2:1. 4/7/8. 3–4–5.


The previous blog, “Breathe”, was about 2:1 breathing as a good way to deal with stress and a variety of other ramped-up symptoms like insomnia, high blood pressure, and some digestive distress. A friend emailed me that she has been using 4/7/8 breathing for dealing with anxiety, which is a variant of the 2:1 breathing, which includes a retention of the breath (for a hold of a count of 7) between the inhalation and the exhalation. This type of breathing, taught by Dr. Andrew Weil, is supposedly based on a form of pranayama breathing, but I have yet been able to find the specific yogic source. He claims the very same benefits as 2:1 breathing. In the video at the end of this blog, Dr. Weil teaches the specifics of this form of breathing practice.  As I began a practice of 4/7/8 last night, to see if it has any efficacy for me, I was distracted (often a challenge when concentrating) by a memory of another counting: 3–4–5. The “distraction” is below. Or you can go directly to the video at the bottom of this blog if you do not want to be distracted by my distraction.

Many years ago, we used to go to Maxwell street, originally an “impromptu ghetto market,”  an informal street market, not in the “safest” area of town and we would often joke that we might even find the tires from the very car we drove down there with on sale at one of the tables. It was always crowded, flooded with customers, smells of foods, sounds of blues and lots of voices in many different languages. It was a vibrant, spirited, sometimes seedy, high energy street market bordered by run-down, shabby, dilapidated sometimes boarded up apartment buildings and old factories, many of which were still occupied. No fancy booths along the streets like in farmers markets today, but rather makeshift tables (sometimes just piles on the ground) piled high with scattered merchandise, mostly used, sometimes new. For an artist, it was an awesome place to find amazing discoveries, unusual objects, unlikely treasures. And always at a cheap price.  This was the place where one Sunday I heard the plaintive cry, “3—4—5. 3—-4—-5!”

Maxwell Street Market in Chicago emerged in the late 19th century by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, which is why the Market was only open on Sundays after the Jewish Sabbath. It was a place where anyone could sell anything: used washing machines, car parts, new socks, records and tapes, strange and mysterious hardware, old shoes, Mexican religious items, broken furniture and assorted objects wanting to be antiques, used books, prepared food and produce, and yes, automobile tires. It was a place where the poor could sell whatever they got their hands on during the week, where fledgling entrepreneurs could get a foothold. Legal and illegal merchandise exchanged hands. The price always affordable. Like a pseudo-wholesale house, some city entrepreneurs would buy quantities of new items produced in cheaper places (like Asia) for resale in their downtown/ uptown stores. In the thirties and forties when African Americans came up north to Chicago, they brought the blues to Maxwell Street. Because the din of the market was so loud and these musicians wanted their music to be heard above the fray, the electrified urban blues was born, also known as the Chicago Blues (see photo above).

Like the Sirens’ call, I was compelled to follow this “3–4–5,” to see why this person insisted on counting, with their culturally distinct voice so clearly carrying over the loudness of Maxwell Street. It was a circuitous, labyrinthine journey, following this audible thread which appeared and disappeared in between and among the cultural maelstrom of voices and bodies and merchandise and music. Why was he so driven to count? But then, eventually, and not quite out of breath, I found the source.

“3—4–5! 3–4–5!” There stood the persistent vocalist behind a long table, an older Southeast Asian man, with long black hair almost pure white at the temples, in a white buttoned short-sleeved shirt, shouting into the crisp fall air above our heads. He held a white t-shirt in his hands, waving it in front of passers-by. “3 for 5! 3 for 5!” he barked loudly.

I was stunned at first and then, after burying my face in my hands, laughed my way to a vendor nearby for a cafe con leche.

In 1994, to the sadness of many, the Maxwell Street Market was gentrified, the land purchased by the University of Illinois, and “Maxwell Street” was moved to Halsted Street, diminished to a two block area (originally it was 9 square blocks!) which became a typical farmers market, serving the new upscale community.

The distraction has spent itself. Back to 4/7/8 breathing…..


This entry was posted in chicago, health, history, memoir and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 2:1. 4/7/8. 3–4–5.

  1. mhorvich says:

    I have heard the 3, 4,5 story before but this is more beautifully told than I remember. Thank you. Re the breathing, “Nevermore than four breath cycles.” I would guess it helps you get to sleep because you pass out 🙂

  2. Ellen Simon says:

    So glad to see you are back to writing. I guess there is plenty of time for it!

    • jyourist says:

      And so glad to hear from you!
      Yes lots more time but would rather it not be for the reasons of “sheltering in place.” Hope you and your family are/ stay well!

  3. Pingback: The Nose Knows | Nexus

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