What I Learned from my Digestive Reset

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:

  1. Abdominal discomfort and bloating are definitely diet related.
  2. 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.
  3. Eating wholesome, nutritious food, regularly at meal times cuts down on the desire to snack and decreased cravings.
  4. 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.
  5. 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…)
  6. The second time around was much easier than last year.
  7. 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.

 

3 Techniques to Cultivate More Ease and Manage Stress

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.

Transitioning into Fall

As we begin to transition from Summer to Fall I bet you start to notice little differences in your life. You might feel colder, your skin might get dry, or maybe you feel like have more to do and take on in your life. You might notice other changes like the amount of sunlight and the slightly earthy smell of Autumn.  For me, I feel an increase in stress, my mood starts to shift, I feel I need to eat differently and bundle up on cool days. I see a lot of people coming down with colds and busier  schedules with school and work adds on stress.

The more we can begin to listen to and hear the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) signals our body is telling us, we can choose to make choices that better support us and nourish us through times of transition. That might mean being consistent with your exercise routine, changing something in your diet, going to bed early and getting enough rest or finding the right teacher to guide you.

In Ayurveda the Fall is Vata season which is governed by qualities (gunas) that are dry, light, cold, rough, mobile, subtle and clear. These qualities show up in our environment, physical body, thoughts, behaviours, etc. You might experience cold as having cold hands and feet. Or rough might show up as dry, flakey skin. Mobile might show up in scattered thoughts and not being able to settle down in the evenings. When we feel balanced we embody qualities that are stable, warm, calm, grounded, soothed, nourished, peaceful and slow. Notice these qualities are the opposite of the first set.

To find a balance you don’t want more of the same. For example, if you feel cold, drinking a glass of ice cold water won’t feel nourishing. You would choose a hot tea perhaps instead or put on a pair of wooly socks. In yoga we might explore slower movement and grounding asanas like “cat/cow” and “legs up the wall” to cultivate feelings of stable and groundedness. Soft, gentle breathing or alternate nostril breathing will help calm the body and mind. Meditation and Yoga Nidra are also useful for balancing nervous and anxious (mobile) energy and generate a felt sense of peace.

Small changes can have profound effects on how you feel and how you are with a situation (like a confrontation at work). I have a tendency to have a rough/mobile mind and emotions. For me, mobility shows up as a busy mind, restlessness, anxiety, and feeling stuck in a rut. This triggers the rougher qualities like anger and irritation. The other day I was conversing with someone via e-mail and I noticed a flare of up irritation and then anger over what ended up being a misunderstanding. This was a signal for me that I was out of balance and I needed to switch gears and sit in meditation for while.  The point is, if you don’t like how you feel or how you are acting/reacting to a situation – you have the power to change it. Do something different in order to get a different outcome. If you can identify a quality of what it is you want to change, consider what the opposite quality is and see if you can play with that.

If you are interested in learning more about these qualities and how you can bring more balance to your life, let’s chat! I love yoga therapy because we can impact the body, mind, emotions and spirit through movement, breath, meditation and developing a deeper awareness of yoga philosophy and Ayurveda and it has a ripple effect to all the other areas!

A Road Map to Authentic Living

The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical guidelines or a map that help us make choices that are supportive and growth oriented. This is a two part post on how we can use these guidelines to support us in finding more ease in our lives.

According to the Yoga Sutras there are 8 branches of yoga that when practiced is designed to help the practitioner live a deeper and more fulfilled life. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches, followed by asana – what we know as the yoga postures. So in sense we can think of the Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines for how to conduct our lives day to day which is more important than the physical movement practice. Asana came much later as a tool to help prepare the body for meditation.

There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. The Yamas are guidelines for how relate to our environment and other people. The Niyamas are guidelines for how we relate to ourselves.

Yamas:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence
  2. Satya: truthfulness
  3. Asteya: non-stealing
  4. Bramacharya: non-excess
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness

Today I want to explore the concepts of Ahimsa and Satya and how we might use these principles to step into a more authentic sense of being.

