The Power of Mindful Breathing

Katie Watts Renell's picture

Last night, as I was trolling facebook, I came across an article on the power of mindful breathing. In the article the author, Alina Gonzalez, described a technique she referred to as  “4-7-8 breathing”. Intrigued I read further.

Gonzalez went on to state that she was having anxiety issues and it was causing lots of sleepless nights. A friend mentioned to her that she should try the “4-7-8“ trick. In a nutshell, the 4-7-8 method asks you to breath in through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath in for seven seconds and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds, and repeat the cycle as needed. No Cheating! It may seem like a short period of time, but when I first tried it, I really had to focus on not exhaling too quickly, or counting too fast! Gonzalez goes on to explain that the technique “has a chemical-like effect on our brains” which helps to slow your heart rate down. A light went on in my head, and I thought “what an awesome little trick to have in my back pocket!"

While Gonzalez was focusing mainly on using this technique as a sleep aid, there are so many more applications that this mindful breathing practice could be used for, Distress Tolerance, in particular, comes to mind. When anxiety takes over, we often go into a state that could be classified as under breathing. We breathe in short, quick, shallow breaths. Sometimes under stress we even hold our breath, depriving our brains and bodies of much needed oxygen. 4-7-8 can give us back that oxygen, calm our bodies, and act as that bridge between Emotion Mind and Wise Mind. The long slow intake of breath over oxygenates our bloodstream, the held breath allows for the delivery of that oxygen completely, and the steady exhale eliminates the carbon dioxide from our bodies. The overall effect will naturally calm the body down, slow the heart rate, and allow you to relax into Wise Mind.

I have found that if I am feeling some kind of stress, and know that some anxiety is lurking just over the horizon, I can drop into some 4-7-8 breathing and bring my heart rate down, calm my mind, be present in the moment, and keep the anxiety at bay… until my next blog, at least.