So recently I’ve started to experience some really intense back pain. Between 4-6am every morning I am awoken by intense muscle spasms on the right side of spine, mid-back. It’s excruciating. I can barely move when it happens. My breathing is limited. Certain movements made it worse and finding relief usually involved taking a hot bath. Yesterday my sister who is a registered massage therapist identified the issue as facet joint irritation, she did some manual mobilization of my vertebrae and told me to get to my chiropractor asap.
Since I’ve been experiencing this for a couple weeks now, I’ve also really started to pay attention to patterns…. What makes it better? what makes it worse? and explore different movements to relieve some of the tension and keep the area mobile. Since I have a well stocked yoga therapy tool kit, I’ve been managing and finding ways that the early morning wake up won’t last too long so I can go back to bed and feel rested for the day.
Last week I also started working with a woman who is doing her yoga therapy practicum. Not only am I a good case study for her, it’s really nice to be in a therapeutic relationship with someone guiding me. Working with someone eases fears, helps manage expectations and provides some novel experiences that aid the healing process. Sure I can do it on my own, but I’ve noticed that my experience of movement, breath and relaxation is heighted when someone else is assisting me. I am able to relax a little bit more deeply and heighten my awareness of what’s going on in my body and mind. I have a tendency to do things a little quicker than is necessary, and working with someone else supports my desire to go slow, to take my time, to notice, to feel and to deeply rest.
I think now, more than ever, being a therapeutic healing relationship with someone is crucial. We are already suffering from physical isolation and touch which can exacerbate any new or existing conditions.
If you are experiencing chronic/persistent pain, find someone who can help you navigate through it. Pain can change. We are not solitary individuals meant to go it alone. There are tons of healers out there waiting to help.
This is my word for 2021. I need slow after the shit show of 2020. When lockdown started in March it was a rush to transition to teaching online. Then when we decided to move it felt like a constant rush during renovations. Now we are moved in and I can start thinking about work again. My pattern would be to rush to start a new programming in my community. With the limitations to movement, space and communication, I have to remind myself that it’s not a race, there is no rush, I have nothing to prove and I can pace myself in my endeavours to create.
For me, slow also manifests, not just as speed, but as an opportunity to take care. Taking time to thoughtfully respond, to plan, to set boundaries and re-assess expectations. Slow means not requiring to take immediate action but smaller, baby steps over a longer period of time. It means eating well, being gentle and kind, doing gentle yoga, going for walks, taking baths, reading books, connecting with friends – in short, taking care of myself in ways that charge my batteries, that fill my cup. So, while slow still requires a lot of doing, it is the quality of doing that is different. It feels more sustainable and more easeful.
My slow might involve stepping back from yoga therapy a little bit and explore some supply teaching at the local school or getting a part-time job. I’m not sure yet.
What I do know for sure is that I am still offering a couple evening group yoga classes, limited private session and monthly Restorative Yoga & Soundbath classes with Nicole.
The client I write about today, was an athlete and she came to me because she believes in her bodies capacity to heal without surgical intervention and I agree with her. Yoga therapy provides the tools and skills to not only resolve pain but to help avoid surgery, prolong the need to have surgery and support the recovery process should surgery be required.
The Athletes Story
I have a lovely client, let’s call her B. She grew up an elite athlete – she trained hard and found creative ways to use her body to create more strength and power. While there is nothing wrong in how she trained or lived, she now experiences knee pain and hip pain, which limits her quality of life and may require surgery. She is getting some gains from physiotherapy such as strength and balance and she continues to employ compensatory patterns to create her movement. While this is not a bad thing, because she is getting results, I suspect that it will only get her so far. The challenge she reports experiencing with yoga therapy, is that movements are smaller than she’s used to – she just wants to power through and DO. And she’s not used to feeling the sensations of her body. In some ways she said feels like she has to learn how to move all over again. Yes and No. Yoga therapy is not asking her to move – as in, go about her day moving in some weird foreign way, but what it is asking her is to slow down, pay attention to what her body feels like when it is moving in her practice.This is going to help expand her awareness of what is and isn’t working for her in her day to day. When we have more awareness of our relationship to our bodies, we have more possibilities and opportunities available to us. B is curious about movement and she’s a problem solver which makes her a great client and she’s going to get great results. Before it was, “power through and get it done” now it could be “if I take a break, I’ll have more energy later,” or “if I do it this way, I’m going to be in more/less pain later,” and “I know I feel really great after doing this exercise so I’m going to do it more often.”