Ahimsa, or non-violence encompasses our ability to move through life with courage, compassion and love for ourselves and others. Satya, or truthfulness, goes intimately hand in hand with non-violence. To be truthful, asks us to live in a way where we express ourselves in a way that is real and authentic. It’s about expressing our needs in order to grow and act with integrity and purpose.

Ahimsa encourages us to be courageous, to be brave. Do something that scares you by taking a small step out of your comfort zone, in the name of personal growth. Small steps help us to grow our comfort zone while also maintaining a level of safety.  When we stay in our fear, we are small and limited, and are essentially harming our potential. Practicing compassion, forgiveness and being kind and loving towards ourselves, helps us to extend the same warmth towards others. We are really harder on ourselves than we are on our friends or family. Self-acceptance and learning to love all aspects of ourselves carries over into all other aspects of our life.

With Truthfulness we need to seek a balance between being “real” and being “nice”. We don’t have to sacrifice our needs to appear “nice” or perfect or helpful. Acting with integrity also prevents us from using our truth as a way of hurting someone else.

Satya also asks us to express ourselves. When we limit ourselves with shoulds or should nots (based on our beliefs or what we hear from others), redirects our attention to indulgence. We hide behind overworking or over-eating or over-exercising, rather than doing what we really want to do.

Satya asks us to grow! This might mean making changes to the group(s) we belong to. Look at how the environment of the people you interact with supports or conflicts with who and how you want be in the world. Speaking our truth  and acting on it, can be difficult at times. It requires courage. Sometimes the cost of our realness just seems too high. Be brave.

Have you ever had to reneg on a promise? Do you overextend yourself? Do you then avoid the person you agreed to help, because you just don’t have the time? What might life be like if you didn’t have to apologize or cancel or avoid? These things happen because we cheat the truth and then are left with messes to clean up. Being truthful with ourselves and what we can take on our plate grows us into someone who acts and speaks with integrity, someone who is reliable and trustworthy.

The compassion of non-violence keeps truthfulness from being a personal weapon. It reminds us to think about what we say and do and how it will impact those around us.

There are many ways we can use these Yamas in application to our life. We might look at these concepts and see how they show up in our lives and consider small things we can do to improve our relationships. A friend who went through a divorce last year, used the Yamas to support herself through those trying days, weeks and months. A colleague who wanted to live in a way that was more aligned with her values, use the Yamas to guide her choices. In my personal yoga therapy practice I reflect on one aspect of a Yama each week to grow my awareness and understanding of how I show up in the world so I can be more present with my family and my clients.

This week,  consider one aspect of Ahimsa or Satya that resonated with you and explore how it shows up in your life.

My Self-Care Story

Self-care is a hot topic that is getting a lot of attention in the news and social media right now. We know self-care is important but what is it really? Are you doing it right? How can you make the most of the little free time you already have? As I go through my yoga therapy studies and the evolution of my own practice my perceptions around self-care has changed and I want to share with you what I have learned.

In this blog post, I share my views on self-care, my daily routine and how I managed to have the best winter ever despite it being long, dark and cold, AND how self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive.

This Fall I will be hosting a day-long Self-Care workshop to help you design a self-care practice that will work for your lifestyle. You will also learn how you can be accountable to maintaining a self-care program that is supportive and nourishing to YOU!

What is self-care? In my experience, self-care is going to be different for everyone. There may be some similiarities and there will certainly be differences. For me, self-care is more than checking off an action on my to-do list. It is something that is becoming a lifestyle, a series of choices that I know are nourishing and supportive. What this is for me, may be completely different for you. And it didn’t happen overnight. It was as series of choices that have evolved over time. Things taken out of my life and things added. Let me share a couple of examples. There have been some toxic relationships that I had to let go of if I wanted to thrive and have a lifestyle that was free from drama and guilt. I cut out drinking alcohol because I didn’t like how it made me feel. I thought this was going to negatively impact my social life but it only made it better. Some things I’ve added: I’ve started to include some Ayurvedic dincharya practices into my morning and bedtime routines (learn more). Some things that evolved: my diet and how I practice yoga. These lifestyle choices nourish me, they help me sleep better, I have more energy, I handle stress better, I am better at my job. What works for me, might not work for you. Let me give you an example. Some people might find that playing with or petting a dog to be extremely comforting and relaxing. They find it re-energizing and supportive. Someone who is allergic to or afraid of dogs might find petting a dog extremely agitating and therefore not nourishing or supportive. This is why we need to assess what feels good for us, what is sustainable, and what is the outcome of the self-care practices we choose.

