The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: What Is It, How It Works & How to Do It.

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The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is an anxiety management tool developed by Dr Andrew Weil that uses Pranayama, a yogic breathing technique, to create a natural relaxation response in the body.

The exercise involves taking a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding it for 7 seconds, then letting it out slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds.

The use of this technique can be beneficial when you find yourself feeling very anxious or stressed and struggling to fall asleep.

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How It Works

Deep breathing exercises serve as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. By slowing down the rhythm of your breathing, you are replicating how your central nervous system is acting when it’s in a calm and relaxed state. 

In the same way that smiling can make us happy, breathing in the 4-7-8 methods can also put you in a relaxed, tranquil state. 

However, the practice is not just psychosomatic; by increasing the oxygen levels in our blood, we become more alert! This is because increased oxygenation stimulates brain activity which makes us feel happier and calmer.

Additionally, it has been shown to regulate heart rate and blood pressure, calm the mind, and release tension. This practice allows the body to experience a deep sense of relaxation and rejuvenation regularly.

Women uses 4-7-8 breathing technique for sleep

4-7-8 Breathing Technique

You can practice the 4-7-8 technique in either a seated position or lying down. Obviously, if your practice this technique to help you sleep, lying down in bed is ideal. However you decide to practice, make sure you are in a comfortable position, and you can breathe freely. 

Throughout the practice, you need to keep the tip of your tongue pushed up against the back of your top front teeth.

Step One: Empty Your Lungs
Breathe out through pursed lips until you feel that your lungs are empty. Remember to keep your tongue pushed up against the back of your top front teeth.
Out S
Step Two: Inhalation Breath Through The Nose
Breath in through the nose whilst keeping a mental count of four. "In, Two, Three, Four"
Step Three: Hold The Breath
Hold your breath for seven seconds. "Hold, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven"
Hold -S
Step Four: Exhalation Breath Through The Mouth
Breath out again through pursed lips with the aim of emptying the lungs. "Out, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight"
Out S

Once you’ve exhaled, you can start the breathing pattern again from step two. Aim to go through at least four breath cycles to begin with and increase to eight when your comfortable with the practice

Feel free to use this audio guide to help you get your rhythmic breathing right!

Or download if you want to practice offline.


The 4-7-8 method gained popularity mainly as a means of helping people who struggle to sleep. However, similar breathing practices have been shown to have many other potential health benefits.

Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

A 2012 study by the University of Calcutta found that Pranayama breathing exercises can “trigger neurohormonal mechanisms by the suppression of sympathetic activity” that in turn “reduces stress and anxiety, improves autonomic and higher neural center functioning.” 

Improves Concentration

A 2013 study published by The Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that Pranayama can increase brain activity and thus improve concentration.

Helps Reduce Depression

A 2017 study by the University of Texas found that Kundalini Yoga, a type of yoga that incorporates breathing exercises such as Pranayama, helped suppress depression in older adults.

Improves Sleep Quality

A 2011 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that Pranayama can help improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness. It can help you to get to sleep quicker and achieve deeper, more restful sleep

The 4-7-8 method is a useful tool in your self-help arsenal. Practicing it daily will release tension and stress from your body, helping you feel calmer and more relaxed throughout the day! 

Key Facts

  1. The 4-7-8 breathing technique was created by Dr Andrew Weil based on the yogic practice of Pranayama.

  2. By breathing in conjunction with a mental count we can reduce our stress levels and improve our sleep.

  3. The entire exercise consists of an inhalation breath of four seconds, holding for seven seconds and an exhalation breath of eight seconds.

  4. There have been numerous studies on the benefits of breathing exercises.

  5. Deep breathing techniques are a great addition to any mindfulness meditation practice.

Griff Williams

MindEasy founder & meditation teacher

Griff Williams is an accredited meditation teacher and founder of MindEasy. He spent 12 years working as a London firefighter before changing paths to pursue building MindEasy. He received his diploma in meditation teaching from The British School of Meditation.