How to Breathe and Permission to Rest with Ashley Neese

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama podcast. I’m Katie from and I really loved this episode that is all about how to breathe and permission to rest. And you’ll find lots of correlations to parts of my journey that I’ve shared with some really important, applicable and practical tips that I think are especially needed for women and moms.

I’m here with Ashley Neese, who is a renowned breath work teacher and the author of How to Breathe and Permission to Rest. She has spent over a decade working at the intersections of embodiment, transformation and renewal. And she’s also the host of The Deeper Call newsletter and podcast where she shares her personal reflections and restorative conversations on healing and regeneration. And we get to go deep on a lot of aspects of this conversation today in this podcast. We started off talking in a fun way about her experience as an amateur beekeeper and how she got into it. And as a beekeeper as well, I appreciated that part, but it was actually a perfect springboard into our deeper conversation. because being around bees, it turns out, can actually help us to downshift into parasympathetic. And that was a common thread of this conversation where we talked about the understanding and importance of rest and the actual definition, which is often confused in modern society.

We talked about how rest can actually help our capacity to do hard things and improve other areas of life, though it’s often so simple it’s ignored. We talked about the distinction between sleep and rest and how while they can share some commonalities, they’re distinctly different as well. We also talked a lot about her trauma recovery and mine as well, and how that became part of her healing journey. We talk about simple practices to learn rest and connect to the body, how nature helps with this, what the stress response cycle is, and how to complete that to be able to downshift into a rest cycle, and ways to break the stress response cycle, what a body budget is and how that can help us rest.

We go into the somatic elements of rest and healing and restorative time, and so much more. I feel like this conversation really ties together a lot of things that I’ve talked about in other podcasts, and is also a really good resource and tool for any of you who are doing that inner work and having trouble with that inner emotional, spiritual, mental side, and how that’s relating to your physical health. So without any further wait, let’s join Ashley. Ashley, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

Ashley: Thank you so much for having me, Katie. I’m really looking forward to this.

Katie: I am deeply excited for this conversation. I think we’re going to get to touch on some extremely relevant parts of health that are not as often talked about, but that seem especially relevant to women and to moms. And I’m very excited to get to dive deep with you on that. Before we do though, I also have a note from your bio that you are also an amateur beekeeper. And this is a hobby I’ve had since I was a teenager. So I would love to hear your experience with that and how you got into it. I’m always up for any time I get to plug people being beekeepers because I think that’s so helpful. The more people that keep bees and understand bees and even just plant things that can benefit the bees, I’m all about that. So how did you get into it?

Ashley: I got into it, so we moved to the Sierra’s from after living in the Bay Area for a while. And one of the reasons we moved out to the Sierras was to be closer to the land and to have a different kind of pace of life. And our first spring here was actually on Earth Day two years ago. We had just finished our house and we were just driving to the property. And one of the gentlemen who was working on our house was like, hey, there’s a swarm over there. Do you guys want this swarm? And my partner and I were like, oh my God, there’s this swarm. This is so exciting. We’re so into bees. We knew that we wanted bees on the land, but we had no idea how to get started. And Josh, who’s such a sweet guy, was like, why don’t I go help you get the swarm and then I can bring you a hive and you can get started. And it just happened. They were on the land. So he came over, got a saw, got one of the branches down off the tree. We got the swarm into a box and I transferred it into the hive two days later. And we’ve had bees ever since. And we just caught another swarm a couple of months ago, just a week after Earth Day here, too. So that seems to be the time they tend to break off. And want to go find a new home.

Katie: I love that we have beehives as well and we’ve had a couple of swarms this year and now a couple of our neighbors also have bees because of the swarm. So I love that you’re doing that as well. And like I said, just a plug for any of you guys who have ever been curious, I highly encourage beekeeping as a hobby and fascinating, I saw a study a couple of weeks ago actually that the sort of like resonant sound that a beehive makes is apparently extremely healing to the body and they’re doing experimental therapies now with people just being in proximity to the sound of a beehive and how that can help them in their parasympathetic. So if you needed a health reason to consider it. I found that fascinating that they just released that study and actually that springboards perfectly I think into our conversation, which I mentioned is going to be especially relevant for moms with that bees being able to help with the shift to parasympathetic.

We’re going to get to talk a lot about rest and I think this is a hugely overlooked and often ignored thing for women in today’s society and especially for moms because of the busyness that tends to come with motherhood. I know you talk a lot about this and much more eloquently than I could, but to start off broad, maybe give us some background on what you mean when you say rest and how rest relates to our capacity to actually be able to do the hard things as well.

Ashley: Yeah, that’s such a great question. So rest, the first thing I wanna say is that I think there’s so much confusion, there was definitely a lot of confusion for me. I always thought rest was the same as sleeping. And once I started this practice, especially as a new mother, not getting any sleep and having a really sick little baby, people would always say, well, oh, just like rest when the baby rests or do this. And it’s like, okay, well, I have a whole house to clean and all these things. But I was really curious. It’s like, okay, if I’m not sleeping at night, if I’m getting up every hour with baby, what can I do during my day that will give me just a little micro moment of restoration or just a little way to shift my nervous system and shift my state.

And because I’d been a breathwork teacher for so many years and been in that world, that was the first tool that I gravitated towards. I was like, okay, I can take five really long inhales, really slow exhales and just give myself a moment to recenter and refocus. And then I started extending those practices as well as looking for other ways that I could find little moments of respite throughout the day.

