I also practice the 4–7–8 breathing technique, which involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds. When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system commands your fight-or-flight response. When it fires, your heart rate and breathing speed up and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, controls your rest, relax and digest response. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers and your body is guided back into a state of calm and healing. This breathing exercise is therefore a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
Breathwork can truly be performed anywhere, at any moment, and it is almost instantly effective. I practice the 4–7–8 breathwork technique a couple of times a day — when I feel myself getting stressed or in transitionary periods such as while I am sitting in traffic or before I start a meeting. It is a little like pressing the reset button. My mind is clearer and I am more easily able to focus on the task at hand.
I also do 4–7–8 breathwork every night. This breathing pattern helps to bring my heart rate down and helps me to fall asleep. To maintain nasal centric breathing, leading to an improved length of sleep and overall improvement of sleep quality, I also use nasal dilators (something I learnt about from a breathwork session led by breathing guru Leigh Ewin) and I also tape my mouth.
A Practice For Life
There was a period of time in my life where I felt really unwell — I had a number of gut and digestive issues and a sore and stiff body all the time. That has all disappeared. Considering I now live a healthy lifestyle, the effects that I am experiencing from breathwork are more related to my mental health. Breathwork has taught me to bring my consciousness back to the present moment and has taught me to take a pause — I am less stressed and therefore more focussed, patient, peaceful, calm and happy.
The beauty of breathing lies in the fact that it requires no practice. This is because breathing is something that our bodies naturally do — from the moment we are born. However, the majority of us take this ability for granted and we have actually forgotten how to breathe properly — habitually breathing through our mouths, breathing too fast and breathing too much — keeping our sympathetic nervous systems turned up. Apart from the techniques I use, there are a number of other techniques that can help you practice proper breathing. There is diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, 2–1–4–1 breath and alternate-nostril breathing. Experiment with different options to see which works for you. As Dr. Andrew Weil often says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”