Dr. Andrew Weil is a Harvard-trained integrative medicine expert who developed the 4-7-8 breathing technique. He was inspired by pranayama, a very old yogic technique which comes from India and helps people take control of their breathing.
The numbers in the name of the 4-7-8 breathing technique show how many seconds every action takes – 4 is for breathing in, 7 is for holding the breath, and 8 is exhaling. It is important to do this regularly, in no more than 4 breath cycles. This method will help you cope with stress and anxiety, as well as insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The Origin of the Method
Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is a celebrity doctor who brought these fascinating ancient Indian breathing techniques closer to the Western population.
According to his own words, he was surprised by how little research there was on ancient Indian yogic techniques considering how beneficial they are. There is a very limited amount of written evidence because in India these techniques are passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition.
This ancient practice called pranayama in Sanskrit is about manipulating rhythmic breathing for its various health benefits as well as relaxation of the body and mind. The three phases we already mentioned are crucial for pranayama – inhalation, retention, and exhalation.
There are many methods for slowing down breathing, 4-7-8 breathing being one of the most popular. These breathing exercises help reduce stress, improve attention, and boost cognition. They also increase speed in activities which include simultaneous physical and visual action.
Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing
Taking deep and long breaths is essential in any form of meditation and yoga. It helps a person to relax and be more focused. The same applies to 4-7-8 breathing. Here is a list of many benefits of this technique, according to Dr. Weil himself:
- Stress reduction – Everyone has experienced stress in their lives, especially adults. Work and having kids can cause everyday stress and this is a great natural way of coping, much better and healthier than medication.
- Dealing with anxiety – A common trigger for stress is anxiety. Nowadays, a lot of people have anxiety; some can deal with it but most need help. Medication works, but Dr. Weil claims that this breathing method is more efficient, as he successfully used it to cure people with severe panic attacks. You just have to be persistent and apply this method for extended periods of time.
- Helping people with sleep disorders – There are many disorders which prevent people from having a good night’s sleep. Insomnia, restless leg syndrome, panic attacks – this method helps with every one of them. Sometimes you just overthink before sleeping and that keeps you up. If you slow down your breathing, you will fall asleep much easier. In fact, some proponents of this breathing technique say it takes them only a minute to fall asleep.
- Anger management – After practicing this technique for a longer period of time, you can use it in many everyday situations. According to Weil, you can even use it to stop an angry or aggressive response when you feel irritated by someone or something. People who have trouble keeping their cool should try it, especially adult males who tend to be overly aggressive.
- Stopping unhealthy cravings – Everybody has a weakness, some urge they feel obligated to satisfy. You can be craving junk food, sweets, tobacco or worse, substances like alcohol or drugs. If you use this method long enough, Dr. Weil says that these cravings will go away.
It’s not just Dr. Weil who claims this and other similar techniques could be beneficial for your health.
A comprehensive 2011 review found that deep breathing techniques might help reduce anxiety and fatigue, improve the symptoms of migraines and asthma, and enable people to control stress and aggressive impulses.
Two years later, a study published in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association found that practicing pranayama breathing for six weeks may help people control stress and anxiety while also improving their cognitive function.
The evidence of the success of this particular technique is largely spread by word of mouth from people who have successfully used it, but the clinical research supporting their claims is lacking. The users of 4-7-8 breathing claim that the more and longer they used it, the more effective it became, unlike anxiety medication which gets less effective because the body builds up tolerance the more you use it.
How to Use This Technique
It is important to assume a cozy sitting position before practicing the 4-7-8 breathing method because you might feel dizzy after doing it, especially if you are new to this. You can also do this while lying down if you prefer.
First things first, you should position the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth behind the top front teeth. Begin by letting all the air out through your mouth, and then breathe in silently through the nose to a count of 4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, and finally breathe out loudly through your mouth for 8 seconds, pursing your lips while creating a “whoosh” sound.
You should repeat this cycle four times, not more because you might get lightheaded. Do it twice a day, preferably when you wake up and before you go to sleep. If you follow these instructions you should see the results sooner, but be patient because they might take several days or even weeks to show.
People associate 4-7-8 breathing and other breathing methods with different activities that contribute to relaxation. You can incorporate rhythmic breathing into the following actions:
- Any form of meditation
- Tai chi and qigong
Pranayamic breathing coupled with these activities will help you elevate your mind and spirit, become relaxed and let go of negativity and the problems bothering you. This breathing method also improves heart rate variability, which is extremely beneficial for cognition, as well as reducing stress and anxiety levels.
4-7-8 Breathing for a Stress-Free Life
The 4-7-8 breathing technique comes from a very old Indian breathing practice called pranayama, and people have used it for so long because of its numerous health benefits. People turn to this technique because it helps them fall asleep, deal with everyday stress, and reduce anxiety.
The cool thing about this method is that everyone can learn it. It is simple and free, and it takes just a few minutes of your time. If you do it twice every day, you should see the results soon, and the longer you use it, it should become better and more effective. It is a great relaxation tool to have in this crazy modern world.