Many people find breathing practices like the 4-2-6 pattern to be relaxing. One reason is that slow, deep breaths with longer exhalations (compared to inhalations) stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve regulates our “rest and digest” response — the counterpoint to the “fight or flight” response. (If you’re in the mood for a very detailed explanation, you’ll find one here.)
Another way to work with the breath is to add visualization. A common approach is to imagine your inhalations carrying in something you want or need and your exhalations carrying out something you don’t want or need.
Want to give it a try? Begin by thinking about something you wish you had more of right now. Perhaps it’s hope, or calm, or courage (or something else).
Then consider the feelings that are most troubling for you right now. Perhaps you find yourself caught up in fear or worry (or something else). Maybe you are holding a lot of tension in your neck, shoulders, or jaw.
Bring your attention to your breathing. You can breathe in the 4-2-6 pattern. It’s also fine to match inhales and exhales (for example, breathe in slowly and deeply to a count of 5 and breathe out slowly and deeply to a count of 5).
As you inhale, imagine a beautiful colored cloud of hope (calm, courage, etc.) entering your body. Allow the cloud to reach every corner of your body.
As you exhale, imagine breathing out a dark fog of fear (worry, tension, etc.).
Continue with this practice for 1-2 minutes. With every inhale, allow more and more of the beautiful cloud to fill your body. With every exhale, breathe out more and more of the fear (worry, tension, etc.).
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