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The 4-7-8 Breathing Ritual: How It Works, How to Do It, and More

Dealing with stress and anxiety in your job? Perhaps your emotional responses seem to get the best of you and you’re looking for techniques to manage your anger? There are plenty of healthy ways to deal with these feelings. One of them is breathing exercises. This is why we tell people to take a deep breath or to inhale, exhale when they’re under duress — the act of regulating one’s breath is widely believed to be effective in relaxing our brains, sending signals that all is well. 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique was invented by Dr. Andrew Weil, a medical doctor in the field of alternative medicine. According to Dr. Weil, this technique helps tranquilize your parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the body’s natural fight or flight response. While helpful, this response can often override logic and reasoning, causing emotional responses that can do more harm than good, such as anger, anxiety, and stress. Read on as we talk all about this breathing practice.

What Are the Benefits of 4 7 8 Breathing Technique?

The practice of regulating one’s breath is the core of meditation and yoga. The main idea is that consciously slowing down our breathing can trick our body into thinking it’s relaxed. This is the same reason people turn to essential oils and relaxing music in order to calm themselves down or try to sleep. While some more health information and scientific data is required to back up the claims made by proponents of this technique, its users cite significantly positive results.

Advocates of these breathing techniques cite the following benefits:

  • Help a person fall asleep faster
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Manage cravings (unhealthy food, sugars, cigarettes, etc.)
  • Managing anger responses

According to founder Dr. Weil, the 4-7-8 technique in particular is one of the most effective methods of stress reduction and shifting our mind response. While research has been limited, almost all of the experiences of people who employ this technique on a regular basis and over a long period of time exhibit positive results. 

Monique Heller writes that this deep breathing method is especially helpful in trying to calm your mind when you’re unable to sleep. In fact, almost everyone who uses this breathing practice seems to cite better sleep as one of the positive effects.

How Does the 4 7 8 Breath Trick Work?

The 4-7-8 breathing trick is a technique that uses a certain count and ratio in order to relax the nervous system. Breath control is the foundation of many meditation and yoga practices. It often utilizes alternate nostril breathing and mouth breathing, which is said to aid in improving cardiovascular function as well as help one sleep better.

To perform this particular breathing pattern, here is what Dr. Weil instructs:

  1. Try to empty your lungs of any air.
  2. Quietly breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds or 4 counts.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. 
  4. Then, forcefully exhale through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound as you breathe out. 
  5. Repeat this breathing cycle up to 4 times. 

Dr. Weil recommends beginners to do no more than four cycles, while those who have experience can do more. It’s best to do these four cycles twice a day, he adds. This method is said to help one sleep all in a minute, although more scientific data is needed to support this claim.

He also warns that beginners may feel lightheaded when trying out these breathing techniques for an extended period of time, which is why it can help to lie down or sit when performing them.

If the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a little too difficult, it’s recommended to try a shorter ratio of breaths instead. For example, a person who cannot hold their breath for a full 7 seconds can instead try a shorter breathing pattern:

  1. Breathe in through the nostrils for 2 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath for a count of 3.5 seconds.
  3. Then, slowly exhale through the mouth for 5 seconds.

Notice how the above breathing pattern is significantly shorter than 4-7-8, but still keeps the same ratio between the counts. Some people may find this alternative technique much easier to do. Once you’ve mastered the above, you can gradually move on to the 4-7-8 breathing pattern.

Final Note

The 4-7-8 breathing cycle, created by Dr. Andrew Weil, is one of the most popular techniques in meditation. It is helpful for those who are too anxious or stressed to fall asleep. It’s also said to help manage the anger response of our body in everyday situations, sending calming signals to our adrenaline-pumped brain. 

The next time you’re feeling particularly frustrated at work, try to practice this technique! If you want to take it a step further, try to pair these breathing exercises with yoga poses you can do at your desk. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 4 types of breathing?

Did you know that not everyone breathes the same way? Experts have classified different types of breathing into the following categories:

    1. Diaphragmatic – Also known as belly breathing, the diaphragm expands during each inhale. This minimizes the space in the abdominal cavity. Often, you’ll hear diaphragm breathing described as the most common and healthiest method.
    2. Thoracic – Some people employ thoracic breathing, which means the diaphragm does not descend or expand when inhaling. Instead, the chest expands in order to accommodate all the air inside the lungs.
    3. Clavicular – Also known as shallow breathing, this happens when the inhale is not deep enough to go past the collarbone or clavicles.
    4. Paradoxical – This happens when the chest compresses when one inhales, which is the complete opposite of what usually happens in normal breath cycles. This is a bad sign and is usually accompanied by dizziness, high heart rate, or pain in the chest or stomach.

What is the 7/11 Breathing Technique?

This technique is similar to the aforementioned pattern, but instead of 4-7-8, it requires the user to breathe in for 7 seconds then exhale for 11. According to the website, however, the numbers could be arbitrary, as long as the exhale remains longer than the length of the inhale. It also has the same function as the above technique, which is to regulate the body’s response to different stimuli. It’s also said to help relax the parasympathetic system when our fight or flight response is activated.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.