4-7-8 Breathing to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Stress hormones, which we all run on all day, cause your breath to become more rapid and shallow (chest breathing).

Abdominal breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful way to decrease stress by activating relaxation centres in the brain.

Our digestive system can only be activated healthfully in a relaxation state, so switching from stress activation to relaxation activation is critical to allow digestion to occur.

  1. Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth, then inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4.
  1. As you breathe in, concentrate on your breath and draw it in towards your belly button. You should be able to see your abdomen push our slightly.
  1. Hold the breath for at least the count of 4, but not more than 7
  1. Slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in the lungs.
  1. Repeat until you feel deeply relaxed for a total of 5 cycles. You may be able to do only 1 or 2 cycles at first.

When you are beginning to use this technique, find a comfortable place to sit or lie, and place 1 hand on your abdomen, near your navel, and the other on your chest. This allows you to gauge where your breath is going. Once you are comfortable with your ability to breathe abdominally, it is not necessary to use your hands, and this technique may be used where and when ever you feel you need it, eg, on the tube or at your desk.

Aim to take 10 breaths first thing in the morning before you get out of bed and 10 at night when you get into bed before you go to sleep. Take 5 of these breaths when you sit down to eat.

Mindful Eating

Many of us eat for comfort when we are stressed or tired, and can lose track of how physical hunger and fullness feels. We are simply not aware of when our body is telling us to start eating and when we should stop. This is not surprising as we are constantly surrounded by easily available food, at the gas station, from vending machines, or from fast food drive-throughs.

How and when we eat is as important as what we eat.

We no longer ask ourselves ‘am I hungry?’ or ‘am I full? Instead, we reach for easily available food whenever we have the urge. So firstly, we must recognise, when we are physically hungry, not just when we have the urge to eat.

We can relearn to listen to our bodies and their natural cues. I say ‘relearn’ as we are born with an awareness of these cues. You can’t force a baby or toddler to eat when they are not hungry. To break the habit of eating mindlessly, we need to pay attention whenever we have the urge to eat.

We can use the Hunger Scale to measure our true hunger and judge when it is time to eat. For most people, a good time to eat is when they are at 3 or below, and a good time to stop is when they reach a 6.

The scale can be used to see when we eat when we are not hungry. It’s important that we try not to judge ourselves. Eating is an emotional as well as a physcial thing. Instead, we can reflect and ask ourselves ‘why did I eat that whole bar of chocolate when I wasn’t hungry?’. It may be because I feel I’m stressed after a hard day at work. We can then reflect on what we can do instead of eating at that time…

Mindful Eating Scale