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The Power of Deep Breathing : Understanding the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

1. Introduction

Since ancient times, deep breathing exercises have been practiced by individuals. A few people have performed these and incorporated their techniques. It is how the 4-7-8 breathing technique came into action. Dr. Andrew Weil, a globally recognized doctor and a pioneer of integrative medicine, developed this technique. Weil noted this technique as the most potent way to deal with anxieties, putting a stopper to stress responses he discovered in his entire experience.(1)

Deep breathing, like the ones using the 4-7-8 technique, is highly effective in warding off anxieties since they assist in fortifying the link between the body and mind. As you stall your breath and aim entirely on it, you take, and your parasympathetic nerves become deeply engaged.  Purpose and Benefits Of The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Simultaneously, your body is filled with a wave of soothing effects and relaxation. Your mind starts focusing on the breathing mechanism as your body relaxes and can take a break from the constant surge of agony.

4-7-8 breathing takes considerable effort when it comes to the management of stress and anxieties in the most comprehensive way.

Definition of 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

The 4-7-8 breathing technique offers better comfort and strong relaxation, as noted by Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a Harvard-trained medical doctor. Several individuals are using this counting tactic to manage anxiety and stress through well-controlled breathing. Distinctively, it comprises inhaling for the count of four needs you to hold your breath till count 7, and then exhale at the count of eight.

To try 4-7-8 breathing technique, a person needs to concentrate on taking longer, deeper breaths in and out. Rhythmic breathing becomes the main part of several yoga practices and meditation while it promotes relaxation.(2)

Purpose and Benefits Of The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

You will come across a few pieces of evidence recommending that deep breathing positively affects a person’s stress and anxiety levels. The support for 4-7-8 breathing technique is generally informal, and evidence related to the perks of deep breathing tactics in clinical practice is not strong.(3) 

Several other types of research show the significant benefits of the other identical deep breathing exercises, but there is not much research on the 4-7-8 breathing technique. 

Many people need not deal with the stress and anxieties alone as there are numerous ways to help reduce stress and anxieties, and quite a few are very simple. The breathing technique we are discussing can help you attain your relaxed and calmed state of mind.(4)

The breathing technique is well-known for fighting high blood pressure, enhancing breath control, improving digestion, helping regulate the body’s stress responses, and having the potential for coping skills to deal with anxieties. Along with these, the 4-7-8 breathing technique also comes with more benefits. The following are a couple of primary benefits one can expect by using this technique consistently:

Minimized Anxiety and Depression

In a study, the COPD participants who practiced the controlled breathing techniques experienced reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.(5)

Better Sleep Quality

Research shows that people dealing with insomnia experienced enhanced sleep quality after practicing this slow-paced 4-7-8 breathing technique for just 20 minutes before sleeping.(6)

Minimized Stress Levels

The slow-paced abdominal breathing can help minimize stress by lowering your blood pressure and slowing down your heart rate as noted by the American Institute of Stress.

Furthermore, it helps relax the tensed muscles while increasing oxygen intake, both of which help offer better relaxation.(7)

Highly Enhanced Motor Memory

Additionally, some studies showed enhanced motor memory among 16 participants who practiced 4-7-8 breathing technique for half an hour.(8)

Enhanced Processing Of Pain

Some evidence shows that 4-7-8 breathing technique influences the autonomic functions and perception/processing of pain.(9)

Calms Panic Attacks

One of the other main benefits is calming panic attacks by practicing 4-7-8 breathing techniques at intervals. The technique, along with other deep breathing exercises, has reduced the symptoms and the conditions resulting from anxiety and stress. Studies have revealed that the diaphragmatic breathing technique imposes a psychophysiological impact on the body that aids the body in relaxing when facing stress.(10)

2. How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?

Step-By-Step Instructions

The 4-7-8 deep breathing technique can get practiced anywhere at your convenience. Try practicing at least twice a day; however, you can do it frequently when you are a beginner. Make sure that you are doing it for four cycles in a row when you make a start. You can pace up to eight cycles after practicing it and getting used to it. You might feel slightly lightheaded initially; however, this effect will ward off soon.

So, the following are the steps for performing 4-7-8 breathing technique:

      • Step 1. Locate a place you feel comfortable and can sit composed without any disturbances.
      • Step 2. Softly place your tongue, allowing it to press against the back of your top teeth.
      • Step 3. Through your open mouth, exhale all air surrounding your tongue.
      • Step 4. Shut your mouth and then inhale, counting 4 through your nose.
      • Step 5. Now, you need to hold your breath and count to seven.
      • Step 6. Lastly, open your mouth and exhale and count to eight. Make a whoosh sound that is audible as you are exhaling. After you exhale completely, you should feel that all air has left.
      • Step 7. Complete four cycles and repeat the steps we had stated earlier.

Tips For Proper Execution of 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Trying this kind of breathing technique might appear a bit strange initially. Try removing these feelings of discomfort for the state. Continue to practice this technique often as you should do it till you perform it automatically. Let us share a few tips to appropriately execute 4-7-8 breathing technique:

      • Try locating a quiet place where you can practice and not get disturbed
      • Ensure that you are entering into your comfortable position before making a state
      • Try concentrating on your breathing instead of your thought during every session
      • Establish a plan and stick to it and it includes when and how long you are going to practice
      • Schedule for notifications or create some visual reminders that will remind you to practice this deep breathing technique.

3. The Science Behind 4-7-8 Breathing

Explanation Of How 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Works

The 4-7-8 breathing technique are structured to bring your body into a state of calmness and deep relaxation. There are distinctive patterns involving holding your breath for a prolonged time, enabling your body to refill oxygen. The techniques like 4-7-8 can offer your tissues and organs the much-required boost of oxygen from the lungs outwards.

