Learning to Take a Deep Breath

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I recently had abdominal surgery and with that the nurses give you a host of recommendations for post op recovery and health. One of those recommendations tweaked my yoga brain. They advised me to regularly take deep breaths and cough after surgery. I found out this advice is given to help prevent individuals from getting pneumonia, a common side effect after general anesthesia and abdominal surgery. (The concern being that the pain from the surgical area prevents people from taking deep breaths and this reduces air flow into the lower lungs, sometimes causing collapsed lung tissue, which is then susceptible to the buildup of bacteria, leading to pneumonia).

I always appreciate preventative health measures, and I think it’s great that this advice is given to the patients (and for the record, I did follow all the nurse’s recommendations). However, I have to admit, I did dismiss the nurse’s description of how to take in a deep breath, as I was thinking, “I’m a yoga teacher; I teach deep breathing for a living!” Afterwards, though, it got me thinking about how complex taking a deep breath really is when you’ve had some experience teaching and practicing it.

Over the years of working with people in my classes and private yoga lessons, I’ve realized how many individuals struggle with taking in a deep breath, at least the way I interpret “deep.” Often, what I notice, is an increase air intake that lands in the upper portion of the chest/lungs, creating a vertical uplift in their posture, with very little to no expansion around the lower ribs and belly. This is how many people breathe—in the upper portion of the lungs only.

More than this, it appears some people have actually lost their ability to take in a breath into the lowest, most voluminous part of the lungs. I say “lost their ability,” because babies and animals naturally take these full, lower lung breaths. That’s how we were born to breathe. But somewhere along the way, often between the ages of 5 and 10, their breathing changes from a lower body breath to an upper body breath.

It can happen because of several things, here are couple… You go to school and you start sitting more, and sitting affects your posture, and posture affects where your breath can travel in the body. Then, somewhere along the way, perhaps you start to “suck in our gut”, maybe because we become self conscious of our stomachs or just because we feel it’s something we should do to look better. Tightening your stomachs is also associated with a bracing stance, preparing for action and safety during times of vulnerability and stress, and you do this as a response to perceived physical and/or emotional threat. Over time, this action of perpetually tightening your stomach can become unconscious and habitual. If this is the case, and for many of you it is, being advised take a “deep breath” won’t be enough. If you want to access the largest part of your lungs, it may actually require training in how to break this habit.

Breathing down into the lower portion of the lungs is best exercised through a technique called diaphragmatic breathing. (Sometimes known as abdominal or belly breathing). One of the things that helped me truly access this type of breathing was to come back to my anatomy knowledge and create a visual in my mind of the body’s main breathing muscle—the diaphragm.
diaphragm-breathing-500x313The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. When you breathe in the diaphragm contracts (flattens out), pressing down towards the abdominal organs, and when you breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes back up into its dome shape inside the rib (thoracic) cavity. To visualize this a little further have a look at this quick video demonstrating the action of the diaphragm in breathing. Diaphragm movement video

In some ways the movement of the diaphragm seems counterintuitive because we often associate contraction with a rounding or bulging, but in the case of the diaphragm, it contracts into a flatter shape, and when it relaxes it rebounds back up into its dome shape. With this unique action, as the diaphragm contracts and flattens out, it essentially frees up space within the thoracic cavity. This gives the lower portion of the lungs more room to fill and it creates a vacuum from which air draws inwards easier.

Coming back to our “sucking in our guts” phenomenon, it makes sense that if you have a tight belly, then the diaphragm has a more difficult time moving downward because it is being resisted by the contracted abdominal muscles. When you relax your belly and allow it to expand as you inhale, your viscera (guts) drop slightly down and out and the diaphragm can more easily contract downward. Then, when exhalation takes place, the diaphragm begins its upward movement of relaxation aided by the natural movement of the belly as it returns toward the spine. So a relaxed abdomen is essential in taking a natural diaphragmatic or abdominal breath. (Below you will find a free handout with step by step instructions on learning to breathe this way).

There is more to this diaphragmatic breathing than just better lung volume. When we breathe with good diaphragmatic movement, the up and down action of the diaphragm stimulates blood vessels and nerves that pass through the diaphragm. One in particular is the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve of the relaxation portion of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). When the PNS is stimulated, the body produces chemical messengers and signals blood pressure receptors to promote resting, digestion, and relaxation. Studies are showing there is a feedback loop in the body that with long diaphragmatic breaths, the greater the movement of the diaphragm, which in turn increases stimulation of the PNS. In this way, simple diaphragmatic breathing is an effective tool in helping to calm and ease stress, improve digestion, and immune functioning. However, the opposite is also true. When a person is stuck in the habit of shallow, upper chest breathing, with minimal diaphragmatic movement, the body perceives this as being in a state of emergency or threat and activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight.) This results in a cascade of events such as elevated heart rate, sleeplessness, impaired digestion and impaired immune functioning. A simple change in your breathing is a gateway to better physiological and emotional health.

So if you are ever given the advice to “take a deep breath,” know that it is not just trying to get more air into your lungs. Adding diaphragmatic movement to your breathing can have all sorts of health benefits. It just takes a little practice.

Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing Handout

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Yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind…

Have you ever done a yoga class and somewhere along the way you realize (maybe at the end during savasana) that you feel more calm, connected with your body, and relaxed compared to when you first arrived. You might also notice the busy mind chatter has dulled and there is some distance between you and your reflexive thoughts. If yes, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind, and by this very nature, you’ve experienced entering into a deeper level of awareness through the experience of yoga. One could even say you’ve dropped into a “meditative state”.

There are a couple aspects of yoga that assist in the process of experiencing this calm, more peaceful state. When you move your body and get the muscles warmed, stretched, and the circulation flowing, this eases tension and pain, resulting in less distracting sensations to attend to. It’s also the mindfulness aspect – paying attention to sensation in body and breath, from moment to moment. This keeps the mind anchored to the present moment, which stills the mind chatter.

When we drop into this more meditative-like state in the mind, we are not actually stopping thoughts from occurring. Rather we enter a different state of awareness where the thoughts feel more distant – we are less attached to them and their meaning.  A nice parallel is to imagine the reflexive thoughts of the mind to be like waves on the surface of the ocean. When we are swimming on the surface, the waves push us around, lifting us to their peaks and dropping us into their valleys. When we are connected and calm, we can drop into that deeper water space where everything is still and peaceful… And in this place, we are able to see the thoughts for what they are – surface waves.

I have always found the transcendence into this calmer level of awareness easier to access by doing a little yoga first. In fact one could say the very purpose of physical yoga is to ready oneself for meditation. So the next time you are on your mat, soak up the stillness you’ve created within – lay still and linger in this experience. This short few minutes will leave you feeling focused, connected, and calm.

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Yoga As Preventative Medicine

Untitled design-5It’s interesting to me as a yoga teacher to hear the reason why people decide to come out for a yoga class. Lately I’ve had numerous students tell me they realized they needed to start yoga (or get back to yoga) because they can feel they are tightening up and getting sore from their daily life activities. This is good awareness. Often our work or choice of sport or hobby creates repetition of the same movements or postures, and unless we intentionally force our bodies to move in the opposite directions, imbalances can form in the soft tissues and joints and make us feel stiff and sore.

Having worked in the physical rehabilitation industry for years, I learned also how serious this can be. The source of our injuries often becomes the old adage, “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” It’s rarely a single incident/accident that causes an injury, but rather an accumulation, over years, of doing too much of the same thing that weakens the structures to where some very small movement takes us to the breaking point. (Perhaps, we could extend this notion to including our mental health as well).

This is where the practice of yoga can fill a void. In my opinion, yoga has become the preventative medicine of the soft tissue injury world. Personally, I know no better way to restore mobility and introduce new planes of movement in an individual than yoga. I’ve written about this before in a previous blog, Gaining Connectivity Through Yoga and Fascia, which explains how yoga’s postures are so effective because they incorporate the whole body through multi-joint mobilizations, promoting stretch along the myofascial lines. In any given yoga class, you will be given opportunity to stretch along muscle lines opposite to those found in your activities. Yoga is unique in this aspect – the entire body moves and all planes of movement are accessed.

One could ask, why not just some basic stretching on my own? Absolutely do this, it is always helpful! Attending yoga regularly, however, can help you prevent the extreme imbalances from forming, before they become an issue. There is also the more subtle practices of mindfulness and pranayama (breathing techniques) that we learn from yoga which assist us in stress reduction and internal awareness building.This combined with our point above, of its superb ability to access all planes of movement along the myofascial lines, is why a regular yoga class could prove especially effective in balancing out your physical health.

Maybe this is why we are seeing more doctors and other health professionals prescribe yoga as part of a fitness regime and healthy lifestyle. Whether the individual is stiff and sore from the type of work and activities they are doing or other symptoms from being over-stressed, yoga is benefitting all types of individuals as they seek relief in their tight muscles and tensed bodies (and sometimes tensed minds). It’s wonderful to witness those of you finding your path to yoga before the an injury occurs – creating balance in your lives as you commit to your practice week in week out.

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How Do You Move?

110203-154“Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move.” -Osho

When I read this quote I thought about yoga, and the beauty I see when I watch a confident, expressive student move from one pose to another. Her body language seems to speak, “I am open, I am free, I radiate love and confidence.” Picture it: tall posture, open arms, open chest, and fluid, easeful movements – these are the postures of someone moving with joy and love.

Now imagine what it looks like to move from a place of fear. I picture staccato, hesitant, restricted, and closed movements. When you are afraid or doubt yourself, movement appears small or and sometimes even frozen.

It’s not just in our movements, when we move through life from a place of fear, we live carefully and avoid risks. We are afraid to fail so we don’t take the risk for the new job and stay put somewhere that makes us unhappy. We are afraid we won’t be good at something, so we never try that one sport or activity we have a curiosity about. So we stay complacent, comfortable, and never push ourselves to try new things. Essentially, we live our lives small.