So I write in the book that this has been a practice, kind of been working towards rest for many years, but it really wasn’t until I became a parent and I had that lack of sleep that everything changed. I was like, oh, this can’t just be this thing that I do every once in a while. This has to be something that I’m tapping into throughout the day. So that at the end of the day, I’m not just completely out of sorts.

And as far as doing the hard things, I mean, we’ve got three kids under five at home now. And one of the biggest, I think facets of my healing journey has been recovering from trauma, really looking at kind of aspects of myself from when I grew up that were avoided, that were ignored, that were kind of belittled. And there wasn’t really anyone in my life when I was little who was showing up for me when I was having a hard time. I’ll just say that. I’m a big feeler, right? I’m empathic, I feel all the things all the time. And that’s a lot. And I have parent empaths now and my kids are big feelers as Dr. Becky would say, they’re deeply feeling kids. I got a lot of deeply feeling kids. And as a deeply feeling kid myself, I was never shown like, hey, this is how you are with somebody’s feelings, right? Because my parents didn’t know how to be with their own feelings, of course.

And so as a parent, doing this rest work has actually given me the capacity to be with myself. So I’ve been able to kind of tune in and go, oh, I just need a moment. Let me pause, let me take a rest. Let me just have a few minutes so that I can tend to myself and my little ones who are freaking out, right? And then turn to my kids and go, hey, what do you need from me right now? And that has been such, it’s been so healing for myself and for my family and for my lineage on so many levels because it’s just that attunement and that resonance. And I can’t get to attunement and resonance when I’m going super fast, when I’m hustling, when I’m avoiding, when I’m checking out, it requires presence. And for me, the way that I get present is through slowing down and resting.

Katie: You just brought up so many good points. I think first of all, the idea that rest and sleep often sort of are used synonymously, but I think to your point, these are entirely separate categories. They’re both very important and they do overlap. But if we just think they’re the same thing, we actually miss out on a lot of potential to take advantage of rest that isn’t sleep and the ways to do that. And like you, my trauma healing was hugely impactful to my interactions with people and also to even my physical health in a really extreme way. And it was a very slow learned lesson for me. And ever since sharing that story, I’ve had many listeners and readers ask, like, what specifically did you do? How can I do that too? And I realized that there is an individualized aspect here in figuring out for each of us what that rest is going to look like. There’s not, unfortunately, a just checklist blueprint, which also speaks to our sort of mentality here that we want a checklist. We want a to-do list even for healing and rest.

And so I love that this is a more of a journey and an inner process that has that individualization to it, but that also there seem to be some kind of core things that can help on that journey or like practices we can learn that will help us figure out our own response and our own rest and our own stress levels and our own trauma. I also love that you brought up your kids because the older I get, the more I really come to firmly believe that the best gift we can give our kids as their parents is to our own self-regulation, our own trauma healing, and our own ability to exist presently in a calm state.

And I know that is a lifelong journey, certainly, but I would love to hear some of your examples or practices, maybe that you learned along the way for being able to tap into that rest throughout the day. Because I would guess for some of the moms listening maybe, even the idea of that is potentially a new concept. The ability to just take sort of like micro moments throughout the day to recenter and how to do that. So I would love for you to give more detail on how you’ve integrated that.

Ashley: Yeah, that’s such a beautiful question. And one of the first practices in the book is called Orienting. And this is actually a practice that I learned through all the trauma work that I’ve done. And orienting is so beautiful because you can do it anywhere. It doesn’t require anything special, and it’s really quick. And so what orienting is, it’s an invitation to take a moment when you notice, like, oh, I’m getting really angry, or I’m really frustrated, or I’m totally overwhelmed, and I’m starting to check out, or I just need a second. Because it really just takes a few seconds. And then you just take a moment. And then the first thing you do is you just look around, just with your eyes. You just look around your space, and you start to name. What do you see? So when I look around my space right now, I go, oh, there’s a yellow book over there. Okay, I look out the window. There’s a tree. Oh, there’s a light coming in from overhead. Just that already starts to shift my nervous system. And it brings me into presence. It brings me into contact with the sensations that are happening in my body. It brings me into contact with my breath.

And then if I want to take it further, I can go, okay, what do I hear? What am I hearing right now? Okay, what am I smelling right now? It’s like we just really get into our senses. And so orientation is a wonderful way to get into our senses. And I find that through this work, getting into our senses is another way that we can start to downshift into parasympathetic and find that moment of rest . So that’s a really beautiful one.

Another one is nature. So I have a whole chapter in the book just specifically dedicated to nature because it’s so huge. And we talked about bees in the beginning. I love being in my garden and just tooling around in there and listening to the hum of the bees. We have our hive really close to the garden. It’s just such a beautiful sound. All the hummingbirds, everything else that’s happening out there. So any access to nature, right? That could be getting your feet on the grass. That could be tending to a little plant in your house. It doesn’t have to be a 60 foot garden. You can really make this accessible. It can even be the way that we connect with our food. And I know food is such a big thing for your listeners and for the show too. It’s like, how are we connecting to the greens that we’re eating, to the vegetables that we’re cutting up? All those things are a really good way to start to nourish and just start to notice, first of all, there’s connection, right? I’m not alone. I’m connected to this whole wide web of the world. It isn’t that incredible. And that right here, that inherent reciprocity and connection is already leading us into restoration, right? Because again, like you said, rest has all these deeper connotations that’s remembering and reclaiming our interconnectedness, which for me has been a huge part of this process. And just that slowing down enough to go, oh wait, right? There’s all the support right here. Even though there’s all these really hard things happening and I didn’t get enough sleep and I’m stressed and all this stuff, there’s also this other thing happening that’s true too. And that’s part of the trauma informed. It’s like, what else can we bring in? We’re not trying to get away. We’re not trying to like, you know, force ourselves into anything. We’re going, all this is happening, but what else is possible?

