“Breathe,” they say. “Just breathe.” 

And the alternative would be…? 

If we’re fortunate, we don’t think much about it: Breathing in and out just happens. 

But in these stressful times, as tensions mount and uncertainty looms, a shorter and shallower breathing pattern can creep in just as involuntarily.

Before we realize it, our breath isn’t moving past the chest. We can feel the chest tighten. And the shoulders. And the neck.

Taking just a moment to zero in on that breath, though, to “just breathe” can do a lot more than release a bit of stress. Many believe that deeper, slower abdominal breathing can also reduce pain, improve digestive health, help the body more effectively release toxins, and slow the heart and decrease blood pressure.

So how do we do it?

Dr. Andrew Weil, Harvard-educated pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, created a technique called 4-7-8 breathing that is simple to learn, easy to remember and powerful to use. Start by sitting/standing up straight.

  • Put the top of the tongue against the ridge right behind your upper front teeth, and hold it there.
  • Exhale fully through the mouth. Go on and make an audible “whoosh” sound as you do.
  • Close the mouth and breathe in quietly through the nose for a count of four.
  • Hold the breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale fully through the mouth for a count of eight.
  • Repeat three more times. Try this at least a couple of times a day.

Dr. Weil calls this technique a “natural tranquilizer for the immune system,” and I’ve experienced it so many times in my own life. One of the keys is that exhaling takes twice as long as inhaling, which gets you down into that belly breathing.

It also requires us to take a moment to be completely present, and concentrate on the task at hand rather than on whatever else is stressing us out.

I’ve used this in crowded, chaotic places. I’ve used it in the midst of stressful conversations, as a preparation for prayer, and when I’ve had trouble falling asleep.

The Bible makes much of the “breath of life” that God breathed into man. It is a powerful, creative, authenticating force.

How much more so if we learn to harness that breath, to drink in deep, to fill our beings with new life, and to exhale the weight we carry?

We may find that we’re no longer desperate to “catch” our breath.

Rather, we’ll be right there, fully in the moment, ready for whatever the day might hold.