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. ❤

 

Breathing for Stress and Anxiety

Yoga_Photoshoot_Hany_easy pose 2Wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you could flip a switch and all your stress and anxiety would just go away? There are many different strategies we can employ such as going to a yoga class, getting a massage, meditating, being in nature or exercising. These are all wonderful things that we can do that will help. These all require finding time and going somewhere to do it. However, there is one more tool that we can use at any time no matter where you are. That is your breath.

Many of us who practice yoga or any of the above activites have gotten a glimpse of the switch that leaves us feeling, calm, relaxed and at peace. Unfortunately these feelings are fleeting, stressors find their way back into the limelight and it leaves us wanting without knowing how to get it back.

The answer lies not just in our breath, but how we breathe and the mindfulness that arises from this awareness. After years and years, dare I say decades of stress, years of being on anxiety medication and then the death of my mom, I stumbled across a doctor who told me I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath. I was certainly taken aback by this observation and it was turning point for me. Albeit slow, the process brought me to where I am today and now I want to share the skills with you so you can reap the benefits now and not years down the road.

Breathing is important for two reasons. One, it brings oxygen to our blood and two, oxygenated blood helps to heal our tissues. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we have unconsciously learned a disordered way of breathing that is fast and shallow, that limits the flow of oxygen into our bloodstream. As a result, we are not taking in sufficient oxygen or able to expel sufficient carbon dioxide. Reduced lung function reduces our vitality, ages us prematurely, lowers are immune function, etc. So not only does breathing impact our cardiovascular system, but it also effects the respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems. So you can see how important optimal breathing is for our overall functioning.

When we re-learn how to breath optimally we begin the healing process and improve our ability to cope with stressors.

We can also begin to experience these benefits for the long term:

  • Less respiratory problems, stronger heart by reducing it’s workload
  • Relaxes body and the mind
  • Improves the health of the nervous system, including brain, spinal cord, nerve centres and nerves.
  • It has an effect on your sleep, your memory, energy level and concentration.
  • Aids in digestion and elimination. Assists in weight control. Oxygen helps burn up excess fat more efficiently.
  • More oxygen in the blood means better complexion, fewer wrinkles, more energy, clarity for the mind, positive thinking, supports vision and hearing.
  • Rejuvenates muscle and organ functioning. Lack of oxygen to cells is a major contributing factor to cancer, heart disease and strokes

Why Do We Breath Fast + Shallow?

Let’s face it, our lifestyles often dictate that we are in a hurry most of the time. Our movements and breathing follow this pattern. Perhaps you have noticed in your yoga practice how your mind and body mirror each other. The increasing stress of modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply. Other reasons could be related to negative emotional states, reduced physical activity,  environmental pollution and even our culture (the desire for an attractive flat stomach results in gripping and holding of the abdominals. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.)

Medical journals suggest that fast, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heart burn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain, and heart palpitations.

Disordered Breathing Patterns

In addition to fast, shallow breathing, you might resort to chest breathing which is a habitual pattern failing to fully exhale and inhale. Other disordered patterns include mouth breathing, breath holding and hyperventilating.  When the sympathetic nervous system is switched on all the time, it can lead to changes in anxiety, blood pH, muscle tone, pain threshold, to only name a few. Overuse of accessory breathing muscles can lead to neck and shoulder pain/dysfunction and could even mimic cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.

Typical symptoms of disorder breathing can include:

  • Frequent sighing and yawning
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Erratic heartbeats
  • Feeling anxious and uptight
  • Pins and needles
  • Upset gut/nausea
  • Clammy hands
  • Chest Pains
  • Shattered confidence
  • Tired all the time
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • Dizzy spells or feeling spaced out
  • Irritability or hypervigilance
  • Feeling of ‘air hunger’
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Back pain. Research suggests there is correlation between breathing pattern disorders and low back pain.

Our reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing our susceptibility to colds and illnesses. The build up of stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

We can learn to use our breath as one tool to down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system and up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system that helps the body rest, digest and recover.  The body is designed to spend the majority of its time in the parasympathetic nervous system.  Ideally, it only uses the sympathetic nervous system for true life-threatening emergencies.

To learn how to optimize your breathing to reduce stress register for my Breathing for Stress and Anxiety workshop May 20, 2017 at Leslieville Sanctuary. These are skills that you take with you in the car, at work and play. This workshop is appropriate for kids, teens and adults. No yoga experience is required.

To find out how you can host a Breathing Workshop for Stress and Anxiety at your workplace contact me for details.

Developing Your Mindfulness Practice – Part 7

Yoga_Micheal_easy pose lower bodyIt’s not always happiness and joy felt this time of year. The holidays are often a time of increased stress and anxiety. For others it could be loneliness and sadness. We all experience pain at some point in our lives. This week is the final instalment of my blog series of simple mindfulness practices. After today, I encourage you to keep practicing a little bit a time until it becomes habit. A little by little you will begin to see these mindfulness practices filter into different parts of your life and you will feel great! Today’s practice is an extension on the mindful breathing exercises.

Mindfulness Practice 7:

Melt away __discomfort__ (insert your choice: stress, anxiety, fear, panic, pain, etc)

When you experience  any kinds of discomfort, it is obviously uncomfortable and we want it to go away. Discomfort can come in many shapes and sizes and can be experienced in different ways by different people. For example, anxiety or stress might manifest itself as unwanted thoughts, tightness in your chest or stomach pain. Using our skills as an observer, we can learn to melt our discomfort away, by meeting it head-on.

  • Step 1: recognize the pain/discomfort and label it, eg. “anxiety”.
  • Step 2: breath into that anxiety. Know that it is happening, feel it, be curious about it – how is effecting how your heart feels, how your belly feels, how your chest feels, how your head feels, how does it feel when you begin to breath deeply and slowly. Breath into the most intense discomfort and stay with it for as long as you can.
  • Step 3: be kind to yourself. Recognize that many other people in the world also experience this type of pain/discomfort. Allow yourself to work through the process. The pain/discomfort is not something that is happening to you, it is something you are experiencing and it is your choice how you relate to it.
  • Step 4: As you observe your breath and your discomfort, witness what happens to it. You are in control.

If you have any questions for concerns about your mindfulness practice, or if you would like to share how these practices have influenced you, contact me. I would love to hear your story and try to answer your questions.

Namaste,

Lindsay