RENÉE REUSZ YOGA AND YOGA THERAPY

Using Yoga and Yoga Therapy to cultivate self-awareness and promote emotional and physical healing through integration of mind and body.

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THE WHY BEHIND WHAT I DO…

Yoga, meditation, yoga therapy, or even taking a quiet walk in nature, are tools that act as a backdrop from which to view ourselves (mind, body, spirit), and in this way, serve to build connection and awareness within. When we quiet ourselves and listen inwards, our authentic voice speaks, planting the seeds of change towards new ways of being and a healthier relationship with ourselves. Yoga bridges the gap from body to life and awakens us to our interconnectedness with the world around us, and ultimately leading to mindful action.

Building healthy relationships one pose at a time.

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Why isn’t yoga just a stretch class?

iStock_000003388488XSmallThe other day at work I had a client ask me why we (yoga instructors) don’t just call yoga “stretching” or “gymnastics”. Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer this question since one of my other clients spoke up for me (we will get to that part later). I work in a physiotherapy clinic where there are a lot of injured clients who have had very little experience doing physical exercise, let alone any yoga experience. In this clinic, I teach gentle yoga classes and relaxation meditations. Although, sometimes it takes a little convincing to get the clients to try the classes because they hold an assumption that they need to be some bendy, twisty super yogi to keep up; or, for the meditations, that there is some religious or “new-agey” spiritual practices associated with it. As a result,  I often advertise the classes by explaining the focus or intention of each class.  One might be a class designed to “help relax” or  another might be designed for “pain reduction,” and this usually gets a few individuals through the door.

It’s understandable that there are these assumptions and stigmas out there about yoga and meditation. We see ultra-fit and bendy individuals in the media’s portrayal of yoga and we see these Zen like poses with hands “just so” illustrating meditation. Even though yoga can be like this, it isn’t always, and doesn’t need to be. So when a newcomer to yoga asks me the question, “What is this thing called yoga?”, I tell them it is a lot of things, and that there are many styles and intensity levels out there to choose from, but one of the more important intentions behind most yoga in today’s culture is self-awareness building. That’s right, it’s not just about the physical benefits of stretching, strengthening, and breath (Pranayama) – although, all things being equal, yoga rocks in this department. It provides us with an opportunity to take a step back and be an impartial witness to ourselves.

Here is the secret that I and many other yoga instructors, and practitioners of yoga know. We teach classes intended to take you on a journey inwards. For an hour or so of your day, you are finally getting a break from your mind’s busyness of all your “to do’s,” future, and past thoughts, and instead you are transported into state where you notice your body and your breath, and are focused on the present moment. Whether you are moving or not in the class (in guided meditation you may not move at all), you are spending time experiencing what’s going on with different parts of yourself. You are discovering how you are positioned, where you are tensing your body, how you breathe, what it feels like to move or sit in a certain way, and where your mind goes as you do all this. In essence you are getting in touch with what’s going on inside – you are building awareness to your internal self and your patterns. In a yoga class, the opportunity is there for all parts of you to speak up because there is finally the space and break from the busy chatter of your mind to let them be heard. As a consequence you begin to learn about patterns of holding, and thought, which in turn can lead to a shift in perspective and how you approach the moments of your day.

So it was the best compliment ever when this client of mine spoke up for me when I was asked the question why we don’t you just call yoga “stretching” or “gymnastics”. This is what he shared: He had never done yoga before, nor had he even thought to do so, but was amazed at how it affected him. He explained how during the class his attention was drawn out of his thoughts and into noticing how he frequently tensed his shoulders and jaw in a certain way, and through the guided instructions to breathe and release he could relax these areas, which lowered his internal stress feeling. He told me how these awarenesses lingered with him well after the class was finished. Later that night, he was cooking his dinner on a grill and forgot about it, burning it. Normally he would tense up and get angry, but after the class he felt he could step outside himself a little more, notice the tension that was forming in his jaw, and by taking a couple deep breaths he released the stress of the situation rather than letting it escalate.

What this client explained so eloquently was how he exercised the use of his new awareness. This is what we do in yoga and meditation. We are teaching you, experientially, how to get in touch with your internal self, and then give you some skills of how to manage yourself in a healthier way to deal with whatever it is that you are noticing moment to moment. In yoga and meditation you learn how to pause and step outside of yourself and learn from the language of your body and breath. This is the yoga I know and love.

