A 12-minute 4-7-8 breathing meditation

4-7-8 breathing was originally introduced by Dr Andrew Weil who was truly considered the grandfather of integrative medicine and as a pulmonologist who is also currently a fellow of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the ‘University of Arizona, I am so honored to be able to guide you in this practice. 4-7-8 breathing can be used in situations where you are feeling particularly anxious, stressed, and even if you are having difficulty falling asleep.

Breath 4-7-8 represents the following. You inhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth, lips pursed, for a count of eight. The durations of these breaths are not as important as the relationship between inspiration, apnea and especially expiration. The exhale breath, you will notice, is twice as long as the inhale breath. This allows the lungs to completely empty of stagnant air, and often people with chronic lung disease, especially those with obstructive pulmonary disease, tend to trap air. This 4-7-8 breath offers the possibility of exhaling completely.

It is also a much more intentional practice. If, for example, awareness of breathing can cause anxiety, especially for patients with lung disease, which has been the case for some of my patients, then perhaps a four-seven-eight breathing would be more helpful. Pursing your lips as you breathe out has been shown to open up the airways. This type of breathing also activates your vagus nerve, which is your “rest and digest” nerve.

1. Sit or stand in a comfortable position.

You can close your eyes if you feel safe, or look down a few inches in front of you. Perhaps sit straighter, imagining this rope pulling the top of the head skyward, coming down through the spine. Check and make sure that the head is above the shoulders which are above the hips. This allows your lungs to be in better anatomical alignment to maximize their ability to exchange air.

2. Breathe out through your mouth

Breathe out the air through your mouth, and then to start, breathe in through your nose for a count of four. One two three four. Hold your breath, two, three, four, five, six and seven. And then through the mouth, through pursed lips, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight.

(We will do this three more times.)

3. Exhale again, then inhale through your nose

Hold your breath. Then breathe out through your mouth. Inhale through your nose. Hold your breath. And breathe out through your mouth. Once again, inhale through your nose. Hold your breath. And breathe out through your mouth.

4. Return to normal breathing rate

Maybe check and notice how you are feeling now compared to a few breath cycles ago. Notice the bodily sensations now. Notice all the emotions. Notice your feeling of being right now after the 4-7-8 breath.

The recommended number of times for doing this type of breathing is to go through four breathing cycles up to twice a day initially. Sometimes if you do more than that it can cause lightheadedness and lightheadedness. If that were to happen, you can certainly decrease the number of breath cycles you do with 4-7-8 breathing and slowly increase. But this might be a breathing technique you might want to try out before doing your daily mindfulness practice. Incorporate some type of intentional and conscious breathing before your formal practice. The invitation is there, the choice is yours.

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