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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.
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.
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.
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.
Breathing out of the belly (diaphragm) stimulates the vagus nerve & activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, our rest-and-digest mode.
Nose breathing is better breathing for your mind and body. It’s 20% more efficient than mouth breathing and leads to cleaner, warmer air for your lungs.
The 4-7-8 pattern can really be used at any time, but it’s most effective when you need to put yourself in a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) state. Before and after meals is a great time, as well as before bed.
The 4-7-8 breathing pattern combines three, science-based techniques into one pattern.
Dr. Andrew Weil, creator of the technique, has called the 4-7-8 pattern a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system”. Basically, the 4-7-8 pattern is designed to help you calm your autonomic nervous system and get you out of fight-or-flight mode.
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.