In a busy, chaotic world, everyone wants to reduce stress, but that may require a number of time-consuming adjustments such as improving self care and diet, exercising more, balancing work and family activities, and addressing interpersonal issues. However, there is one short-cut.
Breathing 4-6-8 is a simple exercise that immediately reduces stress and builds a sense of calm. It involves inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath for six seconds, exhaling for eight seconds, and repeating that process two more times without a pause.
To get the most from this exercise, start in a quiet, private location where you can sit, recline, or lie down in a relaxed position. As you inhale, push out your belly so that your stomach expands, not your chest. Try that once right now.
As you breathe, lightly press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This enhances relaxation. Also, be mindful of drawing in or expelling a high volume of air, as this will cause your lungs to reach capacity (or run out of air) too quickly. Exhaling through pursed lips may help prevent blowing out all of your air before eight seconds elapses.
Try the complete exercise in one minute
Let’s begin. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and…
inhale, 2, 3, 4 and hold 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and inhale, 2, 3, 4 and hold 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and inhale, 2, 3, 4 and hold 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
You are done—breathe normally. Compare your stress/ relaxation level to how you felt one minute ago.
Practice Breathing 4-6-8 whenever you feel especially stressed. Once you have mastered the technique, you can do it almost anywhere, as long as you are not exerting yourself or talking. Consider practicing 2-3 times a day for regular maintenance, to reduce your overall stress level. However, try not to exceed four sessions a day, and practice no more frequently than every two hours. Using this technique too often can cause you to become excessively relaxed, cause blood pressure to drop too low, or diminish its effectiveness.
To hear a Breathing 4-6-8 guided podcast (mp3), click here.
by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL