4-7-8 Breathing: A How-To Guide To This Relaxing Technique
Breathwork is an active form of meditation that allows us to disconnect from the mind and be guided by our body and heart.
When we engage in conscious breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system and flood the body with oxygen, presence, and peace while releasing worry, stress, limiting beliefs, and energy that does not serve us. There are many types of breathwork techniques, each with a unique purpose—and a different effect.
Today, I'm sharing my favorite breathwork technique to use when I'm feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or triggered, or just want to get a great night's sleep. It's called Relaxing Breath from Andrew Weil, M.D., also known as 4-7-8 breathing.
What is the 4-7-8 method?
The 4-7-8 method, also called "relaxing breath," is a type of pranayama (breathing techniques) that has been around since ancient India, though was more recently popularized by integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil M.D. in 2015.
The technique involves inhaling, holding the inhale, and exhaling for specific counts in order to cultivate feelings of calm and tension release.
Here's how to do it.
How to do the 4-7-8 method
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Your tongue will be right behind your top front teeth. (Note: It can take a bit of practice to keep your tongue from moving. If you notice this happening, just continue to adjust and breathe.)
- Completely empty the lungs of air. Then, breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat at least four times. You can set a timer for 1 to 2 minutes to start and gradually build to 5 minutes.
How to take it up a notch:
I also like to add an element of visualization and intention setting to this 4-7-8 breath.
As I inhale over the count of 4 seconds, I imagine the grounded and nourishing energy of the earth, mountains, trees, plants, coming up into my body. As I hold my breath for 7 seconds, I visualize that energy spiraling up the center of my body (through the seven energetic chakras) and extracting any energy or thought that does not serve me.
Then, as I exhale over 8 seconds, I imagine that excess energy releasing out of the mouth and visualize light pouring through the top of my head back down to my feet and the earth below me.
Any time you get started with a new breathing technique, it might cause you to feel slightly lightheaded. If this happens, feel free to take a break and breathe as normal until you're comfortable starting up again.
The benefits of 4-7-8 breathing
I've found that this breath slows down the heart rate, brings our consciousness to the present moment, and balances the nervous system, promoting feelings of calm and peace. Research has confirmed that deep, controlled breathing may help improve mood and reduce stress11.
It teaches the body to take in less
In a culture where we saturate the mind and body with external stimulation, this is a powerful lesson! In pushing us to create space between our inhales and exhales, it can also train us to take a moment to pause after being triggered instead of impulsively reacting. Finally, it shows us how to release excess energy and negative thought.
It can be done anytime, anywhere
While it can sometimes difficult to drop into meditation, a breathwork technique like this can be done on demand. Try it out the next time you are stressed, feel emotional or unsettled, or have trouble falling asleep.
Tips for falling asleep:
Breathwork, particularly the 4-7-8 breath, can be wonderful to do before bed to help the body and mind unwind from the day. As I discuss in my mbg class, The Ultimate Guide To Breathwork, this is a great technique to use if you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep or have a tendency to get overwhelmed at night.
Try it sitting up in bed as you're winding down for sleep, imagining that you are releasing the stress of the day with each 8-second exhale. It should get you in a great headspace for sleep, but you can also follow it up with another relaxing nightly ritual like journaling, reading a physical book, or smelling calming essential oils.
How does the 4-7-8 breathing trick work?
The 4-7-8 breath slows down your heart rate, brings your consciousness to the present moment, and balances the nervous system, promoting feelings of peace and tranquility.
How long should I do the 4-7-8 breathing method?
You should repeat the 4-7-8 breathing method at least four times. You can set a timer for 1 to 2 minutes to start, and gradually build up to 5 minutes.
Think of the breath as the inherent healer and guide inside of you. It is your connection to universal energy force, life force, prana, or chi. Your breath is your primary relationship with being alive, and it has the power to support you as much as you are willing to have a relationship with it.
Gwen Dittmar is a business and life coach, breathwork healer, and soul guide based in Los Angeles. She has a Masters in Spiritual Psychology, received her B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies from The University of Delaware, and is a Certified Breathwork Facilitator and Teacher. She's also a Usui Reiki Master and is currently studying shamanism.
Gwen integrates 17 years of pharmaceutical, biotech, and device consulting, management, and auditing, as well as 12 years of experience in trauma healing, sobriety, wellness, breathwork, and soul medicine.
She draws upon her intuitive gifts and her own personal healing journey from disease to well-being, addiction to sobriety, corporate to entrepreneurship, singlehood to being a mother of two, and marriage to divorce. In addition to coaching virtual and in-person executive, corporate, and individual clients, Gwen offers group coaching and online courses and is available for public speaking engagements.
Gwen specializes in helping high-achievers use life lessons as their greatest spiritual opportunities. You can listen to Gwen coach clients on a myriad of business and life challenges in her podcast, The Beautiful Grit. Her coaching tips and tools have also been featured in Well & Good, and is a member of the Forbes Coach Council.