Along with our kindred animals in the wild, we humans take shorter breaths when we are in survival mode (i.e. fight, flight, freeze, etc.). Specifically, when fleeing a threat, we take longer inhales than exhales.
4 - 7 - 8 breaths are a GREAT tool to help the body reduce cues of perceived threat and to communicate to the mind that it is safe from "the bottom up." The doubled length of the exhale compared to the inhale and the pause at the top (for a count of "7"), signals to the body and mind:
"We are okay to settle and rest. We do not need to be in survival mode."
When we breath with exhales that are longer than inhales, we are more able to access our Wise Self and tap into other perspectives and resources. We can more fully orient to the entirety of our surroundings and attend to stimuli above and beyond those of danger.
Check out Dr. Andrew Weil's brief video below for a description on how to do 4-7-8 breathing.
Want help practicing? Check out this video.
Use this great 10 minute video to help guide your 4-7-8 breathing practice. This can be a GREAT tool to use in moments in which you find that you are triggered and/or out of your Window of Tolerance.