Spokane Journal of Business

Movement specialist touts deep breathing to beat stress

Larkin Barnett teaches techniques to women to help them stay well

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Movement specialist touts deep breathing to beat stress
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Larkin Barnett has written five books on deep breathing and movement techniques aimed at improving well-being.

Spokane-based movement specialist and Pilates instructor Larkin Barnett say she wants to share with as many people as she can her beliefs about the health benefits that can be attained just by paying more attention to one's breathing.

Barnett, who has authored five books focused on teaching others the breathing and movement techniques she's developed, asserts that taking time daily to consciously focus on deep breathing can lower one's risk of developing a stress-related illness and other physical maladies.

"If we are conscious of that involuntary function, we can affect it, and it will positively influence other systems of the body," Barnett says. "Our cells need air. We drink five to eight glasses of water a day, eat three meals a day, and we take between 17,000 and 20,000 breaths a day, but we never stop to take one deep breath."

The 58-year-old author, dancer, and fitness instructor currently teaches Pilates classes and movement-therapy workshops that focus on integrating deep-breathing techniques with gentle, deliberate movements. She also offers some dance instruction at a Spokane-area ballet studio.

While not directly employed by any specific fitness facilities, Barnett teaches her techniques at the Spokane Club's downtown and Spokane Valley facilities, the Ballet Arts Academy of Spokane downtown, The Pilates Life fitness studio on North Lincoln Street, and movement classes for children at Youthful Horizons Therapy in Spokane Valley.

She says she also regularly travels around the U.S. to attend speaking engagements, educational workshops, promotional events for the books she's published, and to teach other Pilates instructors the techniques she's developed in that form of exercise.

While Barnett offers her advice and teachings to people of all ages and to both men and women, she says the benefits of incorporating deep, intentional, and focused breathing with gentle body movements can be beneficial to busy women juggling work, children, and relationships.

"The oxygen masks on a plane that they tell you to put on first before you help anyone else, that can be an analogy for it because if women take care of themselves first, they can be there more for their families and jobs," Barnett says. "But the main difference is that they can do these tools when they're doing everyday activities, like standing in a line. No matter how busy we are, we have the time to stop and take a few purposeful breaths—anytime, anywhere, and in any position."

In her books, which all are available to purchase on Amazon.com, Barnett says she explains how to do such focused, deep breathing and how to incorporate that during activities such as sitting at a desk at work, driving, or standing for a long period of time.

Barnett says her latest book, called "Practical Centering: Exercises to Energize Your Chakras for Relaxation, Vitality, and Health," was released in April. The pocket-sized manual, which has a cover price of $15.95, includes tips on stretching, relaxation breathing, meditation, and self-massage to release muscle tension.

Barnett says the new book doesn't have a specific audience in mind, and she describes it as a "biofeedback manual for everyone."

Biofeedback is an alternative medicine technique that helps a person become consciously aware of the body's physiological functions through the use of a specialized machine that measures through electrical sensors specific activities of the body. The end goal is for a person eventually to be able to manipulate with their mind the body's involuntary responses to certain stimuli.

Information from the Mayo Clinic, the nonprofit medical research foundation based in Rochester, Minn., says biofeedback can be used to treat anxiety, stress, pain, and physical performance, among other health conditions.

"You can learn to become your own biofeedback machine using the exercises in the book, so when stress come at you, it doesn't physiologically come into the body," Barnett asserts.

Next month, Barnett will speak to promote her new book at Auntie's Bookstore, at 402 W. Main downtown, and also will teach the audience some of the techniques outlined in it. She says the event is scheduled to take place on August 17, at 7 p.m., and is free to attend.

Barnett's other published work includes a series of three books on teaching movement techniques to children. The titles of those works are "On a Lark: Creative Movement for Children," "Pilates and Calisthenics for Children," and "Creative Yoga for Children."

Barnett says she recently started teaching the concepts outlined in those books to a small group of children here at Youthful Horizons Therapy clinic in a class called Fitness Fusion, and says each session costs $10. In the future, she says she hopes to increase the amount of the fitness education work she does with kids.

Aside from teaching Pilates and movement-therapy workshops at several fitness facilities here, Barnett says she's also working to teach pulmonary patients here some of the breathing exercises she's developed that can help them recover from surgery or chronic medical conditions.

She asserts that those deep-breathing exercises, which focus partly on contracting muscles during exhalation, relaxing them during inhalation, and filling the lungs to capacity, have helped many of those patients to improve their breathing after having a lung removed or being diagnosed with tracheal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the windpipe.

Barnett says she also works with people who are going through an intense grieving process, because breathing exercises have been shown to help people deal with grief or loss.

In addition to that, she says she's worked with musicians in the Spokane Symphony who might be experiencing chronic muscle tension from overusing one side of their body when playing an instrument.

Barnett says the beginnings of her career as a movement therapist date back to when she decided to major in dance in college and realized that she was at a disadvantage because of the shallow-chested way in which she breathed.

She says she then started studying the science of breathing and saw how it correlated to stress. Barnett has both a bachelor's and a master's degree in dance, along with several Pilates teaching certifications, she says.

Having spent much of her childhood in Spokane, Barnett returned here about two years ago after living in several areas of the country teaching in various capacities.

Barnett says she plans to stay here and continue teaching dance, Pilates, and educating people on movement and breathing techniques.

Recently, she says she started a new project to co-author a book with Dr. Gregory Loewen, a pulmonary oncologist with the Providence Regional Cancer Center here. She says the book is expected to include personal stories from people who've successfully integrated conscious breathing techniques into their lives.

"It's not going to be a how-to book," she says. "Hopefully it will change people's paradigm about breathing, and if you integrate breathing skills into your everyday life, your relaxation response works better and your health improves. These will be stories people can relate to in the hopes that they can focus on breathing skills."

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