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Nov. 11, 2021

By Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW

Why is breathing  4-7-8 so helpful, and what does it do for us?

Conscious Breathing during these challenging Covid-19 times is sweeping our Enterprise in a manner that was unimaginable several years ago. This overwhelming acceptance is clearly a sign of the times. The technique is an effective approach to regulate our systems in the midst of dysregulating circumstance.

The 4-7-8 breath work was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, and the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 is a powerful, evidence-based conscious breathing practice that is one of many sets of tools we call grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are practiced to calm our body’s default response of fight, flight and/or freeze when we feel stressed. As a result, we can take a step back, access better reasoning and allow ourselves to make better decisions under pressure.

Research has proven that the specific practice of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breath work has a positive effect.  The technique affects the autonomic nervous system by increasing the parasympathetic activity, which increases Heart Rate Variability, or HRV. This improves sleep and develops resilience while promoting emotional well-being, in the moment and over time, if consistently practiced. To put it simply, 4-7-8 and other grounding techniques allow us to heal ourselves by unlocking the power of the vagal nerve, which helps us break through our instinct to fight, flight or freeze.

These breathing techniques allow us to re-center ourselves in the present moment using our own breath to deal with any mild, moderate or intense stress or anxiety. The power of this one and a half minute exercise is its flexibility – we can use it in the moment, or as a lifetime practice.

Breath work is distinctly different from the world of meditation, though often it has been said that breath work is the doorway into the house of meditation. In conscious breathing, we are controlling the breath. Through meditation, we are not trying to change the breath pattern in any way, we are simply observing it.

I encourage everyone to try practicing 4-7-8 breath work. It could be the tool that reduces our stress, during COVID-19 and beyond.

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