There is more than one way to do something – and when you don’t know what the other options are, you are limited. When you have many ways of doing something, new possibilities arise at the same time. So we are going to keep working on shifting from cognitive centric movement to feeling focused movement to catapult her progress!
If you felt a little bit of excitement reading this, or your curiosity has been sparked, I’d love to have a conversation with you!
Sore shoulders, elbow pain and wrist pain are common complaints that I hear all the time. This is problematic when it prevents you from doing the things you need to do and the activities you enjoy.
When I work with clients one-on-one or teach group classes there are a number of common movement patterns that I see with the shoulder girdle. Some include,
Shoulder blades not moving with the arms (stuck on the back)
Arms overworking or overleveraging for work of the legs, pelvis and torso
Overusing the upper traps and neck
Overusing low back muscles instead of the arms/shoulders
If function is limited in one area of the body, another area will pick up the slack. This usually isn’t a problem, until we experience pain, injury or get stuck in our performance.
When you establish good movement patterns you are improving both stability, mobility and strength at the same time. As stability and mobility increase, you can add more load which will in turn increase strength. If you are avoiding load (eg. lifting) or overloading (lifting something that’s too heavy) it can be problematic. Both could lead to pain or injury. This is one of the reasons why, when working with pain or an injury it is wise to work with a qualified, properly trained yoga therapist rather than going to a random yoga class.
Take a moment and think about all the activities you need to use your arms for. Reaching up to cupboards. Washing your hair. Pulling on your shoes. Getting dressed. Reaching across and behind you to put on your seat belt. Hugging. Pushing a stroller or lawnmower, swinging a golf club, digging a hole… Do your arms move in isolation of the rest of your body? No of course not. Your torso may bend forward, to the side or rotate. Your legs may be stationary side-by-side, you may crouch where one knee is bent, one is forward and one back, you might be seated or be in motion. There can be any number of combinations between your arms, torso and legs. So it makes sense then, in order to improve the functionality of your shoulders and arms, you also have look at what’s happening elsewhere in your body. When you can learn to move with increased control and coordination through any range of movement, you then have a greater capacity to move through life with more ease and effortlessness.
As a yoga therapist, I start by teaching you how to isolate a movement, so you can develop the neuromuscular patterning to do a movement the way your body is intended to move. (See videos below). Then we have to link that movement of the arm to move in coordination with the torso and the pelvis and the legs. This requires developing body awareness and mindfulness as a part of the practice. The better connected the body parts are in moving with each other, the less likely you are to experience the tightness and pain that limit your ability. It really is less complicated than you think and it’s kinda fun to get to know your body in a whole new way.
Imagine being able to hit your ball further, garden without your back hurting after, run faster, absorb the intensity of your kids jumping on you or being able to lift heavier weights, or just have more energy to get through the daily tasks. These are all pretty big deals and it isn’t that hard to achieve.
“Pain is not where the problem is.”
If you’re still with me, consider how patterns of tightness show up in your body. For example, I have a tendency to hold a lot tension and tightness in my neck and shoulders. I could go after the neck and shoulders with massage and stretching to loosen things up – – but why did the shoulders and neck become tight and tense to begin with? Inevitably, the tension just returns a short while after.
One of the things I have discovered for myself is when I work on my legs and hips and bring awareness, sensation, feeling and strength into my legs, my neck and shoulders start to feel lighter and more relaxed. The crazy thing is, I was focusing on my lower and not my upper at all. So, then the question becomes, are my neck and shoulders tight because something is not functioning as it should at my legs/pelvis? This is where it gets really curious and the complexities of our bodies get revealed. So perhaps my neck and shoulder thing is not actually a neck and shoulder thing. Maybe it’s a hip pelvis thing.
So next week, I will focus on the hips and pelvis. And in the meantime explore for yourself and see what you notice!
