02 Mar Easing Anxiety
For some inexplicable reason my favourite thing to do in the heat is to flail my arms overhead – particularly my left arm – + then adopt this new wave dance-esque move as my position to sleep in for the evening. At the time it feels perfectly fine + usually I wake up experiencing no ill-effects. However… on one particular morning last week, my body let loose an unusually loud cry of protest. It was a nasty, bunched up feeling, mid-thoracic spine. I stretched. I foam-rolled. I tried to reason with the pain, but it persisted. It was uncomfortable + irritating but, more than that, I found myself struggling because I felt my breathing was constricted. The spot of bother being where it was – mid-back – made it difficult to take full, deep breaths. I experienced an unsettling feeling… like something was very wrong, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. My poor little nervous system was struggling, my shallow breath signalling a physical threat in the outside world…+ so a thick fog of anxiety began to settle in.
Fortunately I know some fab remedial massage therapists, so I wasn’t in this state for long. Jo’s magical hands got things moving again + – after a satisfying crack-crack-crack on the foam roller – I was feeling much more mobile. My ribs could move again + my breathing returned to normal. Good as new!
This got me thinking: I’m someone who moves (a lot) + is rather in tune with my body + what it needs, so – generally speaking – I feel good most of the time. If ever I start to experience symptoms of anxiety creeping in, I’m red hot on it, with a plan of action + can manage things rather successfully (side note: I don’t think anxiety is necessarily a bad thing, to be forcibly stamped out at all cost; it can be useful + highly motivating… but that’s a blog for another day) But what about someone who doesn’t have this self-awareness? What about the office worker or student, sitting for long periods of time, unaware that this lack of movement is causing them some problems? I say ‘unaware’ but really, the ill-effects of a sedentary lifestyle are widely broadcast; what I mean is that, while someone may know such things intellectually, feeling + experiencing them in their bodies – + then taking action – are two separate matters. A person who works in an office all day + then flops themselves down on the couch of an evening may have an achy back, but maybe they’re also suffering from anxiety + haven’t considered that these two things may be related. Not to paint anxiety as a simple ‘this-leads-to-that’ formula; I’m well aware that there is often a complicated network of causes that lead to the condition. However, there is research to suggest that sedentary behaviour may increase one’s risk of anxiety. A 2015 meta analysis published in the journal BMC Public Health (“The Association Between Sedentary Behaviour + Risk of Anxiety: A Systematic Review”) found a correlation between sedentarism + anxiety disorders. It’s not just your physical health that suffers from lack of movement, it’s also your mental health.
As someone who works with bodies, one of the most common things I see is lack of thoracic mobility; that is, restricted movement of the mid-back region. Having good range of movement in our thoracic spine is important for shoulder + lower back health; it is also key for efficient breathing. A stiff mid-upper back leads to a stiff ribcage which, in turn, restricts the capacity of the diaphragm + lungs. The way we use our breath give us access to our nervous system + emotional centre; our ability to take full, deep breaths is intimately linked to our state of wellbeing. We can stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest + digest mode) by deepening our breath + directing air into the lower lobes of the lungs where oxygen is most efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream. When we do this, our body is put into a state of calm, relaxation + healing.
Breath is the first principle of Pilates. A quick Google search will turn up an assortment of Joseph Pilates’ quotes about its importance to his method, + to life itself. When learning about breathwork during my teacher training, I didn’t really grasp its full significance. The more I work with students, the more I understand + appreciate the far-reaching the effects of efficient breathing. This was further highlighted by my own experience of being unable to take long, deep breaths + subsequent feelings of unease + anxiety. Through the Pilates Method, I know I can help students to increase their thoracic mobility + access their breath. Through hearing of others’ personal struggles with anxiety + mental health, I find myself increasingly motivated to offer students a space + opportunity to work on improving the way they move + breathe. I’m fascinated by the intimate relationship of breath-mind-body +, so, have designed a class specifically for those looking to expand their lungs, mobilise their ribcage + ease feelings of anxiety. This class will take place on Wednesday evenings at 7.15pm. It will start with breathwork to unwind from the day + refocus on the present. Gentle stretches + flow sequences follow; it’s Pilates, but stripped back, with a deliberate pace + emphasis on exploring each movement. We will take time to notice when + what we are feeling + then we will work to open, soften + release. The class will conclude with stillness + relaxation, preparing students for a restful night’s slumber.
breath.mind.body will kick off April 10th. You can book your spot now, via this link.
I’m so looking forward to moving with you!
Julia of Sol Space Pilates + Movement (+ the Clarity reception desk!)