Katie: And I know in the book, you also talk about something you call completing the stress response cycle. And I would love for you to explain what that is and how that relates to downshifting into rest. And I feel like many people, for me at least, it was easy to get stuck in that stress cycle. So I’d love for you to explain what you mean by that and kind of the stages and how to understand that.

Ashley: For sure. So the stress response cycle is something that I am intimately familiar with as someone who lived so much of my life in a chronic state of stress. And I didn’t even know there was a such thing as a stress response cycle. I was just always on that uptick. I was always in fight or flight. Sometimes I was in freeze too, but I was, my nervous system was just always really jacked up and I was going really fast. I have felt so much of my life, the sense of urgency, right? The sense of urgency is kind of woven into my nervous system and it shows up in all these different ways. It shows up in how I talk. It shows up in how I think. It shows up in my, you know, feeling like I’m not worthy if I’m not producing enough. Like I just have to go, go, go all the time. And so that stress response cycle is all part of that. It’s just that how our, like our stress physiology shapes us, right? It literally shapes our brains. It shapes our bodies. It affects our health, all those things.

And so what we want to do is have enough awareness to go, Whoa, my nervous system is in a stress response cycle. I’m in that right now. I need to downshift because what happens if we don’t downshift and break that cycle, they just start to stack, right? And the more the stress response cycles. each other, then we’re left with all kinds of health issues and all kinds of other mental issues. So this is something that I struggled with too. My stress was stacking so much. Guess what? My back went out. Guess what? I was laid up in bed for almost a year, just like really struggling to even put on my clothes and get myself dressed and shower. And this was when our son was a year and a half. It was so brutal. And it was also partly while I was writing this book, it’s always that thing like we kind of create the medicine that we need in the world.

And as I was writing this book and as I was going through this process, my back was out and I was like, okay, I’ve got to actually learn this in a deeper way now. So what does that mean? We need to downshift the stress response cycle. So there’s a lot of really true, like scientifically proven ways to do this that are actually quite fun. So one of them is hugging. So that is just so beautiful. Like we can give ourselves a hug. We can hug our loved ones. That’s a great way to downshift the nervous system.

Another way is to do something creative. So that could be draw a picture. That could be something really wonderful for your family or for yourself that you want to be. That could be write somebody a letter. That could be make a phone call. Another way is through breathing. So I know that just that long, slow exhale helps to go ahead and start to downshift the nervous system in a really beautiful way. And then yeah, so create, hug. Um, another way to do that is move and move is another one that we use a lot in our family when things that energy starts to get really intense or like, okay, let’s turn on the music, let’s dance it out. Let’s get our bodies moving. Let’s have some fun. Let’s release that energy. Let’s shift that cycle. And then after we dance, it’s like that nice deep exhale at the end, you go, okay, we move that cycle.

The thing I want to say here is that it’s, it’s okay. If you start to notice things stacking, like I always want to give a lot of mission and the work and a lot of choice and a lot of space and a lot of grace because we’re not going to do this perfectly. Like I’m still going to get caught in my stress response cycles, even though I’m teaching this work, but I’m living it. And it’s the moments at the end of the day when I’m like, Whoa, I am so wired. I cannot get myself down to go to sleep at night. Like, what do I need to do? I need to complete my stress response cycles. And so those are the times that I might lean into a practice at the end of the day so that I can then downshift into sleep.

Katie: And you also talk about something called trauma-informed rest. And I think this will also be relevant. I know I’ve mentioned I’ve talked about my trauma story, and it does seem like there may be a different approach or at least like some added things that can be helpful if someone knows that they’re aware of trauma and that they realize that’s an element in their inability to downshift easily. So can you explain what you mean by trauma-informed rest?

Ashley: Yeah, I’m so glad that you asked this question because first and foremost, trauma-informed rest is really looking at our individual history, right? It’s looking collectively for sure too, but it’s really looking at our individual histories. And as someone who’s been in trauma training and is trauma-informed and trauma-certified, this is personal to me and also in all the work that I’ve done with clients over the years is one of the things that I noticed for myself was that when I started to rest, I was terrified. I was so scared to slow down. I was like, if I slow down, bad things are gonna happen. If I’m not going full blast all the time, if I’m not pushing, if I’m not grinding, something bad’s gonna happen. And so learning how to, through the trauma-informed lens, go, okay, what in my history is showing me this? And then what do I need to do now? Hey, the advice that you might hear on Instagram or somewhere out in the world, it’s like, hey, just take a rest. It’s like, well, I can’t, I’m too scared. I don’t wanna take a rest. I don’t wanna look at the grief that I have or the pain that I’m carrying or all the regrets that I have or whatever it is. Like, I’m too afraid. And so what do we do?

And in the book, I talk a lot about the different tools that I’ve used from somatic experiencing, which is a really beautiful trauma model. And one of the tools is titration. And titration was developed by Peter Levine. And it’s really, really beautiful because what it offers is just a micro dose. It’s like, okay, you don’t have to rest for 30 minutes. Just do 30 seconds. Can you just for 30 seconds, just follow your breath and just put your feet on the ground. Maybe put your hands on your thighs and just follow your breath 30 seconds. 30 seconds is too much. Okay, let’s do 10 seconds. It’s just really taking it so that your nervous system can handle it and so that you have the capacity. Because so often with trauma, we get into overwhelm really quickly or we’re going to shut down, right? Everything’s totally overwhelming. And then we shut down. And so with rest, it’s like, well, I’m too scared to rest. I can’t do that. There’s no way I can like open myself up to that or let down what I need to let down. It’s like, okay, well, you can do that for five seconds or for 10 seconds. I’m gonna grab some water really quick. And that is. That is so potent because we can build on that, right? That’s something that we can build on in that five seconds and that 10 seconds of titration can then go into something bigger. And through the trauma-informed lens, we’re really looking at our own capacity.