Issues concerning the pelvic floor as it relates to movement are often “load” issues. Straining, bearing down and pushing too hard can have negative consequences for prolapse, urinary incontinence, and diastasis recti. When you start with movement that is appropriate for your body, it can adapt and become stronger and more resilient much faster.
Strength is often the easy part. Building the neuromuscular patterns that support and integrate from within are hard. This requires some patience and some practice and some guidance.
Today I want to explore CORE strength as it relates to pain.
A commonly held belief is that a strong core means back pain will go away. Unfortunately this myth often contributes to problem. Unwittingly people go after strengthen their “core” with crunches and other movements that might not be supporting in a way that is optimal for their body. The good news is improving your overall movement patterns will help pain resolve AND will help you have a stronger core. Win win in my books!
Did you know that super strong people and Olympic athletes, who are at the peak of performance in terms of strength and ability, experience pain? If building strength was the solution to pain problems then it would be easy. The problem is that pain is much more complex than simply be weak vs strong.
Our body parts, arms, legs, pelvis, ribs, shoulder blades and head need to be able to function well in relationship to one another. So core is not just about your abdominal muscles. It’s how the whole body moves with control and coordination through any range of movement that develops a strong, supple, responsive core. This means if your movement is jerky, uncoordinated, sticky, stuck, painful, clumsy, or imbalanced, then there is room for improvement and you can get stronger!
I know you’re thinking, that sounds great and all, but I really just want something for my core (aka abdomen). So here it is: This is operating on the assumption that you have enough ROM though your shoulders and hips; that you have a good connection between your pelvic girdle, rib cage and shoulder girdle. It is also with the disclaimer that there is no magic pose, sequence or practice that is going to provide the answer. We are all unique and what works for one person, may not work for someone else. So try these out. Try them with varying degrees of effort, and notice what your experience is like. Notice if pain or discomfort increases, notice if you are breathing with ease or if you are holding your breath. As you move are you aware of how your body is moving or are you chasing after a shape?
I recommend practicing these in a way that elicits as much ease as possible (no pain, can breath easily through the whole range of movement), because you will get stronger faster. Your body will adapt to lower intensity faster. The body remembers, so consider setting yourself up to progress with ease. If you push yourself too hard, you will only push up against tension, and maybe create some strength under the tension. This may prevent you from cultivating responsiveness which is necessary for greater strength. You choose.
Here you go:
As you practice: If your shoulders feel crappy – good! This is demonstrating to you how shoulder function is related to core strength. If the arms/shoulders are unable to bear the increase in load, you might experience tension, tightness, strain or pain. Addressing shoulder function and how that is related to the parts below will help improve your control and coordination and therefore your strength. Stay tuned next time for my shoulder practices. In the meantime, explore what you can do, and the range you can do it in without the pain.
Vary your movements, your direction and your speed. The more ways that your body learns how to move and respond to changes in the environment, the stronger and more resilient you will become.
Summer is here and I’m all about getting outside and being active. And if you’re like me, you want that outdoor activity to make you feel alive and energized rather than leaving you feeling tired and achey. I find consistently with my clients and students, that a 10-15 minute movement practice each day can change how you feel and how you move through life.
I believe the Pelvic Floor to be, the keystone to your quality of life.
I realize that sounds like a strong statement. It is. Let me explain.
The P.F. is getting a lot more attention these days, and for good reason… both men and women can experience pelvic pain and have the urge to urinate frequently. These are both serious health concerns that can impact your social life and enjoyment of pleasure.
Let’s think about it for a moment. Your pelvic floor is the foundation of your abdomen which is responsible for elimination, sex, and child bearing. It is also involved in core strength, agility, movement of your legs, breathing, and your bodies ability to absorb, transfer and dissipate load during movement.
A healthy pelvic floor is responsive so it can provide support, stability, strength and ease. A healthy pelvic floor provides freedom from pain, allows us to experience pleasure, confidence and playfulness without worry.
We often don’t think about our pelvic floor unless there is a specific problem. And even then it is often ignored.
