EP: 116 Just Breathe: Breathing Exercises To Help Regulate The Nervous System With Somatic Coach Nicole Smith Levay

BWW 116 | Breathing Exercises

 

The nervous system plays a big part in our health. A dysregulated nervous system contributes to stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. If you’re prone to being on the verge of breaking down, you’re going to want to tune in. In this episode, Jennifer Pestikas is joined by somatic coach Nicole Smith Levay, who shares incredibly simple and effective breathing exercises that help regulate the nervous system and nip burnout at the bud. Nicole knows first-hand what it’s like to burnout and have your body breakdown. Following the principle of “trauma to dharma”, she is now passionate about helping people, and especially women, deal with the same problem. In this conversation, she educates us on how important breathing is to keep our nervous systems and our stress in check. She also discusses:

  1. What somatic psychology is and what a somatic coach does;
  2. How breathing can help regulate our nervous systems; and
  3. How breathing exercises make a positive difference in our professional and personal lives.

Tune in and learn how as simple a thing as your breathing can make a massive impact on your life!

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE

 

Just Breathe: Breathing Exercises To Help Regulate The Nervous System With Somatic Coach Nicole Smith Levay

I’m so glad you’re here. How are you doing out there? I didn’t understand that the nervous system in our bodies plays a huge part in our health. I was blessed enough to not have any issues with my nervous system, or so I thought. I completely ignored it, as so many of us do. However, I learned that it contains two parts. I’m going to give you a little bit of a science lesson, to begin with, but I promise this will all tie in.

The nervous system contains two parts, which are the central and the peripheral nervous systems. These parts work in tandem to send signals from cell to cell and from body part to body part. At a basic level, these signals are responsible for coordinating organ systems and maintaining many other bodily functions. They also give humans the capacity for language and the understanding of abstract concepts that other organisms lack.

This information, since I am not an expert in this area, came from Facty Health. When we think about it, the nervous system is a big deal. It can help us. We’ve probably heard this before. Fight or flight mode is when an animal is in a fight with a bear or a tiger. As humans, we can also have that fight or flight mode. On the opposite, it is rest and digest so we can heal and feel better in response to stress.

I learned that the nervous system plays a huge role in many of our bodies’ systems. Why should we care about this, and how does it relate to this show? Since a dysregulated nervous system contributes to more stress, it’s like a cycle like anxiety, systemic issues, or depression. It also can contribute to burnout. If you’ve tuned in to the show at all, you know I’m super passionate about helping women prevent burnout as I went through. I want you not to go through that because it’s not a good place to be.

My guest, Nicole Smith Levay, and I hit it off immediately. As you’re going to learn, Nicole knows firsthand what it’s like to burn out and have your body completely break down. Her symptoms are different from mine and maybe something you have faced if you’ve faced it. Everyone’s situation is unique. Nicole educated me on how important breathing is to keep our nervous systems and our stress in check.

During our conversation, Nicole and I discussed what somatic psychology is and what an energy coach does. How does she help her clients? How can breathing help us regulate our nervous systems? We also completed a breathing exercise on the call, which was so cool. Go and check that out. We also discussed how this exercise can make a positive and proactive health difference in our professional and personal lives and so much more.

Here’s more about Nicole. Nicole Smith Levay is a former professional dancer turned energy coach who integrates somatic therapy, meditation, and breath work into sessions and classes for people who struggle with anxiety and depression. She holds an MA in Somatic Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is a well-known workshop facilitator at healing centers like Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Ghost Ranch, and Mount Madonna Center.

Using body center techniques, she takes a forward-thinking approach to mental health and trauma-informed care. Since 2013, she has helped hundreds of people move past their energetic blocks in order to step into their power, own their unique voice, live out their purpose, and be a supportive part of the collective awakening.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. As always, if you’ve already left a rating and review, I thank you so much. Your support of the show means the world to me. You can also share the show with your family members, friends, or colleagues on your social media feeds.