And that’s really what I’m saying. Like not everyone has the capacity to go into a rest practice for 20 minutes. And that’s okay. You know, we all have our own histories that we’re showing up with. We have different things going on in our bodies and in our brains and in our lives. It’s like, what can we do that works for us? And so it’s really taking that individualized and that customized approach to go, hey, there isn’t a one size fits all. Just like you said in the beginning, there’s so many different ways to rest. And we have to find the ones that work for us right now in this season of our lives. Also with the caveat that like our lives are gonna change and our practices are gonna change and they’re gonna ebb and flow as we grow our capacity, as we learn to feel safe in our bodies, you know, kind of one moment of rest at a time, one breath at a time, because safety is a huge piece in that trauma-informed conversation. And I’m looking at capacity and I’m looking at safety. Like how much capacity do we have and how safe do we feel?

Katie: Yeah, I think that feeling of safety in our own bodies is so key. And also I realized for me at least was a journey. It didn’t happen overnight by any means, but it’s been a beautiful journey. And it seems like when I learned a little bit to listen to my body, especially in that trauma recovery phase that I was in, I felt that my body was demanding a lot more rest than I had been giving it. And so for a long period of time during that, I really minimized high intensity workouts. I really just focused on gentle movement outside, which these tie in with the suggestions you’ve given, but things like gentle walks, gentle swimming in the water, just time outside in nature and let myself sleep more than I had been sleeping. Let myself be able to say no to things and not just have as much on my plate as much as possible during that time.

And I felt like that was my body and my soul kind of demanding that rest in order to be able to heal. And now that I’ve gotten into a much calmer space and have healing, I feel like I now also have so much more energy that I don’t need as much of the day to day sleep and rest as I used to. And I have so much more energy to be able to use for projects, but I don’t think I would have been able to get there certainly not as quickly had I not listened to my body’s need for rest in that phase. And so I love that you talked about it’s constantly changing. This doesn’t mean that forever I was going to need that much rest and forever I was going to need nine and a half hours of sleep. But I do think that really helped the healing phase. And I feel like this relates to another concept that you talk about called the body budget. So can you explain what that is and how it relates?

Ashley: Yeah, so our brains are kind of these amazing organizers and they’re always kind of budgeting like how much salt do we need? How much water do we need? What are our stress hormones? What’s happening with our stress hormones? And so they are kind of budgeting our energy all day long. And so when we can look at something like the body budget, it can be really helpful to know, okay, when I’m going in for this really tough conversation or when I have to go, you know, to this party with my kids or whatever it is, these things are going to require a certain amount of energy. Do I have that energy right now? I know to your point, they’re so like, I have my own personal kind of history with burnout and struggling with burnout in many different aspects of my life for many different reasons. Right. And I find that the deeper I go in this journey, the kind of, I’m trying to think the best way to say this.

Essentially what we’re looking for with the body budget is to really prepare ourselves for kind of the future. So let’s say we’re heading into something stressful. Our body’s going to already start to be stressed out. So all those hormones are going to be going off, cortisol is going to be going up, our adrenaline is going to be going off before we even get to the event or before we even have the conversation. So knowing that about our bodies, what do we need to do so that we can kind of shore ourselves up in those situations? And someone I really admire talks about this a lot. She talks about at the beginning of the week, she looks at her calendar and she goes, okay, this is what I’ve scheduled for the week. Do I have the capacity for that this week? Do I have the energy for that this week? Have I blocked off enough times of rest? Have I blocked off naps? Have I blocked off like time with my family enough to really get through what I need to get through? And if I haven’t, I’m going to cancel some stuff.

And that goes to your point around saying no and really having boundaries around our own energy. And so I think the body budget is a really fabulous tool for starting to look at some of those things and go, oh, and if you’re not sure what that is, go do an activity and just see how do you feel afterwards? Do you feel refreshed? Do you feel replenished? Do you feel depleted? If you’re feeling depleted, that’s information that’s really important. So next time you have to go to a similar activity, what I would say is kind of bracket that like what can you do before to give yourself a little bit of a buffer? Do you need a little bit extra sleep? Do you need to do a rest practice? Do you need to make sure that you’re hydrated? And then after check in and see what happens. And so this can be a really fun way for us to start to gauge like what’s working, what’s not working and not as a way to stress ourselves out even more. You know, I’ll have clients will be like, okay, so does that mean I need to track in a journal like every single thing I do in a day and then do some rest practice to counter that thing? I’m like, no, no, no, that’s way too much. It’s just noticing. And it’s noticing after a conversation, after event, those types of things. How am I feeling? What’s my energy like? okay, next time, what can I do differently? What can I weave in to give myself that support?

Katie: Yeah, you mentioned hydration and I very much believe this is an area where there’s either going to be a positive feedback loop or a negative feedback loop anytime we’re talking about rest and stress and the body and the mind working together. And I think the beauty of that is understanding it. We can then hopefully do the things that help that shift into a positive feedback loop. And for me, one of those was certainly hydration and also looking at like my minerals. I wasn’t getting enough minerals and when we’re in a state of stress, we’re burning through a lot of extra magnesium and we’re depleting minerals more rapidly than we would be if we were not stressed. And so for me in that phase, I also paid attention to really supporting my body through intentional hydration but also making sure I was getting enough minerals, trace minerals, electrolytes, all the things that I had depleted without realizing it for a lot of years.

