4-7-8 Breathing: How It Works + Benefits, Apps, Resources & More

Practice
December 30, 2021

When thinking about modern breathwork, some might be quick to focus on advanced techniques like Holotropic Breathwork. However, there are easier techniques to begin a breathwork journey with. One of these is the 4-7-8 breathing method.

So what is it, and why does 4-7-8 breathing work? We’ll answer these questions and more in the following sections:

  • An introduction to 4-7-8 breathing
  • Top 7 4-7-8 breathing benefits
  • How to do the 4-7-8 breathing method
  • 5 best 4-7-8 breathing apps
  • 12 resources to learn more about the 4-7-8 breathing method

Let’s start with an introduction to the fundamentals of the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Also, if you’re looking for other techniques for beginners, check our guide on breathwork for beginners.

An introduction to 4-7-8 breathing 

 A group of people on a rocky surface

Before you can master 4-7-8 breathing, you need to understand what it is. If you’re someone who has been asking “what is the 4-7-8 breathing technique?”, this section will provide you with all the basic information.

What is 4-7-8 breathing?

What is the 4-7-8 breathing method? Also called Relaxing Breath, this technique was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil in 2015. It’s a method of promoting relaxation for those who struggle with stress, anxiety, and more. It's inspired by popular Pranayama exercises, and has helped many who've used it improve their lives.

How does the 4-7-8 breathing technique work? 

Now, how does the 4-7-8 breathing technique work? Like other breathwork exercises, practicing the technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation. If stressed or experiencing fight-or-flight mode, the activation informs the body that there's no longer a threat, allowing for relaxation. 

Is 4-7-8 breathing dangerous? 

So is 4-7-8 breathing dangerous at all? The short answer is no. This technique is relatively safe, and can actually benefit your health. However, if you’re a beginner, you should only practice 4 cycles at a time until you're more comfortable with the practice. Avoid practicing breathwork if you are pregnant or have a severe medical condition. Always ask your doctor before starting a breathwork practice.

Box breathing vs. the 4-7-8 technique

The 4-7-8 method is often compared to a similar breathwork technique called box breathing (also known as square breathing or 4-4-4-4 breathing). To better understand the differences between the two, use the table below to compare box breathing vs. 4-7-8 breathing.

Breathing technique

Box breathing

4-7-8 breathing

Description

A deep breathing exercise based on sama vritti in Pranayama that involves inhaling, exhaling, and holding your breath for equal amounts of time.

A deep breathing exercise that involves inhaling, holding your breath, and exhaling for the intervals specified in the technique’s name.

Benefits

  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves breathing
  • Increases focus
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves breathing
  • Helps manage food cravings
  • Helps control emotional responses
  • Lowers blood pressure

Risks

Should not be practiced by those who are pregnant. Consult your doctor before beginning if you have any medical conditions or concerns.

Should not be practiced by those who are pregnant. Consult your doctor before beginning if you have any medical conditions or concerns.


Top 7 4-7-8 breathing benefits 

As mentioned, there are several health benefits of 4-7-8 breathing that you can gain with regular practice. These are some of the top 4-7-8 breathing benefits that you should know about.

1. Improves sleep

Using the 4-7-8 method to fall asleep is one of the most popular uses of the technique. Many are able to use 4-7-8 breathing for sleep due to its ability to promote relaxation throughout the body. Those who struggle to fall asleep can use 4-7-8 as a sleep method to silence thoughts and relax the body (as many other deep breathing exercises can). A 2015 study even found that slow-paced breathing helped participants with insomnia decrease their vagal activity, helping them to fall asleep. This supports using the 4-7-8 method for sleep if struggling with insomnia.

2. Relieves stress and anxiety

A woman’s shadow reflected on a rock

Those wanting to reduce their stress and anxiety can try breathing in 4-7-8 intervals. In fact, using 4-7-8 breathing for anxiety is another of the technique’s top uses. A 2018 study on breath control demonstrated its effectiveness in targeting the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety among others. As a breath control exercise itself, this supports the use of the 4-7-8 breathing technique for anxiety.

3. Calms panic attacks

Another great benefit is being able to calm a panic attack by breathing in 4-7-8 intervals. This technique, as well as other deep breathing exercises, have been shown to help reduce symptoms and causes of conditions that result from stress and anxiety. A 2017 study showed that diaphragmatic breathing has a psychophysiological effect on the body, which helps the body to relax when under stress. This is why exercises like the 4-7-8 technique are able to help calm panic attacks.

4. Lowers blood pressure

Another great use of 4-7-8 breathing is to lower blood pressure. This is because slow breathing exercises help the body to enter and remain in a relaxed state. A 2005 study even determined that these exercises helped reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients. This backs the use of 4-7-8 breathing for blood pressure, should one need to improve this area of their health.

5. Improves breathing

Two men sitting back-to-back practicing breathwork

Respiratory system improvement is another of the 4-7-8 breathing technique benefits worth knowing about. This particular breathwork method involves the use of slow, diaphragmatic breathing through the nose. This retrains the body to breathe in a healthier fashion. A 2019 study focusing on the 4-7-8 technique even found that it could be used to reduce dyspnea in COPD patients. This suggests that the technique is effective at improving one’s ability to breathe.

6. Helps control emotional responses

Maybe you’re still wondering: “does 4-7-8 breathing work?” The technique’s ability to help calm negative emotions and increase positive ones would suggest it does. A 2020 trial study that introduced a SKY breathing program to university students found that participants showed improvement in various areas, including reduced depression and increased positive affect. Due to these results, it can be argued that the 4-7-8 method (which is similar to the teachings of SKY) is great for relieving negativity and promoting positivity in its place.