Finally, if you haven’t yet downloaded my freebie, 10 Steps to Being Braver at Work, go get it at my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. Who doesn’t need a periodic nudge to speak up, find a mentor, and ask for what you want? It’s all in that freebie, so go grab it at my website. Let’s welcome Nicole to the show.

 

BWW 116 | Breathing Exercises

 

Nicole, welcome to the show. How are you?

I am doing so well. I’m excited to chat with you. How are you doing?

I’m doing well. Thank you so much for being here and for talking about all of your work. Why don’t we get right into it? Nicole, I love all types of stories and all types of background. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and the work that you do?

I am a somatic coach. I work mind, body, and spirit with various modalities. I help empower women who are high-achieving, driven, and maybe even recovering perfectionists. I help align their purpose with their work and feel energized and alive to continue to do so for the long haul. That’s because I know these patterns. I know you do, too, from hosting the show.

It started early on for me. I was at the top of my class and also a very talented young dancer. There were lots of adults and teachers encouraging me to pursue professional dance even before I graduated high school. I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to pursue. I didn’t know how to drop into my body, check in with my gut, and all of those woo-woo things that are a big part of my life, and what I help others learn to do.

I went along. I felt like living out other people’s dreams and still was quite successful at it because I’ve got the gene to figure it out, do well, and work hard. My dad is a super hard worker. I got that from him. I’ve seen burnout and stress take him out a few times in my life too, somatically. I worked, and then I was ignoring signs of my own burnout. I’m looking at my “successes.” I was like, “Why aren’t I happy? Why am I bitter and complaining when so many others could only dream to be doing the things I’m doing now?”

Fast forward, this is at age 27 or 28. It all came to a screeching halt because the signs I was ignoring emotionally, mentally, and physically went into catharsis. It was discovered that I didn’t have aches and pains from dancing, which is common for a dancer. You’re a professional athlete. You see the football players and basketball players. They’re always right next to their physical therapist, getting worked on.

The physical part wasn’t as surprising, but I got to the point where the pressure was all too much. My back went into a two-week spasm. I could not move, and chiropractors didn’t understand it. I’m a young, healthy athlete. I was like, “We got to get the best help here to figure out what’s going on.” There was a structural difference in my body that I had not learned about. My legs were at different lengths. It was a miracle that I had gotten to that point.

Maybe some of your readers can understand that all things came to a head, and then suddenly, it was like, “Let me look back at how I got here and where I want to go next. Let me be honest because I don’t want this to happen again.” That is how at ages 27 and 28, I fully dove into meditation and breath work facilitator training. I got certified as a life coach after that. About 5 or 6 years after that, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Somatic Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. I graduated from there in 2017.

My business, classes, virtual studio, and retreats, all of that have been going on since I was first certified. It’s been a couple of years that I’ve been doing these offerings or making these offerings and seeing that it ripples outward. When you work with other women like us, the goodness that comes from this work affects their families positively. It ripples out into their communities. I’m working with people who maybe never saw themselves as leaders or change-makers. They’re doing things with their inherent gifts. They’re embracing their own sensitivities and needs and moving confidently from there. That’s the whole 360 view.

It’s amazing. As soon as we met, I was like, “You are someone I need to know. You are going to be one of my teachers.” It’s going to be more than this show because even being around you, I’m like, “Can I have some of your energy please?” I want to turn around for a minute and pause because you’ve mentioned the word somatic several times. I don’t want to take that for granted because there might be people reading that are like, “What’s a somatic coach? What’s somatic psychology?” Can we take a quick stop here? Can you define what somatic coach means or somatic psychology is, or maybe both so people understand?

It’s one of those words that in many years, it will be more commonplace. Several years ago, nobody understood what mindfulness or meditation even was, or very few people did. Somatic is a philosophy and a science that doesn’t separate our brain from our body. It’s not that your mind gets separate treatment from your body, although we do things that maybe are more in one lane or the other to help ourselves, like going to the gym or speaking with a therapist. You can feel like, “This thing I’m doing hones in on one aspect.” Somatic says it’s all interrelated and happening simultaneously.