And I think that there’s many things in that category that support the body and that creates also a positive change for the mind and for the emotions. And then also those changes we make mentally and emotionally then also can give us more energy in the body like you’re explaining as well. And I think also this touches on something that… I think this part in particular is the most difficult maybe for moms because it’s so easy to put everybody else first and we can get that mom guilt if we take time to rest. And so I wanted to speak directly to that for a minute because I also think as moms, one of the best gifts we can give our kids is to model the ability to rest and the ability to take a second and recenter.

I find this as an example, even with my kids, if there’s stress happening in the household, rather than put them in timeout or tell them to go away and isolate, I will model it by I need to go in my room and breathe for a couple of minutes and then I would love to come back and have a conversation with you and I can be more present and more peaceful. And hopefully by doing that, give them the permission to have that behavior as well. But can you speak specifically to maybe the mom guilt side if you encounter that with people that you work with and any tips for getting past that internally when we feel bad for sort of that analogy of putting on our own mask first?

Ashley: Yeah, I love that so much, Katie, and that’s just what you said is a practice that we do in our home to my partner, and I do that as well, just going. Okay, we’re noticing it’s there’s ways in which it almost seems easier just to put our kids like, it’s like, okay, can you just go away? And it’s like, no, I’m the one who needs to take a minute. I’m the one who needs to be modeling this and to give whatever, give myself whatever I’m needing in that moment. And so that’s definitely a practice that we do. I spend a lot of time outside. That’s really, really important to me. It helps me ground. It helps me feel connected. And it just helps to shift my perspective so quickly. Like really all I need to do is step outside and kind of look around the trees and see the garden and see some flowers and even just look at the grass and something has just changed already. So there’s so much magic and so much potential in that.

And in terms of the guilt, you know, for me, one of the things that I often do when I’m feeling guilty is just try to get underneath that and try to get into, okay, where’s that program coming from? Where’s that story loop running? Do I need that right now? Is that necessary? Is that going to help me move forward? And often it’s not. And often for me, my guilt programs are, you know, come from my history and they come from my family of origin and they don’t really have relevance for me in that moment. And so this is, I’m saying that, but it’s hard. You know, it’s not like I just wake up one day and do this. This has been years of therapy and making and years of doing this work. So if you’re new and you’re struggling with that mom guilt and you’re like, okay, I don’t even know what you’re saying. How do I get underneath that? Just give yourself a moment. The more moments that you take for yourself, the easier it’s going to be in the future to kind of get underneath that and ask those questions, those deeper questions of, oh, do I really need to be feeling this right now? Is this actually helping me right now? Is it serving me? Is it not serving me? Why am I actually feeling guilty? And I think once we start to unpack that, the guilt actually starts to shift pretty quickly. And that’s definitely been my experience. Once I’ve been able to get underneath it and start to kind of shine some light on it, I found that I don’t need it as much as I once did.

Katie: And I feel like this also springboards into another really important key, which is that connection with self-worth and self-trust. And I know these were very difficult things for me to learn and I had to take a, it was a process of learning to sort of audit my internal language and come into like finding a place of peace within myself. And you touched on this a little bit about making peace with our body, but how do those ideas of self-worth and self-trust tie into this and how can we nurture those?

Ashley: Yeah, that’s such a great question. Self, and this has all kind of come out of this work for me because I didn’t, you know, when I started working on rest and kind of making rest more of a point in my life, I didn’t even know how connected it was to my self-worth and my self-trust. And, you know, historically my self-worth has been quite low and just getting to this point where I recognize, hey, I’m worth taking care of, my body is worth taking care of, my heart is worth taking care of, I have value and not because of what I’m making or what I’m creating, but just because I’m a human on this planet, and that’s still something that shows up for me sometimes. I mean, in preparation for this podcast, I was going over everything last night with my partner. He gets these downloads and he’ll just stop himself. And then his body gets really still and his eyes kind of close. And I’m like, oh, Nick’s getting a download. This is gonna be good. And I’m waiting like with bated breath. What’s he gonna say, you know? Tell me how to answer this question. And then he just looks at me and he goes. You don’t have to explain yourself. He’s like, you already deserve to be here. You have a right to be here, you deserve to be here. You don’t have to explain yourself. And it tears, right? And it’s just that moment of, oh, right, there’s still these places where that low self-worth shows up, because there’s this little one, you know, this younger part of myself that still wants to like do a good job and prove myself and show everyone how smart I am or whatever it is, you know?

And when I can look at her and really be with her and say, hey, little one, I see you. I see that you’re really wanting to prove yourself and like work so hard right now. You don’t need to. You can take a rest. You can take a nap. You can have a snack. You can just like do what you need to do. Then that provides me the space and time for adult Ashley to show up and go, hey, like, let’s have fun with this instead of making it be a stressful situation. And that’s so connected to my self-worth because my self-worth is so, was always so much, like I said before, about hustling, about proving, about striving, and it’s never enough. You know, and I’m sure so many other people relate to this. It’s like, we can finally get the job or the thing or whatever it is that we want. And it’s still not gonna be enough. And so at that moment in my life, it’s like, oh, I have to look inside myself. What is it that I’m needing? What is it that I’m running from?