7. Helps manage food cravings

If you’re struggling with food habits, the 4-7-8 technique might be able to assist you in fighting cravings. A 2017 pilot study using slow-paced breathing exercises resulted in delayed hunger for those who practiced them. This effect on the body leads many people, including Dr. Weil, to encourage the use of the 4-7-8 method to curb food cravings.

How to do the 4-7-8 breathing method

A woman lying on a couch next to a man lying on the floor

If you’ve been stressing over how to do the 4-7-8 breathing method, it’s easier than you might think. Follow the guidelines below to learn how to do the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Steps

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down.
  2. Breathe in through your nose over a count of 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds.
  4. Breathe out through your nose over a count of 8 seconds.
  5. Repeat these steps up to 4 times, at least twice a day.

When to do it

You can practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique to help reduce stress and anxiety any time throughout the day. Since it’s great at promoting relaxation, you can also use the 4-7-8 breathing exercise for sleep by practicing it right before going to bed.

Tips for beginners

  • Try to find a place to practice where it’s quiet and you’re unlikely to be disturbed.
  • Make sure you can get into a comfortable position before you begin.
  • Try to focus on your breathing, rather than your thoughts, during each session.
  • Make a plan and stick to it! This includes when, and for how long, you’ll practice.
  • Schedule notifications or create visual reminders so you remember to practice.

Try it now: 9 min mid-day stress relief guided breathwork video

If you’d like to be guided through this technique, there are plenty of guided breathwork videos about 4-7-8 breathing on YouTube that you can follow. For an example, watch our 4-7-8 breathing video below:

Try it now: 9 min mid-day stress relief guided breathwork video


5 best 4-7-8 breathing apps

Breathwork apps are another great way you can practice breathing with 4-7-8 intervals anytime, anywhere. Here are our recommendations for some of the best 4-7-8 breathing apps.

1. Othership

Othership home screen

Othership is a breathwork app designed to help you connect with your body and mind. It contains over 500 classes covering a variety of breathing techniques – including 4-7-8 breathing – to help you learn how to master your breath and explore the benefits of breathing. You can learn from some of the top facilitators in the world while also connecting with a global community.

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: 7-day and 14-day free trials available; subscriptions available for $18/month, $48/quarter, or $128/year.

2. Breathe

Breathe instructions screen

The Breathe app exists primarily to teach users about the 4-7-8 breathing method. It uses on-screen instructions and guided breathing exercises to teach the technique in a way that anyone can easily learn and practice. The goal of the app is to help everyone sleep better, as well as tackle stress and anxiety.

Download it Now: iOS

Cost: Free to use; in-app purchases available.

3. 4:7:8 Breathing

4:7:8 Breathing guided session

4:7:8 Breathing is an easy-to-use app that guides you through the technique. Simply open the app and breathe along with the on-screen visuals. This app can help you relax, and even fall asleep in a minute or less.

Download it Now: iOS

Cost: $0.99

4. 4-7-8 Relax Breathing

4-7-8 Relax Breathing home screen

4-7-8 Relax Breathing is another breathwork app made specifically to help users master the method. It utilizes simple designs and onscreen instructions that make it easy for users to follow along. The app also has more in-depth information about Dr. Weil’s technique.

Download it Now: Android

Cost: Free

5. BreatheIn: Calm Breathing

breathein-session

BreatheIn is a breathwork app that includes four different breathing exercises you can practice. They include box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, humming bee breath, and coherent breathing. The app uses stunning visuals to help guide you through the exercises, and also includes Apple Health integration

Download it Now: iOS

Cost: $0.99

12 resources to learn more about the 4-7-8 breathing method

If you’re looking to learn more about Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing method, there are plenty of ways you can do so. Check out the resources listed below:

Books on the 4-7-8 method

  1. Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork – A 2018 guide by Dan Brulé that covers how modern breathwork techniques can help improve your life.
  2. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor’s 2020 book explores the science behind how modern breathwork can improve your health and well-being.
  3. Exhale: 40 Breathwork Exercises to Help You Find Your Calm, Supercharge Your Health, and Perform at Your Best – A 2020 instructional guide by Richie Bostock explaining how to perform various breathing exercises, as well as what benefits they can bring you.
  4. Breathe: A Practical Guide to Breathwork Exercises – A 2021 audiobook from Rebecca Dennis that guides listeners through her breathwork course, teaching them how to use their breath to thrive.

4-7-8 breathing exercise videos

  1. Dr. Weil explains how to do his 4-7-8 breathing technique – A 2-minute guided demonstration from Dr. Andrew Weil on how to practice 4-7-8 breathing.
  2. 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise to alleviate Anxiety and Stress for Teens and Adults – A 5-minute explanation of the 4-7-8 method, including a guided session, for those in need of stress relief.
  3. 4-7-8 Calm Breathing Exercise - Relaxing Breath Technique | Hands-On Meditation – A 4-minute breathwork session for relaxation using the 4-7-8 technique.
  4. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique – A 3-minute 4-7-8 breathing exercises video specifically made for teaching children how to do the technique.

4-7-8 training courses: online

  1. Practical Meditation - Master Meditation Today – Taught by certified meditation instructor Greg de Vries, this Udemy course teaches mindfulness tactics such as 4-7-8 breathing for conquering stress and anxiety.
  2. Manage Your Stress Energy – This Udemy course, taught by Lukas Mackevicius, covers how the 4-7-8 method and other stress management skills can be used to improve productivity and health.
  3. Online Breathwork Teacher Training – Loka Yoga’s 20-hour breathwork certification training that equips students with the skills to teach 4-7-8 and other breathwork techniques.
  4. Breathwork Facilitator Training – Inspired Me’s 300-hour training program that certifies students to teach 4-7-8, among other breathing techniques.



If you’re ready to see how 4-7-8 breathing can help you relax, explore our many class styles offered on the Othership app.