At the last Parish Check-In I shared that I've learned through my practice that many people are currently reporting high levels of anxiety linked to the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. While some people may benefit from medication for anxiety, therapists generally try to offer non-medicinal techniques first. For many people, techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing technique proves very effective at helping lower anxiety levels, so I thought I'd share this technique with you.
What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s
based on an ancient yogic technique called pranayama, which helps practitioners gain
control over their breathing.
How does the 4-7-8 breathing technique work?
Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation.
Specific patterns that involve holding the breath for a period of time allow your body to
replenish its oxygen. From the lungs outward, techniques like 4-7-8 can give your
organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost.
Relaxation practices also help bring the body back into balance and regulate the
fight/flight/freeze response we feel when we’re stressed. This is particularly helpful if
you’re experiencing sleeplessness due to anxiety or worries about what happened
today — or what might happen tomorrow. Swirling thoughts and concerns can keep us
from being able to rest well.
The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather
than replaying your worries when you lie down at night. Proponents claim it can soothe
a racing heart or calm frazzled nerves. Dr. Weil has even described it as a natural
tranquilizer for the nervous system.
People experiencing mild sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress may find 4-7-8
breathing helpful for overcoming distraction and slipping into a relaxed state.
Over time and with repeated practice, proponents of 4-7-8 breathing say it becomes
more and more powerful. It’s said that at first, its effects aren’t as apparent. You might
feel a little lightheaded the first time you try it. Practicing 4-7-8 breathing at least twice
per day could yield greater results for some people than for those who only practice it
How to do it
This is a practice. It must be done 2x a day and will take a few weeks before you may
experience the deep relaxation of the breath.
To practice 4-7-8 breathing, find a place to sit or lie down comfortably. Be sure you
practice good posture, especially when starting out. If you’re using the technique to fall
asleep, lying down is best.
Prepare for the practice by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth,
right behind your top front teeth. You’ll need to keep your tongue in place throughout the
practice. It takes practice to keep from moving your tongue when you exhale. Exhaling
during 4-7-8 breathing can be easier for some people when they purse their lips.
The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:
First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your
Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your
Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
When you inhale again, you initiate a new cycle of breath. Practice this pattern for four
The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most critical part of this practice. It’s also
recommended that you only practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths when you’re first
starting out. You can gradually work your way up to eight full breaths.
This breathing technique shouldn’t be practiced in a setting where you’re not prepared
to fully relax. Make sure you don’t need to be fully alert immediately after practicing your
Andrew Weil offers a step by step demonstration of the breath here.
App iBreathe on iTunes for $2.79