One of the functions of mind-body medicine is to tap into the body's natural relaxation response, which promotes slower breathing, improved blood pressure, reduced stress and enhanced wellness.
Breathing exercises, or focusing on slow, regular and sometimes deep breathing, are helpful ways for you to manage stress and improve your health. One such breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 method, also called the relaxing breath exercise.
Origins of 4-7-8 Breathing
The 4-7-8 method is a form of pranayama, a Sanskrit term that describes the regulation of breathing to achieve health benefits. An ancient Indian practice, pranayama involves the manipulation of breath in three phases: inhalation, retention and exhalation.
In addition to 4-7-8 breathing, several types of breathing exercises can be considered to be pranayama, including breathing techniques used in yoga.
Read more: Types of Yoga Breathing
Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing
Breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 method are linked to a variety of health benefits. With practice, you may experience reduced anxiety, improved sleep and pain management associated with headaches and other chronic conditions.
A study published in the January 2014 Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research linked both fast and slow types of pranayama to reduced stress and improved cognition, including attention, retention and speed in tasks that merge vision and physical action, such as playing video games.
4-7-8 and the Stress Response
The 4-7-8 method activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which increases feelings of calm, enhances digestion and lessens the feelings of fear originating in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
When presented with a stressor, the body may naturally default to the SNS "fight or flight" response, which can increase blood pressure and the risk of certain health conditions such as heart disease and anxiety.
With repeated practice of the 4-7-8 method and other breathing techniques, the body may more quickly turn to the PNS to calm itself, with the benefits becoming more pronounced over a period of time.
Read more: Why Does Deep Breathing Calm You Down?
Practicing the 4-7-8 Method
The 4-7-8 numbers in the method's name refer to the counts when breathing in, holding your breath and exhaling. To practice 4-7-8 breathing:
- Start by sitting up straight in a comfortable position.
- Next place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of your gums, just behind your upper front teeth.
- Expand your diaphragm and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for another count of 7.
- Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for a count of 8.
- Repeat this cycle four times.
Proponents of 4-7-8 breathing recommend using this technique at least twice a day. The idea behind these scheduled exercise sessions is to retrain your entire way of breathing. With enough practice, you should begin breathing more deeply without thinking about it.
Before You Get Started
The 4-7-8 method is a simple technique that almost anyone can learn. Relaxation techniques, such as 4-7-8 and other breathing exercises, are generally safe and can improve health. However, they may trigger symptoms for those with certain medical or mental health conditions or for anyone with a history of abuse or trauma.
Talk with your doctor first if you have any health concerns and continue to follow up with your doctor for the treatment of any medical conditions.
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- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity
- Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research: Effect of Fast and Slow Pranayama Practice on Cognitive Functions in Healthy Volunteers
- National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Relaxation Techniques for Health
- ScienceDirect: Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on Health – A Systematic Review
- Healthline: What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?
- Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health: Breath, Body, and Mind: The Physiology of Pranayama