And that was always a question for me with the rest. It’s like, why am I running so hard? And why am I running so fast? And so what do I need to do to slow down and stop running and really take that breath and be with myself and be with the pain and the healing and just that whole journey? And so that’s really what it’s been. And learning how to trust myself has been a huge part of that. And it really ties into the Self-worth because when I know and I have those moments when I feel like, okay, I’m worth resting, then I trust myself to take the next right action on behalf of myself later on in that day or that week.

And I just also wanna say something too, because this is coming up for me a lot. It’s like, we live in this culture that really prioritizes like our outside life, right? It really prioritizes like how much we can accomplish, how fast we can accomplish it, how many like prizes and accolades we have. But honestly, when we slow down, I’ll just reframe this, when I slow down and I get quiet and I have a moment of rest with myself that then I can have with my partner or that then I can have with my kids or that then I can share with people in my community, that is productive. And not only is it productive, it’s generative. And I’ve really been looking at the difference between productivity and like what we generate. And being generative is really on the side of rest. It’s really on the side of revolution. It’s really on the side of regenerating and something that gives back. And so when I think about resting too, it is this like deeply personal experience, but it’s also a personal experience that then connects me outward into the rest of the world.

Katie: I love that distinction. I’m so glad you brought that up. And I also love that you mentioned the inner child. This was a part that I did in therapy a lot, was learning to sort of reintegrate and make peace and make friends with my inner child and nourish them. And I even did visualizations where I… visualized my inner child and gave it a hug in the times when it needed a hug and didn’t get it. And I feel like that’s so valuable.

And I also love that you touched on. when we’re able to access that self-love and self-worth, it makes actually all the decisions that lead to better health, whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally, so much easier because it’s coming from a place of love and nourishment and not punishment or deprivation or even if it’s something as simple as like physical health and dieting, it’s so much easier to choose the foods that nourish us from a place of love than a place of deprivation and framing that things are bad or that we’re afraid of it or we’re trying to lose weight. It’s just such a more powerful mindset.

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Also, what you touched on with being with the happiness angle, it made me think of a quote from my friend Naval that said, desires when we make a contract with ourselves to be unhappy until we get what we want. And I realized I had stories in my head of, oh, I’ll be happy when I’m this size or I’ll be happy when this happens or I’ll be happy when I get through all these projects. And I had to learn actually happiness is the thing I can choose now and nurture now. And those things can still happen, but I don’t need to make a contract with myself to be unhappy until they do. I can actually nurture that right now.

I feel like another part of this that’s super valuable, and I’ve talked a little bit about on here, but I think you’re gonna have so much better perspective for is the somatic aspect. And I first was introduced to this when I read the book, The Body Keeps the Score. And then I had my own journey of discovering just how intricately the body and the mind are connected and how that process unraveled for me. But I would love to hear you speak to the somatic side and anything we can do from a somatic perspective to process that stress response, to get into a better place somatically, and also how that relates to our interactions with other people and boundary setting and any practices that are helpful there.

Ashley: There’s so much in what you said. I want to respond to everything. But in terms of the somatic piece, that’s been a huge, huge piece for me, especially with the noting so much trauma work myself personally has been really looking at like what’s showing up in my body. And it’s been an interesting journey for me. I mean, I grew up as a dancer. So I had a lot of like early introduction to somatic movement, to being in my body, to all these different things. But then I grew up doing classical ballet, which is very, very formal and it’s very strict. And there’s so much about overriding. There’s so much about pushing, like get your body into this shape, right? There’s no like, oh, you’re not gonna do that. So it’s not like, there’s just, you’re doing it. The teacher’s yelling at you, you know, and she’s like, it’s intense, it’s hardcore. That was my experience with ballet as a kid. And I loved it. And it wasn’t until many years later as an adult, I was like, actually, I don’t wanna push my body that hard. I don’t want to override a sensation that I’m having in my foot. And then I’m taking my pointy shoes off and my feet are bleeding from dancing for three hours. It’s like, that wasn’t actually healthy for me, but it taught me so much. And as an adult and how that shows up in my life now with the somatic work that I do, I take these moments to check in.

And that example that I gave earlier of even just looking at my week ahead, it’s like I check in with my body, not just looking at my calendar and looking at it from this more kind of mental, cognitive place, I go, how does that feel in my body? or someone calls and invites me out somewhere, I go, yeah, give me a second. What am I noticing in my body? Am I feeling tight? Am I feeling restricted? Is my tummy doing something strange? Or am I feeling open? Is my chest open? Or are my shoulders relaxed? Like what are the cues for me? And the cool thing about this work, the thematic piece is all of us have these individual cues that mark like, hey, I’m in a stress response. Hey, I’m starting to disassociate. I’m feeling confused. My vision is blurry, right? Or, oh, I’m starting to feel relaxed. My tummy is grumbling in that way that it does when it’s like that kind of digestive parasympathetic response. Or my jaw is softening, right? Or my tongue is not pressed up on the roof of my mouth. So there’s all these different body markers and somatic signals for us to know what kind of state we’re in.

But it’s up to us to pay attention to them. And that’s its own practice and its own journey, as you so beautifully shared. And especially for those of us like myself who’ve spent so much of their lives either overriding, pushing my body past its limits, or completely checking out. It’s like, I’m in an extreme camp. I’m like one or the other. I’m either like totally not here, or I’m so here. I’m like driving myself into the ground, doing something that’s really difficult for my body. Because that’s familiar to me, right? It’s like, now I can put myself into this thing.