Did you know that 53% of women between the ages of 20-80 experience urinary incontinence at some point in their lives? That’s a lot. Unfortunately less than half of these women do not report it to their doctors because they are too embarrassed, or they think it is normal to experience ‘a bit of leakage’ when they sneeze or laugh. Or, that it is normal after pregnancy or with age. Or, that it is normal because their mom, sister, and best friend all experience a ‘bit of leakage’ too.
But it is not normal. Yes, it is common, but not normal. Urinary incontinence can be prevented and treated in most cases. The cost associated with urinary incontinence is over $900 annually not to mention the lowered quality of life and inconveniences associated with it.
Other common pelvic floor problems includes organ prolapse, pelvic pain, sexual challenges, and back pain or hip pain. These dysfunctions of the Pelvic Floor can arise from a variety of reasons. One common dysfunction is overuse. This means the muscles are tense and tight and don’t relax. They are overworked or in a state of constant contraction. This may be a protective mechanism from injury or a compensation for a limitation happening somewhere else. Another reason could be under-use. These are tissues that lack tone and are weak. These muscles are not creating the necessary support. Other reasons could be from injury, or related to functional compensation patterns that often get labelled as being from poor posture or alignment.
An experienced pelvic floor physiotherapist can help you learn more about your specific issue.
If your curious about your pelvic floor let’s try this:
1. Sit on a surface that creates pressure on your pelvic floor. You can sit on a chair, or straddle a bolster or a pillow. Using a heating pad can bring more sensation to the area. If you contract your pelvic floor by squeezing it in and up and then release, does it relax? Or stay the same? Try this a couple times and see what you notice. Then, try feeling your breath moving in and out of the pelvic floor…
You may sense a gentle/subtle downward pressure as you inhale and a release or lift as you exhale (without consciously having to do anything). If you can’t feel it, visualize the breath moving in and out. You can try this in different positions, sitting, laying on your belly, or laying on your back. You may find that one position allows you to feel more than another position. Typically after practicing this for 5 minutes over a few days, clients start to notice subtle changes and shifts in their experience.
So, why does a well functioning pelvic floor matter? Your P.F. is the foundation for all that you do. Your pelvis is the foundation from which our leg bones swing, that propel us through space as we walk or run. A supple p.f. is responsive and responds to our breathing – so it works with your diaphragm. (If you are tight through your ribcage or thoracic area your breathing might be limited which will also impact the pelvic floor and vice versa.) And the p.f. also must be able to absorb, transfer and dissipate load from walking, running, jumping, changing direction, lifting something heavy like a child, sneezing and the other things that we do.
Check out my practice videos on YouTube to explore some gentle movements to help improve your bodies relationship to the pelvic floor. If you feel limited or stuck in one or more of these exercises, keep practicing to help your body free up some space and develop better movement patterns.
It’s hard to believe it’s almost the middle of February already. Valentines Day and Family Day are coming up this weekend so your mind is likely thinking about the other people people in your life and you’re not thinking about yourself. That’s okay. The people in our life are super important but keep reading because I have message for you…
I spent the last two weeks in Calgary for in-person yoga therapy training and I wanted to share a few gems with you. As soon as I got home I saw this image on Instagram and I felt like it epitomizes a few themes from my training. We often limit ourselves and get comfortable in the little box we build around ourselves that we identify with as “I” or “me”. As such we miss opportunities all around us or limit ourselves because we have one way of thinking or deeply ingrained beliefs that we aren’t even aware of. When we can start to consciously explore using different lenses or taking different perspectives for how we perceive; our world, our toolbox and our opportunities get bigger and more expansive. Yoga Nidra (a process of meditative self-inquiry) teaches us that feelings and emotions exist on a spectrum. We can explore them from this perspective so we can embody the experience of a range of possibilities. It’s amazing how one small shift can create huge change. (If you’re interested in experiencing Yoga Nidra, come to one of my group classes or book a private session).