What if we practiced moving from a place of love and joy, using the safety of our yoga mat to explore bigger more expressive movements? The next time you do yoga, try opening a little more and softening into your pose a little deeper into your poses. Don’t self limit – explore your boundaries and step outside your comfort zone. Imagine yourself emanating love for yourself and deep gratitude for the body you have. Don’t worry about how you look, just give it a try and notice how it makes you feel.

My guess is it that if you try this, even though it may make you feel a little awkward at first, you’ll get a sense of freedom, space and uplifting energy by pushing yourself to do this…And perhaps you’ll have a little awakening of realization that you can bring more love and joy to your movement.

Then consider, how could you move this way off the mat?

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Chronic Stress & Adrenal Fatigue

151110-007-2Many people have not heard of Adrenal Fatigue, but understanding this condition is important because some experts suggest that 80% of the Western world will be affected by it at some point in their lives.

The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and are responsible for secreting more than 50 different hormones that are essential for life. Among these are adrenaline, cortisol, progesterone and testosterone. Because they regulate so many important hormones, their proper function is critical for many functions essential to life such as producing energy, balancing electrolytes and storing fat.

These glands also help you deal with stress. When you are under stress, the adrenal glands engage many different responses in your body to make it easier for you to handle that stress.

But during periods of intense, prolonged stress or chronic illness, the adrenal glands begin functioning below the level needed to maintain health and well-being in the body. They still function but at less than optimal levels. The result is adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:

  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Craving salty or sweet snacks
  • Morning fatigue
  • Mid-afternoon sleepiness
  • Increased energy in the late afternoon
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Mild Depression
  • Weight gain, especially around the waist
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low body temperature

Treatment: Treatment for adrenal fatigue should take a multi-faceted approach with whole-body wellness in mind.

Stress: One of the first things you should do is reduce the stress in your life. This may mean clearing your schedule, reworking some relationships or learning time management skills. In order for your adrenal glands to heal, the demands placed on them should be lightened.

Sleep: Sufficient sleep is also important. The main repair work on your adrenal glands takes place between 10 pm and 1 am. If you are prone to late nights, consider training your body to go to bed earlier. It is also a good idea to reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet in order to help you sleep more soundly.

Exercise: Adrenal fatigue can also be helped by exercise. Exercise regulates cortisol, relieves depression and increases blood flow. Each of these benefits will contribute to your recovery. Try to exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes each day. Yoga is especially helpful in this manner since it teaches breathing and relaxation techniques as well as the physical exercise.

Nutrition: Finally, by decreasing ‘junk’ food as much as possible and eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can improve your nutrient intake. Sometimes adding supplements to your diet can speed healing of adrenal fatigue, check with your doctor, naturopath, or dietician for advice on this matter.

Emotional Hygiene: We seem to be good at recognizing our physical ailments and seeking treatment, but we tend to ignore or minimize our mental health ailments. However, it is just as important to take care of your emotional health as it is your physical health. Improve your emotional hygiene by truthfully acknowledging your emotional status and, when necessary, seek the support your need.

Remember the first step to any change is awareness. If you think you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, consider these lifestyle tips as part of your self-care plan in conjunction with working with your health professionals.

*For some helpful information on using yoga to reset the body’s nervous system and decrease stress hormones click here.

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Yoga Flow Video for the Upper Body

Here is a short flow sequence I use to warm-up the upper body at beginning of classes. It gently stretches the upper back, shoulders, neck and chest. It also helps to draw energy and circulation into these area, and brings focus into the body and breath.

If you find yourself sitting at a computer for long periods, this sequence is great as a tension reliever for the upper body during your workday. Simply sit at the edge of a stable chair, and move through the sequence 5 to 8 cycles.

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Diving Board

A few months ago I read this:

divingboardshelsilverstein-1024x845You’ve been up on that diving board. Making sure that it’s nice and straight. You’ve made sure that it’s not too slick. You’ve made sure it can stand the weight. You’ve made sure that the spring is tight. You’ve made sure that the cloth won’t slip. You’ve made sure that it bounces right, And that your toes can get a grip—And you’ve been up there since half past five. Doin’ everything… but DIVE.              – Shel Silverstein

After reading this I thought, this poem pretty much sums up how I feel about my yoga career, at least, at this moment in time. For years I have been planning, training, preparing, teaching, waiting, saving, and constructing… such that when I finally got nearer to officially opening my own yoga studio, it seemed to me, well…there is only one last thing to do.

Perhaps you can relate. Have you ever done a big career change, or perhaps something else like move to a new country, quit work and travel, leave a relationship, etc.? Big life changes like these have a way of making you feel vulnerable as you leave the familiar, the safe, and the secure, and sometimes it takes a lot of nerve and planning to finally getting to the point to overcome our fears and obstacles to take the big leap.

For me, it was a slow and steady climb towards my goal. There was no running and jumping – I had bills to pay and kids to raise, so I chose a part-time path. This required more time and patience than I imagined, but I kept at it, and for this I give myself a pat on the back. Ultimately, this journey has brought me to this point, at the peak of my total career change, and now I can finally say, my studio is open for business.

