Wound up? Can’t sleep? Try the 4-7-8 breathing method.

Image via deansouglass by Creative Commons License.
Image via deansouglass by Creative Commons License.

An ancient breathing secret that calms the stress response.

One of the secrets of yoga are the special breathing techniques. In yoga breathing exercises are called Pranayama which sounds complicated, however it’s not! Luckily these techniques are working their way into the main stream and are not so secret anymore.

Research has shown that changing your breathing pattern to the 4-7-8 breath ratio can slow down your adrenal system, lower blood pressure, relax the body and calm you down. It can also help you get to sleep! It takes almost no time, you can feel the effects very quickly and you can do it anywhere.

I’ve used this and other breathing techniques for years and found them a bit awkward to start with. Its worth persevering as it gets easier with time and the benefits (especially after a very tense meeting) are amazing.

Here is the 4-7-8 method:

  1. Get comfortable in any position then exhale completely and loudly through your mouth
  2. Close your mouth and take a breath through your nose to the count of 4
  3. Pause and hold that breath to the count of 7
  4. Then slowly release the breath through the mouth to the count of 8
  5. Now repeat the cycle again from point 2
  6. Do this 3 or 4 times


  • Counting silently helps you keep your breath even and the timing helps you slow down the breath.
  • Don’t worry if you feel like you can’t breathe that slow! It take a little bit of practice to get used to it. Just count a bit faster, but keep the ratio of 4-7-8.
  • I have found that a good way to slow down the exhale breath is to expel the air through pursed lips, like blowing out of a straw. It makes it easier to go slow.
  • If you are new to this, feel a bit light-headed or find breathing difficult just do one cycle, get used to it and build up to 4. Once you are used to it, many people go up to 8 for a fuller effect.

Try doing this twice every day. It’s very useful if you are in a stressful situation, feel a panic attack coming on or can’t sleep due to stressful thoughts. It also gets more powerful the more often you practice it.

You can check out a video demonstration here by Dr Weil who researched and developed this technique for mainstream use. You can see more info on his work on Dr Weil’s website.

Have you tried this or other breathing techniques?

How do they work for you, do you have other favorites?

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