A Simple, Powerful Breathing Technique: 4-7-8 Breathing

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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

Breath Work

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

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Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness,
which unites your body to your thoughts.

~Thích Nhất Hạnh

4-7-8 Breathing

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.

  1. Begin by exhaling all the air out through your mouth.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

~Krishnamacharya


Additional Links:

Breathing and Your Brain: Five Reasons to Grab the Controls

10 Health Benefits of Breathing Deeply

Photo Credits:

Evening Light on Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave Desert, California, bymadlyinlovewithlife;
© 2009 madlyinlovewithlife

Huntington Beach, California; by madlyinlovewithlife
© 2009 madlyinlovewithlife

15 thoughts on “A Simple, Powerful Breathing Technique: 4-7-8 Breathing

  1. Hello Jeannie, TGIF!
    Thank you so much for sharing this information. I’ve been looking to learn some new relaxation techniques, and it’s perfect timing. Some of my good friends practise yoga avidly & very seriously, and they all swear it does wonders – with diligence and patience of course :)
    Wish you a lovely day & perfect autumn weekend.

    • Thanks, Takami! The beauty of this breathing technique is that you don’t have to pair it with yoga for it to be effective. And it’s so easy–you wouldn’t think something so simple could be so powerful, but it really is. My partner doesn’t practice yoga and I taught him the technique a while back when he was having some trouble sleeping. He was skeptical that something so easy could be effective, but he tried it just to humour me. He was amazed at how well it worked right away and continues to practice it regularly. Everyone is different and for some people it takes a bit longer to feel the effects, but with some consistency you will be able to feel the benefits of it too. Happy breathing! Thanks again for your comment. Wishing you a very happy, fun and beautiful autumn weekend! :)

  2. This is such a wonderful post, Jeannie. I practice yoga at a small studio and have for many years, but I’m definitely still a beginner. I really related to what you said at the outset–after my very first class I knew I was hooked. By now I have some solid understanding of how important the breath is, but I am still very much learning and need the reminders! And since I also have so much respect for Dr. Weil, I am really looking forward to studying these videos. This is perfect timing going into a very busy week. Thank you! :-)

    • Thank you, Debra! How wonderful that we are kindred yoga spirits! I’ve been practicing a long while, but I still feel like a beginner too.There really is no end to the learning. It’s one of the things I love about yoga–even the simplest poses can be taken to deeper levels. Many of the beginner poses are still my favourite poses. I think you’ll find Dr. Weil’s breathing exercise quite enjoyable. Like you, I have much respect for Dr. Weil’s knowledge and his overall approach to health and vitality. Wishing you a very happy week ahead! :)

  3. Jeannie, I just found this post — and I’m glad I did! I’ve long wanted to learn how to breathe correctly. I’ve read a couple of Dr. Weil’s books, but I’ve never come upon this technique. I’m going to try it for a while and see what happens. I’ve long wanted to do a daily meditation practice, but that doesn’t seem to be working out, so maybe this technique will do the trick. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Debra! I’m glad you found the post because this breathing technique, though deceptively simple, can be quite powerful and very effective over time. There are so many kinds of meditation, not just the classic kind where one sits to meditate. I consider any time spent happily focused on anything to be as valuable as traditional meditation. Also, short periods of quieting the mind are very beneficial. My meditation teacher taught that if one could quiet the mind for only five minutes, three times a day, it would be a very effective meditation program. Have fun trying out this technique! Enjoy the rest of your wonderful holiday! :))

  4. Very cool ~ thank you :-)
    I am going to start trying this 4-7-8 technique. Interesting, though, I have always breathed very deeply and I wonder if that is why generally I am in a good mood most of the time?

    • Hello Randall! If you haven’t already tried the 4-7-8 technique I think you’ll like it. I’ve been fascinated with the mind/body relationship for most of my life. In my experience, if you already feel good most of the time, deep breathing exercises can help you feel even better. But I also know that people like yourself—who are generally in a good mood—tend to breathe more deeply than those who are not feeling good emotionally. There is a direct relationship between our emotional state and our breathing. Habitually being in a good mood also perpetuates itself because habits of thoughts literally create physical neuro-pathways in our brains. I think people who are generally in a good mood have an open mind and lean towards a positive outlook on life, which you have clearly demonstrated in your interesting and well-written blog narratives. It’s clear to me that your eye is geared toward looking for and finding beauty in this world. Your photography is such a life-enhancing activity because you choose to focus on capturing moments of exquisite beauty in this world. It therefore doesn’t surprise me at all to hear you say that you’re generally in a good mood most of the time.

      I strongly believe that our emotional state directly impacts our physiological well-being. Studies have shown that each emotion releases a different specific chain of neuropeptides (chemicals) in the brain—positive emotions release life-enhancing chemicals while negative emotions release chemicals that stress our bodies and affect our body function. It’s hard to say whether proper breathing engenders good moods or whether being in a good mood enhances healthy breathing. The good news is we can jump in at either place to positively change things for ourselves. We can change our mood by deliberately breathing more deeply or by consciously choosing to think good feeling thoughts. And doing both is best!

      • I never thought about that much, but you do pose a really good question: “It’s hard to say whether proper breathing engenders good moods or whether being in a good mood enhances healthy breathing.” I think you have it correct in saying that we can jump in at either place.

        Whenever there are times where multiple issues come crashing down, and that inevitable feel of panic starts…a few deep breaths seem to calm the mind and reduce any anxiety. Very good and also very insightful :-) Thank you for such a great and valuable reply! Cheers to a great day…

  5. Pingback: Breathing Exercises for Stress, Anxiety & PTSD - The Art of Healing Trauma

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