In ten years, the word “somatic” will be more commonplace. Share on X

When something happens to us or we experience something on a mental or emotional level, that is like The Body Keeps The Score. Bessel van der Kolk is one of the main voices of somatics. There is also Peter Levine. Gratefully, more women are becoming known in the field as well. There is Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen from Body-Mind Centering. That’s how I got into it, being a dancer.

There were somatic classes growing up. If you weren’t into yoga or Pilates but needed something that was a little bit slower and could center you more, you would take the somatic class. It was in these certain modalities, like Body-Mind Centering or Feldenkrais. It was this deep awareness of how your posture, breathing, gesturing, and positioning of your body can affect how you’re feeling, thinking, and communicating, and therefore, also moving on stage as well as a dancer. That’s how I first got into it.

I realized there were endless fields of study around it with different folks taking it from different perspectives. I’ve been blessed. That’s why I was attracted to go study at the California Institute of Integral Studies. They spoke to the science-y part of my brain that wanted to understand the nervous system. I was someone who was prone to panic attacks and burnout and could tell this had something to do with that electrical system I learned about in science, but I don’t know how to regulate that myself. I was like, “Can I control it? Is there some element of control here? What is in my control?”

They also did classes where we focus more on the body first, which as a dancer, is very comfortable for me. I was used to that. All throughout, how do we put a voice to our experiences? How do we put words to how we’re feeling and what we’re noticing in our bodies? How do we be gentle with ourselves in that process as we navigate how we’ve made sense of life, and then make some changes for the better and for ourselves?

You may agree or not agree with this, but most women feel a disconnect from their bodies. We’ve never been taught what we’re going to go through, or it’s rare. Eventually and hopefully, somatics is going to be very well-known. Many women are “physically beating their bodies up to try to fit a certain size” or whatever. Instead of moving joyfully through the world, we are at war with our bodies, which I’m sure doesn’t help our nervous systems, which we’re going to talk about.

I have full-body goosebumps as you say that. That’s important. I want to take a deep breath and pause there. Also, if you’re prone to trying to fix and figuring out, you could put a lot of pressure on yourself like, “How did I get to this point where I’m so disconnected from my body?” A large portion of it, if not more than 50%, is systemic in some way that we grew up in generations where we weren’t taught to love our bodies.

Each subsequent generation gets a little bit closer to embracing how we are differently shaped and experiencing the world. You move on to maybe having a career, and then you’re in systems where you’re fighting this dynamic that’s inherent. You have to disconnect from yourself. Your mind has to be so sharp that you’re on top of your game. Maybe if motherhood is in the cards for you, too, especially new motherhood, there’s a huge separation from dropping into ourselves because so many people are needing so many things from us.

Let’s dive in then on that because there are so many things. The women reading, I’m sure they’re like, “Yes.”

Everybody’s snapping away.

What would you say? We talked about the nervous system. This is new terminology too, or it is newer to me, so it might be newer to my community. What are some telltale signs? Burnout’s becoming in vogue, but maybe not so much the conversation around the nervous system. What are some signs in your mind that our nervous system is out of whack?

I feel like the initial indicators are our foundations and our supports show some symptoms. That is around our sleeping and eating changes. Beyond that, it is a mild level of exhaustion or disinterest, like not feeling that alignment and passion that I was talking about at the top here. Maybe it is not feeling as effective or inspired in what you’re doing as well.

Somatically meaning, how do your body and nervous system show all that? You can see it when you look at yourself in the mirror. It’s a daily practice for me as well to acknowledge myself in the mirror. It’s been trauma to dharma. That is a phrase used a lot in spiritual communities. The thing that was your biggest pain, difficulty, and insecurity becomes the thing that you help others with. It becomes your life purpose. It is looking at yourself, seeing where you’re holding tension, and allowing yourself to take a deep breath there, even lift your posture a little bit.

