Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/15/2023
What’s the 4-7-8 breathing technique? We have all the details.
In this fast-paced and frantic world, we’re all looking for ways to relax. Whether you’re dealing with normal stressors from daily life or anxiety disorders, you could probably use a deep breath or two to help you calm down.
Taking a breath may seem intuitive, but sometimes we need to invest more mindfulness in our airways to help us reset. And while practicing mindfulness might seem indulgent, it’s vital for your mental health.
There are easy ways to reset — like the 4-7-8 breathing technique, a controlled breathing pattern that can help you calm your mind, relax and even sleep better.
This guide will explain what the 4-7-8 breathing method is, its benefits and how to use it the next time you feel stressed or anxious.
Designed by integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil in 2015, the 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a type of intentional breathwork to relax and calm both the mind and body. Also known as “relaxing breath,” the 4-7-8 method has roots in the ancient yoga practice of focusing on the breath.
While focusing on your breath is a good way to relax, rhythmic breathing can help even more to calm yourself down. Slow, controlled breathing — like the 4-7-8 technique — has been found to improve emotional control and psychological well-being.
So, how exactly does the 4-7-8 breathing exercise work?
4-7-8 breathing focuses your attention on regulating your breath rather than your thoughts or worries. This method is similar to other techniques like:
This breathing technique also activates the parasympathetic nervous system — the system responsible for relaxing your body after stressful or dangerous periods.
The parasympathetic nervous system works after your sympathetic nervous system — also known as the “fight-or-flight” response — kicks in when you become stressed or anxious. This causes common anxiety symptoms like shallow breathing, increased heart rate and sweating.
Fortunately, 4-7-8 breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and provide other benefits to help you relax and reduce stress.
Mindfulness — the practice of being fully present — is a proven relief method for anxiety. One small study even found that mindfulness-based therapy was similar to escitalopram in effectively treating anxiety disorders, an antidepressant commonly prescribed for anxiety.
Therapy and medication can go a long way in helping you learn how to manage anxiety. Another option you can practice anywhere or anytime? 4-7-8 breathing.
Similarly, when your parasympathetic nervous system is activated by deep breathing exercises, it can help calm anxiety and reduce stress levels.
4-7-8 breathwork can help calm your mind, as putting the focus on counting your breaths can take attention away from anxious or troubling thoughts.
Calming your mind and reducing anxiety levels can also help you get to sleep faster. The 4-7-8 breath exercise has been found to put your body in the right state for deep sleep by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique can be broken down into three basic steps: breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, then breathing out for eight seconds. That said, there’s more to the practice to reap the full benefits of this simple technique.
Although breathing might seem intuitive and not like it needs instructions, specific pointers can help ensure you’re practicing the 4-7-8 breathing exercise correctly.
Any deep breathing exercise should start with releasing any air so you can begin on an inhale. Release your breath through your lips, making a “whooshing” sound in the process.
Also, make sure you’re in a comfortable seated or lying position. This will allow you to fully relax.
Start your first breath by inhaling through the nose while counting in your head to four. Find a pace that works for you or keep track with your watch to ensure you’re not going too slow or too fast.
You should also remember to keep your tongue positioned toward the roof of your mouth, lightly touching the back of your front teeth.
Next, hold your breath for seven seconds without straining or stressing yourself.
Finally, exhale slowly for a count of eight seconds, fully pushing the air out of your lungs.
You’ve completed one cycle of breath. Now repeat the steps for three more breath cycles.
You may experience lightheadedness or dizziness when you first try this breathing method as a result of breathing from your diaphragm.
If you can’t hold your breath for seven seconds, try a shortened version of the 4-7-8 exercise by inhaling for two seconds, holding for three and a half seconds, and exhaling for four seconds.
The more you practice the technique, the better you’ll get at it. Try practicing twice a day to see results.
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a simple deep breathing exercise that can help you relax, reduce anxiety and lower stress levels.
By focusing your attention on your breath instead of anxious thoughts and worries, you can enact your body’s relaxation response and reduce anxiety symptoms. You can also use the 4-7-8 technique to get into a deep sleep sooner.
Simply inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven, and fully exhale for eight seconds. Beyond the relaxing benefits this technique brings, you can practice the 4-7-8 technique just about anywhere, anytime you need to destress.