Moving from a Square to a Triangular Breath

01.02.2019 |

Episode #5 of the course Mindfulness: Self-care for daily life by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura



Yesterday, we continued our review of the importance of breathing practice as a key tenant of self-care by practicing square breathing.

Today, we’re going to try another breathing strategy: 4-7-8 Breathing. Like Square Breathing, 4-7-8 Breathing involves breath holding, so if you have any health or mental health contraindications to holding your breath, please discuss with your doctor.

Noted complementary physician Dr. Andrew Weil recommends 4-7-8 breathing for individuals with insomnia, as it has the potential to quickly induce a very relaxed state [1].

Are you ready to give it a try?


4-7-8 Breathing

Since 4-7-8 Breathing is often recommended as a way to quiet the mind and support good sleep, lie down in a comfortable position. Use pillows to support your head and knees so your back is comfortable.

Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth—to find the right spot, say “let” but stop before the “t” sound. You will keep your tongue pressed firmly to this spot on the roof of your mouth throughout the breathing practice. According to Qi Gong theory, pressing the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth naturally stimulates and balances the acupuncture meridians in your body, to facilitate deep relaxation [2].

Let your lips open gently. Exhale gently, through the mouth, slightly pursing your lips, without moving your tongue—you’ll hear a slight whooshing sound with the exhale.

Now, close your mouth (again, keep your tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth), and inhale through your nose for a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of seven.

Exhale through your lips, tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth, with the whooshing sound, for a count of eight.

Inhale through the nose for four, hold for seven, and exhale, whooshing your breath through your mouth for a count of eight.

Repeat two more times. As you get comfortable, you can repeat for several cycles, noticing how your body softens and your relaxation continues to deepen with each cycle.


Sleep as Self-Care

This breathing strategy can help you quiet your mind and drift off to sleep, which allows you to get the sleep you need. This is vital, because sleep is a critical component of self-care and one we often overlook in our busy lives. According to Gallup, the average American gets just 6.8 hours of sleep per night, and 40% of Americans get 6 hours or less per night [3]. The Center for Disease Control says that adults need at least seven hours per night and that sleeping less than seven hours increases your risk for a wide range of chronic health conditions, including heart attack, cancer, and diabetes [4]. Research has found that just one hour of sleep deprivation increases the risk of type two diabetes in children [5].

You need sleep. Self-care means taking care of yourself, and that includes breathing deliberately, thinking mindfully, eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and resting via sleep. Sleep may be the most critical component of all, because research indicates that rested individuals make better health choices. For instance, getting more sleep helps you fight cravings for junk food [6]! Other research has connected sufficient sleep to self-control and willpower [7]. The bottom line is that when you are rested, you are more capable of making good decisions to take care of yourself. When you are tired, your exhausted, fuzzy mind will put pleasure first and self-care last, setting you up for a cycle of feeling more exhausted, run down, and less generally well.


For Tonight

For tonight, practice good sleep hygiene. Turn off your technology, take a relaxing shower or bath, and go to bed at a reasonable time, in a dark, cool room. Try 4-7-8 Breathing to help you calm and quiet your mind, and drift off into a deep, relaxing sleep. And then, tomorrow, notice how much better you feel when you start your day off rested instead of exhausted. Notice how it’s easier to eat a healthy breakfast, power through your to-do list, and make time for exercise when you’re feeling good. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how feeling good supports good posture—and how good posture supports you feeling good too!


Recommended reading

Sleep Tips: Six Steps to Better Sleep



[1] Breathing Exercises: 4-7-8 Breath (video)

[2] Qigong Breathing

[3] In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep

[4] Short Sleep Duration among US Adults

[5] America the Sleep-Deprived

[6] How More Sleep Can Lead to Better Food Choices

[7] Interactions between Sleep Habits and Self-Control


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