 

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Comparison is the thief of joy

6921-7a9d-3b36-b84fI was on Facebook the other day and a friend of mine posted a video of a swing championship dance, and let’s just say the male partner didn’t have the “typical” body composition of most well established dancers. Watching this man triumphantly and joyfully show off his moves was fun to watch. I was totally inspired by his confidence, and as my friend said in her post, “This man appears to have a lot of self-love.” Of course we can never really know this for sure, but this guy certainly did seem unabashedly immersed in his art – even if he hadn’t been a really skilled dancer, his energy would have been captivating. (To view video: Phoenix 2008 Swing Dance Champions).

When it comes to our hobbies, activities, and aspired careers, it can be daunting in this day and age to stand confidently in the sea of so much talent – truth is there will probably always be someone better at what you do than you are, and yes, they will probably appear fitter, sexier, smarter, and richer than you as well. But does this matter? Should that steal your right to just try or steal your enjoyment of self expression? I know this answer seems obvious, but countless people every day hold back the best of themselves out of fear of not being good enough. This is why I love this quote by Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It provides such a great reminder of how we can let our insecurities hold us back from joyful living. Wouldn’t it be blissful to confidently act and do things out of genuine interest and passion, freeing yourself from the weight of the standard you compare yourself to?

Of course this falls under the category of “easier said than done” for many of us, and I recognize the complexity of such a task, but consider that whatever it is that is holding you back can rob you of opportunities and being present to enjoy all the precious moments of your life. It makes sense to me that this is a quest worth pursuing. Life can pass us by so quickly. It is important to figure out ways to remind ourselves that we are unique individuals made up of many parts and although there are things we might like to change or strive towards, you are still a whole being right now, and you are enough just as you are. In essence when we give ourselves permission to engage and live as our genuine selves, imperfect and learning along the way, we give ourselves room to grow, and eventually, we dance like champions.

For Your Practice

If this resonates with you, here’s something you can do to start in a small way. Take a short break in your day; just 5 minutes (you can use a timer). Sit quietly, breathe in deeply, and truly feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Just for short time, give yourself permission to lay it all aside the striving, the comparing, the self-imposed conditions and just be. Feel your body, your, breath, your aliveness from the inside out. For a moment in your day, let go of that whatever flaws, imperfections, and lack you think you have, and just breathe. Repeat these words to yourself, “I am enough, I am worthy.” Do this every day.

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Working with Mental and Emotional Burdens

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What would it be like to put it down

the regrets, the anger, the guilt

the time lost and deeds undone,

the wishing things to be different.

For there is no controlling what is done or cannot be changed.

Unwind yourself from this judgment, this fate,

and let it be independent from all that you are.

It need not define or tether your every move.

Breathe in deep and let it out,

Let your heart beat its song of wholeness,

and step lighter into this moment.

I recently wrote a blog for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy about how we can learn to work with mental and emotional burdens (persistent thoughts of past regret, trauma, or future angst that permeate our daily presence and interfere with how we live).  To read this post visit http://pryt.com/2014/05/become-a-yoga-therapist/putting-load/

Also, I’ve included a short focus meditation to go along with this blog post. You might find this meditation useful in helping to identify and process recurring thoughts which carry the weight of burden. Link below to give it a try.

Putting down the load meditation May 2014

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Cancer Care Yoga Program

More classes offered! Please share this page with anyone you know who could benefit from class.

~Gratitude

Cancer Care Yoga Program3

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Take a Break From Your Computer

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Many of us suffer from the familiar tension and discomfort of the upper back and neck from sitting at our computers many hours in a day. Here are 5 quick yoga-inspired stretches you can do to relieve this tension, and all you need is a wall!

Try each stretch once or twice through. Hold each posture for the length of 3 – 4 long, smooth breaths.

Some tips for body alignment with each stretch:

Top left:  position your hands just below shoulder height on the wall in front of you. Step back bending at the hips (not the low back) such that your hips stack above your feet and form approximately a 90 degree angle at your hips. Let your back relax and chest sink downwards until you feel a stretch along the side body, the underside of the arms/shoulders, and through your chest.  You will also notice a stretch in your hamstrings if you work on keeping your spine straight and bending only through your hips.