The thing that was your biggest pain, difficulty, and insecurity becomes the thing that you help others with. It becomes your life purpose. Share on X

I know that this is not visual. Maybe some of you are driving as well, but the next time you’re in front of a mirror, it is taking your feet at a comfortable wider-than-hip width stance. It is feeling your feet underneath you. You could shift your body weight forward a little bit. You can lean it back a little bit. Try to find yourself on your legs. Try to remove any tension from your legs by shaking them out and letting them go. A lot of these things are preparatory things you do before you speak.

It is acknowledging and putting your hands may be on your heart and your abdomen. This is your energetic center. Think about all of the nerves that are in these areas. That’s why Eastern medicine and Eastern practices have different chakra systems and different energy center systems, but all highways connect here. You can take your hand to your heart and your hand to your belly. Take some breaths into that space, like, “Here I am. I am safe right here, right now.”

As we move up closer to the head, it is rolling your shoulders back a little bit, maybe even inhaling and squeezing your shoulders up. The shoulders like to hold our burdens for us. They think that they can figure it all out. Exhale and drop your shoulders. Move those shoulders a little bit by opening through the chest, looking up, and then rounding a little bit and letting the shoulders go.

The last is the most difficult part I find. It is checking out what’s going on in your face. Do your eyes look a little sad or a little closed? You’ve probably seen pictures of yourself at your happiest and most alive. You could make a connection with your eyes here and breathe in and breathe out some love into yourself through the portal of your eyes. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. You’re like, “Here I am. I am okay here now. I am more than enough.” Wherever you want to go with this. We can go to, “I’m beautiful. I’m worthy.”

You might see it show up around your life, but then, somatics also takes it into the literal practice of checking in with your body before you leave the house. Check-in with your body before you give the speech. Give yourself some kindness, appreciation, and gentleness like you would with your good friend, your child, or your partner.

It puts you in touch with, “Where am I right now? How is my body doing?” Those are two questions that come up a lot in somatics. It’s like, “What’s happening right now? What is my body doing right now? What’s it asking for? What’s it needing at this moment?” Oftentimes, connecting with those questions slow us down with the mental waves and allows us to take a deep breath and get some feedback for ourselves that might change the trajectory of what we do next.

I’m sure there are going to be people like me on the show that are reading. They’re laughing this up and are like, “This is so up my alley.” There are going to be others that are going to be like, “This is a career show.” I know we’re going to talk more about breathing techniques and things like that, but I wanted you to give a rationale on how these techniques are anchoring into the earth.

Understanding what your body needs and looking at your face, I’ve never even thought about that. The face also tells a story, even seeing it in pictures when your face is a little tighter or you’re a little bit more stressed. How do the techniques and the work that you do with women help us be better in our professional and personal lives?

I see it all related. It helps us be more creative. We can’t tap into the depths of our creative intuitive genius until we are fully present with ourselves and what our bodies are communicating. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Folks enhance their creativity and their intuition, and then how is that going to help your work? It’s going to make work a little less stressful.

BWW 116 | Breathing Exercises
Breathing Exercises: We can’t tap into the depths of our creative intuitive genius until we are fully present with ourselves and what our bodies are communicating.

 

It’s not a magic eight ball, or it doesn’t give you mystical powers. We’re all inherently creative and intuitive. If you can simplify things and not take things that could potentially be problematic or see that ahead of time, that’s productive for the business. It’s going to help, for sure, confidence-wise, your presentations and communications. It’s also going to help in your daily communications with folks you work with to not let things go to the point of no return for you.

There can be a lot of people pleasing and dismissing our own needs. If you can use some of these tools and skills throughout your day very easily, it can slow you down enough to improve some communications and not let yourself over-give, take responsibility for things that aren’t yours to take responsibility for, etc.

