You’re equipped with a built-in weapon against stress
By Karen Campbell
As professional women we are driven and resourceful multi-taskers. We juggle workplaces, workforces, children, spouses, partners and households, all with composure and success. Is this our curse or blessing? How well do we manage ourselves? Sometimes, not well enough. Enter, the power of breathing.
After pregnancy, I found physical recovery in Pilates, but it also taught me that breathing relieves stress – stress I didn’t know I had – and that our bodies are always talking to us, we just need to listen. Within two years I became certified to teach.
I worked with several teams at the University of South Carolina, both women and men ages 18 to 22, most novice, and all able-bodied but stressed out! While I challenged them physically, I also encouraged them to employ good breathing in their practices, on game days, and in life situations – cramming for exams, making decisions, dealing with anxiety, interviewing, and when in need of sleep. I noticed that they anticipated the end of our sessions, that time dedicated to recovery. Just like I had, they learned that focused breathing made them feel better. I found joy and humor in watching bodies twitch and sometimes fall asleep in surrender to relaxation. I’d often catch a coach or an assistant slyly slinking down to the floor, too. They no doubt also needed to destress.
Private and gym clients were generally more focused. Despite their differences in age and status, just like the athletes, they longed for an escape, a form of permission, perhaps, to relax.
My sons participate in high school sports and occasionally I lead team flexibility sessions. I realize adolescents may lack some maturity and can be oblivious to the breath-movement connection, but already they instinctively crave the escape and the relaxation.
The recurring theme is that all of us face daily demands that impact our mental and physical well-being. Add in a pandemic with social distancing and abrupt change, and you can bet stress is rising and our bodies are talking to us!
Finding relief in the moment
COVID-19 reminds us that hard as we try there are many things we women, especially, cannot control. The one thing we can is our breath. Focused breathing can help reduce stress, increase calm, detoxify the body, lower blood pressure, improve the function of the immune and digestion systems, increase energy, relieve pain and tension, help support improved posture, and distract negative thinking. That’s quite a list!
So, if you can’t manage much else right now, at least manage to listen to your body. Breathing may not be the getaway you had planned, but it’s sure to provide a temporary escape to recovery and relaxation.
Here is a simple “heat of the moment” way to breathe at work or home: Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and inhale through the nose for 4 counts. Feel the rib cage expand “East and West” as you do. Hold for 6 counts, then exhale for 8 slow, steady counts and feel the breath descend and “empty” the body. Repeat 2-3 times.