And what I’ve learned through this practice of rest and how it connects is just the softening. If I wear my body, am I willing to soften? Where do I feel safe enough to soften? If I don’t feel safe, what do I need in this moment right now to help myself even feel 1% safer? I think often in terms of trauma, where we’re looking for these big experiences, right? We’re like, okay, I want the ayahuasca type experience with rest. What’s the big peak moment that I can have? And often the peak moments come in those little tiny micro shifts. It’s like, oh, if I just release my shoulder 1% and just stay with that, oh, wow, there’s some sadness there. Oh, there’s some grief there. Okay, let’s stay with that versus just trying to override it and get my shoulder down as fast as possible. So the somatic work comes in that way too.

And then how it shows up in our relationships. And this is a piece that I’ve had to work through for so many years. I’m someone who often would say yes when I meant no, you know, I didn’t know how to say no, it wasn’t, you know, in my vocabulary, it wasn’t something I was allowed to say growing up. And it wasn’t until, you know, in these last few years, especially having kids, and I’ve been able to learn how to say no. And in the past, I would say no from this place of being really disembodied. And so my no wasn’t anchored in anything. It wasn’t solid. It wasn’t a firm. And so people would just blow past my no. And I’m like, I’m saying no, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I read all the therapy books and all the boundary setting books. And I have this script right here. It’s like, you better not talk to me like that or whatever it is. It’s like, no one would even listen. My boundaries didn’t land with anyone.

And it wasn’t until I started doing the somatic piece that I was like, oh, I’m saying no, but my body’s saying something totally different. How do I integrate those pieces? How do I find coherence? How do I get my brain and my body on the same page? And it was through paying attention and going to therapy. And my therapist would say, where does that, where do you feel that no in your body? And I would have to sit and go, Oh, I actually want to push. Oh, I actually want to kick. Oh, I actually want to do these other things with my body. And that’s where the real healing came in. Because once I started letting my body have the kind of completing back to that conversation, really completing that stress response cycle, completing those trauma response cycles, then now when I say no, it’s clear, there’s no confusion about my no people are like, Oh, she’s serious. She said, no, okay, move moving on. Right. They’re not still trying to get in there and get me to say yes. So that’s really like, for me, like the somatic piece around boundaries and rest comes into the integration. It’s like, are we saying no with our full body? And if we’re not, how can we move towards that?

Katie: You explain that so, so well and like you, I was… very habitually would say yes when I meant no, even I would verbally say yes when I met no. And I also had, I think, a wound from childhood and from certain experiences where I felt safest if everybody was happy. So I would go to even like great lengths to keep everyone happy even at the expense of myself. And I had to learn slowly that… boundaries and kindness must exist together, and that includes kindness toward yourself. And that was the piece I had to figure out. And then from there, I was able to actually build boundaries as well. And I do still think they not only can exist together, they actually must exist together, boundaries and kindness.

It seems like for women, especially, this can be a harder part of the journey often because we are more likely to be willing to like give of ourselves to the point of exhaustion. and not replenish ourselves enough. And so I love that we’ve got to bring that into the conversation as well. I’d also love to talk a little more deeply about the breathing aspect and any breath work practices that people could use as baby steps into learning these rest practices. Because I think when we think about it from a logical standpoint, we can go weeks without food, we can go days without water, we can only go minutes without air. And so we breathe much more any given day than we do any other input into our biology. But it’s often the most overlooked, again, because often the simplest things are the easiest to overlook, or the most automatic things are the easiest to overlook. But I’ve seen, for me, how profoundly just making time for intentional breath work at different times of the day, not even a long time, not even a lot of this, can have such a profound impact on even the physiology.

So even if someone’s working on a physical health problem or a sleep issue, I’ve seen breath work drastically change my sleep and other people’s sleep. And I think that. our nervous systems actually learn to respond. Like with all these things you’re talking about with being able to get into a state of rest more, that pays dividends to our nervous system and how we are in our sleep and how we are, even our heart rate variability during the day, we actually have the metrics now to see that this has a beneficial impact on the body. So I would love for you to walk us through any baby steps into breath work practices that can be helpful. You mentioned some that are helpful pre-sleep maybe, or even just throughout the day to sort of reset that stress response.

Ashley: And that’s beautiful, Katie, and yeah, connected to so much of that. And often the way I talk about rest is that it’s a bridge to sleep. And so in the beginning of the conversation, we were kind of distinguishing like what is rest, what is sleep? Those things are different, they’re their own practices. They’re both very, very, very important, but so much in our culture now is focused on sleep as it should be. You know, there’s so many statistics out there. Like most of us are not getting enough sleep. And so because of that, especially as parents, what can we do throughout the day?

And I love that you’re bringing in breath. You know, someone who’s been studying breath and, you know, written a book about breath work, this is a topic that is really, really close to me in a practice that I’ve been doing for many years. And I always suggest in the beginning, just start really small. And I say, start with five breaths. So five rounds, you’re just going to inhale through your nose for as long as possible. You’re not going to push it. You’re not going to force it, but just take that deep inhale through the nose. all the way to the top. And then there’s be a slight pause at the top. Then you’re gonna exhale through your nose, just for as long as you can. Right, so we wanna think slow, gentle, ease. Those are the words that we wanna kind of be thinking about as we’re breathing, just five times. And I’m gonna have you do that throughout your day. So when you wake up in the morning, after you drop the kids off or whatever your kind of like mid-morning day is, lunchtime, afternoon, before bed, right? So do that five times during the day, the five by five.

