4-7-8 Breath Work
Pranayama (breath work) to reduce and neutralize stress
When in stressful situations, our heart begins to race and our breath becomes labored and stuttered. As a result, we involuntarily send fear signals to our brain which activate our sympathetic nervous system, putting us in a position to fight, take flight, or freeze.
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In addition to the physical and measurable signs of stress, stress produces cortisol in the body, which is toxic and causes us to gain weight around our middle and damages and destroys cells in our brain’s hippocampus. Our hippocampus is responsible for coordination of all brain activity, specifically memory and learning. If our hippocampus is weakened by stress, we run the risk of losing our memory, our skills and our ability to learn new skills. Therefore, reducing and neutralizing stress in our lives and from past traumas can reduce the amount of cortisol produced in our bodies, thus reducing damage to our central nervous system.
Breath work offers a chance to influence how our involuntary nervous system responds to stress thus offering an opportunity to reduce and neutralize the negative effects of stress.
Breath work transforms the mindless act of breathing into mindful action. When we stimulate our voluntary nervous system by conditioning and imposing rhythms and patterns on our breath, we are simultaneously imposing, stimulating and conditioning those same patterns onto our involuntary nervous system. Essentially, we have the power to train our brains to respond differently during future stressful situations and during recall of past stressful situations just by practicing active breathing.
The 4-7-8 Technique
1. Relax your breathing and blow all of the air out through your mouth.
2. Breathe in gently through your nose (with mouth shut) for 4 seconds.
3. Hold the breath for 7 seconds.
4. Push breath out through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat steps 2-4 four (4) times, twice a day, every day. After 1 month, you can repeat steps 2-4 eight (8) times, twice per day but do not repeat more than eight times twice per day.
Dr. Andrew Weil, 4-7-8 breathing technique advocate and practitioner, believes everyone can benefit from breath work:
“Once you develop this breathing technique by practicing it every day, twice a day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. Use it to deal with food cravings. Great for mild to moderate anxiety, this exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.”