Soothe Stressful Emotions with the 4-7-8 Breathing Practice

If you find that it’s difficult to stay aware of your breath while experiencing anxiety, try this simple and calming breath practice.

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Q: When I’m anxious, I find awareness of breath meditation hard to do—but I know I need something to help calm me down. What else can I try?

A: Awareness of breath can provoke anxiety, and not just for the lung disease patients I see as a pulmonologist. The 4-7-8 breath can be used for situations where you’re feeling particularly anxious, stressed, or even if you have some difficulty falling asleep.

The 4-7-8 Breath

It’s a simple and portable practice: You inhale for a count of four, then you hold your breath for a count of seven, and then you exhale through your mouth through pursed lips for a count of eight.

The durations of these breaths aren’t as important as the ratio of the inhalation breath, breath-hold, and the exhalation breath, which is twice as long as the inhalation breath. This allows the lungs to completely empty
of stagnant air.

This type of breathing also activates your vagus nerve, which is your “rest and digest” nerve. Try going through four breath cycles in this way up to twice a day. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, decrease the number of breath cycles, and build up slowly.

Follow the 4-7-8 Breathing Practice

A 12-Minute 4-7-8 Breathing Meditation

  • 12:54
  1. Sit or stand in a position of comfort. You can close your eyes if that feels safe for you to do so or lower your gaze a few inches in front of you. Perhaps sit more upright, envisioning this string that’s pulling the crown of the head upwards toward the sky, running down through the spine. Checking in and making sure that the head is atop shoulders that are atop the hips. This allows your lungs to be in better anatomic alignment to maximize their ability to exchange air. 
  2. We’ll exhale out through the mouth and then to start, you’ll inhale through your nose for a count of four. One, two, three, four. Hold the breath, two, three, four, five, six, seven. And then out through your mouth, through pursed lips, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. 
  3. We’ll do that three more times. 
  4. Exhale once again, and then inhale through the nose. Hold your breath. Then exhale through your mouth. Inhale into the nose. Hold the breath. And exhale through your mouth. One more time, inhale through the nose. Hold the breath. And exhale through the mouth. 
  5. And then return to a normal rhythm of breathing. Perhaps checking in and noticing how you feel now compared to just a few breath cycles ago. Notice the body sensations now. Notice any emotions. Notice your sense of being right now in this moment after the 4-7-8 breath.