What If We Have Been Breathing All Wrong?

26 September 2019

There is perhaps no action more central to our daily lives than breathing, so it can come as quite a shock to find out that we may be doing it all wrong. 

While proper breathing has been studied and practiced for centuries, recent years have seen an increased interest in how breathing affects our mental, physical and spiritual health.

One of the most well-known breathing lessons is Dr. Andrew Weil’s renowned 4-7-8 method, which takes inspiration from the ancient yoga technique of pranayama, focusing on helping practitioners gain control of their breath. The technique has been known to help ease anxiety and insomnia, with Dr. Weil touting it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” With more than 40 million people dealing with chronic long-term sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health, it is no surprise that people are looking more and more to holistic methods to find peace in their daily (and nightly) lives.

“Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind,” said Dr. Weil.

Dr. Weil’s method is simple: First, completely exhale through the mouth, making what he calls a “whoosh” sound. Next, close your eyes and mouth and inhale through your nose for a silent count of four and hold that breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale the breath through your mouth making the “whoosh” sound for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four cycles of breathing. The doctor also advises placing the tip of the tongue just behind the upper front teeth and keeping it there throughout the exercise.

It’s not an entirely surprising or unique outcome. While most relaxation and meditation exercises rely on control of breath, experts have found that conversely, panic and rapid breathing can go hand-in-hand, spurring one from the other. To combat this, medical professionals are looking more and more into the importance of focused breath, with even Harvard Medical School publishing articles on the benefits of deep breathing for slowing the heartbeat and lowering and stabilizing blood pressure.

While Dr. Weil’s exercise is perfect for anytime of the day, those with more time on their hands would do well to look into the multitude of applications now available to encourage meditation or, even better, try it in person by visiting a meditation room or garden or attending a group meditation. Whatever the practice, the outcome remains the same – a well-drawn breath may be the key to our health.

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