Top right: Stand sideways to the wall, approximately one foot away, and reach the arm closest to the wall behind you, placing your palm on the wall. Ensure that your arm is reaching back at shoulder height and lower your shoulder away from your ear on this side. Let your torso rotate a little towards the wall, but try to keep your hips and feet pointing forward. Find the place where you feel the stretch through the chest, shoulder, and the inner aspect of the arm. You can also rotate your head away from the outstretched arm for an additional neck stretch.

Bottom left: bring your toes of one foot to the baseboard and step back with other leg (around a leg length distance). Bend the front knee and press it into the wall. The back leg remains straight, the foot turns out slightly, and the heel is pressing towards the ground. Aim to rotate your pelvis so that both sides are parallel with the wall. Then reach the arm up on the same side as the back leg (you can let your other hand rest on your hip), and then gently lean your upper body towards the side of the bend knee. You will likely feel a stretch in the front of your hip (on the straight leg side), and along the side of your body that you are leaning away from.

Bottom middle: Stand tall and gently pull one hand behind your back towards the opposite hip. Let your shoulders relax away from your ears, and soften through the area of the neck and shoulders. Then tilt your head towards the same side that the hand that is being pulled. You may notice this stretch along the side of your neck and the front of your shoulder.

Bottom right: Clasp your hands behind your back and squeeze between your shoulder blades to open your chest and pull the front tips of your shoulders back. Then if your flexibility allows, work towards straightening your elbows and pulling the hands back away from your hips. This posture open the chest, arches your back, and stretches the fronts of your shoulders and arms.

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Living with a diagnosis of cancer – some resources for you

091027-280_smallJust finished watching this Youtube clip on Yoga for Cancer. If you or anyone you know is living with a diagnosis of cancer, this video explains beautifully why you might want to consider searching out a yoga program.

Yoga for Cancer Video

For those of you who are online savvy, Inspire Health, a BC based organization offering integrative cancer care has a new online option offering meditation classes, nutrition, and exercise therapy advice!

Also check out this clip from CBC new on exercise and cancer. There’s some new research showing light intensity walking can be the perfect amount to aid your healing.

CBC video on exercise and cancer: Less is more for elite athletes and cancer patients

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Cancer Care Yoga Program

Download (PDF, 2KB)

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Overloaded & Overwhelmed

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There seems to be so much to do. Getting it all done is a bit like conquering the beast. But is all this busyness of the 21st century lifestyle actually harmful to us? My answer to this question is it can be. Some would argue, that so long as the busyness is framed in a way of choice and personal interest than the stress is good for us to keep us fulfilled. There is also research showing us that the way we mentally frame the stress in our lives can reduce the negative impact it has on our health. (For an inspiring presentation on a new way to reframe stress in our lives check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk). Often though, I find, busyness and the consequent stress in our lives can be insidious and stemming from “things” in our life not so pleasant. Whether it is self-induced or outside of our control, it can leave us feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. When we feel this way, there is tendency to push aside our personal health practices (good rest, good diet, exercise, fun, etc). Left long enough, our physical bodies suffer, and eventually the body has a way of expressing itself on the matter to get our attention.

Consider chronic pain as an example. A course I attended not too long ago reviewed the anatomy and physiology of our nervous system when we are in pain (instructor, Neil Pearson offers many invaluable resources about pain on his site Life is Now). Essentially, the purpose of pain is protection, and it’s the brain’s job to determine if tissue damage or some other experience to the body is dangerous. If the brain decides that it is dangerous, it sends out protection signals that come in the way of pain, muscles spasms, weakened muscles, and a release of hormones. But the nerve signals originating from the area of injury or area of pain are not the only source of input that the brain relies on to decide on whether or not to “protect.” Factors such as our thoughts, emotions, memory of past pain experiences, the amount of stress hormones in our body, and level of fear can all add input to the brain’s assessment of the degree of protection needed, and can therefore affect how much pain we feel. So in the face of persistent pain, keeping our worrisome thoughts, negative emotions, and stress levels in check can help mitigate the urgency and intensity of the pain protection system, and being mindful that keeping these things “in check” is nearly impossible when we are constantly busy, rushed, and overwhelmed.

