Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breathing in a Difficult Moment

I have to start by saying I DID go to spin last night by myself and my instructor kicked my butt- I went 5 miles further than last week in the same class with the same instructor, whew! I felt awesome after though so thank you for the encouragement to go. I forgot about the extra motivation that I got to add miles to my Bike Challenge. I am already past 50 miles, yay! And yes, I did enjoy that peppermint ice cream.

Today I would like to discuss an important topic in the grand scheme of healthy living: stress. Stress is something we all have, and something that, if we do not learn to deal with, can cause a wide variety of health problems including digestive problems, heart disease, depression and obesity!

My history of stress goes back only a few years. I was a pretty laid back kid/teenager. Yes, my mom occasionally referred to me as "Nervous Nellie" because of my tendency to worry about silly things, but in general I was not a stressed out person. I went with the flow, and fortunately the flow seemed to move in the right direction the majority of the time. It was only in college at some point that things began to matter more to me. Suddenly it was not just about whether I got an A on a science test, but it was about if I was able to have a career in teaching. I think student teaching was the first time I got really "stressed" in the way that causes health problems. All of a sudden I was responsible for 20 first graders and I had no idea what to do. This only got worse when I had my own classroom the next year. I had a class of 20 kindergartners, none of them particularly well behaved (well, maybe like 3 of them?), 40 parents- all of whom wanted to know if this 22 year old girl had ANY clue what she was doing (probably not!) and a principal who had a reputation for firing at least one person every year.

Now I knew what stress really was. How did I deal with it? Pretended (as much as possible) that it did not exist. Sure, there were a few minor meltdowns that went something like this "HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TEACH THESE KIDS TO READ WHEN I HAVE KIDS FLOODING MY CLASSROOM WITH THE SINK?" But for the most part I remained the calm, collected, flexible, go-with-the-flow girl I had always been. So where did the stress go? Right to my tummy. Suddenly, I began having days on the weekend where I could barely get out of bed because I felt so sick. When I went to the doctor they diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which I quickly found out has a strong connection with stress, go figure.

I first learned how to control my IBS through diet, but I learned quickly that in highly stressful times that alone would not fix it. In the next year and a half I tried a lot of different stress relieving methods including hypnosis and acupuncture (neither of which worked for me, but that's just me). One day I stepped into a new yoga studio and tried that as a method of stress relief. I was never a big yoga person but this studio made me feel like I was getting a real work out as I did yoga, so that kept me coming back.

The other thing that kept me coming back was the fact that during particularly difficult poses, all the teachers would discuss the idea of "breathing during a difficult moment." Clearly, this is exactlywhat I need to do during the rest of my life. In yoga (at least at my studio- not trying to be an expert here), breathing is used as a way to focus and be able to manage a difficult pose. In life, we naturally stop breathing when things get difficult and this is what we need to train ourselves to stop doing. If anything, we need to concentrate more on our breathing than ever when things are difficult.

I got pretty good at this during yoga (especially with the constant reminders from the teacher), but in life it is a lot more difficult. When I am about to be observed by my principal or in a difficult meeting with a parent, my mind is focused on my lesson, a child, and just about everything else except for breathing. But here is the thing I've learned...

It does not help me in a difficult moment to think about everything I know about a lesson, or a kid, or that teaching reading class I took 5 years ago. That only serves to add stress and jumble up my thoughts until they are unrecognizable. What I really need to do is trust myself. Trust myself that I already know all the kids in my class because I work with them and think about them for a million hours a day. Trust myself that I know how to teach a lesson because I have already gone through it in my head (and sometimes even taught it before). Trust myself that I know what to say in my Curriculum Night presentation because I know kindergarten, and I know what parents need to know. Trust myself that if I am in a situation with not a single person that I know, I will find someone to talk to or something to do, I will not just stand there looking silly. Trust myself.

Once I do that, I do not have to focus on 1 million things anymore. I can just focus on my breath. Inhale...exhale...inhale...exhale. When I focus on my breathing, I can officially calm down. Then, and only then, does my stomach and heart stop having to pay for my minds insecurities. Because really...when I am 80 will I really care if one parent did not particularly like me? or if I sat by myself at a bridal shower? No. Will I even care about that next year? Or tomorrow? No.

Last night at spinning there were some "difficult moments" at Level 18. I found myself naturally focusing on my breathing. I hope that carrying this yoga principle over into other areas of exercise naturally means I am one step closer to doing it at ridiculous meetings about YET another thing they are adding to my already overfilled plate. I can hope right?

Do you breathe in difficult moments? Try it and let me know how it goes...


  1. YES! Just did it in my interview : )
    Mom always said to breathe, I guess mother knows best! haha

  2. Yes, that is so important and I try to focus on this too.

    I am having stomach issues now, with bloating and I don't know what is going on. I need to talk to my doc. Some people say it could be an allergy to something but I feel like it is something else... I just find it interesting that you wrote about that today.

  3. I try to breathe/stay calm when student teaching and my university supervisor is there and my 17 preschoolers are going bananas!!!! :)

  4. Great post. Stress really does play a huge role in many of my own IBS symptoms, and I think my stress deduction in the past year or so has really helped. I need to focus more on breathing, like you said, an dI also want to try yoga. The book I posted about a few weeks ago "Slowing Down to the Speed of Life" really helped my stress levels, a lot. I will now focus on breathing during times of "Stress" and remember that I create my own stress, no one else creates it for me!

  5. Hey Kelly - thanks for visiting my blog! Your blog is SO cute, and you gotta love another Sox fan! Can't wait to peruse :)

    I absolutely believe in the breathing during difficult moments. After finding yoga and learning how to "breathe," I've noticed a serious change in my moods and my own ability to bring my focus back.

  6. I'm like you, I have no problem breathing during exercise - yoga/running/spinning. It's when LIFE and WORK stress me out that I have trouble remembering to just BREATHE! Thanks for this reminder :-)

  7. I could benefit from focusing on breathing. I did a speech on this on college - most adults don't even really truly take deep breaths. Kind of interesting. Most of us breath in a way where we sort of lift our shoulders instead of expanding our bellies. But I think we just sort of 'forget' to breath. And it would help if I would just take time, breath, and collect myself, it would help so much!

  8. I have a huge issues with grinding my teeth, especially when I sleep, and my dentist said it's very typical of teachers because we tend to be SO stressed! Sad that we are in a profession because we are passionate about it and want to help kids, yet it wreaks havoc on our bodies because of the high stress level.

    Your deep breathing sounds like a winner and I feel the same way about needing to just trust myself. Sometimes I still (after 4 years of teaching) feel like I am not a professional and I am not someone who can do it without help. I know I can, but I also need to trust myself more.

    <3 Katie

  9. I used to have anxiety problems myself and learned that breathing and focusing on other things was the key to calming down. Keep it up and try not to stress girl!

  10. I sort of may have had IBS at one point. To be honest I think the doctors just had no idea so they said that that's what I had. But anyways - stress DEFINITELY affected it. Big time. I definitely try to take a moment and just breathe now, it really helps :)