My experience of Ayurveda and self-care began in ernest last summer. I began integrating the Ayurvedic practices of Dinaycharya that I learned in my training. I gradually introduced these practices into my daily routines, with consistency. They are now a natural and organic part of my lifestyle.  What I noticed, and what I attribute to these practices is that I had a really excellent winter.

Let me explain:

Winter has always been a troubling season for me.

I get cold and stay cold and find myself shivering all the time. Going outside is extremely uncomfortable.  My happy place is piled under blankets with an electric heating pad.

The long dark days are depressing. No amount of Vitamin D could pull me out the seasonal funk.

I had no desire to go outside, to exercise, to be social. I literally hibernate.

Winter was a real struggle that never seemed to end.

Does this sound familiar? I also worked on going to bed by 10pm each night, waking up early every morning, eating at regular times during the day – which I still find challenging.  But what I took away from these seemingly benign practices was so much more than I though was possible. We can all agree that here in Ontario we had a long, cold winter. Everyone, and I mean literally everyone complained about how terrible winter had been, how long it felt, how there was an urgency for spring for to arrive. While, yes, it was long, this was the first year I didn’t feel negatively about it. I felt like I had weathered the winter well. The snow and the cold didn’t bother me the way it had in the past. I had energy to do more things and try new stuff.  I would even go so far as to say this was the best winter I’ve experienced. When I share this, people look at me dumbfounded. I don’t have any other explanation as to why I didn’t experience all the symptoms I typically do in the winter. When I considered what I was doing differently, it was my self-care routine.

If we want to experience to a different outcome in our lives – whether it’s how we feel, the outcome of our businesses or our relationships, we have to do something differently. Same actions, same outcome. New actions, different outcome. I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. I didn’t start this self-care routine thinking it was going to make my experience of winter better. I was curious. I was willing to try something new if there was potential that it could help me feel differently and in a very general way. There is very little time spent or cost associated with these practices.

I’ve also gained a deeper understanding of how I can create balance in my life. Balance does not mean more of something and less of something else. For me, balance is the outcome of how I am able to be with a situation without being thrown out of whack. It’s about how I relate to stressor or a bad driver or a negative comment. Balance is a state of being that you can cultivate when you are nourished from the inside out.

As a result of this self-care lifestyle that I have cultivated over time,  I have more clarity and awareness around how my diet impacts different aspects of my life. While winter was wonderful for me, I found there was some struggle going into spring, which sparked a new curiosity for me. What do I need to change during the winter, to support myself going into spring? Now I get to explore. Self-care in and of itself evolves and changes over time and for me, across seasons.

Through my yoga therapy training we learn a lot about Ayruveda and how we can support ourselves. In my physical yoga practice there are practices I can do that help me feel more grounded and supported when I feel unthethered. There are practices that are energizing or calming. Movement, breathing, and meditation all factor into my lifestyle and supports and nourishes me. These might look different everyday too.

Check out my earlier blog post about Dinacharya practices. If you’re curious, pick one or two that feel like they would be easy to incorporate, notice how it feels for you and go from there. If you want to introduce a movement, breathing or meditation practice into your life, let’s talk about ways I can support you to get started.

This Fall I will be running a day long self-care workshop that will explore a variety of self-care practices that you can build into your routine that is manageable and supportive. We will create individual plans to help you measure whether or not your self-care practices are supporting you. If you are not on my mailing list and you don’t want to miss out upcoming events and new blog posts, sign up today.

