The impact of stress and injuries

The breath is so important to stay injury free

We have all heard about the impact of stress on our bodies and how people injure themselves ‘just’ reaching for something, their back goes into spasm or they hurt their shoulder reaching for the seatbelt in the car. I often see people getting injured more at specific times of the year, winter when the weather is very cold and spring/summer when the weather is nice. There IS a pattern with injures, in my 5 years of teaching the injury trends are there. The cold weather makes us tense to build warmth, shrug our shoulders and slouch forward when walking to protect ourselves from the elements and keep warm. More time is spent indoors during the cold weather and so generally moving less. The spring and summer bring much more movement, an increase in exercise such as bike riding, running and outdoor jobs such as gardening can unfortunately lead to injuries and backs are always a trend for injury. Lifting gardening bags, getting the lawnmower in and out of the shed, trimming hedges are all requiring different movement patterns and core stability. 

Whilst the seasons are generally not a big stress factor as such, this past 12 months during our 3 lockdowns has been very different. As I write this in March 2021 we are coming up to the anniversary of Lockdown 1 when the World as we knew it was in the pandemic. The challenges of the lockdowns to all ages mentally and physically has been vast. We have asked BIG things of our bodies. From moving from an ergonomic desk and chair in the office to the dining room table with a kitchen chair and a laptop at the incorrect height. Having full access to a gym and exercise classes to nothing. The challenge of having schools closed to entertain and homeschool children, children not being able to play out and moving less. Some having desks in their bedrooms and not even having the daily commute to the train station and office. 

Others who had more time on their hands taking up more hobbies, home jobs, more gardening, running, more walking. The impact was so varied on everyone. 

The common thing that I have picked up on through my continued teaching classes and 1-1’s via zoom has been apparent with anxiety and stress levels rising. Boredom, loneliness, work load increased or stopping, homeschooling, money, relationships, motivation, change in routine all have an impact. 

So why is this likely to give you an injury? Breathing. “Breath is the first act of life and the last”, a Joseph Pilates quote which I love and always come back to time and time again. 

When we are stressed we stop breathing correctly, we shallow breathe, our ribs tighten, our diaphragm doesn’t fully expand and contract fully, our pelvic floor and core don’t synchronize well. Everything gets tight and dysfunctional. Then we add load to this shallow breath and an injury happens. Usually when the stress has subsided, when we then relax, but the damage is done and been deteriorating over time. 

When was the last time you stopped and breathed deeply? When was the last time you made a conscious effort to inflate your ribs with breath? The last time you worked on relaxing by using your breath? Exhaling fully and purposely. 

I sit at my computer writing this now, emerging from the last 2-3 months. The fallout of the closure of Schools and my home studio and gym being closed again. The stress of managing a business and homeschooling is real. Yes I am a Pilates and yoga teacher who should oooze calm but life is not calm all the time. Things are taken away from us or thrown at us that we cannot control. Lockdown is that, the loss of control and choice. We are unable to control our jobs, our passions, our hobbies, our elements of life that make us ‘us’, to laugh with friends, attend social events, sport, schooling, family life and money are all worries. All or any of these influences cause stress, and I have seen it and heard it for 12 months from clients as well as experienced it myself. This happens and affects me too. My coping strategies for life’s stresses are exercise, Yoga and breath work and these all work very well for me usually together. 

In the last 12 months the ability to act on my coping strategies has been removed or limited due to other demands requiring me and my time. I stopped breathing properly day to day, stopped my ‘me’ time, stopped taking time to deep breath, spent two months in January and February this year very stressed while schools were closed to manage everything around work and home. I exercised but at a reduced level. So what suffered?

Mentally I suffered, physically I suffered. My chest got tight, I wasn’t breathing deeply, I wasn’t relaxing, my muscles were tight, my breath was shallow, my back injury got worse again (I manage this very well usually through the correct exercises and core and breath work). This then becomes a circle, as it all gets worse, the stress makes my back get worse, my pain makes me more stressed so I breathe less. Sleep suffers while exhaustion takes hold. We live in Fight or Flight mode. 

You can read more about how and why I became a Pilates Teacher here.

Last week whilst teaching a class I pulled a muscle ‘just’ laying on the mat, one of my costal muscles that are around the ribs strained, I felt it happen. These muscles expand when we breathe correctly, and when we are stressed and shallow breathe the inhale doesn’t inflate our lungs fully thus doesn’t stretch these muscles. 

My point for writing this is not to tell you I am injured but to tell you why I am injured. To tell you how vitall the breath is. Joseph didn’t write that quote for fun, he was a legend, way ahead of his time when he came up with his exercise system called Contrology. We have him to thank for Pilates and the Pilates Principles with breath being within these 6 principles. 

Now I can concentrate on myself. Rehabbing my body to full strength again. Learning to rest and heal. Learning to breathe again, getting time to do Yoga for myself not just teach it. It is a journey to enjoy. Any recovery is a journey and we need to embrace and listen.

If you have the time to read this blog you have time to sit or lie down and take 2-5 minutes to feel the breath inflating your lungs, inflating your belly, inflating your back. Go on do it NOW. You will thank me for it. Notice HOW GOOD you feel afterwards.

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