So if you are facing a big change in your life and you’re wondering should I or shouldn’t I? Just remember it doesn’t matter how you do it or how long it takes, it only matters that you don’t stand still. I can honestly say, being at this pivotal point, it does make me feel nervous, but I know in my heart, no matter what is to happen in the time to come, it’s true that it would have been worse to not have tried at all.

We must walk consciously only part of the way toward our goal, and then leap into the dark of our success. -Henry David Thoreau

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What Does the Evidence Say?

What does the evidence say?

With nearly 22 million North Americans practicing yoga, there’s a lot of buzz these days about what the benefits, and harms, are of yoga. You will hear and read anything from yoga cures migraines, menstrual cramps, tight hips, insomnia, rid the body of toxins, backache, anxiety to my personal favourites – yoga to flatten the abs and tighten the booty… Needless to say, one can get a little wary and mockingly ask, “What can’t yoga do?”

As much as I love yoga and do believe it provides us with many health benefits, I still appreciate everything has it’s limits, and let’s face it, yoga is a business – so a little scepticism goes a long way. Yoga is also very difficult to define due to its ever-evolving westernization of techniques and myriad of styles, making it tricky to qualify in research. However, plenty of studies have been done, and many more are underway. I recently came across this article,“I read more than 50 scientific studies about yoga. And here’s what I learned” by Julia Belluz’s, which nicely summarizes what the evidence for us. Here’s what it said:

What we know:

  • Yoga is probably just as good for your health as many other forms of exercise, but it seems particularly promising for improving lower back pain
  • Yoga helps reduce inflammation in the body, which can actually help stave off disease.
  • Yoga enhances “body awareness,” or people’s sense of what’s going on inside themselves
  • There is evidence showing that yoga helps with stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders, although, the studies thus far are limited in design and inconclusive in what aspect of yoga is actually helping

What we don’t know:

  • Whether some forms of yoga are better than others
  • Whether yoga should be prescribed to people for various health conditions
  • How yoga compares with other forms of exercise for a good many specific health outcomes
  • Whether yoga is safe in the long term. The cumulative research so far shows yoga is as safe as any other exercise, but much is still to be learned about long term safety when considering different styles and specific poses.
  • There is no good evidence yet behind many of the supposed health benefits of yoga, like flushing out toxins and stimulating digestion

My take on all this:

I always feel great in my body and mind after a good yoga class, and that’s what keeps me practicing. I’m sure the millions of other yogi’s would agree, and for this reason, I think yoga is here to stay. But with its increasing presence in mainstream society, more questions will be asked and the natural progression is for more research to be done, helping us better understand more about the what aspects of yoga are giving us the benefits, and possibly harms. This will indefinitely lead to refinement of techniques and styles and tighter regulations of credentials. Personally, I’m excited about the next chapter of yoga; no doubt there’s much to discover.

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Work Stress?… Take 5 Minutes to Relax and Restore

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Can’t keep up? Getting sucked under? How does one fit 24 hours of work to fit into an 8 hour workday?

Many of my coworkers and friends have been expressing how the demands of their workday are so voluminous, there is no longer a feeling of completion at the end of their day. As we run out of time to “complete” our tasks and projects, things are left hanging, and as they carry over into the next day, the pile gets higher…and no one likes this feeling.

I’ve discussed in a previous blog, Overloaded and Overwhelmed, how high stress, sustained over a long period of time, can negatively affect our physical health. We need strategies and healthy habits to be resilient; we want to break through this “pile” and come through thriving on the other side. For most of us, this requires a break or a step back from the work pile in some way. Even short breaks can give us a sense of renewed energy, a shift in perspective, and better mental clarity.

Today, there is plenty of research indicating a regular mediation practice can be an effective strategy in creating this emotional/physical balance and resiliency in a complex and busy world. There are many types and various lengths of meditations to try. If you want to give it a try, but are unsure where to start, below you will find a very simple and quick (5 minute) relaxation meditation that is great to relax and restore – perfect for a workday refresher.

I hope you’ll find a few moments to plug in and take a listen. Sometimes even 5 minutes can help you be more relaxed and productive in your day.

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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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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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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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Five Life Lessons I Learned from Yoga Therapy Training

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To say my experience in Yoga Therapy training was pivotal in how I live my life would be an understatement. Here’s a few of the “ah ha moments” I took away from my journey of becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT) practitioner.

1. Words matter. Like a mirror reflecting back your deepest secrets, what and how you say reveals much about your inner beliefs about yourself. There is a technique in PRYT were the practitioner feeds back your words to you, which is done in the training as well. I started to notice trends of word usage that identified lack of confidence in myself and a tendency to soften the message. For example, “If you don’t mind, have a seat”. Rather than saying, “Please have a seat.” It’s subtle, but profound. Taking a moment to reflect on our word choices can lead to great insight.

