Relax With GABA And The 4-7-8 Breathing Method

Relax With GABA And The 4-7-8 Breathing Method

This post was originally going to be about a breathing method that Molly and I use to relax. However, a transmogrification took place. Wait. No. There’s nothing grotesque here. Except. It is five in the morning, I’m in my gym clothes, no makeup…  Such a great word though. Okay, the post ‘changed’ from being solely about a breathing method to also being about GABA. No, it is not a misspelt version of the GABBA, our city’s famous cricket ground.




GABA is the acronym for Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid.




So what has GABA got to do with breathing? Bear with me, while I make the connection.

Last year a psychologist that Molly was seeing for anxiety advised her to do some breathing in bed to help her get to sleep. The advice was to breathe in for around 6 counts then out for 8 and to repeat this at least 10 times. The reason we repeat 10 times is because it takes this long for the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’ to kick in. This is the part of our nervous system that conserves energy and therefore slows the heart and so, hopefully, we sleep.


We both found it to be pretty ‘hit and miss’ in its effectiveness. It was certainly relaxing but not necessarily to the point of falling asleep. Subsequently, while investigating online, I discovered the 4-7-8 breathing method which is alleged by some to help you to fall asleep in less than a minute. We gave it a go and it seemed to work. Though ‘one minute’ was a bit of a fairy tale. It was definitely far more effective than our first method.

Perhaps I should have taken the time to research it a little more in depth because we were actually using our own version of 4-6-8 and repeating it at least 10 times. As Dr Weil says in the video which I have included below, the numbers 4-7-8 are important and DO NOT REPEAT THIS MORE THAN FOUR TIMES. It is said almost as a warning, but a warning for what? Could we render ourselves unconscious (that’s kind of the point isn’t it)? Perhaps our heart could completely grind to a halt. That could have been disastrous! Just as well we discovered the correct method; I may not have been here to pass on this great information.

Dr Weil who first introduced us to this breathing system talks a little about why it works but let’s explore a little more. When we are stressed or anxious we breathe shallowly, not allowing enough oxygen into our system. The 4-7-8 allows more oxygen in for longer and expels the carbon dioxide completely. This then sets off some profound responses in our bodies.

Stick with me here. Neuro transmitters are essentially the bridging method for getting an electrical impulse from one nerve end to the next. GABA and Glutamate are two of the most abundant neuro transmitters in the body. GABA blocks nerve impulses creating calm while Glutamate does the opposite. Too much Glutamate without GABA to moderate it is like a coffee buzz. Coffee actually impedes GABA release. Glutamate that is unchecked by GABA can lead to a variety of anxiety disorders. Still with me?

There are GABA supplements on the market but it is debatable how much can be absorbed via the digestive system. Breathing is both easy on your time and wallet. Because breathing is the only thing you can do consciously and unconsciously it a good way to influence both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems i.e. the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. That is the connection I spoke about ten thousand words ago.

This slow breathing method aids the release of GABA, why would you ever take it the form of a supplement? Our bodies are so ingenious; we have our own mobile drug lab going on. Put the right ingredient in and the end result can be truly beneficial.

Other ways of increasing GABA are:

  • Valerian – believed to increase GABA in the brain
  • GABA tea – a tea which has been exposed to high levels of nitrogen during its processing which enhances the natural levels of GABA within the tea.
  • Theanine – an amino acid found in green and black tea may increase GABA levels.
  • Fermented foods – GABA is created through the process of fermentation. Try kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt.
  • Magnesium – magnesium binds to and activates GABA receptors. This may be why, if we take magnesium supplements we can alleviate muscle cramps.
  • Flavanoid rich foods – berries, citrus, pears, apples, cocoa and wine, and herbs such as noni fruit, chamomile, feverfew, passion flowers and linden flowers may enhance GABA function.

And for my absolute favourite:

  • Aged whiskey. Apparently though the chemicals are only in the fragrance and reach the brain by inhalation. That doesn’t seem at all right. I’m pretty sure I could improve the level of relaxation by actually drinking the stuff and bonus, the more you drink the more you relax. Total oblivion is absolutely an option.

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter which helps to enhance GABA and can be increased by eating foods rich in tryptophan: turkey, crustaceans, seaweed, warm milk and my favourite, Steller Sea Lion kidney are all high in this amino acid. For those of you who don’t know, the Steller Sea Lion is a near threatened species, native to Northern Pacific and is listed on the popular Self Nutrition Data site as casually as if it were an egg. I’ll keep that tit-bit stored for next time I’m in Alaska, Sea Lion kidney, yum yum.

Have you tried the 4-7-8 method of breathing? Has it improved your life in any way? I would love to hear about your experiences.



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