478 Breathing Exercise
Deep, slow, abdominal breathing is undeniably one of the best ways to combat excessive stress and achieve calmness. Slowing down the respiratory rhythm, or breathing rate gives a signal to our brain to trigger a relaxation response.
Additionally, proper breathing modifies our cognition in a way that enhances mental flexibility and reduces stress reactivity. Deep, nasal, and diaphragm-driven breathing stimulates and triggers many internal processes that together put us in the state of parasympathetic dominance.
For example, slow breathing generates slow cortical rhythms similar to those seen during deep stages of sleep. These facilitate synchronization between multiple areas of the brain, which promotes relaxation and improves memory.
It also tunes up baroreceptors activity (which improves pulmonary gas exchange) and the vagus nerve activity (which raises HRV and afferently stimulates the parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” part of the autonomic nervous system).
Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing
The 4-7-8 technique is a stress-fighting triple threat: the slow pace, long exhales, and breath-hold all trigger a parasympathetic nervous system response. This takes you out of fight-or-flight mode and into rest-and-digest mode.
Decreased Stress & Anxiety
When we’re breathing rapidly and not exhaling fully, our body is in a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) state. Rapid breathing increases blood oxygen levels, which leads to the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Higher levels of stress mean a greater likelihood of feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and exhausted. The 4-7-8 pattern takes you out of fight-or-flight mode and puts you in rest-and-digest mode.
Increased Cognitive Performance
Slow breathing patterns, like the 4-7-8 or Box technique, have been shown to increase higher-brain function and cognitive performance. This is likely due to increased blood flow and oxygenation of the brain that accompanies slower breathing techniques.
Improved Digestion, Sleep, and Recovery
The 4-7-8 pattern is a surefire way to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is often called the “rest-and-digest” mode. When the body is in a parasympathetic-dominant state, it allocates more resources to digestion, sleep, and muscle recovery.
How to Perform 4-7-8 Breathing
Begin by lying or sitting down with the back straight, but not overly rigid.
As you inhale through the nose to the count of 4, imagine drawing air into your lower back or hips. You should feel the diaphragm/belly rise.
Then, with the lungs full, hold your breath to the count of 7. Relax the body and notice the feeling of the breath.
Finally, exhale through the nose or mouth with pursed lips to the count of 8. Imagine stress dissolving and leaving the body. Soften the eyes, relax the shoulders, and release any tension.
Belly breathe & activate the diaphragm for stress & anxiety
Anxiety disorders can be largely caused by a chronic overreaction of the body to paradoxically insignificant (ie: not life-threatening) stressors, such as traffic jams or work quarrels.
In most anxious patients, the mechanics of breathing are disordered in a characteristic way. When stressed, these patients rely on thoracic breathing rather than diaphragmatic breathing. They often have a hyperexpanded chest, a fast breathing rate, and high residual lung volume (they don’t breathe out completely).
Stress-related hyperactivity of central brain networks responsible for such autonomic response can be suppressed through vagal modulation.
Increased movement through the vagus nerve activates a “relay station” for all autonomic inputs – The Nucleus of Solitary Tract, which sends further signals to many brain regions responsible for maintaining good mental health.
Increased vagal tone is necessary for recovery from psychological stress. All you have to do is breathe using your abdominal (diaphragm) and lateral ribs – during inhalation imagine that you’re letting air into the hips/butt (sacrum bone).
Choose 4-7-8 breathing rather than browsing social media before bed
Nowadays, many of us abuse smartphones throughout the day. What’s more, almost 90% of people use them within an hour before bedtime, very often claiming that this is their sedative, their favorite method for falling asleep.
However, more and more scientific reports suggest that this might be one of the worst possible methods to calm down before sleep.
Using devices with a digital screen that emits a large amount of blue light strongly disrupts the secretion of melatonin – a hormone that is our natural sedative and regulator of our biological clock.
Moreover, present attention-attracting mechanisms built into most social media are extremely efficient due to their ability to cause large spikes in dopamine. When there is a lot of it, this neurotransmitter causes hyperarousal, a state that is far from falling asleep.
Excessive use of social media before sleep has detrimental effects from both a short- and long-term perspective. It builds bad behaviors, as a result of which not only our circadian rhythm is disrupted, but also the dopamine-driven reward system.
Disturbed dopamine levels during nighttime negatively affect your mood the next day, decreasing your motivation to explore the world with curiosity and seek new challenges.
The solution to both of these shortcomings could be developing a daily habit of performing slow-paced breathing techniques (such as 4-7-8) just before falling asleep.
A research study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine showed that systematic (30-day) practice of slow breathing for 15 minutes before bedtime resulted in profound improvements in subjectively reported sleep quality in comparison to social media usage.
Moreover, another study showed that even a single slow breathwork session before going to sleep improves sleep onset latency, decreases the number of wake-ups, and shortens the time of average awakening.
Use this breathing pattern regularly before sleep to enhance your body’s recovery processes, increase sleep efficiency and build positive habits.
Make your next day the best it can be 🙂
Supercharge 4-7-8 Breathing with Mindfulness
How many times have you really listened to your body? We know how easy it is to forget about it in the face of so many distractions in today’s chaotic world.
However, many studies confirm that practicing mindfulness is a great way to induce a “relaxation response” in our bodies. Being aware of the present moment is firmly associated with increased psychological well-being and general health.
Mindfulness improves emotion regulation and mental flexibility, strengthening your ability to cope with acute and chronic stress and reducing vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
How do you “become” mindful?
Expand your senses and focus your mind on something that is happening right now. It could be the sound of rain tapping on the window, birds singing, or your own breathing.
Of course, we recommend mindful breathing the most, as it’s generally the easiest method.
Anchor your awareness to the sensation of breathing – notice how your belly and chest move, how the air passes your throat, down the windpipe, and then soothes your lungs. Just surrender yourself to these feelings.
You can also try doing the “Body Scan” technique – observe and notice any tension accumulated in your muscles. Start from your feet and slowly relax every muscle along the way.
Whatever you choose, just accept your sensations. Try not to judge yourself for intrusive thoughts that want to interrupt you. Let them calmly pass away.
Mindfulness will help you cut off from unwanted thoughts and connect your mind to your body.
4-7-8 Breathing Saftey
At first, you may feel lightheaded after performing this breathing pattern.
It’s important to remember that for beginners, the total time spent in each breathing phase is not that important. It is important to focus on the 4-7-8 ratio because it emphasizes holding and lengthening the breath.
Inspired by an ancient yoga practice called pranayama, Dr. Andrew Weil designed the 4-7-8 breathing pattern as a way to calm the autonomic nervous system and relax the body and mind. The autonomic nervous system is the part of our nervous system that we’re not supposed to be able to control – it’s responsible for our fight-or-flight stress responses, and can be the cause of acute panic or anxiety.
Interestingly, recent research has found that by changing the balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide in the body (amongst many other factors), breathing, and more particularly, deep, slow breathing, is capable of taking us out of fight-or-flight mode. In other words, deep breathing may be able to do the impossible – calm down the autonomic nervous system.