When I was interning to become a Dietitian I worked very closely with an integrative care doctor for several weeks. She told me about Dr. Weils’ 4-7-8 breathing technique, and to say this changed my life would be an understatement. I have always been a very anxious person – I have a running to-do list in my brain at all times and if one or two items are constantly unchecked I start to panic. Instead of asking for help I used to start lashing out. I noticed that I was yelling at my family pretty frequently, having a hard time falling asleep, and crying way too often. SO, once a night I would settle myself down and try 4-7-8 breathing before drifting off to sleep. Occasionally I would also practice in the car, in the shower, while cooking or just sitting around. Within weeks I noticed a significant difference in my approach to dealing with anxiety. I still get nervous when my to-do list is stacking up, but instead of lashing out, I breathe and I kid you not there is calm. My family actually helps me more because I’m not yelling at them (shocker), I fall asleep within 5 minutes of laying down, and I honestly don’t remember the last time I cried.
The way that 4-7-8 breathing works is actually pretty interesting. I’m sure you have heard of the fight or flight response us humans have to deal with – when we are under stress our body enters into panic mode (AKA fight or flight) and as a part of this, our breath gets very shallow, which results in a decrease of oxygen pulsing through our body. As you can imagine, it is pretty hard to function if you are lacking oxygen. Having chronic stress can actually increase carbon dioxide in the body and lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and acidification of the body, which is a deadly combination over time. So counting to four while breathing in will allow you to ensure adequate oxygen is being taken in; holding your breath for 7 seconds allows time for your body to absorb as much oxygen as possible; exhaling for 8 seconds allows your body to release as much carbon dioxide as possible. The increase in oxygen will also cause the brain to release GABA – a neurotransmitter that inhibits other neurotransmitters responsible for fight or flight so your body can slowly return to normal or calm. MAGIC!
So let’s combine this with labor – one of the most stressful times in your life. When a contraction is starting it is hard not to panic – your mind is running wild (How long is this one going to last? How bad could it get? Is this the peak? Nope. Is this the peak? Is this almost over? Oh my word.) When you start to become stressed during your labor, contractions actually slow down and labor can take even longer because basically, it is an evil world we live in. Using 4-7-8 breathing at the start of a contraction may help prevent becoming stressed and shorten labor. This is just a theory and I am no expert, but I will say that it seemed to help tremendously when I had Edie Baby. Practicing 4-7-8 breathing before you go into labor is very important. The more you practice, the more you will have control over your bodies stress responses!