That one rings a bell for me. I’m always trying to be like, “I can do it. I can help you,” because it’s a reflex rather than listening to my body or to what’s my burden to carry versus allowing them to carry their own burden. That would be a big one for me. Going back to the nervous system piece, I talk about burnout a lot on the show.

It’s not because I’m obsessed with burnout, but because I went through it and I’m still trying to understand it. I wanted to ask you your opinion. This nervous system disruption or dysregulation, is it automatically coupled with burnout, or can you have those nervous system issues without necessarily being burned out?

It’s both. It’s coupled with it. Also, our nervous system is there all the time. I feel like every show I’m on, I end up asking the host to get a visual image of something called the Window of Tolerance. Is that something you’ve ever heard of before?

No, I’m writing it down though.

It removes a lot of shame and stigma from burnout, anxiety, even shut down, avoidance, and moving into depression. What the Window of Tolerance shows us is that we are all human beings who are animated by this electrical current system or the nervous system. When we’re at more of the top of the range of our nervous system, we might be feeling motivated, creative, taking action, etc.

If we don’t allow ourselves to downshift from that place every day in some way, whether that is guided meditation, restorative yoga class, breath work, or maybe shutting off all our devices and reading a book and we don’t take that space to allow the nervous system to drop a bit into what is called the Window of Tolerance, we end up feeling less resilient all the time.

We’re constantly at that over-functioning or overachieving place. Let’s say another stressor is thrown in or something traumatic happens. That’s when we’re going to flip to 1 or 2 directions here at the top of the chart, which is anxious, hypervigilant, panic, and paranoid. I know that space well. We might be like, “I can’t handle what’s going to come up here,” and remove ourselves from things.

We prematurely say, “I can’t handle it.” I’m shut down. I close the curtains and hide in bed. Maybe this is your sleep. You’re having trouble regulating your sleep cycles, circadian rhythms, and stuff like that. When you look at this overall bigger picture of the nervous system, for me and for most of my clients, I want them to understand this chart because it normalizes and validates that every single human being has these ups and downs. Maybe some are more pronounced than others at different points in your life.

If you’re hanging out more at the top of that chart, not giving yourself time to down-regulate or vice versa, hanging out at the bottom of the chart a lot, unmotivated, shut off from life, or scared to put more energy into your system and get your nervous system more of what we call upregulated, that’s all normal. The Window of Tolerance looks like a wave. We wake up in the morning and go more toward the top of the chart. When we go to bed, we’re more towards the bottom.

We could widen the Window of Tolerance to include, “I’m noticing I’m at the top of my range here.” What am I going to do if I’m at the top of my range? I don’t want to keep going up. I want to do something that down-regulates me. I’m going to bring some balance into my system by doing this breathing practice or I’m going to do a walk in the woods because it uses my legs. My energy drops from my head down into my legs. It calms me down a bit.

Let’s say you were burned out and stressed out. Suddenly, you lose your job or you have some other huge loss. Your nervous system might go into collapse, crash, or shut down more at the bottom of the chart. It may feel like an impossible task to move on from there. That’s stuck energy. What can help the nervous system there is upregulating. It is things like literal movement. It is going to a Zumba class or stretching more.

I have different breathing practices that are a little more upregulating to give you a bit more joy and vitality. You can find that centered place and go, “It’s not great. This is not a good day. It’s not been a good couple of months. At the same time, I am getting more in touch with myself. I’m letting go of all that I’m not. I’m clearer about the next steps of what I want to build in my career or what I want to build moving on from this loss.”

We all have nervous systems. We all have these fluctuations up and down. It is not even a problem, but the challenge for us when the shifting gets stuck in one place, we’ve got something to work out there energetically. That’s why I do what I do. I feel like the different energy practices, meditation, breath work, movement, and all the stuff that’s on my virtual studio give people these tangible tools and skills that they could do at any moment at any time. For some of them, you don’t have to close yourself in your bedroom and do your breath work practice.

