Back to School - the Mindfulness Toolbox Part 1


By Georgia Tetlow, MD and Jill Maddock, PIM Office Manager Back to school time can be full of changes in routine, activities and responsibilities for students and parents alike. This can be a challenging time of year, full of adjustments that require much flexibility on an emotional and physical level. It can be hard to relax when our bodies and minds are so busy and stressed. During back to school time, we stock up on pencils, books, folders and many other tools for the classroom. Why not also stock up on some Mindfulness tools to improve your wellbeing? At Philadelphia Integrative Medicine, our team combines the best of conventional and alternative medicine to inspire and give you the tools to be well.

Stress affects our body’s Autonomic Nervous System that is broken down into two parts: Sympathetic Nervous System and  Parasympathetic Nervous System. The nervous system as a whole controls our fight or flight state. Using tools from an Integrative perspective such as Mindfulness can actually change the signals that are sent to your brain to adjust the response of our Autonomic Nervous System. It is reassuring to know that we have control over our response to stress. Controlling the way the stressors at this time of year affect us can  help us all to adapt more easily and leave you feeling more calm, present, and prepared to take on daily challenges. For some, the simple reassuring thought of a having “tool box” to reach into is helpful, even if you don’t have a chance to utilize the tools each day.

For full details on how our Autonomic Nervous System functions as a whole, please see our past blogs on SNS  and PNS.


One theory is that slowing the breath can alter the response of the Autonomic Nervous  System, that controls heart rate, digestion as well as the body’s stress response. One simple exercise that we can offer during times of stress  is called a “4-7-8 Breath.” This is a simple tool that can be used to manage stress and achieve general relaxation. This is a quick and simple technique that can be done anywhere by anyone!  

Why should you do this breath? This subtle exercise is a tranquilizer for the nervous system that gains power with repetition and practice, unlike tranquilizing prescriptions that are often effective when you first take them, but lose their power over time. Use this quick exercise when you are aware of tension, when anything upsetting happens,  or to help you fall asleep.

Check out this YouTube video of Dr. Weil’s demonstration!

Ideally, you want to sit with your back straight, place your tongue on the top of your mouth just behind your teeth and exhale through pursed lips around your tongue. If this feels awkward it can be adapted to your comfort level.

  1. Exhale Completely, making a whoosh sound with your mouth.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose completely to a mental count of 4
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound to the count of 8
  5. Repeat three more times for a total of four breaths.

This exercise cannot be done too frequently. It is recommended to do at least twice a day. If you feel light headed at first, it will go away. During the first month of practice, do not do more than the four rounds of breath at a time. After one month, you may want to start extending the rounds of breath, up to eight rounds per day.

Adapted from Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine 4-7-8 Breath Relaxation Exercise by Dr. Andrew Weil.

Next week, please check back for another tip to add to your toolbox!

Interested in learning more about PIM? Register for our upcoming group class: Optimize Adrenal Health to Reduce Stress with Annmarie McManus, MMSc, PA-C, PT, IFMCP. Admission is FREE! If you or your loved one has ongoing stress, mood or hormone imbalance and, please consider scheduling an appointment with Annmarie McManus, MMSc, PA-C, PT, IFMCP, our certified Functional Medicine PIM provider.