Experts keep telling us to get more sleep. Research shows it will make us smarter, healthier, more successful, more attractive, more productive, etc.
But for many of us, the problem is falling asleep. Lying in bed wide awake as the hours pass is torture. Stress is often the culprit. Worry about work, finances, family and health all contribute to sleepless nights. Taking a sleeping pills every night is not the answer.
Harvard University’s Dr. Andrew Weil recommends the following breathing exercise to reduce stress and clear the mind. He calls the exercise, “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise:
- 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.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important.
In addition to making your mind race, when you are stressed out you subconsciously hold your breath. Most people do it without even realizing it. By practicing this breathing exercise, you counteract the detrimental effects of shallow breathing and induce a relaxation response.
Dr. Weil recommends using it before bed or the moment you sense stress or anger bubbling up inside of you. Think of it as a tool in your toolbox. It’s free, easy, quick and does not require a prescription.