A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Enjoy the holidays … one breath at a time

woman 478 breathing exerciseHolidays can be overwhelming, especially for anyone impacted by a serious illness.

It’s common to feel out of step with the rest of the world and to wonder, “How can I celebrate with so many things on my mind? How will I manage the seasonal pressures, emotions and stresses?”

Breathe anxiety away

One easy approach is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Developed at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, this technique is a natural tranquilizer and becomes more effective with practice.

This popular exercise requires no equipment, is easy to remember, takes about three minutes, can be done anywhere and costs nothing.

It works with the body in any position, but start by sitting with your back straight as you learn the exercise.

Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth. Keep it there through the entire exercise. You will exhale through your mouth while pursing your lips slightly.

4-7-8 breathing steps:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Do this exercise at least twice a day. Don’t do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, extend it up to eight breaths. The exact time you spend on each phase is not important but the ratio of 4-7-8 is.

Darlene Martin of Marshfield has a mild case of multiple sclerosis (MS), tends to be a worrier and suffered with insomnia. When her Marshfield Clinic psychologist, Jennifer Michels, recommended the 4-7-8 technique, she was doubtful but willing to try anything.

“It’s been literally a miracle,” Martin said. “I haven’t had a sleepless night for six weeks. It was a real pivotal moment in my life because I had been mostly sleepless for four years and I need sleep for my MS. Now the sleeplessness is gone. I was truly surprised because I didn’t think it would work that quickly and that well.”

While the breathing exercise doesn’t directly help with her anxiety, she feels it helps her better cope with it. Much of her anxiety is now specific to caring for her mother, who has end-stage cancer.

With practice, this technique quickly becomes a very useful “sanctuary” anywhere and can be used whenever internal tension arises or help is needed with sleeplessness.

Learn more about coping with stress, or talk with your health care provider.

  1. Dec 9, 2014
    • Dec 10, 2014

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