Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Andrew Weil lecture on women’s health. He demonstrated the following breathing technique and had the audience participate with him. I’ve been doing this ever since and have recommended it to friends and clients for various reasons, including, pain relief, stress relief, to aid in falling asleep, etc.
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
* Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
* Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
* Hold your breath for a count of seven.
* Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
* This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.
Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, in Tucson, where he is also a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health and the Lovell-Jones Professor of Integrative Rheumatology. Dr. Weil received both his medical degree and his undergraduate AB degree in biology (botany) from Harvard University.