“Inhale, one, two, three, four, five. Exhale, one, two, three, four, five,” Ann Coddington, an art professor, said in a soft voice, helping guide a group of students through breathing exercises Monday afternoon.
Students sat on stools and chairs in the wide open space of Room 2910 in the Doudna Fine Arts Center, following along to Coddington’s instructions.
The room, usually used as a drawing studio, temporarily became a place of relaxation for the participants for just 15 minutes.
This session, known as “Pause (breathing exercises),” is a series of breathing exercise sessions which are part of the Mental Health Awareness and Self Care events hosted by Eastern’s School of Arts.
Coddington said that when she started practicing yoga every day over the summer, she realized she found it helpful, so she wanted to share those exercises with students to help them deal with stress.
“In five minutes, you’ll feel better,” Coddington said. “Even if you just have a few minutes a day, you can make yourself feel better. You can call on that at any time throughout your day, if something’s sort of going wrong or something is stressing you out, you can call on that too, to help you get through it.”
She said that she noticed the level of anxiety that the students were experiencing was making it difficult for them to maintain a calm and happy life.
“It felt like their lives were sort of out of balance,” Coddington said. “Especially with COVID, just the stress seems magnified, and so I wanted to give them an outlet and some techniques that they could use on, not only when they come, but on their own, that anybody can use at any time to just sort of dial things down and feel like you have some control over your body and how your responds to what you’re experiencing.”
One of the students who partook in the breathing exercises was Alexis Johnson, a freshman psychology and pre-med major.
Johnson said she attended the session to deal with stress.
“I enjoy taking time out of my day to just relax, because college can be stressful, so I like to intentionally set time out of my day to have for myself,” Johnson said.
Coddington said she has been practicing yoga on and off for about 25 years, and that though yoga is more about movement, breathing is also an important aspect.
“In yoga, the breath is called prana, and it’s the central piece, the centerpiece of the yoga practice,” Coddington said. “So, yoga always starts with breathing exercises. It’s not really meditation, it’s more like connecting mind and body.”
She said that breathing is a way to signal to the body that you’re in a safe space and that it helps you maintain a nonreactive stance.
“It’s easy to get into a position where you react to things that are happening, and something happens, and you might sort of fly off the handle or start feeling really worried,” Coddinton said. “It gives you something tangible that you can tap into that can help you respond in a more calm and measured way.”
Though the session mostly focused on breathing, it also included movements that helped participants move or stretch parts of their bodies.
Students spent parts of the session slowly moving their necks in a circular motion, rolling their shoulders back and forth and moving other parts of their bodies.
Johnson’s favorite exercise was the one where they had to slowly lift their arms up then bring them back down in the middle, putting their hands together.
Coddington has been guiding these sessions since the beginning of the school year, and during that time she has seen many students stop by to partake in the exercises.
“I’ve had as few as two people and as many as maybe 10 people come, and I can tell that from the time they walk in till the time they leave, they already kind of feel better in their body,” Coddington said. “It’s something really simple that I can offer them and maybe help in some way.”
When the School of Arts was planning its Mental Health Awareness and Self Care events, Coddington was asked if her practice could be included in the schedule of events, which she said she was glad about.
“It fits right in with what they’re doing, and it’s definitely a really helpful technique that students need to know, I think that everybody really needs to know,” Coddington said.
Johnson said that this was a relaxing experience for herself and was glad that she attended the session. She also said she recommends other students attend the sessions.
“[I hope that they know] that things like this are available,” Johnson said. “I wish that stuff like this was more offered to students so that they know that things like this are available, because I know a lot of people probably don’t know this stuff is available for them.”
The next Mental Health Awareness and Self Care event is a suicide awareness talk which will be held Thursday, Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre at Doudna.
Coddington said she does the breathing exercise sessions every Monday, and she plans on doing them until the end of the semester.
The next breathing exercise session will be held Monday at 4:45 p.m in DFAC 2910.
Kyara Morales-Rodriguez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]