Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained medical doctor, has developed several breathing techniques to help his patients manage stress and anxiety. His 4-7-8 technique was inspired by yoga and pranayama (aka ancient breathing styles). It’s an effective and easy tool anyone can use.
This might sound strange, I mean you’re breathing right now as you read this. But the way we breathe can make us feel stressed or relaxed. When you experience something stressful you take short breaths and breathe into your chest.
Think about seeing something scary (hello clowns). You pull in a quick breath, maybe hold it, and you’re filling your chest (not your stomach) with air. the fight or flight response activates increasing stress hormones and blood pressure. The same thing happens when you're tense, angry, or experiencing everyday stress like being stuck in traffic.
Now imagine watching a baby or an animal sleeping. They have slow rhythmic breaths coming into their stomachs. This gentle cycle of breathing causes the body to release feel good hormones while increasing oxygen to the body and brain.
Try this exercise now (and in times of stress). Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. See which hand is rising while you breathe. If it’s your stomach, give yourself a high five and dive into the 4-7-8 technique. If you’re breathing into your chest take a moment to pause and practice breathing into your stomach. Then you’re ready to dive into 4-7-8.
This is the easiest thing you’re going to do all day! Seriously. And you’re going to feel amazing afterward. Dr. Weil recommends doing the 4-7-8 breathing practice two times a day for 30 days to see the most change. But even doing it during times of stress or anxiety can be helpful in the moment.
The length of the breaths doesn’t have to be exact. The important thing is to make your exhale about twice as long as your inhale. You can do 4-7-8 breathing up to 8 times a day, but avoid doing more than 4 times in a row.
All forms of deep breathing improve physical and emotional health. The more consistent you are with practicing moments of intentional breath the bigger the impact you will see. And consistency will help create a habit.
If you’d like to add more mindfulness and relaxation routines into your life, CoPilot’s coaches are here to support you. They’ll partner with you to create a wellness plan designed to fit into your lifestyle!