Add to all of this that when one system of the body is highly active, such as the nervous system when we are in pain, this affects other systems as well. The field of psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology (PNI – if there was ever a word that needed an acronym..) studies the interrelated functions of the brain, nervous system, immune organs/cells, and endocrine (hormone) glands. We know now that there is a unifying network of nerve fibres that wire together the various components of the PNI system, and that there is also constant biochemical cross talk among them. Research shows stressful events trigger cognitive and physiological responses which, in turn, induce nervous system, and hormone changes, and these can impair immune function, rendering us more vulnerable to becoming ill. Things do not happen in isolation in the human body, changes in one system affects other systems, and this can be cyclical and cumulative!

So this is what I’m learning. Adding to a plate that is already full can result in the body protesting, and that persistent pain in your abdomen or the panic attacks you recently developed don’t always seem related to that small thing you said yes to doing last week, but they can be. I like to use the analogy of the human body as being like a large container or vessel filled with various objects representing all the things we do in our lives. When your vessel is already full, it is not such a good idea to keep adding things to the to do list – adding more can result in a full vessel eruption. If there is no room for “you” in the container, some aspect of your health will protest.

Our containers can only hold so much and we can imagine that some items in our lives take up more space than others. A simple acknowledging of what’s in our containers at any given time is beneficial. Sometimes life gives us really big items that take up a lot of space in our containers. For example, the care of an ailing family member takes up a lot of space (logistically and emotionally), and we may not be able to handle as much in our container during this time. When life gives us big-ticket item such as this, it’s wise to let go of some items and ask for help. At other times we may notice we’ve filled our containers with so many small items, we’ve left no room for the more important, substance items such as our health or time with family and friends. Restructuring how we load our containers by placing foundation items as a first priority will free up space and can give us extra energy for the smaller items in our lives. When we delete excess, prioritize, and re-structure what’s inside we can take advantage of our full capacities.

So the next time you find yourself feeling overloaded and overwhelmed, let it be an amber light indicating your body has reached capacity. Any more, and your body may signal red, and your guess is as good as mine as to how this red light will manifest in your body. Maintaining a healthy balance is doable when we respect that our containers have limits, and our limits can vary at different phases of our lives. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed–it doesn’t mean you’re weak or there is something wrong with you. Think of it as being part of a sophisticated protection system, the body’s way to get you to pay attention to take a step back, slow down, and look what’s in your container and how it’s prioritized. Listen, acknowledge the signs your body is telling you, and allow for enough space that you’re enjoying the items and moments that make up your container of life.

 

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Staying Grounded Over the Holidays

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There’s always a lot of extras to do over the holidays, and this year, I’ve noticed myself stressing over the hustle and bustle even before it starts. If you’re like me, and you are wondering where you’re going to find time to do the extra shopping, baking, and decorating, have a read through this quick list I developed to help myself ground and refocus back into beauty and harmony of the season. Nothing new here, just reminders on how to keep it real:

  • Pace yourself and only say yes to those events that you enjoy. Don’t overwhelm yourself and your family. You either want to do it or you don’t. Sometimes we try to pack too much in one day, and miss out on enjoying the moments because we are too rushed from one event to the next. When you find yourself in these situations, it’s okay to decline, to let go of some things, and to be mindfully selective of where you put your energy.

  • Let go of perfectionism. Hosting parties can be a lot of work and having perfectly dusted table tops doesn’t make you a better person. Take a step back and consider how much you are worrying about what other people think of you. It’s okay if your cookies aren’t perfectly round this year (of course, if baking is your thing and round cookies are your passion, by all means, cut away). This is a reminder to keep perfectionism for the sake of perfectionism in check.

  • More is not always better – keep it simple, keep it you, and keep it from the heart. Whether it’s gifts, decorating, wrapping, preparing food, think about what is important to you and what you love and share these things. One small gift that is in some way meaningful from you to the receiver, is plenty.

  • Ground yourself in the bigger picture. Get outside for a walk or hike in nature. Pause and reflect on the abundance around you. If you are reading this, it is likely you live in a privileged society; one that is wealthy in opportunity and freedom, in food, health, and safety. Take moments to reflect on this… be grateful for these essentials.

