued by anxieties before going to bed.
4 Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing method
The 4-7-8 breathing method has been studied for its potential benefits for physical and mental health. Here are some of the key benefits of this breathing method, along with relevant citations and findings from clinical studies:
#1: Reduces stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms
A 2021 study published in the Journal of Nursing Explorations found that 4-7-8 breathing method helped reduced pain anxiety in patients in second-degree burns and was recommended to be used alongside other methods to manage pain anxiety for patients.
In another 2019 study conducted in India and published in the International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 4-7-8 breathing method was found to be effective in reducing dyspnea, anxiety and depression in moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients.
#2: Improves sleep quality:
One study published in Psychophysiology found After engaging in 20 minutes of slow and paced breathing exercises before going to bed, individuals suffering from insomnia reported better sleep quality.
As 4-7-8 is a paced and slow breathing method, it could have significant benefits for those who have poor sleep quality or experience insomnia.
#3: Improves quality of life
An even more recent study published in 2023 found that the 4-7-8 breathing method was beneficial in reducing the anxiety level of patients in clinical practice after bariatric surgery.
It was found that deep breathing was also effective in improving the quality of life.
#4: Improves HRV, BP helpful for managing cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease
In July 2022, a group of scientists from Thailand conducted a study on the instant impact of 4-7-8 breathing on the heart rate and blood pressure of 43 young and healthy individuals.
Before performing the breathing exercise, the participants underwent tests to measure their heart rate, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose levels. The participants then completed six sets of 4-7-8 breathing, with a minute of regular breathing in between each set.
The researchers discovered that 4-7-8 breathing method had a positive effect on the participants’ heart rate and blood pressure, as reported in the study.
They also concluded that it may also be beneficial for patients with cardiovascular disease or pulmonary disease in terms of reducing cardiac work and enhancing blood oxygenation.
When to Practice 4-7-8 Breathing method
The principal aim of this breathing method is to decrease the stress response in the long term by consistent practice. In addition to its long-term benefits, 4-7-8 breathing can also empower you to stay calm and focused in a variety of stressful circumstances.
You can use it to alleviate symptoms linked to stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. Here are some situations where 4-7-8 breathing might be helpful for you:
- Right after you wake up, first thing in the morning
- During your commute to and back from work or school
- Before bed to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality and prevent insomnia
- At any moment of time, when you’re feeling stressed or when anxiety hits
- Before giving a presentation or speech at work or at school
- When practicing Yoga, Qigong or Taichi
- When practicing meditation
How to Practice 4-7-8 Breathing method
The 4-7-8 breathing method is one of the simplest breathing practices to learn. However, it is essential to pay attention to the specifics of the technique as there are certain methods involved.
To practice the 4-7-8 breathing method, follow the list of steps below. You can also watch Dr. Weil describe the 4-7-8 breathing method himself.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit down. Take a few moments to relax and be fully present.
- Gently place your tongue so that it gently touches the back of your top teeth.
- Exhale all of the air around your tongue through your open mouth.
- With your mouth closed, inhale quietly through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7 counts.
- Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, for 8 counts.
- Repeat the cycle, steps 2-4 for up to 4 times.
The more frequently that you can practice the 4-7-8 breathing method, the more quickly you will notice results. The ideal frequency for practice according to Dr. Weil is at least twice a day for the maximum benefits.
With practice, once you are comfortable doing four cycles, you can increase up to a maximum of eight cycles.
Tips for Practicing 4-7-8 Breathing method
Initially, performing this breathing method may seem unusual. However, it is recommended to persist through the initial sensations of uneasiness. Keep practicing the 4-7-8 technique until it feels more natural or comfortable for you. Some helpful tips include
- Finding a quiet, peaceful spot free of distractions
- Sitting with good posture (rather than lying down), and
- Staying fully focused on your breath while performing the exercise, instead of being distracted by other thoughts or activities.
What to Take Note of or Avoid When Practicing 4-7-8 Breathing
When practicing the 4-7-8 breathing method, it is important to take note of the following:
- Remember that the speed with which you do the 4-7-8 breathing method is irrelevant. What is important is to maintain the ratio of 4-7-8, especially so that the exhale is longer than the inhale, to calm and regulate your nervous system.
- Avoid practicing this technique while driving.
- If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, stop the practice and return to normal breathing.
- Do not force your breath or hold your breath for longer than is comfortable.
Other Related Breathing Techniques
There are many other breathing techniques that can be used to promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall well-being. Here are some other breathing methods to explore:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: This technique involves breathing deeply and fully, so the belly expands slightly, rather than shallow breathing into the chest. It can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Alternate nostril breathing: This breathing method, with variations including Anulom Vilom and Nadi Shodhana Levels 1 & 2, involves breathing in through one nostril and out through the other. It can help to balance the nervous system and promote relaxation.
- Box breathing: This technique involves inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, and holding the breath for four seconds. It can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a simple and effective breathing method that can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality. By practicing this technique regularly, you can improve your overall well-being and cultivate a greater sense of calm and peace.
However, it is important to practice this technique safely and to take note of any discomfort or dizziness that may arise. Additionally, exploring other breathing methods can help you to find the technique that works best for your needs and preferences.