These relaxation practices help bring the body back into balance while regulating fight or flight responses when we feel extremely stressed. It is specifically helpful if you experience insomnia due to worries or anxiety about whatever happened today or what might occur a day later. These winding thoughts and concerns can hold us back from resting appropriately.

The 4-7-8 deep breathing technique forces your body and mind to focus on the regulation of breath instead of replaying the worries while lying down at night. Health advocates claim this technique can calm a frazzled nerve or a racing heart. It even acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system, as stated by Dr. Weil.(11)

With repeated practice and time, the advocates stated that this technique has become highly effective and powerful. Initially, the effects are not quite apparent; however, you might feel lightheaded initially. You have to practice at least twice daily for optimal results for a few individuals than those who practice it only once.

How Does The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Affects The Body, Mind, And Emotions?

The 4-7-8 deep breathing technique will help calm your body by activating the parasympathetic nerves. The automatic nervous system controls your heartbeat, digestion, and other functions automatically.(12) There are two parts to this system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.

The body’s stress responses are actively managed and controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, while the parasympathetic nervous system controls the rest of the body’s response. You are suppressing the other whenever you are activating one of them. It is why deep breathing has become highly effective, leading to a relaxation response.(13)

The 4-7-8 deep breathing technique is one of the best ways to reap everybody’s benefits. But, the specific method you use hardly matters, and you can always try others if the 4-7-8 method fails to work for you. You should often experience relaxation responses with every breathing method, which is slow and deeper.

4. Precautions and Contraindications of Practicing 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Who Should Not Perform 4-7-8 Breathing?

You might wonder whether the 4-7-8 deep breathing technique is harmful to you or not. It is not at all dangerous as the technique is extremely safe and positively affects your health. But, if you are a novice, you must start with 4 cycles at a time until you become comfortable. It is recommended that you avoid practicing breathwork if you are pregnant or have a severe medical condition. In such cases, it is advised to consult a medical practitioner before starting this exercise.

If you have COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you must refrain from this breath work as it might prevent the diaphragm from effectively functioning. Normally, your lungs rise and fall; however, when you have conditions such as COPD, the air gets trapped in your lungs.(14)

It would push your diaphragm down while your chest and neck muscles assume a greater share of the breathing work. COPD conditions might weaken your diaphragm and flatten it leading to a decrease in their operations.

Possible Side Effects of 4-7-8 Breathing Technique and How To Avoid Them

The possible side effect is light-headedness when you practice it for the first time. Consequently, it is recommended that you try this lying down or sitting to prevent falls or dizziness. People should stop using this technique or change the duration of their breaths if they are experiencing such a condition.

You should never practice this breathing technique in a place where you are not comfortable. Although it is not used for falling asleep, it can put the practitioner in complete relaxation. Ensure that you are completely alert soon after practicing these breathing cycles.

5. Integrating 4-7-8 Breathing into Daily Life

How To Incorporate 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Into Your Daily Routine

The ideal way to incorporate this 4-7-8 technique into your daily routine is to practice it first in the morning and last at night. Practicing it soon after you leave your bed in the morning and right before you get into bed is the perfect way to fit this exercise into your daily schedule without much effort.

When practicing this technique, make sure you are present at that moment, as you should notice the sounds, smells, and sights around you clearing your mind completely. Eventually, this breathing technique will leave you in a state of calmness, and the more relaxed you feel, the more you can start enjoying each moment of your life.

The effects of this deep breathing technique are cumulative, although the exercise instantly calms and relaxes you. You can take breaks between breathing as you shower, each time you head out to the bathroom, whenever you get into your bed, before or after your meal, or any time it feels convenient. You may even set alarms that would remind you to practice it.

Combining 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Other Relaxation Techniques For Enhanced Benefits

The 4-7-8 breathing technique can help you get the relaxation you have longed for if you experience mild sleeplessness due to worries or stress. But, if the technique is not working for you, then you can combine it with other interventions like:

      • Using earplugs
      • Listening to relaxation music
      • Diffusing essential oils like lavender
      • Reducing caffeine intake
      • Performing bedtime yoga
      • Using a sleeping mask
      • Using a white noise machine

If the 4-7-8 breathing technique is not working, the other technique you can try is guided imagery or mindfulness meditation.

6. Conclusion

Summary Of Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing Technique And How To Get Started

Trying simple yogic breathing might help people feel greater relaxation, sleep easily, enhance digestion, and offer many other potential benefits. The 4-7-8 is a breathing technique involving inhaling for four seconds, holding it for seven, and breathing for eight seconds. Almost anyone can try this method as it involves no additional equipment, which is why the experts claim it is the most beneficial tool to ward off anxiety or insomnia.

Encouragement To Try The Technique and Experience Its Benefits

The 4-7-8 breathing technique mentioned in our article today can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. It has several other benefits, like enhanced focus and better sleep quality. It is an easier technique and is all you need for now if you are searching for something easier.

It is essential to remember that 4-7-8 breathing technique should not be used as a replacement for consulting with professionals whenever required. Learning about other relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and meditation is helpful.

Breathing is a natural form; however, if anxiety leads to insomnia for you, then a change to the breathing pattern can give your sleep quality a massive boost. Deep breathing techniques are specifically safer and do not involve any additional tools.

If you are experiencing sleepless nights, it is 4-7-8 breathing technique that the experts recommend, as it helps you get the relaxation you have been longing for. However, you can even try muscle relaxation, box breathing, meditation, reverse psychology, and others to help you get calmness. Continue to explore more until you locate the one that will help you relax and calm your body and mind.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 10, 2023

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