Monday, February 27, 2012

Balance and breathing

This spring semester, I set a goal for myself of leading a more balanced and healthy life. I had pushed myself too hard in schoolwork last semester and my overall happiness suffered.

I started working on my goal by scheduling a visit with my doctor to make sure nothing was physically wrong with me. He assured me that I was healthy.

With health concerns out of the way, I gave serious thought to what sort of life I want to lead. I knew that it involved meaningful work but also family, friends, creative pursuits, exercise, good food and relaxation.

I also realized that there were no excuses. This semester, I'm busy but not as busy as the past fall. I also have more money. Earning money has never been a primary motivation of mine, and, therefore, I've lived frugally. I recall a lean month in New York City where two meals a day consisted of lentils and rice. I've taken on a half-time position as a teaching assistant, which has doubled my pay. What has surprised me the most is the security I feel with a little extra income. It has also allowed me to buy good food and pay for some extracurricular activities.

So, here's what I'm up to. I'm springing on pricier items at the grocery store, like greek yogurt and organic frozen blackberries. I purchased a permanent locker at the campus gym and  an exercise class pass. Now, I'm in the habit of swimming twice and going to three Pilates or yoga classes a week. I've also put my name on the waiting list for a six week weaving class that's held on the same block that I live on. I'm making a concerted effort to spend time socializing outside of school — going for walks and out for lunch or drinks. I'm also starting a creative writing workshop with a poet friend of mine. We'll meet next week for the first time. Finally, I began a three-week biofeedback workshop. The first class was this afternoon.

The earlobe sensor
Here's the deal with biofeedback: Basically, you put a sensor on your earlobe and connect it to a computer that has a heart monitor program, which will chart your heartbeats and then analyze whether or not your parasympathetic (the part that responds to external stimuli) and autonomic (the part that monitors the function of your organs) nervous systems are balanced—the instructor used the word "coherence."

When I started the monitor, my coherence level was pretty shaky. The instructor told us to do some deep breathing, so I began to breathe the way I do when I practice yoga. It was magic! My coherence line evened out and entered a quadrant the computer labeled "the zone." After about five minutes, the instructor stopped us to answer questions. I felt completely relaxed.

I'll attend two more sessions on biofeedback, and I'm supposed do two to eight 15-minute practice sessions on my own where I'll put the sensor on my ear, hook up to a computer and breathe.

When the session ended, I ran a few errands and headed home where Leo was waiting. We snuggled for a little while, both breathing deep into our bellies.


  1. Isn't it amazing what deep breathing evokes in us? I sometime experience the sensation of being gently rocked back and forth, back and forth with inspiration and exhalation when I am doing centering prayer. It is a very real sensation even though there is no rocking chair in sight.

    I LOVE the photo.

    Mutti (don't I rock?)

  2. You do! The instructor said we should take a lesson on breathing from babies. He said that if you watch a baby breathe, their whole stomach expands and contracts. I guess it's innate, but in the process of aging we lose it.

  3. Glad to hear your taking better care of yourself this semester, Em.

    If you'll allow me to be a bit of a smartass though, the parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. I think you might mean that you want to find a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems?


  4. Ha, I guess that's what I get for having a smart brother who understands the things that I have to research on wikipedia :)