For the last 25 years, Vancouver-based Dr. Michele Kambolis has worked in private practice treating women with various degrees of stress, anxiety, and trauma in their lives.
Accordingly, her new book on women and stress, When Women Rise: Everyday Practices to Strengthen Your Mind, Body, and Soul is both a primer and masterclass on all that is helpful and emerging in the realm of women’s mental wellness.
The book weds science with soul and learned experience of how to help improve one’s quality of life– including everything from anecdotes about the history of various psychotherapy techniques to practical, step-by-step guides to various traditional and new meditation and mind-body awareness strategies.
What emerges in the pages of When Women Rise is a comprehensive look at various techniques for calming the body and mind– specifically, for women.
Part of the reason why this gender specification is compelling is that much of the modern psychotherapy movement of the 1920s was developed by men.
As a result, many aspects of how we approach therapy today follow what Dr. Kambolis calls “the hierarchical dynamics of that era: directive, noncollaborative, and detached.”
The words and structuring of many popular therapy practices for stress and anxiety, moreover, often lack softness, warmth, or any embrace of feminine intuition. Instead, they tend to mirror the masculine language of the men who developed these systems.
“Many of the psychotherapeutic tools [commonly used today] were developed by men who were treating women who were… experiencing [situations that were] inherent to the female experience. For example miscarriage, post-partum depression, unhappiness in marriage… and not being in agreement with their husband’s religious views,” Dr. Kambolis explains.
As a result, many women today can feel disconnected or “forced” into an overly-disciplined practice of using tools like meditation, which can be counterintuitive to the inherent goal of the practice. (And with cultural phenomenons like postpartum depression and anxiety on the rise, women are particularly in need of tools like this because these troubles are still not addressed openly or adequately in modern society.)
“So in a sense, psychotherapy was an oppressive institution, and a lot of the methodology was of course developed in the masculine language. The language, the lexicon, the lack of focus on the client’s own self-knowing was not working for me,” she adds.
“The idea of the therapist as authoritative was not [resonating],” she explains of the book, “So, I wanted to change the approach and the language to really honor women.”
Accordingly, drawing on the wisdom of her years in private practice, Dr. Kambolis’ book approaches stress relief with gentleness & a refreshingly self-described “feminine” approach to honoring intuition. And it draws heavily on body awareness and biofeedback as a key to self-discovery and greater ease.
The book also features helpful stress relief tips and tricks (along with fun, conversational vignettes about the scientific origins of said practices). Its pages, meanwhile, incorporate cool, scientifically proven techniques like Zazen Counting Breath and autogenic training. (More on that, below.)
It also comes with QR codes to 25 meditations, breathing exercises, and relaxation exercises that one can listen to on one’s phone. (These are all written out in the book, as well. Having an audio companion feels extra nurturing, however– especially given that Dr. Kambolis has a lovely, soothing voice.)
All of this, she says, she included in the spirit of toning the mind-body connection, which is ultimately a feminist act. When the vagus nerve is toned, everything about the central nervous system performs better.
Ultimately, however, When Women Rise: Everyday Practices to Strengthen Your Mind, Body, and Soul is a book for anyone looking for a gentle approach to learning how to be more at ease.
Below, we spotlight three key insights and helpful tools that all women (and womxn) can take away from its pages.
For the rest– well, you’ll have to read it yourself. 🙂
1. The Value of Understanding “Eustress”
A lesser-explored topic that can be a revelation for anxious people is the idea of using stress and anxiety as a tool. Specifically: learning to cultivate stress and see it as productive, rather than fearing it.
As Dr. Kambolis explains early in her book, “eustress” is a helpful type of stress that can lead to an awakening of inner wisdom. It’s the higher wisdom innate to our being that tells us to run away from the saber tooth tiger, or to exit a toxic job or relationship.
When we place less attention on the thinking mind and more emphasis on the body’s reactions to things, we get back in touch with a powerful means of perception innate to all of us. (It’s only our social conditioning that makes us doubt what can actually be a form of inner motivation and wisdom.)
When we fear our stress, moreover, we are duped into thinking that we need more tools, products, services, or more ways of do, do, doing to help us get through. This ultimately feeds the economic agenda of capitalism, in which we are constantly being sold things.
But, Dr. Kambolis argues, there can be a different way. We already have the tools we need to navigate our troubled waters. The ability to soothe ourselves is inherent to our being.
This, of course, can be a hugely liberating concept for any stressed person.
So, how do you know if stress is productive or harmful? It’s simple. Remove the stressor and you’ll find out.
As Dr. Kambolis writes:
“How can you tell when you’ve moved from adaptive stress to anxiety? Eliminate the stressor and see what happens. Take a week off of work, for example, and just observe how you feel. If you can remove the stressor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and the worry, panic, fatigue, anger, digestive problems, muscle tension, headaches, or difficulty focusing or remembering continue, then you may be living with the effects of anxiety. Anxiety exists when the symptoms persist but no external stressors are to be found.”