2. Trust that you know what’s best for you. Despite what anyone else may tell you, you are your best coach. No one knows you better than you do. Sometimes the wisdom is buried a little, but it’s there. There is a Chinese parable that speaks of a man who was going to buy a new pair of shoes but forgot to bring the measurements so he went home to get them. Upon returning he found the store closed and did not get the shoes. Someone asked why he didn’t just try the shoes on, and he replied, “I would rather trust the measurements than trust myself.” This parable speaks to how often we trust some external indication of what may be right rather than trust what internally feels right. In PRYT you are encouraged to take time to connect with your inner knowing and search for answers from within, and in my experience, the more you do this, the more you trust that you do have the answers.

3. Direct experience is always best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “I’ve seen that before so I know all about it.” Well, no – unless you’ve directly experienced something for yourself, you don’t really know. For example, as yoga instructors we can learn that certain poses affect certain areas of our body. Camel pose, we learn, arches the back, stretches the front body, and is a great chest opener. This can all be very true, but until you are in this pose for yourself, you can never know how it exactly feels, and what it is doing to you. Each individual is unique in mind, body, and life experience, and because each moment is new, our experience in a yoga pose is truly unique and different each time. And so it is with the training to become a practitioner. Through the process of experiencing PRYT for ourselves, we learn the value of direct experience and the uniqueness of our individual experiences. Effectively, we learn not to impose direction or to assume what is best for our clients; rather, we learn to be open to the possibility of any experience, as it organically arises in the individual.

4. Much of what I was doing (or not doing) was based in fear. In PRYT we are given the opportunity to explore whatever is showing up in the session – thoughts, statements, body sensations, memories, images, etc. Staying in the space of an experience and taking the time to reflect on it can reveal new insights. Here’s an example from one of my earlier sessions. I was lying on my stomach and the practitioner took a hold of my hands, gently pulling me back to lift my chest off the ground. She asked me to tell her when I reached a spot that felt like my edge. Soon into the lift I told her to stop, but as I settled into the experience I realized I’d asked her stop well before my physical limit – I could have gone way further. This realization sparked an insight into a tendency I have in life to limit myself. And underneath this was the realization of the fear of not being enough (or in some cases, a fear of being more than enough). Taking time to experience what we notice in our bodies/minds, and pausing to sit with it, can peel back the layers of armor to reveal an inner truth.

5. It is possible to release deeply held habits and patterns. Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to get a glimpse outside yourself to learn about a pesky habit or way of being that you’ve developed. For example, in one of my yoga therapy sessions it was revealed to me that I hesitate to state my needs directly out of concern of burdening another. Not surprisingly, I started to notice this tendency showing up all over the place in my life and I wondered, “Am I ever going to stop doing this?” Fast forward a couple years and I was able to recognize this “self-imposing” issue sooner (as it was happening) and challenge myself to speak up for my needs. The more often I recognized it occurring the more I could pause, reflect and choose a different way to be. There is no shortcut to this kind of change, but PRYT sessions provide a base and an opportunity to check in as you explore and grow.

Whether you choose to receive the therapy or take it a step further into the training of becoming a practitioner, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is, hands down, the best method of self-discovery out there.

 

 

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The Story in Your Form

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Here’s the link to my latest post for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. This month’s topic is on the ways our body take shape and form from our life experiences. Like the way the  a tree becomes weathered on the side facing the shoreline and it’s branches and leaves grow in the direction of the stability and nourishment. Our form becomes a physical representation of our life’s story – a complex interplay of physiology and psychology weaving and webbing to form the shape our our beings.

Taking Shape in the Light of Yoga Therapy

Tell me the story you have not told anyone, the tale braided into your skull and tied with a string.

-Naomi Shihab Nye

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Great Fun at the Yoga as Therapy Workshop

inbalance_health-_DSC1503A big thank you to Kali Yoga for promoting and housing my latest workshop, Yoga as Therapy, where we explored the topic of connectivity in the body – first from an anatomical/biomechanics perspective and then from a physiological/energetic perspective. I’m hoping the participants left with a bit more appreciation for how every bit of our being is connected and intertwined.

Here’s an except from Elissa Cobb’s book, The Forgotten Body, that I read in the workshop to get the participant curious about the intelligence of our cellular bodies….

For some reason, unknown by modern science, at a certain point in our fetal development our tiny hearts suddenly begin to beat. Yet even before this miracle occurs, the cells of our body already have mapped out the essential framework of our bodies and have created the tin pump of a heart that will soon begin the thump-thump sound of “I am.” And all of this intelligence occurs before our brain, the part of us that we consider the be the house of such intelligence, develops. 

The human body – what a marvellous, mysterious, machine…

It was a great group of people at the workshop. Thank you all for sharing, experimenting, and discussing with me!

Namaste ~ Renée

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Your Friend the Breath

The mind is an ever-evolving, multi dimensional landscape. Moving in all directions, it’s like a lost puppy, darting from past to present to future, and back again. Alongside your busy mind is your breath–a steady companion to the wayward puppy. As the mind changes, so does the breath, as our mood changes, the breath mirrors it, as we become excited, the breath moves as rapidly as the mind. The breath and mind are inextricably linked; they dance together, mirror and mimic each other and share clues about one another.