There are also longer practices that are 30 minutes to 1 hour that give you a shift in how you’re feeling long-term. That could be for several days, if not longer. They could change your perspective on things. It helps you understand, “I didn’t realize all this was wrapped into this. I didn’t realize so many thoughts and feelings were wrapped into how I’ve been physically feeling recently.”

To finish off on the burnout side, I expected myself to be in robotic mode all the time. I wasn’t listening to my body. It’s almost like my body downregulated me by forcing me out and sidelining me. An easy example that most people can understand is you’re working so hard, and then you go on your first vacation for the year, you get sick on your vacation because your body’s like, “You’re done.” This resonates with me because if you don’t pay attention to your body, your body’s going to have to do its own corrections. Sometimes, it’s painful, whether it’s mentally, physically, or both, spiritually, and what have you for you to get in some rebalancing if you’re not listening.

Thank you so much for simplifying all of it with that. That was so succinct. Thank you. It was beautiful.

No problem. Let’s transition over to breathing because we’ve talked a lot about it. How would you say overall that the breathing exercises help with this nervous system regulation?

We’re blessed to be alive at this point in human history because these are teachings that were tried and tested in the caves of India many years ago. Through evolution, everything else, trade, and technology, they’re available to us very easily. They do make profound effects on our well-being. Before people dive into the deep end of some work I do, which is potent, transformational, and stuff I do in my longer programs and retreats, I want to make sure that you’ve dipped your toe in. You’ve dipped your leg in and you’ve swum around in the baby side of the pool a little bit so that you’re befriending yourself. You’re being gentle with yourself through the process.

What I like to offer is maybe a little bit of what I shared before. Maybe standing in front of the mirror is too big of a jump for you. Perhaps wherever you are here, I’ll go into it, if that’s okay with you. If you’re at home, let’s take a moment to find a seat. We don’t have to close our eyes for this, but we’re going to enhance our connection with ourselves at this moment.

After you’ve taken a seat, or maybe you’re already seated, start by noticing again the positioning of your body. As you sit, notice your sit bones on the chair or the bottom of your pelvis touching the chair. Feel free to let your breath do what it’s doing. It does not need to be controlled or managed. We will get into some patterns and rhythms in a moment, but we’re bringing some attention and mindfulness to our physical bodies.

You’re noticing your seat. You’re noticing your legs. Maybe your feet are on the floor. Maybe they’re on the pedal. Wherever they are, try to feel the soles of your feet touching something. It could be the inside of your shoe or the floor. If you’re sitting cross-legged, that’s a little bit more challenging, but chances are, you’ve got some connection there.

Notice the sole of the foot, the pelvis, and the entirety of your legs. You can even bring your hands to your legs to bring more attention there. You can give it a little squeeze. You can rub down the legs, like a brushing action. As you do that, have it be an experiment. Everything is by invitation, and you’re noticing your experience in it.

We’ve got the next huge space of energy and attention. It is the mid spine and the heart space or the ribcage. Our lungs are there. Once we get our legs underneath us, maybe we’re a little bit more grounded. Would you say with those few moments you feel a little more present with yourself and a little more grounded?

Yes.

That’s good. Before we go right into the breath and into the lungs, I like to do that grounding first. That’s good for your readers to know, too. If you’ve ever gone to a meditation class and then it goes right into breathing and you feel like, “I can’t do this,” it could be that you needed a little more grounding yourself before beginning to tap into the breath. We’ve got the heart space. We’re grounded through our seats.

Lean forward and then lean back. Have yourself right in the middle. You can even lean side to side. I like to physically take those motions because our body is unconsciously doing these little micro movements all day anyway and adjusting. Right before we take deeper breaths and settle our minds, give yourself permission to notice, “Am I leaning very far forward into the future? Am I giving? Am I leaning too far into things now? Have I been removed and turned off by everything?” I am more leaning back.