And it’s really, really, really helpful because it’s helpful for so many reasons, but it starts to build in that practice. And so often we’ll hear from people, oh, I did breath work one time. It didn’t work. Or same with meditation. I tried meditating like twice. It didn’t work. It’s like, no, no, we have to like build this into our routine and make it super easy. You know, I’m sure, I know you’ve read the book and I’m sure a lot of people have the Atomic Habits, but James Clear really talks about it. It’s like, okay, if you’re trying to build a new habit, where can you add that in to something that you’re already doing? So he calls it habit stacking. And I think it’s genius. So I’ll say to clients, okay, when you’re brushing your teeth, after that do your breath work, right? You drop the kids off from school. They get out of the car, close the door, do five minutes or do five breaths. It’s just really, really simple. And so where can you weave it in? And then as far as the actual practice, start there. Those five inhales, hold at the top and then exhale out of the nose. That’s gonna be the simplest place to start.

And then if you’re wanting to add onto that, the next thing I would suggest is start to extend your exhalation through your nose for as long as you can. Again, we wanna have a lot of gentleness and a lot of choice with this. This isn’t a forceful practice. It’s meant to be nourishing. It’s meant to be restorative. It’s meant to be replenishing to the system. And it’s also meant to be easy enough that you can do it enough times to start to build that habit. And the more you do it, the habit gets stronger and stronger. And then you really start to see the benefits, just like you spoke of so beautifully, Katie. It’s like then we get the real benefits of the work, which are incredible. I mean, there’s so much science behind breath work now that it’s just amazing. And like you said, it’s something that’s so easy to overlook or be like, oh, that’s just, if you’re scrolling on Instagram, you’ve got time to do five breaths. You can do it.

Katie: Yeah. And to speak to your point of how well that can work, I think it’s like a nervous system training thing that the more that you do that practice, the more your nervous system learns to breathe that way without you having to consciously think about it. And so that improves your respiration rate while you’re sleeping. That improves, you often see benefits in exercise, even just from these little tiny micro breathwork sessions like you’re talking about. And I also know if you do struggle with sleep, I’ve seen for me, if I do that kind of breathwork or something similar like a four, seven, eight breathwork, any kind of breathwork before bed. And then that tip you mentioned about sort of scanning the body and relaxing any places that you feel tight. I’ll start at my head and try to relax all the way down to my toes. And I almost never make it all the way down to my toes before falling asleep because it’s so relaxing and it brings awareness to those spots in the body that feel sticky or tight. And then once you release them, it’s like the nervous system is ready for sleep. So that’s a tip I love to give people. If you do struggle with the falling asleep part, that’s been really, really helpful for me.

And I know you have, you’ve mentioned your book. I will make sure of course that is linked in the show notes because there’s so much more that it goes into than we can cover in a one hour podcast episode. Though I love that we’ve gotten into so many both practical and foundational aspects of this. And I know, like I said, there’s so much more that you’ve written about. I’ll make sure it’s linked. You guys check it out. It’s awesome. That’ll be in the show notes at But on that note, a few questions I love to ask toward the end of interviews. The first is if there’s a book or number of books that have profoundly impacted you and if so, what they are and why.

Ashley: Yeah, so I was thinking about that. And the first book that came to mind was the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I got sober when I was 21, which was quite a while ago. And though I’m not currently participating in AA, that book had a profound impact on my life. I give a lot of credit to that book for really showing me a different way to live, right? And now what’s so fascinating is like with all the new research out and what we know about trauma and alcoholism and addiction, there’s much of that that doesn’t land with me in the same way that it did, but it changed the course of my life. So I can’t not mention it or can’t not think about that book.

Another book that I just love and return to so often is Untethered Soul. I think that book is just so incredible. It’s a way to really like expand my mind and open me up to possibility. And that book, when it first came into my life, it’s one of those books, again, I have so many books that I’ve have been on my shelves for decades and that’s one of them, but it really showed me what was possible with even my thinking mind and with my ego and just gave me another language and another way to look and reframe things and go, oh wait, when I’m having a thought, who’s thinking that thought? I mean, that is such a potent question. And it really took me on this incredible journey of self-discovery and of just more awareness and deeper awareness.

Katie: I love it. Those will both be linked in the show notes as well. For all of you guys listening, all that’s always at Where can people find you online? Obviously, I’m sure your book is wherever books are sold, but where can people find you and keep learning from you?

Ashley: So the best place to learn from me right now is on my Substack and you can find it at AshleyNeese Substack or and that’s where I’m hanging out. I write letters every week. I share tips, insights, all kinds of stuff. We have a lot of fun hanging out over there. I’m loving Substack because it feels like, and I know you probably relate to this, it’s like the old days of blogging. It’s just like, feels like such a fun community. There’s so many comments and suggestions and questions and there’s just a lot of connection over there. So that’s where I’m hanging out. It’s the Deeper Call at Substack.

Katie: I’ll include that link as well. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners that could be related to something we’ve talked about or entirely unrelated life advice that you have found helpful.

Ashley: The thing that comes to mind and I think this was just something that I needed to hear so much in the beginning of my rest practice was that you’re worthy of resting. And this ties into the Self-worth piece that we talked about. And it has taken me a long time to really get to a place where I know that I’m worth resting. Like it’s okay for me to slow down and to touch, you know, kind of tie back into the mom guilt. Even if my kids are having a meltdown or something else is going on, I can still take 30 seconds. I can still take a minute for myself to kind of refill my cup and give myself that reset. And I’m worth it. And so are you.

Katie: I think that’s a perfect place to put a pin in it for today. Like I said, you have so much more in the book that people can continue to learn from you. But this has been such a beautiful conversation. I’m so grateful for your time. I’ve loved the direction that this got to go. Thank you so much for being here.

Ashley: Thank you so much, Katie. It was really wonderful to be in conversation with you today.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and for sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama Podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

#Breathe #Permission #Rest #Ashley #Neese

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