We can experience the mind and breath partnership, for instance, when we are afraid–our breath might be held and we become very quiet, ready to flee or take action against a predator or attack (real or imagined). When we are anxious, as another example, our breath is rapid, high in the chest or in the throat. Or, if we’re depressed our breath is slower, usually lower in the body. When grieving, we sigh a lot–all of these changes in breathing patterns are caused by, or regulated by emotional or mental states. Subsequently, knowing that breath and mind are connected, we can become curious about it and familiarize ourselves with its patterns. We can become intimate with its signals, rhythms, and reactions—it’s a way to take a look more deeply into our own mind and behaviour.

Once we attune ourselves to our breath and begin to be mindful about it as we go about our day, we can recognize it’s more subtle signals. Noticing a change in our breathing pattern can alert us to an emotional state about to arise. For instance, if you are holding your breath as someone is talking to you, or begin breathing more rapidly, this can be information for you. Do a quick check in and ask yourself what is going on for in this moment–what are your thoughts, your emotions? Is it real or is it imagined? From this awareness we have choice, and by simply taking a moment to bring your breath into a more stable rhythm or relaxing the area of the body where we feel the breath being held or strained, we can alter the process and progression of the emotion.

Whatever is happening with the breath is a reflection of the mind and its thoughts and emotions; it is a profound and useful self-awareness skill. It is a key for the practice of being awake in the moment, seeing things as they are, not missing out on life, and being aware of it as it is happening. Intimately knowing the breath and mind as partners allows us to be participants in our life and all that occurs in it.

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Happy New Year

Here’s a fun picture Oliver caught of the the girls and I “playing” yoga in the back yard. I love this picture, not because my little squeakers are budding yogis, but because we were being silly and enjoying the simple fun of trying to balance on our bottoms. There was no expectation of technique, or a goal of any kind for that matter. That’s how I feel yoga should be for kids–pure, playful, and in-the-moment fun. Gets me thinking maybe we could all use a little bit more of this kind of yoga in our lives.

Have a look at my latest blog post giving you a yogic perspective on making New Years resolutions here.

Wishing you a playful New Year,

Renee

 

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The Gateway

For the next 6 months I’ll be writing blog posts for the Phoenix Rising website. Most likely, I won’t be getting to my own posts as often so I’ll share the link for these reads here and on my facebook page. For today I thought I’d leave you with some words I wrote after a yoga class.

The Gateway

It’s not just stretching, it’s the gateway in.
The intention is to notice,
notice your body.
And bring conscious awareness to all the parts,
from top to tip and left from right.

What’s that in your hand?
A clenched fist whose memory travels your arm,
future grasping of thoughts gone past.
The invisible cloak of halted breath
shielding shadowy images in dusky passages.

But it’s been a while
so you hang your worries and step inside,
and in a breath your body claims focus.
Shifting, reaching, softening…
You notice there’s more space than ever imagined.

Palm wide open,
nature’s pull guides you softly, slowly.
Life force pulsing once again to the whole.
Your heart breathes and lets out a sigh;
you’ve returned home.

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The Uninvited Guest (It’s okay to cry)

You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see but you can’t close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel.

-Johnny Depp

I was just on Facebook and as I scanned through the numerous pretty pictures with inspiring quotes and affirmations, I was pleased to happen across this one post linking to Elephant Journal with an article on healing and pain, Pain is a Process; Honor It . In this article the author, Christine Gutierrez, is referring to the type of pain that comes from life’s bum deals, you know, the heartaches, failures, cruelties and unfairness, lessons of loss and grief, disappointments, etc. To heal this pain, she explains, there is a process that needs to take place, and this process doesn’t always come in the package of positive thinking and affirmations – sometimes the process needs to include the messy moments, the sadness, and hurt.  I especially like her line, “No matter how good we may get at tracking a storm, the beauty of nature is that she does her own thing. Sometimes it hurts, but it is what it is.”

Reading this article was like a sigh of relief! Tbh [to be honest] I get really disconcerted when I hear “keep your chin up”, or, my personal favourite, “stay positive” when I’m really down. It seems to me that some of this proper, tea party talk has roots in the idea that it’s not okay to show your emotions, that it’s weak and improper, and god forbid imposing on another. Or, rather, if you just wish it away it will be no longer… Really? So you just learned some really crappy news or maybe you’re sorting through some painful childhood stuff. I for one, am not going to tell you how to feel, how to be, or when to be it. I can see how it would be radically confusing to chant messages of light and optimism when every cell of your being is aching in grief. And, it’s my opinion that if you look a little deeper at this notion of “staying positive” there’s a shadow called fear walking beside the mind-set. Yep, people are afraid to feel emotions, afraid to show emotions, and afraid to witness another’s emotions because this makes them feel uncomfortable, or better yet, vulnerable.

I once read that to watch a young child be with their emotions is a good example of healthy expression. When it comes to feelings, toddlers have a natural ability to flow from moment to moment – they can go from peaceful, happy play to abrupt tears and cries, and then, like the flick of a light switch, back to peaceful, happy play. I wonder, what would it be like to let our feelings move through us in this way rather than stuffing them deep down where they can do the lethal damage? Now I’m not saying we should all regress to childhood tantrums in the schoolyard, but I am suggesting to feel is good, and to feel all of it. It’s okay to cry, to be messy, to be angry and sad. This is all a part of the human experience we call life. As Dolly Parton said, You can’t have the rainbow without the rain.” And really could we even know happiness without it’s polar opposite of sadness?