What about side-to-side? I’m like, “Am I flexible and fluid through my ribcage?” You could move side to side a little bit, shake out those shoulders, and start to notice the hand right on the heart here. You can breathe into that space even though your lungs are on either side. Breathing into the heart gives you a little bit of love, appreciation, and a little bit of beginner’s enthusiasm. Try everything with a little bit of enthusiasm.

Take a few deep breaths into the front of the heart as well as the back. You can imagine that you’re breathing through the back of the heart a little bit. As you inhale, breathe through your back, into the hand, and at the front. As you exhale, send love and warmth through your hand all the way past that energetic heart out through the back. We’ll take three more breaths like that. Inhale. Keep your eyes open. Exhale. You may not be able to have the hand on the heart, but you could still envision this as you breathe in through the back of the heart. Send energy towards the palm. Exhale and let that go. Let’s do that one more time. Exhale and soften.

Lastly is the center of the head. You’re taking some time here to notice what you’re noticing as things are slowing down. Your eyes may be open or may be closed. Notice some things that you’re either seeing or that feel comforting. It may be some things you’re hearing to slow down this process. It could be my voice or some ambient noise around you. It may be any sense or smells that feels pleasant to you that you may notice here. Breathe that in through your nose.

Lastly, I like to take a deep breath through my nose. As you exhale out the nose, you are swallowing a little bit and letting the throat or the mouth relax a little bit. It doesn’t need to be so on guard. Lastly, this one particular breathing pattern is a very simple one to remember. It’s been called box breathing. It puts some counts, some numbers, and some rhythm to your breath.

You’ll inhale for four counts through the nose and fill the belly and the ribs with breath. Let yourself widen, 4, 3, 2, 1. Suspend easily, almost like you’re holding, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly, let the breath seep out through the nose. It is almost like you’re blowing out a candle but through your nose, 4, 3, 2, 1. Maybe the hardest part is don’t inhale yet. Hold still, 4, 3, 2, 1. This can be done with eyes opened or closed.

We could do this about three more times. Inhale and hold. Exhale and hold. For the last one, take a nice, deep breath. Suspend and exhale. To finish this, take a deep breath in. exhale, shake it out, and let it go. Even if your hands are on the wheels, you can shake your shoulders a little bit. If you’re not, you could even reach up to the sky. Inhale, reach, exhale, and shake it out.

That’s awesome. I feel a buzzy energy and a warmth in my body. It feels good.

That’s you. We all have our connection. Whether you’re into spiritual stuff, soul work, or any of that, we all have a unique signature, energy, and a part of us that we know is inherently us. Maybe we remember moments from childhood where we were like, “I was me then. I was so happy then.” That’s what I feel like after doing these exercises. You get a little hit of like, “That’s the little inner Nicole. That’s the little inner Jen.” I’m glad you have that.

We all have a unique signature, energy, and a part of us that we know is inherently us. Share on X

That’s awesome. I wanted to ask you. How is this? When I went through burnout, I started transcendental meditation. I love it and I still do it. Is this different or is this complimentary to the work that you do? Tell me about that in case people are wondering.

There are so many different schools. I know that you and I had spoken previously about active meditation versus passive. For folks who may be carrying a lot of trauma or prone to hypervigilance or obsessive thinking, sometimes, passive meditation or mindfulness can be triggering. That was the experience that I had, which is why I got into more active meditation.

Transcendental is a little bit of both. There’s a mantra. My husband practiced it for a long time. He still does on occasion. He also practices what I do as well. Where it’s in common is that you’re an active participant in your meditative experience. You are equal parts, effort and surrender. That’s the sweet spot of transformation.

Showing up is a lot of effort. The only other effort you need is following the task of meditation. That’s it. There is no extra oomph necessary. You can put the rest of your over-efforting self onto the other side, which is surrender. That is where you start to access more of those states of mind of restorative, relaxation, or rest and digest. You’ll notice that you have more space between your thoughts.

