When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady.
But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still,
and the yogi achieves long life.
Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.
~ Svatmarama; The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
I was totally smitten with yoga after taking my very first class many, many moons ago, and I’ve been a regular practitioner ever since. I loved it so much, I became a certified yoga teacher and taught for a few years. I haven’t taught for a long time now, but yoga will always be part of my daily life.
Most people think of yoga as simply stretching exercises, but the true practice of yoga is so much more than that. While the physical yoga postures make up what most people call yoga, pranayama, or breath work, is as important and as beneficial to any yoga practice as the yoga poses.
While breath work is a big part of yoga, it is not unique to yoga practice. Historically, many cultures and disciplines have recognized the value of the breath as the interface between the body and the spirit and many have integrated the concept into the language and fabric of their cultures.
In Greek, “psyche pneuma” meant breath/soul/air/spirit. In Latin, “anima spiritus” means breath/soul. In Japanese, “ki” means air/spirit; and in Sanskrit, “prana” connoted a resonant life force that is at no time more apparent to us than when that force is extinguished at the moment of death. In Chinese the character for “breath” (hsi) is made of three characters that mean “of the conscious self of heart”. The breath was seen as a force that ran through mind, body and spirit like a river running through a dry valley giving sustenance to everything in its course.
~ Donna Farhi
The Breathing Book
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness,
which unites your body to your thoughts.
~Thích Nhất Hạnh
I’ve practiced many different kinds of pranayama (breathing) exercises over the years and have benefited from all of them. But the 4-7-8 breathing technique I’m sharing with you here is the most powerful and accessible breathing technique I have personally discovered. I learned about it over a decade ago from Dr. Andrew Weil’s CD entitled Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing. I’ve taught this technique to students, friends and family over the years and it really works!
Benefits of 4-7-8 Breathing
The first thing many people notice early on is that this technique does wonders to calm the mind and slow the heart rate, thereby relaxing the entire nervous system. It is a powerful tool one can use to reduce physical tension or mental stress and induce relaxation.
I also find this technique especially effective to get me back to sleep if I awaken in the night—I do a cycle of 4-7-8 breathing and, more often than not, I’m asleep again before I finish the last breath set.
Years ago, a dear friend of mine was suffering from debilitating panic attacks and wasn’t coping well, even when taking hefty doses of anti-anxiety medication. I taught her some specific yoga postures and the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which she faithfully practiced several times a day. Within three weeks she was able to cut her medication down by 50% and within three months she was able to cut it down by 75%. Her quality of life improved dramatically. Within six months, she even had days where she did not take any anti-anxiety medication.
To learn more about the benefits of breath work and how our breath affects our physiology, check out this video by Dr. Andrew Weil:
4-7-8 Breathing Demonstration
In the next video, Dr. Andrew Weil explains how to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise and discusses some of the specific benefits of 4-7-8 breathing he has personally observed in his own medical practice.
Simple Instructions for 4-7-8 Breathing:
You can do this exercise standing, lying down, or sitting in a chair (keeping your back straight and both feet on the floor). You may keep your eyes open or closed. Count at a comfortable pace for yourself and don’t force anything.
- Begin by exhaling all the air out through your mouth.
Curl the tip of your tongue up to touch the hard ridge behind your upper front teeth and hold it there for the duration of the exercise.
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Don’t force it, but take a good breath as this has to last for the next 15 counts.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Open your mouth and exhale through your mouth (still pressing the tip of your tongue to the hard ridge behind your upper front teeth) for a count of 8. You will make a sound as the air moves around your tongue. You may want to purse your lips if this helps you to direct the flow of your exhalation.
Repeat 4 times.
At the end of the last cycle, relax and notice how you feel. I always like to finish with an inner and outer smile, but that’s just me!
Do this two times a day. Morning and evening are ideal.
It doesn’t matter how fast or how slowly you count. Find a comfortable pace and don’t force it. Initially, you’ll most likely be counting faster, but with practice you’ll just naturally breathe more easily, more slowly, more smoothly and more deeply.
Keep practicing—the beneficial effects of 4-7-8 breathing are cumulative and become increasingly powerful over time. Consistency of practice is the key as it allows one to mine the deeper benefits of the exercise, which, I believe, have no end. Enjoy. The longer you consistently practice this simple technique, the more benefit you will reap.
Have fun with this!
Inhale, and Spirit approaches you.
Hold the inhalation, and Spirit remains with you.
Exhale, and you approach Spirit.
Hold the exhalation, and surrender to Spirit.
Evening Light on Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave Desert, California, bymadlyinlovewithlife;
© 2009 madlyinlovewithlife
Huntington Beach, California; by madlyinlovewithlife
© 2009 madlyinlovewithlife