So I say befriend your emotions – all of them. Acknowledge and accept them, and when the time is right, find a place and a way to be with them. Maybe something you do is journalling; some like poetry, painting, talking with a friend or therapist, watching a chick flick… whatever opens the dam and lets you feel and express. Personally I have found my yoga and yoga therapy to be the most healthy and effective ways to get in touch with what’s really going on. My promise to you is feeling the ugly won’t make you ugly. I’m betting that if you find authentic and productive ways to be with your emotions, your body, your being, will thank you for it. To quote Ms. Gutierrez, “This to me is the true art of healing – to allow the healing to be what it is.”

 

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I bow to the wisdom of my divine self

One of my yoga therapy course work assignments is to practice certain postures and to write about what I learn about my body in relation to the pose. One of the poses I am practicing this term is yoga mudra.  I’ve chosen to do this pose while in lunge position. My body enjoys this pose; it is strangely comforting and edgy all at once. I think it’s because I fold into myself, but at the same time, I am using strength through my legs to support and balance myself while my arms extend and stretch out away from me.

One day when I was practicing this pose I realized I could stretch my arms up further than I was doing… and it was easy. At that moment I had an awareness and it brought me back to a time when I was doing this pose on the rocky shores of Maui. My husband had taken a picture of me doing it and I remembered seeing the photo thinking my arms were not reaching very high. What I have since realized was in this photo, and countless times thereafter, I was NOT demonstrating my full ability, and the awareness became: sometimes I hold back and even when I know I can push further (and when it is completely safe for me to do so!). Hmmm… what an interesting realization. So what am I holding back for?

This became a very insightful question for me to ask myself, “What am I holding back for?”, and with some space and acceptance, a big learning piece emerged. Without going into all the gloriously messy details, let’s just say I realized I was holding a fear of fully expressing myself, a coping strategy learned from my younger years which no longer serves me. Wow, what an awareness – all from the simple practice of one pose allowing my body to speak it’s wisdom.

So… back to “what I learned about my body in relation to this pose”, of course my arms can extend further, so let them… and I have.

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Aparigraha

A lone leaf cartwheels skyward, riding an updraft over the house, flying like a drunken dove to the edge of the far woods.  What a glorious end, to be borne aloft, the whole Autumn landscape spread out below in riotous gold and orange; nature caught in a flagrant act of transformation.                                                                                                         Danna Faulds

This term in my schooling, I’ve been asked to journal and practice one of the ethical principles, and I chose Aparigraha as my Yama of reflection.   Otherwise translated as non aquisitiveness or greedlessness, Aparigraha has its roots in the notion of “stuff” and not accumulating what is not essential – whether it be things I own or knowledge I gain.

There’s something about this Yama in particular that gets me thinking outside myself and the bigger picture: consumerism and materialism – you know, living a life of grasping and accumulating stuff in habitually exploitive ways.  Yes, the thought that I will be happier when I have this…  But truth tells me I won’t be happier; it will all just manifest as something new to grasp onto.  Like the beauty of autumn, the leaves will fall.  And to what end, the cost of my actions?  Environmentally and ethically speaking; it is simply unskillful to turn my cheek to the impact of my delusional worldly desires.

What stands out for me is the realization that this Yama, like all the other ethical principles studied in yoga are bigger than me.  All my actions and thoughts carry karma, and karma comes down to intention.   Surely my intention is not to harm others and the balance of nature by careless desire.  My yoga practice is not just about physical flexibility and strength.  It’s about cultivating awareness internally so that I can wake up to who I am and my place in the world.  That is why we start with the Yamas.  Without the balanced practice of all eight limbs in yoga, practice can easily become another form of materialism.  Yoga is not about passivity; it’s about being in the world and about wise action.  Reflecting on Aparigraha kicks this into gear for me – we are all interconnected and, ultimately, engagement in the world and formal practice on the mat are one the same.

*Check out more of autumn’s beauty at my husband’s Vermont gallery and blog, photography done by In View Images.

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Training in Bristol

Back in October I completed my yoga therapy mid-terms in Bristol, Vermont.  My deepest gratitude to the wonderful people (faculty and fellow students) of Phoenix Rising for sharing your wisdom.

During mid terms I had plenty of opportunity to receive sessions and to delve deeper into the training, consequently, I have gained an even greater respect for the intention behind the work.  I return home with a deep appreciation of how beautiful and complete a session can be in helping a client explore the relationship between their body, mind, and life.  It reminds me of an article I meant to site in my original blog about Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy – check out Profound Presence for more on the essence of this work.

It’s also crazy to think I’ve been completing all my training up until now big and pregnant; winding up my third term at 8 months.  So now I’ll be taking a break to have baby (thank you to all who have volunteered their time as participants in my practicum training this far).  My hope is to start up soon in the New Year booking more session for my last term of training.  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in receiving a session at renee@inbalancehealth.ca.