It’s a simple formula, but an important one. Recognize what triggers exist for you and ask yourself: Is this causing a form of productive stress in me? Or is it simply aimless anxiety?
2. “Vooo” Chanting To Release Trauma
Voo chanting unlocks the “freeze” emotion in our gut by toning the vagus nerve. Apparently, women rarely “fight” and only occasionally fly when their “fight or flight” response is activated. Most often, however, they just freeze.
What’s worse, those who freeze tend to hold that tension in their gut, which is why a lot of women experience anxiety there. (<— And by the way, Catnip tea can help with this, but that’s a story for another time.)
To counteract this feeling, Dr. Kambolis invites readers to practice something called “Vooo Chanting”.
Here is how it works, as articulated in the book:
- Find a comfortable place to practice. You might find it soothing to place one hand at the heart and the other at the belly. Settle into the body.
- Take a deep, full breath, exhale, and make a sustained “vooo” sound as the air releases.
- Make the tone nice and low and send the vibration directly to the gut.
- Allow the next breath to find you, filling up the belly and chest, and begin again. Continue to “vooo” your way through the feelings of stress for as long as you need.
“It should be a very low and slow inhale,” says Dr. Kambolis. “Pause at the top of the breath, and then make a voooooooo sound, sending that vibration all the way down into your gut, sex organs, and perineum.”
“There’s a couple of things that are happening there,” she explains. “The long exhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which downplays the fight or flight response and sends healing neurochemicals down the entire body. The vibration, meanwhile, tones the vagus nerve system, which extends from the throat and larynx all the way down to the gut. It’s basically the communication superhighway between mind and body.”
The book further explains exactly why this practice works so well at interrupting the mental and physical impacts of stress. (I used this practice when sleep training my daughter, to counteract the anguish of hearing her cry, for example.)
Basically, it works because the vibration of the “vooo” sound shifts your body’s sympathetic nervous system out of its “fight or flight” response and into the “rest and repair” response, which ultimately calms the body.
Try Vooo Chanting after getting stressful news, experiencing a fright, or even after stressful situations like a car accident or having a family member in the hospital.
Ultimately, the physical effects of stress are the same regardless of circumstance. Thus, this neuro-hacking practice can apply to all litany of situations. Use it often!
3. Autogenic Training for Cold Hands and Feet!
Many anxious women tend to have cold hands and feet, which is why Dr. Kambolis’ book offers an autogenic training practice that addresses this issue, specifically.
“When our nervous system is in chronic overdrive, the mind and bodywork together to put protective systems in place,” she writes. “An increase in the stress hormone adrenaline triggers a change in blood flow away from the feet and hands and toward the core to safeguard the organs from danger. The result is icy cold extremities.”
Sound familiar? Well, autogenic training can help.
By using specific relaxation techniques (we love Dr. Kambolis’ soothing audio recording of this practice), we can use the power of the mind to direct blood flow back towards the hands and feet. This, in turn, raises skin temperature while calming the body and mind.
Autogenic training was developed in Germany in the 1920s, and researchers have investigated it widely in the century since. Today, multiple meta-analyses show that autogenic training can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety. (As well as hypertension, sleep disorders, pain disorders, and more!)
An expanded, step-by-step walk-through of this relaxation practice appears in the book, along with an audio recording.
Suffice it to say, the words that you repeat throughout this gentle breathing and visualization practice are: “I am here, and I am calm.” It’s a lovely and intimate way to get back to yourself.
By its end, When Women Rise culminates in an important sentiment that is frequently overlooked in our striving, competitive culture: the idea that when we heal ourselves, we heal the world.
“When we’re on a path of transformation, it can bring up a lot of feelings and conditions that are very painful. The book supports both the conceptual and experiential, to provide a path for women to really hear their own inner voice,” says Dr. Kambolis.
Accordingly, When Women Rise features several asides that set realistic expectations for how long it often takes to heal from trauma, pain, invalidation and other forms of chronic stress. One of her notes, for example, details the stages of self-realization, as part of a larger message that progress doesn’t always mean moving laterally forward. (This is a very “masculine” ideal.)
Instead, she invites readers to take a more feminine approach: practicing graceful acceptance that things don’t always move forward right away. You might zig-zag or periodically take a step backward. Both are okay. This is normal.
The recordings, in turn, are a means for women to open these portals to self-healing and empowerment through embodied practice.
“You can do 5 minutes of breathwork while waiting in the parking lot for your kids to be done with their gymnastics class,” Dr. Kambolis says, reflecting on the busyness of our present-day culture. It’s a fair enough point.
“Because when we pause to honor ourselves and practice compassionate awareness, it extends to children, and they learn the embodiment of that,” she affirms.
“And this, ultimately, is how you change the consciousness of our humanity. I often say to people, when they become overwhelmed and burdened by the troubles of our planet, that a return to self and really doing our own inner work is the most helpful thing that you can do for the unified whole.”
When women rise, moreover, so does everybody else.
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