 

 

Sankalpa: Connecting to your deepest hearts longing

I just spent the last 16 days in Calgary. The first few days I went up to Banff with a childhood friend and we hiked up to the tea house at Lake Agnes at 2135 metres from  Lake Louise where I got to experience snow, rain and sunshine in the course of one morning. I also got to experience the challenges of hiking at an elevation and listening to what my body needed along the way and it was speaking loudly! At higher elevations and with slippery slopes I thought my insides were going to burst! Slowly, slowly one step at a time, and with help of shoe spikes, I finally felt into the rhythm and the flow of hike. The quiet and the stillness of the mountains reminded me of that quiet space that is available in me, whenever I slow down and listen to my own natural rhythms. From lakes to hot springs to waterfalls, peaks to plateaus, the mountains were exactly what I needed and I headed back to Calgary feeling rejuvenated.

Reunited with my 11 other trainees we spent the last 9.5 days tucked away in a yoga studio where we improved our capacity to see, grew our own practice, explored the practice of Sankalpa and spent days and days learning more about Rhythmic Movement Training and integrating reflexes.

Sankalpa is easiest to explain by what it is not. It is not a desire, it is not an affirmation or an intention. It is a true statement based on ones inner nature, our deepest hearts longing. It is what we are but have forgotten. We forget our wholeness and our ability to choose. We often feel stuck in the muck of life. Sankalpa means “truth-vow” – a sacred prayer of truth of who are already. When we have a Sankalpa it can guide how we act and creates a more comfortable space for creativity and imagination to arise. It brings us into being and stillness. Described in another way, it is the coming back to source, connecting with your wisdom keeper, being in the zone. These are the places where there is clarity, seeing all the information that is there and knowing what to do. We live in a culture that values the hustle and the thinking and the doing. Sankalpa invites us to to a quieter space so we can experience freedom, authenticity, ease, power, receptiveness, openness and wisdom. Doing things that don’t align with our inner nature are depleting and energy sapping. We can build our energy reserves, or in Ayurveda, our Ojas, when we become more aligned with our true selves. We can use our Sankalpa in Yoga Nidra practice, to interrupt negative self-talk, during conflict, in meditation, or simply in the background of our day to day lives. We always have choice.

Choosing a Sankalpa could simply be:  I AM.  I AM HERE is a statement and identification of choosing to be here, now. Being present. It is a reminder that we are a body with breath, a mind with thoughts and emotions and feelings. We are not lost in the past or worried about the future. Many beautiful Sankalpas arose this last week in my group, I AM BRAVE, I AM CAPABLE OF GIVING AND RECEIVING LOVE, I AM WORTHY. If you are curious about setting your own Sankalpa, start small with what you know is true. Remember, you always have choice. ❤

 

How Our Body Communicates – Creating More Ease in Business

Last time I explained about how our body speaks to us through whispers (yellow lights) and screams (red lights). Today let’s explore how we can take our experience into our work life.

Have you ever been to a yoga class where you came in tired and feeling like crap and left feeling great? At some point, as we go about our life, that feeling fades and we cycle back to feeling crappy again and we repeat.

When I work with my yoga therapy clients we seek to take that one or two steps further. I ask my clients to notice when this good feeling starts to fade. I ask, “When you notice – what are you doing?”

We can figure our yellow lights by noticing what is correlated to that change in feeling. A conversation might go like this:

Do you notice how at the end of the session you feel a bit brighter than earlier?

Do you notice that are standing taller now?

Can you feel the distinction between the two (standing taller vs feeling slumped; or feeling tired vs feeling energized)?

What becomes interesting is that if you notice when all this starts to fade you can start to catch the yellow lights. If you are someone who spends a lot of time in front of the computer or in the office, you can start to notice how the physical feeling of returning to your slump (opposite of standing tall) is related to how you are managing the business at work.

Think about this: how do you approach work when you are feeling bright and tall vs how you manage work when you are feeling tired and slumpy?

The business at work isn’t necessarily going to change or go away but what you can change is how you are with it. It’s like a yoga practice, you can push through the pain and develop tension in order to create a shape in a yoga pose (you’re with the pose in a strained relationship), or you can try smaller movements that are pain free (you’re with a pose in an easeful relationship) where you are nourishing a new way of being. [side note: you may have heard the phrase, how we are on the inside is a mirror of how we are on the outsideor how we do one thing is how we do everything– if you’re creating tension or pain in a yoga class you are likely doing the same thing at work and in your relationships. If you’re creating ease in your yoga practice, you have the ability to create ease at work and in your relationships.]

