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We bring you The Big Burn Out — a content series made up of honest personal essays, expert advice and practical recommendations.
For the longest, I was all talk when it came to meditating. I'd do it once, at most twice, a week and then leave it alone for another few weeks. Of course, I thought it was stupid and a waste of time because "I didn't feel any different." Well, I challenged myself to meditate consistently for 30 days, and it's becoming my thing.
I've tested out a few different meditation techniques, and one I like to implement when I need to relax, which is basically all the time, is the 4-6 method. It's pretty simple: you breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of six. Initially, I found the exhalation to be hard and thought, "Who can actually exhale that slowly?" But if you take full breaths and breathe with your diaphragm, it is possible to do.
In general, I feel like I'm more calm and less reactive thanks to meditating, but to be honest, initially I wasn't sure if I was experiencing a placebo effect. Because I wanted to know if there were legit benefits to meditating and breath work, I did some research, and I also reached out to Anna Davila, a certified breath work facilitator in New York City.
"One reason focusing on your breath elicits a state of calm and relaxation is that we are signaling our nervous system to switch from sympathetic drive (flight or fight) to parasympathetic (recover and relax)," Anna told POPSUGAR.
The way you breathe signals your nervous system to respond in specific states, so if you're taking rapid, shallow breaths, you're mimicking a reaction you would have in an anxiety-provoking experience, Anna explained. Conversely, slow, deep breaths "mimic a calm, almost sleep state. Our breath can impact our physiological response and state of being."
An article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the psychological and behavioural changes caused by slow-breathing techniques are "increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigour and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion."
Another reason you may feel relaxed while doing various breathing techniques is because "when you focus on your breath, you give your mind a task, and this allows you to become present and live in the now," as opposed to fixating on events from the past or worrying about the possibilities of the future, Anna said.
"Breath work allows you to decrease anxiety, increase your self-worth, increase your confidence, increase joy, connect with your intuition, become aware of any limiting beliefs that are causing you to sabotage, and decrease your fear of taking bold, inspired action," according to Anna.
If you're ready to try out a breathing technique for yourself, "Focus on having fun, relaxing, and surrendering any attachment to an outcome," Anna said. She also recommends setting an intention during each session. Here's how to do the 4-6 breathing technique.
How to Do the 4-6 Breathing Technique
- Start in a comfortable seated position. Be sure to sit upright, keeping your spine tall.
- Inhale through your nose for four counts, letting your chest and belly expand.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for six seconds.
- Repeat for 10 minutes (or your preferred period of time).