I was recently tasked with driving my oldest son to Wilmington for a soccer tournament and the thought filled me with both excitement (getting to spend 8 uninterrupted hours with him each way) and dread – it had been a long time since I had driven for this length without a ‘relief’ driver in tow and the return trip would likely start late in the day after a long weekend, putting us home in the wee hours of the night. But there weren’t other viable options and I had to ‘woman’ up and get with the program.
So we loaded up the car and began our journey east. As we approached impending traffic and /or road construction, I could feel my heart begin to race, my stomach begin to tighten and that very real feeling of fear start to creep in. In my mind, I knew I could do this (“Come on, you’ve driven in major cities at rush hour”) but the uncertainty of not knowing the roads, where the construction hot spots were and how that affected commuter flow, and having grown entirely accustomed to Asheville ‘traffic’ was enough to trigger my anxiety. As we got closer to Wintson-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, I would feel my symptoms escalate. This is where my Pilates practice started to kick in – we work on practicing mindfulness in the studio every day, being in tune with our bodies, coordinating breath and movement in empowering ways. It was when I began to pay attention to my breath – it had become shallow and ‘stuck’ as my anxiety rose – that a real shift started to occur. The more I focused on taking deep, intentional breaths, the less stressful I felt. I have read that you can actually lower your blood pressure through focused breath work and I could definitely feel a sense of calm wash over me as I continued to bring my awareness to this basic, life-force act. Ultimately, we made it to Wilmington with both my mind and body intact. On the return trip. I was more confident knowing what to expect, but now concerned that the very real fatigue of the weekend and driving late into the night would be prohibitive. Once again, when I began to feel drowsy, I would bring my awareness into my breath pattern taking deep, expansive breaths, and almost immediately feel more alert, focused, and up to the task.
In our busy lives, we deal with all kinds of stress on a regular basis, often failing to realize that we have at our disposal a simple, yet profound, tool to help take the edge off – our breath. I encourage you to try this for yourself throughout the day and as you prepare to unwind for bed in the evenings; the more we practice in less stressful situations, the more our body will provide the ‘breath signal’ when we need it most. And when you are in the studio, as we cue ‘inhale, exhale’ know that this is also in support of bringing you into the awareness that you can tackle any challenge that might come your way!