It's as easy as 4-7-8


Breathing is a simple exercise that us humans take for granted on a daily basis. Maybe it’s because it’s an automatic process that we don’t have to really think about. No one teaches us how to breathe when we are born but in later life, especially during times of stress or challenge, it suddenly becomes important to regulate our breathing.

In sport heart rates rise, first from nervousness, then later from physical exertion. In business it’s anxiety, anticipation, excitement and pressure. Everyone, from any walk of life, will have at some point had to think about their breathing and how best to regulate the cycle to lower their heart rate or catch their breath.

The fact remains, we have to act under instinct rather than core knowledge as we aren’t generally taught what to do in a given situation.

So, are there techniques that you can adopt in order to breathe more effectively and efficiently in times of stress and challenge? The short answer is yes, there are and there is much science that surrounds different breathing protocols; however we will skip the back to school lesson for today. Let’s jump straight into a few key techniques that are simple to remember, especially when the fight or flight system is in attack mode. After all it is hard enough to think logically when I’m a state of stress when the area of our brain responsible for such actions becomes inactive.

Resonant Breathing

So, let’s start with resonant breathing. Also known as coherence. This very simple technique requires you to breath in, and out for equal durations. Now, there are all sorts of reports out there that point towards an ideal cycle of 5 breaths a minute (6 seconds each way), but that can sometimes be a little much to start with. If you can jump straight in the deep end then please feel free, but for those that may be respiratory challenged, start with 3 seconds inhale and 3 seconds exhale. You can build up to the 6/6 over time. When going through the motions, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. How long should you do this for? I’d recommend 5-minute sessions to kick things off but in reality, just go until you feel a little more relaxed and content. We are looking at stress reduction here rather than long term meditation (more on that another time).

Box Breathing

Second on the list is the box breath. Think of a cube with equal sides, each side being 4 seconds in length. Simply breathe in for 4 seconds through your nose, hold that breath for 4 seconds, exhale for another 4 and then finally hold for 4 second. That’s one box cycle. This can be a very handy technique when your thoughts are racing as it requires you to focus on both breathing and counting which takes up a lot of your attention space, nudging other things out and helping you relax a little quicker. Fun fact of the day! Navy SEALs use box breathing to compose themselves in times of stress or pressure. If it’s good enough for them, then I’m sure it’s good enough for us. To start with, go through 4-6 cycles and build up over time. You can practice a few times a day or in times of stress (the latter probably being more frequent).

4-7-8 Breathing

Third and last on the list today is a little more complex but still an relatively easy exercise to engage in. The 4-7-8 technique. Based on the ancient yogic technique pranayama, 4-7-8 can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as help you drift off to sleep. With this one, just follow the numbers by breathing in for 4 seconds through your nose, hold that breath for 7 seconds, then finish with exhaling through your mouth for the final 8 seconds. If the durations feel a little long and challenging to start, simply halve them to keep the ratios the same. When you feel comfortable simply increase to the 4-7-8. Self-studies have found this technique to significantly reduce the time taken to fall asleep for many, even those that struggle to drift off. Similar to the box breath, this can help take your mind off a challenge or stressor as your attention space will become occupied by the focus on counting and breathing. Start this one with 4 cycles and slowly build up over time.

If you a curious about all of them, try each one for a couple of weeks in different situations and as part of your pre bedtime routine to see what works for you. Remember practice makes perfect and it’ll take a little while to get into the swing of things.

Your breath is a naturally occurring process, that with the practice of these techniques (and many more) can become a powerful influencer to change the way you feel or react in an array of stressful situations. Once you’ve tried them out, drop us an email and let us know which is your favorite.

In a world full of doing, doing, doing, it is important to just take a moment and breathe.
Kieran Blay