Why is breath so important? Breath is readily available as a focal point during meditative practice and is a handy measure of your state of mind. Lowering our breathing rate helps lower anxiety, reduce stress and makes it easier to sleep.
Breathing exercises are one of the core tenets of mindfulness. In this article, we are going to describe a breathing technique called 4-7-8 breathing, which you can use to quickly tap into the power of controlled breathing and its health benefits.
WHY THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BREATHING TECHNIQUES
Different breathing techniques will help you achieve different goals. There is a breathing technique for almost anything. If you need to calm down, get yourself pumped or prepare for sleep, there is a type of breath that can help get you there. Many of these breathing techniques derive from the ancient Indian practice of yoga, so we’ll refer to them as “yoga breathing.”
DIFFERENT TYPES OF YOGA BREATHING INCLUDE:
- Channel cleaning breath: used for clearing out stress or negative energy
- Conqueror breath: good for clearing the mind and invigorating the body
- Root bond: considered a more advanced pose, the root bond helps bring new energy to all parts of your body
All of the above techniques improve the function of the immune system, decrease hypertension, balance out the autonomic nervous system and improve stress-related disorders.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a more modern breathing technique that is good for calming stress, reducing anxiety and promoting a good night’s sleep. This post will explain what 4-7-8 breathing is, examine some of its benefits and share how you can use this technique to improve several areas of your life.
WHAT IS 4-7-8 BREATHing?
Based on several principles of yoga breathing, 4-7-8 breathing was made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil is an expert in alternative medicine and holistic living. The numbers 4-7-8 refer to how many counts you breathe in, hold the breath, and then breathe out, respectively.
The 4-7-8 breath is a simple breathing technique accessible to anyone under any circumstance. When done correctly and after a lot of practice, this technique can lead to an altered state of consciousness. However, most people use this breathing technique to relax when under high-pressure situations or treat bouts of insomnia.
To do this exercise, complete the following steps:
- Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. If you are using this exercise to fall asleep, make sure you are comfortable in bed.
- Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind the ridge where your teeth and gums meet
- Exhale through your mouth and make a whooshing sound as you empty your lungs
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for four counts
- Hold your breath for seven counts
- Open your mouth and exhale, making a whooshing sound as you count to eight
- Repeat this cycle four times
As you are doing this technique, remember to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you feel like you are becoming lightheaded, don’t worry. When you first start practicing this breath, this can happen and is nothing to be concerned about.
Dr. Weil claims that this breathing technique is akin to a natural tranquilizer. The potency of 4-7-8 breathing even increases over time. Dr. Weil suggests you do this breath at least twice a day. There is no limit to how often you can perform this technique. You’ll improve the more you practice the method.
WHY THE 4-7-8 METHOD WORKS SO WELL
In order to understand why this breathing technique works so well, it helps to understand how the nervous system works. The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and neurons. Nerve signals travel through neurons via neurotransmitters and transfer information throughout the nervous system.
Two of the most common types of neurotransmitters are glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Glutamate tells your neurons to fire and activate, while GABA reduces brain activity.
Many anxiety disorders and stress-related conditions stem from not having enough GABA in the brain. A deficiency in GABA makes it hard for the brain to calm down and de-escalate neural activity initiated by glutamate. Using the 4-7-8 breathing technique helps increase oxygen delivery to your blood, which in turn signals the brain to release more GABA. Having more GABA will help your brain realize that it’s time to be calm and reduce the stress hormones surging to your mind and body.
You need oxygen the most when your body’s instinct switches your breathing to reduce the amount of air you are taking in. When stressed or anxious, our breaths tend to be quicker. This is the fight or flight reflex pushing your body to attempt to take in more oxygen so that it has enough to meet the heightened demands of emergency situations. However, when this persists, it often has the opposite effect. Fast breathing often leads to shallow breathing, which can deprive our brain of the oxygen it needs.
THE BENEFITS OF 4-7-8 BREATHING
Counting your breath forces you to concentrate on what you’re doing. The 4-7-8 mental count is not a rhythm that your body is used to holding, so you have to concentrate to make sure you keep the correct ratio. This gives your mind something to focus on other than the things you might be stressed about. It’s one of the few distractions to anxiety which doesn’t have associated health problems (unlike alcohol or smoking).
As part of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system help slow down and speed up various functions in your body. When you inhale, blood goes from your heart into your lungs, and when you exhale, the blood returns to your lungs and helps your heart slow down. Better breathing enables your parasympathetic nervous system to take charge, reducing your heart rate and overall stress.
The technique is also thought to give you more power to resist food cravings, which may contribute to weight loss. The calming sensation also makes it easy to stop the fight, flight, or freeze reflex, leading to lower stress levels. High stress levels are associated with problems like depression and other mental health issues, so keeping them under control is important for general wellness.
The next time you are having a hard time sleeping or can’t seem to calm down, give the 4-7-8 breathing technique a try. It’s even more effective when used together with Spire, which sends you a signal when your body is in a state of stress. With no negative side effects, the 4-7-8 breathing technique could free you from the chains of stress.