 

Go in and in.  Be the space between two cells, the vast resounding silence in which spirit dwells…. Go in and in, and turn away from nothing that you find.                                                                                                                       Danna Faulds

 

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Your playing small does not serve the world…

Here I am into the second term of my Yoga Therapy training and I am busier that I ever thought possible (hence the lack of blog posts).  Going into the training I knew the work would be challenging and soulful, but I had no idea how powerful the training could be on forcing me to take a hard look at who I am and how I interact in the world – you know the kind of monumental shifts in one’s psyche that can occur after some huge catastrophic event.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, who I am is in the process of change, and this is no small task.

I have been asked to do readings in my course work and then journal on them.  One of the books, The Forgotten Body by Elissa Cobb, is a good read for anyone interested in the world of yoga therapy.  It’s a book with lots of little nuggets of insight and it explores, from many angles, the message that in our quest for wisdom and spiritual guidance, everything you need to know is already in you, in your body.  There are numerous quotes and poems in the book, and I keep returning to one quote in particular.  I’ve journaled about it and I’ve re-read it probably 30 times.  My body and soul feel this quote, and there is a deep knowing in me that it is true, and well, maybe one day…

     Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God (fill in with your source for spirituality).  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so small that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberate others.                                                                                                                                                                  Marianne Williamson

And so it is with me, on a journey to understand, at its roots, why and where my fears come from.  This quote reminds me that sometimes fear keeps me from realizing, and consequently living, my full potential.  Am I accurately assessing my limits?  Where in my life am I holding back.  This is exactly why I come back to my mat again and again – not to achieve some physical feat, but to activate and invigorate my own self-discovery.

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More on Yoga Therapy

I just came across an article in Yoga Journal titled Emotions in Motion which discusses yoga’s potential for integration of mind, body, and emotions.  As I read further into the article, I was pleased to see it highlighted Phoenix Rising yoga therapy sessions as a way to access this integration and use the body as a source of wisdom for emotional breakthroughs and healing.  I was thrilled to come across this article and find myself “by chance” reading about the very training I’m receiving.  Specifically check out Continue reading

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A Maui Memoir

Here I am doing tree pose on the black rocky shoreline of Wai’anapanapa State park in east Maui.  I had been there once before, and ever since I longed to return.  I imagined myself doing yoga one day along this shoreline, standing amiss the inhospitable edges of the volcanic rock and turbulent seas.  So here I am, an intention unfolded… a friend asks me why I want to do a serene practice like yoga in such a rough and violent setting? “I’m not sure”, I said.  Perhaps I loved the contrast, no, perhaps I longed for the fear, the feeling of being alive and humble alongside nature’s raw power.

The experience was edgy (pun intended); my feet hurt, the wind blew, the water sprayed.  It wasn’t comfortable, but it was where I needed to be.   And so I did yoga, on the edge of somewhere in between, ready for the next step with fear and vulnerability as I knew it would be a leap and then a dive into waters less calm.  That day, I left Wai’anapanapa State Park, grateful for its unease, and ready to step.

Change never happens when you’re standing still, but shift does.

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Santosha

As human beings, many of us seem to be hard-wired to notice how life fails to meet our ideas of how things should be.   And when things don’t go as we would like, this leads to feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, or an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.  Fortunately, we can change these unpleasant feelings by mindfully shifting our attention.  We begin this by starting to paying attention to what you do have and to the reality of what is rather than what should have been or the desires you cling to.

In yoga the practice of Santosha helps cultivate this shift.  Santosha, one of the Niyamas of the eight-limbed path, translates as contentment or appreciation of what you have and what is.  In your asana practice there is opportunity to learn Santosha.  For instance when you find yourself getting frustrated when you can’t obtain a final variation of a pose or match abilities of another student in a class, it is helpful to check in and remind yourself that you are grasping for some mental construct of how you would like to be or how you think things should be.  Reality is that at this present moment your body is telling you what it can and can’t do and forcing or straining it outside these limits is not only unhealthy but untruthful.  Sometimes you will have breakthroughs in your practice where dedication and perseverance pay off; however, it is just as likely that your physical anatomy may never be able to perform a certain asana, or perhaps you get an injury, and what you could do yesterday, you can no longer do today.  This is reality of what is, and “what is” will continually change.   There is wisdom in recognizing this constant change, or impermanence, in your practice, and contentment comes from being present and learning how to accept and appreciate what shows up moment to moment, day by day.

Reflect on what you do have

Each time you step onto your mat, realize that because you have the health, resources, and freedom available to you to practice yoga, then you are truly fortunate.  To know that all the resources you require to practice yoga, e.g. your mat, your car, your clothes, your nourishment, etc. were all made possible by the energy and efforts of other people, animals, plants, the sun, and minerals of the earth.  And the highest wisdom in yoga is to realize the truth of our interconnectedness and interdependence.  When you start to look at all the abundance around you and your reliance on other beings for this abundance, you have much to be grateful for.

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