4-7-8 Breathing Exercise in the light of Authentic Yoga Pranayamas

Hi Acharya,

I have started doing 4-7-8 breathing exercise. I have chronic anxiety + IBS issues from last 7 years. I started this practice just before 6 days and feeling some great changes in my body.

I am doing it 4 times a day, mor, eve and 2 random times when feel panic. Doing it 8 times in one session.

My question is that what is your opinion and review on this breathing exercise? IS it safe? Any long term side effects like people get from doing nadi shuddhi sometimes?

Please I will highly appreciate your answer in this regard as I could not find any side effects content related to this specific breathing exercise on internet including your website.

Best Regards.
Nasir Aftikhar

Shivoham!

Beloved Nasir,

Your questions is about my review / opinion on this specific process ‘4-7-8 Breathing’ therefore I feel it is necessary to detail this process a bit for other readers.

The ‘4-7-8 Breathing Exercise’ (being taught by a popular western wellness teacher) is a process that involves inhaling through both the nostrils for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts and exhaling through the mouth for 8 counts (while keeping the tip of tongue touching the base of frontal upper teeth). 

At the outset let me clarify that my review / opinion on this technique shall be based on the experience gained through putting into practice what had been made available to me through my revered Gurus and also the authentic ancient books on the subject of Yoga.

It is to be kept in mind that inhalation and exhalation from mouth is discouraged invariably in the Yogic breathing processes (except few such as kaki mudra, Sheetali pranayama etc.) for there are more benefits if we use nostrils in pranayama. Also there are inherent issues with the process of inhaling through the mouth. After all nose is an organ that has been designed and designated to handle air-flow for obvious reasons such as moisturising the air, filtering the air and also stimulating the left and right brain lobes alternatively by virtue of changing swaras. But since someone is teaching such a technique and that many people are engaging in it does require a fair review.

This particular technique ‘4-7-8 Breathing’ especially keeping the basics mentioned in the ancient authentic books of Yoga and Pranayama seems a self-discovered technique instead. The closet resembling process finding mention in Yogic texts (that involves mouth exhalation) is ‘Simha Asana’. There are no pranayama even close to this technique but the closest authentic pranayama that can be linked to this is ‘Bhramari’ however in that also neither we hold nor do we use mouth-exhalation.

However this breathing 4-7-8 or 2-4-7 (or whatever be the ratio) technique seems to be borrowing a lot from a naturally occurring process – ‘yawning’ or ‘sighing’ but more closer to sighing. In fact sighing is defined as to emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar emotions. This process is about voluntarily imitating that instinctive body response and I am sure it can help. It can help release stress and anxiety naturally but as I can see excessive, forced and repeated sighing more than a few times in a row would rather create a pro-response rather than acting as a  reliever of stress, anxiety, grief etc. In that case you shall start feeling stressed, anxious, sad and even suffer from insomnia. You may have noticed it that teacher himself warns to not exceed 4 such cycles in one go. Why? The reason is exactly as stated above.

Although the teacher recommends this technique to be used multiple times spread over the day but I beg to differ. In my fair opinion this type of breathing can be done only and only at times when you are stressed, anxious or sad not at other times. It is going to work only if it is done at opportune times nor otherwise. Unless you are perennially depressed or have certain kind of anxiety disorder using it multiple times during the day is not recommended.

I don’t see this way of breathing as panacea to all the mental issues one may suffer from. Instead my recommendation would be belly-breathing, simha-asana, bhramari, ujjai and elongated ‘chanting of aaaaa.. or ahhhh… while exhalation’ should do the trick for you without having to suffer from any negative side-effects. To control your responses and emotions such as anger, craving etc. in day to day life the “awareness exercise” that is taught in Tattva Shakti Vigyaan initiation is also much better than anything else.

Hope this suffices.

-Acharya Agyaatadarshan Anand Nath

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