Now, when you leave the class or session, and you get back to work or whatever life requires of you, and then you notice you are doing a little bit of slumping, try maybe 1, 2 or 3 things so that you can shift up the slumping (maybe your teacher wrote out a program for you or you remember a pose that made you feel great) and then see how that shifts up how you are relating to the scenario at work. In my experience, when I feel strong and confident in my body, I relate to people and problems in a much different way, compared to when I felt tired and achy.

While I can’t fix you, I’m here to support you so that you can make the shifts to get to where you want to be. If you want to shift or change how you are feeling, you can’t keep doing everything the same as before. We can’t expect a different outcome if we keep doing the same things. Change requires different actions. My private sessions are a collaborative process where we work together to figure out what it is that you need so you can thrive in your life and at work. If this is something that resonates with you, I’d love to chat further to see how I can help.

 

 

How Our Body Communicates – Understanding Yellow Lights


I was giving a 10 minute presentation last week and I was talking about what yoga therapy is, what to expect in a session and the concept my teacher Susi describes as Yellow Lights.

This post is going to seek to explain what yellows lights are and how you can start to recognize them. My follow up post will describe an example of how you can translate your yoga experience into business/life.

A yellow light, much like a traffic light is a warning signal. It is something that is telling us to slow down because a red light (danger) is coming. The Yellow Lights concept is a key piece in the healing process if we want to have long lasting sustainable results. Sure, we can seek a quick fix solution where we feel good temporarily, but unless we can get to the underlying issues that are feeding the problem, we are going to stay stuck in the cycle of pain.

Imagine driving down the road and you see a road sign that says, “danger ahead” then a little while after, “road closed,” then, “caution” then “slow down,” then “STOP!” Each sign is a little bit bigger and clearer.

Now imagine that you ignore the signs and speed past them. You don’t stop on time and find your car teetering on the end of a cliff, or you go over the cliff altogether.

Like pain, it’s obviously not an ideal situation to be in. It’s going to take a whole lot of effort and intervention to get your car back up and over the cliff and back on the road than it would have been if you had listened to the signs.

Each sign is a yellow light. These yellow lights are warning you that something dangerous is coming up.

Another way to describe the yellow lights or warning signals is a whisper. In yoga therapy, I talk about how the body is constantly speaking to us. The warning signals are little whispers that are asking you to do something. When you ignore a whisper, it gets a little louder and more frequent. If you continue to blow past the whispers, they will become screams (the red lights) of pain or discomfort.

Our body is constantly giving us feedback. Everything, both inside of us and in our environment, creates a physiological response in our body. Our brain is constantly scanning our environment for safety and danger so it can respond accordingly. It provides information to our nervous system so we feel either relaxed and at ease or on high alert.  We see someone we like and we are filled with a sense of warmth. We hear our inbox ding and we are filled with dread. Our tummies rumble and we know we are hungry. Our knees twinge and we know if we keep going our knees will start to hurt then our hips and then our backs.

The twinge in the knee is a whisper (it’s time to slow down). The hip discomfort is a louder whisper (I told you to take a break). The excruciating back pain that doesn’t go way is a scream (you didn’t listen and now I’m forcing you to pay attention).

When we start to listen to our bodies’ language, we can start to decode and understand how it is communicating with us. The concept of the yellow lights helps us listen. We can use our bodies as a barometer to move towards things that make us feel safe and healthy and keep us away from things that invoke a sense of danger (interpreted as stress and pain). (side note: Pain scientist and researcher Lorimer Mosely from Australia talks about how Safety and Danger can modulate pain).

Listening to our bodies requires some quiet and stillness which can be really challenging because we live in a culture that values hustle and doing, pushing through, driving hard, and giving it our all. We end up ignoring our bodies innate intelligence about what we need because we are so busy chasing after something else. The awesome thing is, it can be learned. Our bodies never lie. Our minds will lie.  We know our minds play tricks on us but our bodies are pretty reliable in their feedback. This is why I love yoga therapy. It slows us down and provides opportunities to feel what is happening in the body.