My message for you…
Winter is a season for rest. When you are feeling tired, anxious or stressed, or constantly getting a cold, consider from the perspective of your body, that it’s asking you to rest. Take a nap, go for an easy walk, try some gentle movements that feel nourishing and supportive, and go to bed early. It’s okay to say no to that invitation from your colleagues or friends or family if your schedule is already crammed packed. It’s okay, and necessary, to slow down and take care of YOU! When we really take good care of ourselves, we have so much more to give to our families and our work. When considering when and how you rest think about which type of person you are: Person A: you need to move (exercise) a lot before you can start to wind down and actually rest. Or Person B: you need to rest and relax yourself to replenish your energy reserves before you even consider being active. Whether you are person A or B or somewhere in between, let your needs guide you on how you create rest.
If you need some more ideas on how to support yourself to feel rested and relaxed I’d be happy to chat!
The past 10 years of my yoga journey has had a lot of up downs and learning experiences. I started practicing yoga in Hong Kong when I worked there as a teacher at an International School. I got into teaching Kids Yoga to my students while I was there then upgraded to 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training when I moved back to Canada. As a private and corporate yoga teacher I noticed many of my students were limited by pain due to repetitive stress or a health diagnosis. Unequipped with the appropriate skills to help them I started learning yoga therapy, which not only got me out of pain from a previous car accident, it also helped my students get out of pain. Now in private practice as yoga therapist and approaching my 10th Yoga Anniversary, I reflected back on what has happened during that time. My reflections showed up as ways I have changed or evolved and lessons I have learned along the way. Here are my top 10 lists for my last 10 years.
My Top 10 lessons learned
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Yoga processes don’t change who you are – you get clearer on who you are – you change how you are. I used to think a long pilgrimage or seeking spiritual enlightenment was going to provide the answers I was seeking. No matter where we are in the journey, we are always going to have troubles and how we show up with the problems as they arise is the testament of transformation. True change and transformation happens bit by bit, by taking incremental baby steps over time.
Advanced yoga is not crazy, contoronist postures. Advanced yoga is the willingness and ability to do as little as possible, keep coming back to the basics and learning something new about yourself. We have a tendency to work too hard in yoga classes. Slowing down and cultivating a sense of ease is necessary for healing to happen.
Relaxing and letting go is not a thing that you do. Relaxation and letting go is the result of slowing down and cultivating ease. The better we feel, the easier it is to let go of things or people that make us feel crappy.
In any aspect of life, if you want a different outcome, something has to change – you might have to do something differently or see things from a different perspective.
Sometimes what you are attracted to is not what you need, sometimes it is. Being able to discern is a process. Mindfulness practices can help us grow our awareness and presence moment to moment.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make requests. Advocate for what you need.
When you learn how your body is meant to move and move in a way that doesn’t increase tension, strain or pain, progress is going to be a lot faster and meaningful.
The more we can feel, the more we will become aware and the better we can listen to our bodies signals communicating with us. This means more opportunities for us to choose how we respond to those signals. With practice we can start to discern how our body is constantly communicating with us right down to the subtle, nuanced whispers.
Taking time for self-care and making it part of your daily life is the single most important thing you can do. You deserve to proactively take care of your health.
Top 10 Ways I have Evolved
Asana – For me it started off being all about the yoga poses. The poses were the thing to strive towards for a long time, until I realized that they weren’t the thing – the movement piece became a catalyst for everything else.
Resilience – I am resilient AF. I’ve come to a point in my life where I can look back at the challenges and take lessons from all of it. I now appreciate and look forward to change. I embrace challenge.
Awareness – I’ve become very aware of all the things I was tolerating. Releasing the stuff and people that I no longer want to tolerate has given me much more freedom to notice other stuff that matters.
Grounded – People often describe me as being very grounded and confident. I use to feel untethered, all. the. time. My mind kept me awake at night. I worried. I was stressed. I was anxious. I was angry, easily irritated, frustrated. Dedication to my yoga practices and routines helped me release all of these things and I now have the skills to manage them when they do show up.
Gratitude – Learning how to practice gratitude on a daily basis was another catalyst for change. It made me more resilient, more aware, kinder, more compassionate, more grounded and happier.
Health – I have far fewer colds, less aches and pains, I sleep better, have more energy, and am physically stronger and have better movement patterns and a greater awareness of what is related to not feeling well.
