Maybe it's the fear of sitting with my whirring thoughts, my mind oscillating between to-do lists and unread emails, or maybe it's a reluctance to carve out the time after a long day (scrolling? Hours to spare), but breathwork and I have never gotten along.
It's not to say I haven't tried, either. I've downloaded mindfulness apps and signed up to yin yoga, but I can't seem to make conscious breathing a regular fixture in my day-to-day life.
Then I came across 4-7-8 breathing on TikTok. Countless videos (617 million, to be exact) proclaim this age-old breathing technique to be a wondrous – and wait for it, easy – way to ease a restless mind and help you switch off before bed. So I decided to give it a go, assigning myself the challenge of daily practice for a month. Here's what went down...
First: what is 4-7-8 breathwork?
You've probably already heard that breathwork – incorporating exercises and techniques that focus on the conscious control of breathing – is good for the soul. The benefits list from improved energy and sleep, and recent studies prove it to be a panacea for overall health, too. A bolstered immune system, balanced blood pressure, are just a few of the health benefits touted.
4-7-8 breathing is another type of breathwork. Though a trending term on TikTok, it hails from ancient times. 'The 4-7-8 breathing technique is an ancient yogic practice; a way of altering your breathing pattern to reset your nervous system, reduce anger, and calm down any feelings of panic and anxiety,' explains Angie Tiwari (or @tiwariyoga to her followers), a yoga, breath and meditation expert who runs a series of breathwork retreats every year.
The USP is that it works by controlling when and how you breathe to reduce symptoms of stress. 'We do so by setting this as the ratio for when we breathe in, hold the breath and breathe out which takes us away from our fight and flight response (the reaction to an event perceived as frightening or stressful) and into a rested, safer feeling state.'
Stress, as you know, is one of the main culprits for a poor night's kip– one of the reasons why TikTokers are hailing 4-7-8 breathing as the missing cog in the wheel for better sleep.
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing technique
The best thing about this breathing technique is that you don't need any equipment, fancy apps or an hour to spare every night. Below, find Tiwari's tips to trying the technique yourself:
- Sit or lay down comfortably
- Bring your awareness to the present moment by first closing your eyes, and being aware of your breath
- Notice where you can feel it in your body
- Then begin to alter the breath by inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts and exhaling through your mouth for 8 counts
- Repeat 4 times and then bring the breath back to normal
- Observe how you feel, and open your eyes.
- Take some time afterwards to notice and perhaps journal your thoughts.
When’s the best time of day to try 4-7-8 breathing?
'You can do this at any point of the day where you feel you need a break, whether you're at your desk having a stressful day at work, or if you can't sleep this is perfect for before bed,' says Tiwari.
As a generally restless sleeper whose tried every trick in the book (acupressure mats; CBD oils, you name it), I decided I'd be best off practicing before bed; a time usually saved for more thumb scrolling and less mindfulness. I stuck to the same-ish time every day just before I went to sleep to try and reduce the common thread of restlessness and make the habit stick.
Who can benefit from this technique?
The good news is that everyone can benefit from trying this practice, says Tiwari. 'If you struggle to inhale, hold and exhale for this number of counts, you can alter this ratio to make it work for you and then build yourself up to 4-7-8,' she says. 'For example, you could try breathing in for the count of 2, holding for the count of 5, and breathing out for the count of 4.'
Results: what were the benefits of doing it every day for a month?
I'll be honest, I didn't think I'd stick to my self-assigned challenge, nor did I think I'd see actual results but I've noticed a huge improvement in the time it takes me to drift off to sleep.
Every night before bed, I spent 5 minutes breathing in, holding, and breathing out, allowing my busy mind a moment of calm. It really proved a salve after particularly busy days, where typically I'd watch the TV or turn to Instagram.
The benefits, says Tiwari, include feeling more present, reducing symptoms of stress, panic and anxiety, and, crucially: a more efficient way to breathe when compared to short, shallow, sharp breathing which we often do when feeling nervous or angry. It's true. When I'm stressed I can feel my breath fasten. If only for a few minutes, actively slowing down my breath really worked. 'When we breathe more efficiently and effectively, we take pressure off our cardiovascular system and therefore dramatically improve our overall health,' adds Tiwari.
Simple and effective, I'd highly recommend this technique for anyone to whom the idea of breathwork sounds more like a chore than a stress reliever. Just 5 minutes before bed has actually improved my sleep so much and while it's not a silver bullet cure to a healthy lifestyle, such a simple technique can really yield results. I'll be sticking to it from here on out.