Where we go from here may be different for everybody. Maybe our starting point is learning how to feel. As we go through a trajectory of movement, from point A to point B, consider what happens and what changes along the way.

Try this: notice what the soles of your feet feel like against the floor. Feel sensation in your hands. Notice what your breath is like (Is it fast/shallow, deep/slow? Are you holding your breath? Can you feel it in your chest? Can you feel it in your belly?).

We can begin to notice a lot just by paying attention to different parts of our body. Once we start to notice, we are growing our awareness, which is awesome, because we can’t change anything we aren’t aware of.

If you are interested in exploring your own red lights and yellow lights here is another way you can start to explore on your own.

  • Take note either mentally or make a list (I love lists because later we can go back and see what’s changed) of what your red lights are.
    • What is happening either physically (pain, headaches, stress, anxiety, fatigue, anger, irritability, insomnia, flare ups, etc) that you consider a scream or red light?
  • Then, and it may or may not be immediately apparent, start to notice what activities or events are correlated with the red lights.
    • Can you identify 1 or 2 yellow lights or whispers that lead up to or contribute to the problem?

The more yellow lights we can become aware of, the faster we can resolve the issue. When you recognize the whisper this is your opportunity to notice what red light is correlated to that yellow light and decide what you’re going to do so you don’t have to hear the scream if you were to continue along the same path.

Can you see how you will start to resolve the issue? If the pain or problem recurs, it just means you missed a yellow light, which is an opportunity for more noticing. It is a new layer of awareness that had become available to you. It’s another interesting data point that something else is contributing to the problem.

So cool right?! Sometimes it can be really challenging to identify the yellow lights if we are experiencing chronic pain. Yoga therapy can help you reduce the pain so you can find those correlating pieces as you work to build stamina around new movement patterns so pain eventually stays away.  If you need more support send me an email and I’d love to chat!

Stay tuned for part two, where I will guide you on how to use the yellow lights to make work more enjoyable.

A New Perspective on Successful New Years Resolutions

A long time ago I gave up on New Years Resolutions. They were pipe dreams with no plan, no direction. When we have big goals that we want to achieve in the year, it can actually be really overwhelming, and despite our best intentions, we end up abandoning resolutions and fall back into our familiar negative thought patterns and self-talk. Part of the problem with the word “resolution” is that it’s so negative. We resolve to give something up or take something unwanted out of our life. Starting with a mind set on the negative is setting ourselves up for failure at the outset.  We feel disconnected and thus stay disconnected from what we really want.  So, then I tried setting some intentions about what I wanted to manifest or create in my life but it still lacked direction and focus. Finally, this past year, with the help of yoga therapy I was able to gain more clarity and competency which led me to a new perspective in planning out my intentions for 2019.

This year my intention is to live with more ease. I’ve identified that to be happy, healthy and successful in my career and relationships I need to make cultivating ease a priority. I’ve asked myself, what does that look like? Sound like? Feel like? As I get really clear about what I want my day to day to be like, it gives me more information about what I need to do or stop doing in order to have that feeling. Creating ease in all aspects of my life is going to take a lot of work and a lot of courage so my strategy is “baby steps”.  Earlier in 2018 I established that In order to have more ease, I need to have a daily self-care routine. I started to slowly add to my daily practice this past summer and will continue to add and refine this year so that my self-care is a part of my lifestyle, rather than a to-do list item. I have more baby steps to take around diet, scheduling, study and work to grow the ease I experience everyday. The beauty of taking baby steps, is we start to recognize what really works for us, and what doesn’t. We gain more awareness. We can refine and adjust our course of action at any time. Success happens on a daily basis because each day is progress. A crazy out of focus week where I get off track, isn’t considered a set back. It’s a recognition that my load increased based on what was happening and it helps recognize where I need more support or where I need to build more bandwidth or stamina in my yoga practice or self-care routine.

If setting intentions are new to you, try going to a yoga class where the teacher invites you to set an intention for the hour practice. Or practice setting an intention for your day. It could be anything. In a yoga class, an intention could be paying attention your breathing, moving without pain, being open to a new perspective or noticing when negative thoughts arise. Intention setting is a skill that you practice until it becomes second nature. Let this be your first baby step.

