I want to introduce you to one of the most powerful and effective relaxation techniques that you can do anywhere or anytime when you are feeling stressed. It is called “4-7-8 relaxation breathing” or simply the “4-7-8 breath technique.”
This is a paced breathing technique, adopted from a Yoga breathing practice (Pranayama), and was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil (Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.)
Why is stress reduction so critical?
Chronic stress is one of the main drivers of systemic inflammation, and we know that systemic inflammation increases the risk of cancer development, recurrence, progression and a wide range of other chronic medical conditions (such as: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, etc.) Read much more about this in my “Stress and Cancer 101” post.
How do you do it?
- Get into a comfortable position. I prefer to be in a seated position with my hands on my lap. You can also do this lying down.
- Press the tip of your tongue on the ridge of tissue just behind your top, front teeth, and keep it there throughout the breathing cycles.
- Breath in deeply through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold you breath for 7 seconds.
- Breath out slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. As you exhale, you will be blowing the air around your tongue, which remains pressed on the ridge of tissue behind your front teeth.
- Repeat steps 3-5, three or more breathing cycles, in a row. You can gradually increase the number of cycles over the next few weeks. I generally do not do more than 10 cycles in a row. If you feel lightheaded, that’s normal when you are first starting out. This will pass as you get more comfortable with the technique and you body adjusts to it.
I recommend that you do this at least 3-4 times per day.
How does it work?
When you hold your breath, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows your heart rate and causes your body to relax and your mind to slow down. You can read more about this here and here.
Breathing in deeply and holding your breath increases intra-abdominal pressure, thereby stimulating your vagus nerve (a major parasympathetic nerve.) This sends signals to your brain and your body that reduces the “fight or flight” part of your autonomic nervous system (sympathetic nervous system.) See below.