Priorities – Self-care has become a priority. If I’m not healthy and am feeling over stressed then what’s the point? I’ve learned how to create a self-care lifestyle and set healthy boundaries with work and not feel guilty about it
Presence – I engage in a lot of introspection, personal reflection and contemplation. I am getting better and better at being in the moment. Meditation and mindfulness helps. Listening to the language of my body (mindfulness) – noticing the physiological sensations, mental chatter, emotional responses, etc inform my decisions and interactions.
Values – Recently I’ve been focusing more of my attention on my values. They evolve and change over time. What was important to me in my mid-twenties, is not the same as in my mid-thirties. There is also a difference between the values I aspire to and the values I actually live, those which are demonstrated through my actions and behaviour. I’ve also noticed that my values might not always be completely mine. Part of my values are created in my relationships with others. “I am because we are.” – African proverb.
Seeking Support – I used to think I had to and could do it all on my own. Migraines forced me to seek medical help and I’ve since realized in other areas of my life that I can’t do it all on my own either. There is no shame in asking for help or support. Working with my own yoga therapist was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Support is necessary. Seeking support is an act of self-love – something we need to give ourselves more of.
No matter who you are, we all have a deep need for support. Ask for it. Don’t be afraid to seek it out. Know that I’m here to support you too. If you feel like you need some support to come up with a self-care plan that is appropriate for your life I’d be really happy to chat with you.
Last year I did my first Digestive Reset. The purpose is to promote health by helping us align with nature’s rhythms. In the Fall our nervous system and digestive systems are more sensitive to stress. This also effects our immune system, given that it activates during times of stress to protect us. This digestive reset helps us to prepare, balance and align with the changes in the qualities from summer to fall. The nitty gritty involved a process of eliminating some stuff from my diet (I chose things like gluten, black tea, sugar, chocolate and red meat) and adding some self-care practices like body oiling, tongue scraping, neti, daily meditation, yoga, alternate nostril breathing along with a mono-diet that involved eating Kitchari for breakfast, lunch and dinner and eliminating snacking. Since it was the first time there was definitely a learning curve with some of the spices and getting the right texture for the mung beans and rice. The self-care practice was easy peasy compared to the diet portion. Caffeine and sugar withdrawal are definitely brutal for the first couple days. Eating the same thing everyday was torture after the 2nd or 3rd day. I admit I had to cheat a little bit just to have some variety while still trying to stick to an Ayurvedic diet. Like a recurring injury that arises because of a physically weak spot in our bodies, I started to notice the weaknesses in my mind and the stories I’d tell myself about my perceived struggle. You definitely start to learn some lessons about your relationship to food and perceived hunger. I say “perceived” hunger because those feelings of hunger are usually because something else is going on (thirst, boredom, stress). Despite the struggles I ended up feeling better because of it. All abdominal bloating from my previous eating habits had disappeared and I discovered to my pleasure that I actually have a nice flat belly! Who knew! Energy was up and consistent. I was sleeping great and aches and pains settled out.
My experience this year, while similar has a greater sense of ease to the whole process. This year I experienced a headache interspersed with migraines for the first 6 days and then I felt great after. Unlike last year, I mastered my Kitchari making skills and it wasn’t hard to stick to the mono-diet. Like anything, a little bit of planning and intention setting can do wonders. I was also much better able to listen to the signals my body was providing and the struggle was much, much less. Sticking with my meditation practice felt easier and I could sit for longer. As an added bonus I even lost some weight without restricting food and feeling hungry.
This year I started my second Fall Digestive Reset after Thanksgiving (they are done during seasonal transitions going into Fall and Spring). It was 10 days (the spring one is a month). This what I learned for myself:
Abdominal discomfort and bloating are definitely diet related.
Our bodies are masters at adapting to what we put it in. The withdrawal symptoms are clear signals of what I was putting in was keeping me limited and creating cravings.
Eating wholesome, nutritious food, regularly at meal times cuts down on the desire to snack and decreased cravings.
Feeling hungry and going to the grocery store with my husband shed light on all kinds of food cravings that I probably would have given into otherwise. Shop when satiated. Make healthy choices.
