The 4-7-8 Breath

Historically, human beings tended to be in a state of sympathetic activation —“fight or flight”— only when we we sensed the potential for danger, such as during a hunting party or when there was a threat from an animal or another tribe. Other than those infrequent instances, we spent most of our time in a parasympathetic state —”rest and digest”. This is the state that you likely tap into easily when you’re on vacation or when you’re napping. With the increasing demands on our attention in modern day life, it has become more difficult for us to enter into a mindset that provides relaxed inner spaciousness and ease.

The exercise below is a simple technique that can help you to do just that. Developed by Harvard graduate, Dr. Andrew Weil, regular practice of this simple, free, and effective breathing practice is a powerful tool in treating the following conditions:

  • Anxiety & high stress

  • High blood pressure & elevated heart rate

  • Insomnia and other sleep issues

  • Digestive disorders (including IBS & SIBO)

Preparing for the 4-7-8 Breath:

  • Sit or lie comfortably

  • Spend 30-60 seconds just noticing your breathing. Is it tight and constricted? Relaxed and natural? Don’t judge your breathing, just notice how it feels.

  • As you breathe in and out through your nose, rest the tip of the tongue just behind the upper teeth.

The 4-7-8 Breath:

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.

  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.

  • Exhale somewhat forcefully for a count of 8 with your lips pursed, making a “whooshing” sound as you blow the air out.

  • Repeat this cycle three more times, but no more than four cycles total.

  • Take a moment afterwards to notice how you feel. You will likely feel more grounded and relaxed. Do your best to carry this feeling with you as you continue to move through your day. Revisit this exercise as needed throughout your day.

Do this practice at least twice a day — more if you wish. It’s a great thing to practice first thing in the morning and right before you go to sleep. Practicing this breathing exercise twice daily for two months will lead to a significant reduction of anxiety and positive changes to your overall health.