For my style, I use many modalities. I have many teachers. I have over 1,000 hours of yoga, meditation, and breathwork certifications under my belt after all these years because I never stopped being a student and a learner. That is what they all have in common. There’s this part application and part experience that you grow to embrace and love about the practice.

That helps me a lot. I’m hoping it helps others as well. I want to thank you. I have one question for you that I ask all of my guests. I would love your perspective on it. What is your thought about how women can be braver at work? If you have 1 to 2 ways or suggestions on how women can be braver in their professional lives, I’d love to hear them.

First and foremost, you can be braver when you take time to get in touch with yourself before each and every interaction with someone else. Knowing where you stand on things is going to help. It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity. This has been easy for me my whole life, but maybe for others, it’s more of a challenge. It is better that your ideas live out there.

You can be braver when you take time to get in touch with yourself before each and every interaction with someone else. Share on X

Maybe it’s not the right time or the right place for them and they don’t move forward, but it is better that they come out of you. Put it out there. Take the time to formulate them and nurture them on your own time. The more that folks know what you’re capable of, what you’re dreaming of, and where you want to take your business or company, the better because you’re an asset to everything growing as well. I would say those two things.

BWW 116 | Breathing Exercises
Breathing Exercises: The more that you know what you’re capable of, what you’re dreaming of, and where you want to take your business or company, the better, because you’re an asset to everything growing as well.

 

Hopefully, you’ll entertain this. What I learned from this discussion and re-highlighted for me is the word surrender. It’s something that I struggle with. A lot of women reading probably do. I feel moved to share something as a reminder for everyone, and then I want to know all about your work and where we can find you. Bear with me for one minute.

I want to recite the serenity prayer. It’s, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I often struggle with that because I’m trying to control outcomes. That does not help my nervous system. Hopefully, to everyone reading, you have felt a beautiful reset even in the smallest way with us to reset that nervous system and find a new direction in your day or maybe your week or month. Tell us where we can find you and your work online.

I offer a virtual studio membership called Soul Fitness Society, which I like to say is a gym membership for your soul. We meet weekly with breathwork and meditation practices. I’ve had this even pre-pandemic. There are hundreds of hours that are searchable and different lengths of time that you could do throughout your day. You can put it in your calendar to replace something that you’d like to make better habits with. For your audience, I created a gift. It is a free month of three when you use the coupon code, BRAVEWOMEN.

What is your website so everyone can go and use that free gift? Thank you so much for your generosity.

First and foremost, if you have any difficulty finding this, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook, Nicole Smith Levay, which is my name. The Soul Fitness Society link is PWHOnline.com/Soul-Fitness-Society. PWH is Power Within Healing, which is my company.

Thank you so much for being on. I have to say that I feel like we have an amazing connection. Hopefully, we stay in touch. I learned from you and all of the wonderful training that you’ve done. I thank you for the work that you do.

I feel the same. I appreciated everything you brought to this experience. I have a feeling we’ll keep connecting. Thank you so much for having me.

That does it for my discussion with Nicole. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. If you couldn’t do the breath work exercise right now or you need to revisit it, go back to the episode and reread it. You could also visit Nicole’s site for more of her breathwork exercises and resources. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Until next time, show up. Breathe and be brave.

 

iMPORTANT lINKS

 

aBOUT Nicole sMITH lEVAY

BWW 116 | Breathing ExercisesNicole Smith Levay is a former professional dancer turned Energy Coach who integrates somatic therapy, meditation, and breathwork into sessions and classes for people who struggle with anxiety and depression. She holds an MA in Somatic Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and is a well-known workshop facilitator at healing centers like Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Ghost Ranch, and Mount Madonna Center. Using body centered techniques, she takes a forward thinking approach to mental health and trauma informed care. Since 2013, she has helped hundreds of people move past their energetic blocks in order to step into their power, own their unique voice, live out their purpose, and be a supportive part of the collective awakening.

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