If you can get through the headaches and irritation you are going to feel light, clean and energized after. I feel less desire to jump back into old eating habits. (although as my load increased babysit my niece and nephew so did my old eating habits. A curious correlation between stress and food…)
The second time around was much easier than last year.
My gut doesn’t like milk and caffeine makes me more tired and foggy. I kinda already knew this but now definitely confirmed.
This spring I will participate in a month long digestive reset as a part of my yoga therapy training program. If you are interested in learning more visit my Ayurvedic teacher Mona Warner at Janati Yoga.
This past week I gave a 10 minute presentation on stress management to my fellow networking colleagues. It’s so secret that stress can be debilitating and lead to burnout. In 2010, Stats Canada found that 1 in 4 people say they are effected by stress and 60% of those are work related stress. Burnout is highly prevalent amongst teachers, doctors and executives. So essentially the message is this, if you want a different outcome (less stress or at least be able to be in a stressful situation with more ease) then something needs to change. I think it is clear that we can’t expect a different outcome if we don’t change our behaviour. It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives and yet we can do small things with consistency to cultivate more ease. Imagine what your life would be like if you had even just 10% more ease!
First, ease comes in bits and pieces. This arises from precision and consistency in what we do. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. Creating more ease also requires us to become aware of the signs and signals that preceed stress. Once we become aware of what these are, then we are able to intervene sooner and be with that inevitable stress in a different way.
Whether we are recovering from pain or managing stress we know that healing is non-linear. And I think this is where people often get stuck. If you have “set back” or a flare up of symptoms, it doesn’t mean that that the techniques didn’t work. It just means that you don’t have a lot of bandwidth or stamina around that new pattern yet. Neuroscience confirms that our brains and systems are bioplastic. This means we are continually making new neural connections in brain to support new learning. Learning takes time and practice, so in order to groove out a new pattern in our system we need to practice with consistency and awareness. So, back to my point, we make the mistake of thinking we are going back to what we had before stress or the injury or the pain. When in fact, we are actually getting better than we were before. There is a memory or imprint in your system so you don’t have to lose what you gained. I think this is really awesome.
To demonstrate how we can cultivate more ease and groove out a pattern that helps us be with stress in a new way that is more supportive I had my networking team try three techniques that they can practice anytime, anywhere. In the first exercise, participants closed their eyes and brought their index fingers together. I guided them to notice where their attention was at that moment, then again a moment later, and so on for about a minute. What people noticed was that they were no longer thinking about things in the past or the future. They were focused on body sensations in the present moment. They noticed their mind was not racing and thinking of a hundred different things, they felt more present to the moment. Further reflections someone noticed how “busy” their life had become and no longer had time for activities they enjoyed. This realization sparks an opportunity to think about what they will do with that awareness.
The second technique was Alternate Nostril breathing – this can be found online in a quick Google search or try this: block your right nostril with one finger and inhale through the left, block the left nostril and exhale out the right. Inhale right, block the right and exhale out the left. That’s one round. Repeat 4 more times. For limitations of time we started with 5 rounds and then noticed how that experience made them feel. Experiences of calm, peacefulness, cleared breathing, increased focus and feeling both more relaxed and energized came up as results.
The third technique I shared was a short Body Scan. I had participants close their eyes, notice sensation in the palm of their right hand, then each finger. I repeated with the left hand, then each foot, and sensations in the face including the jaw, mouth, nose, eyes and forehead. (message me for a free 5 minute recording you can follow along to). Simply by paying attention to bodily sensations tension starts to melt away. It is also a great way to start to learn the language of your body. If you’re not used to feeling sensation or the physiological sensations in the body as you experience the full range of emotions and life experiences that you have, then this is a good technique to help you become more familiar with yourself.
Now I need to add a disclaimer. These techniques, like anything else, are not a one size fits all. Depending on your health conditions and life experiences, any of these practices might increase feelings of stress or anxiety and should be at least initially be practiced with an experienced yoga therapist or health care provider. The moral of the story is that stress doesn’t have to be in control. Remember, ease comes in bits and pieces and baby steps will take you there. Ease begets more ease. If you have any questions or you are ready to start your own stress reduction program don’t hesitate to get in touch.