  • Use meditation or yoga as a way to connect inwards and keep your priorities in focus. It is easy to get caught up in the current of everything around you when you are disconnected from yourself. Find ways to connect inwards that work for you. Even taking 20 second awareness breaks throughout the day can be of benefit–shift your focus to your breath and body for twenty seconds, and simply be present to how you are breathing and become aware of any sensations that arise in your body during the 20 seconds. This quick break from the mental to do list can down shift your nervous system re-establish a sense of calm. Of course, I find meditation and yoga particularly good for helping me connect inwards, so I’ve included a link to a meditation video I made that I find particularly good for grounding and re-focussing myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7ZthxOsco0&feature=youtu.be

Hope these tips help and wishing you the gift of presence this holiday season.

Namaste ~ Renee

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Therapeutic Edge

120905-240xI’ve always loved hiking. There’s something so fulfilling about accomplishing a long trek, especially when the destination lands you standing on a cliff edge or mountain peak; reaching that point where you can step no further and submit to doing nothing more than being present to the expanse before you. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to yoga, it’s similar in that I can take my body to places where I can explore an edge. Entering a pose, there is a point where my body naturally stops, where it meets some initial resistance, which I call the first edge. Gradually, with time, my body will settle and I will be able to move into a deeper sensation for a slightly stronger edge. Finally, to move to a point where I am at my full edge – any more and it might be painful or unsafe, and my ability to stay present to the sensation and breathe fully would be hampered.

The edge, however, is not always a well-defined line, and sometimes we underplay or overplay the edge. Our unique anatomies, personalities, egos, and histories all play a part in how we arrive at the edge, and yoga is great for revealing these patterns to us. Some of us hold back and approach hesitantly, stopping ourselves before we reach the full edge. While others, might move so quickly or aggressively that we miss the boundary and land ourselves on the other side of the edge into potentially unsafe zones. Only by moving slowly and paying attention moment to moment, can we arrive at just the right amount of edge to optimally stretch our limbs and limits, and reasonably challenge ourselves.

For those of you who have received a Phoenix Rising yoga therapy session, you will likely be familiar with how, in addition to a physical edge, there is sometimes also an emotional edge that we need to learn to navigate. I remember the first time I received a session after having my first baby. I’d been running on adrenaline with sleepless nights, and I carried overwhelming concern that this new little being wasn’t being fully attended to. As a new mom it was easy to forgo thinking about myself, but when I closed my eyes and the practitioner had me notice my body, my breath, my thoughts, my emotions… I realized how distant my mind had been to my own needs, and how strongly my body had been calling for some self-care. Feeling lost within myself, I had a strong sadness envelop me, a grieving of separation of self, which caused my eyes to well up with tears. Within this moment I recognized there was potential for the dam to break, my body yearning to sob, but I also recognized I was at my edge, my emotional edge… I was not comfortable with a full break down sob in my yoga therapy session. And so I chose to take a deep breath and pause, simply absorbing where I was without moving deeper into the exploration.

Afterwards I wondered about my hesitancy to let go fully into my postpartum sadness and I realized much of what held me back was the fear of being so vulnerable in front of another person, a stranger nonetheless. I know I’m not alone on this one – being vulnerable is scary, and in some cultures, taboo. Many of us have carried, from previous generations, the belief that holding “it” in and not burdening our woes onto another is the strong thing to do. (Which, intellectually, I find humorous, because in actuality, the real strength lies in bearing our real, raw selves.) And the paradox here is that I, as a practitioner of yoga therapy(where I have seen many tears shed), have never felt burdened by witnessing another’s emotional release. In fact, I welcome it and feel honoured in the space. But this doesn’t change the fact that I too have an emotional edge to maneuver and I’m working through this process myself. No right or wrong, good or bad… just awareness and learning.

Learning to navigate our edges takes some practice. But with time and exposure it becomes the climbing ground of possibility. We learn how the edge is a place that is neither comfortable nor painful – it is somewhere in between. For some of us, learning where our physical edge lies is new and challenging, and for others it’s the emotional edge that proves more elusive and daunting. It’s all okay. It’s that one step closer to the unfamiliar, that can be scary at first; but as long as we step mindfully, and we take care of ourselves as we near the edge we will land at just the right spot,allowing us to view new heights and perspectives. This is how we grow and stretch physically, mentally and emotionally, and maybe even, how we learn the freedom and empowerment that can come from expressing our fears and vulnerability.

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