When you’re having trouble falling asleep, there’s a simple breathing technique you can use to calm your mind and body in just minutes. Known as the 4-7-8 breathing method, this relaxing breathing technique was developed by Andrew Weil, MD, professor of medicine and public health.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique comes from the ancient yogic tradition of pranayama, which refers to the practice of conscious control of the breath, and includes many different breathing patterns and techniques. Intentional breathing techniques are used to compensate for overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system (the stress system), regulate anxiety and promote a state of deep relaxation. These techniques include: slow breathing, deep breathing, belly breathing and mono-nostral breathing.
How to practice the 4-7-8 technique?
You can practice the 4-7-8 breathing method anywhere and anytime, whether it’s in your bed to fall asleep, before a stressful meeting or after a tense conversation at the dinner table. Here’s how.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath at the top of the inhale for seven seconds.
- Exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight.
- It is recommended to repeat this cycle four times.
Pausing between breaths allows more focus on slowing down the breath, while ensuring that the exhale and inhale are complete. Extended exhalation allows you to empty your lungs more than you normally would with your natural breath, allowing your body to take in more oxygen on the next inhale.
If you remove the pause, you may breathe too quickly or hyperventilate, which can be uncomfortable at first. Practice breathing very gently, rather than forcefully, and if you feel dizzy, try speeding up the counts (no need to count in perfect seconds).
Benefits of the 4-7-8 breathing method.
It helps to replace unwanted thoughts.
Are you anxious? Your mind cannot focus on two things at the same time. Therefore, at the simplest level, a short and effective breathing exercise (4-7-8) – counting the inhale, the hold of the breath and the exhale – can replace and distract rapid or unwanted thoughts. .
It works your diaphragm, an essential muscle for breathing.
When you breathe deeply and deliberately during an exercise like the 4-7-8 method, you fully activate the diaphragm and improve your breathing efficiency and even your posture. This muscle sits just below your lungs and is where the magic happens, as it is responsible for the action of inhaling and exhaling.
It promotes a state of deep relaxation and contributes to falling asleep.
Breathing exercises can promote sleep by activating your parasympathetic system and helping you relax. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is responsible for your body’s state of relaxation. Unlike the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which triggers your body’s fight or flight response to stress (increased heart rate, anxiety, adrenaline rush, alertness). Both of these states are important for survival, but they require balance – and many of us get trapped in the hypervigilant state of stress for long periods of time without even knowing it. (It’s no wonder you have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep when you’re at odds with your own nervous system).
Breathing with intention and attention allows you to calm and relax your nervous system, and therefore your body and mind. In fact, research has shown that slow breathing, combined with healthy sleep habits, may be more effective in combating insomnia than hypnosis or medication.
It helps to reduce chronic stress, if practiced regularly.
It takes time, but once mastered, the 4-7-8 method can regulate your nervous system and your stress response can have very beneficial effects on your overall health. Reducing stress can decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and decrease muscle tension.
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4-7-8 method: a calming breathing technique in the most stressful moments
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