We’ve all been told to take a deep breath at some time in our lives. Maybe, you were trying to show some restraint from lashing out. Or maybe you were trying to compose yourself after hearing some bad or unexpected news. The truth is there’s more to that simple deep breath than you may think.
Last week I saw a clip of the Dr. Oz show, and he was having a discussion about the value of deep breathing for relaxation and stress management. I’ve seen a few articles and videos about meditation, but I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never really tried it. During the segment, I heard a lady mention that she was able to get rid of a headache with some simple deep breathing exercises. I do get an occasional headache, as I’m sure most of you do too. So I thought to myself, “I should give this a try; I have nothing to lose.” Well yesterday, I had a slight headache around lunch time, so I figured this was a perfect time to test my new knowledge. And guess what…it worked! So today I’d like to share with you a basic exercise, compliments of Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-renowned doctor specializing in integrative medicine. I’m going to start incorporating this exercise into my daily routine because I think it’s good maintenance for a sound mind and body.
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every 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. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.
To learn more about Dr. Weil and his work, visit his website at www.drweil.com.