As your new skill becomes a new habit, start incorporating something new or something more challenging until that also becomes routine. As your capacity grows, add more. If your goal is to develop a morning meditation practice, maybe you start by getting up 5 minutes earlier until it’s easy. Then add 5 more minutes and 5 more minutes. In a few months you’ll be getting up an hour earlier so you can do whatever it is you want or need to do in the morning. Building my Ayurvedic inspired self-care routine started with a couple activities that were easy and took very little time. Once those few things became established as a part of my normal routine, I was ready to add more. As I added, I also started to notice the benefits of these practices which inspired and encouraged me to do more because it brought more ease into my life.

If you want to run a marathon but have excruciating hip pain, your baby steps might include learning the habitual movement patterns that are keeping you in that cycle of pain. You might choose to work with a yoga therapist, to learn how to quiet the compensatory movements to move better. Then you’ll practice your homework to get out of pain and build stamina around your new movement patterns. Then as the pain goes away, perhaps you’ll start to run short distances that don’t increase pain. As your stamina and strength grow, you add more distance and more speed. One baby step at a time. The better you get, the better you get.

I struggled for a long time to get to the point where I could start doing the things I wanted to do and needed to do. I just didn’t have the energetic capacity to do the things in life that I wanted to do. I started working with a yoga therapist who helped me gain clarity and develop confidence and competency to be able to start taking baby steps in the direction I wanted to go. As my energy started to increase, I used my good days to do the hard things. The hard things turned into good things which increased my ease and my confidence and the better I got, the better I got. I really think that the culture of “hustling” is overrated. We push ourselves so hard because we think we have to.  I see so many people overburdened by their work, getting sick, burnt out, stressed, developing aches and pains because they are all hustle and fear of failure.  These folks no longer prioritize their health and miss out on the things they really want to do because they are doing what they think they should be doing.

We often get overwhelmed and discouraged by our  goals before we even get started. The gap between where we are and where we want to go can seem impossible to close. We also tend to have a tremendous ability to tolerate stuff because we think it’s normal or we think change isn’t possible. The truth is we can make change happen bit by bit. Sometimes we just need a little bit of support. Consider there is always another way. The work doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. It just takes a desire and willingness to make what you are tolerating intolerable. If this resonates with you and you want support to get started, or you desire a fresh perspective on how you can break those goals into baby steps, I’m happy to help. Connect with me via email or schedule a session with me.

Mindfulness Practices for the Holidays

Over the last few years I have been working on simplifying and amplifying my work and my life, focusing on what is essential to help me feel connected and whole. Part of this work has included getting to the core of what’s working and what’s not working.  What I have learned is when I truly honour what I’m feeling and allow those feelings to guide my choices, I am happier, my relationships are healthier and there is more clarity, more energy and more joy to spread around. The foundation of the work I do for myself and the work I share with others is rooted in mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a practice of growing awareness and developing presence. Why do this? Studies show that practicing mindfulness on a regular basis has a host of health benefits including helping to decrease stress, worry, pain and anxiety and improve sleep. When we are present and aware, we have more options, we move better, make better choices rather than being reactionary and our nervous system as an opportunity to help us heal. For a calmer, more relaxing holiday season I invite you to try these mindfulness practices as you go about your day.

3 Mindfulness practices for the holidays

  1. Breath: Take a minute or more to notice your breathing without trying to change your breath. Feel the inhale coming in. Feel the exhale going out. Be totally present to what each breath feels like and where you feel it the most in your body. Notice what it is that takes your attention away from your breath. (this is normal and expected. Just notice.)
  2. Body Scan: starting with your toes and working up towards your head, feel sensation in each part of the body without judgment or analysis. Some parts will be easier to feel than others. Some sensations will be stronger. Take your time and explore what is present at that moment. (add #1 afterwards if you have time).
  3. Presence: Throughout the day pause and notice sensation in your hands (palms, fingers and whole hand). Similarly notice sensation in the feet. Feel each separately, and both together. Notice how easily you can hold awareness of sensation of the hands and feet at the same time.

Have a great holiday!