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.

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!

Toilet Meditation

As I mentioned at the beginning of my 3 part series on Ayurveda routines for better health that I would share my colleague Shelly Prosko‘s Toilet Mediation with you. Shelly is pelvic floor physiotherapist and yoga therapist.

Whether you are a yogi or not, you’ve probably heard of the benefits of mindfulness. We try to mindful with our words when speaking to our kids or colleagues. We think carefully about what we choose to eat, how we spend our time, etc. We practice mindfulness in our everyday activities so why not when we toilet?

First of all, how we position ourselves is important. You want to have your knees higher than your hips. To do so you can purchase a squatty potty  or bring your feet onto yoga blocks or a small garbage can. This is a better position for elimination and helps to release pelvic floor muscles.

Shelly shares an acronym called A.I.R.B.A.G. – use this acronym the next time you toilet:

AAwareness: start by feeling your feet on the floor, feel your pubic bone, sit bones, tailbone. Become aware of any physical sensations you are feeling – in your belly, low back, spine, do a quick scan of your arms, are you clenching neck, jaw, eyes?

IImagination: next, visualize your pelvic floor and the muscles that connect your pubic bone to your sit bones and tail bone at the back.

RRelease/relax: see if you can let go of tension. Notice if holding anything.

BBreathe: become aware of how you’re breathing. You don’t need to change it. Notice how your body is moving with breath. Go back to imagining the pelvic floor – visualize how it moves as you breathe – descends/widens as you inhale, recoils back up on exhale.

AAllow: without straining or pushing. Notice if more needs to come out. Surrender and trust, let go. Trust that your body knows what it needs to do. Do you need to activate or push a little bit without straining? Stay with your breath, revisit the other letters.

GGratitude: when you’re finished, take a moment to send some gratitude to your body for the amazing, sophisticated system that just did some work.

If you have difficulties eliminating daily, consult an Ayurvedic counsellor or Naturopathic doctor. Our diet and exercise can have a huge impact on how well our entire digestive and elimination systems work together. As a yoga therapist I can help you address physical limitations that lead to tension or tightness or holding patterns. You can schedule a session with me at Living Waters Therapies.

 

Private Yoga Downtown Toronto

From February 13-16, 2018 I will be teaching private sessions at The Coach House at 7 Admiral Road in the Annex. 

Schedule:

Tuesday (Feb 13): 11am – 3pm

Wednesday (Feb 14): 2pm – 7pm

Thursday (Feb 15): 11am – 3pm

Friday (Feb 16): 1pm – 6pm

Sign up now for a one hour introductory session and find out how rehabilitative yoga can change how you move, how you relate to your body, and unlock your healing potential for long-term sustainable results.

Yoga Rehab: Workshop for Back Pain

yoga rehab photoPain and discomfort doesn’t have to be a normal part of everyday life. Yoga Rehab is designed for yogis, those new to yoga and anyone who is curious. The aim is to help you live a more functional, effective and strain-free way that is unique to your goals. My principles of movement will help you get stronger and build more stamina, flexibility and balance without pain, strain or tension.

What can I expect in these workshops? You will learn simple (but not necessarily easy) movements that will help improve mobility and decrease pain. For yogis, you will discover a whole new perspective on movement and take your practice to the next level! There will be a focus on breath work, mindfulness and developing body awareness woven throughout the workshop. This is not a typical yoga class so yoga experience is not required.

When we move better, we feel better and we can enjoy life more.

My next 2 workshops are called Yoga Rehab and it will be held Saturday, September 30th and October 14th at McMaster Fitness 2-4pm. Cost is $45 + hst. Participants will receive a handout and free practice video.

Contact me to register or ask a question.

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.

Innergy Corporate Yoga’s newest Corporate Class – Yoga Refresh

Business woman doing yoga at the office; Shutterstock ID 128038109; PO: aol; Job: production; Client: drone

Yoga Refresh is the newest offering from Innergy Corporate Yoga for busy people with limited office space. This customized program is the solution to all your office woes. No special space is required. There is no need to change clothes. No yoga mats are necessary. Plus, it is perfect for absolute beginners.

All you need is 15-60 minutes and an interest in trying yoga at work. Now you can refresh and de-stress at the office and feel great for the rest of your day.

Contact me for a complimentary consultation on how Yoga Refresh can work for your office.

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

Developing Your Mindfulness Practice – Part 4

IMG_1628This week we will learn a walking meditation. You can do this while you walk to and from your car, take the dog for a walk or during your lunch break. Try to pick a time where you can do it at the same time everyday. Over time you can make your walk longer.

Mindfulness Practice:

Walking Mindfulness Meditation

  • To begin your walk, slow down your pace. With awareness of each step you take, step your foot heel to toe, feeling the entire foot making contact with the Earth. It might begin to feel like you are getting a nice foot massage!
  • With each step you take you can recite to yourself a mantra like, “Thank you.” (Heel touches down “thank”, ball of foot touches down “you”-repeat with each foot and each step you take).
  • Breathe deeply while you walk, try to relax the muscles in your body and your face, walking with a light step.
  • Notice how this exercise makes you feel. If you have started a Mindfulness journal, jot it down with today’s date.

By expressing gratitude for each step, you are recognizing your ability to walk and move easefully through space. You might notice that you don’t have any injuries or pain that restricts movement, that your arms swing freely, etc. Focus on the feet and the movement.

Other options: another mantra, may simple be “right, left” or “stepping”

Don’t forget to make a quick note in your mindfulness journal about your experience today. How did this experience make you feel compared to sitting and breathing?

Namaste,

Lindsay

Developing Your Mindfulness Practice – Part 3

offeringWelcome to part 3 of developing your mindfulness practice. So far we have learned a simple breathing exercise and body scan. This week we are going to add on to the first breathing exercise. This practice requires 2-5 minutes of your time. Spend about 2 minutes on Breathing Exercise 1 to centre yourself.

Mindfulness Exercise 3:

Breathing Exercise 2

  • Find a comfortable seat. Begin Breathing Exercise 1 and then stop saying “inhale/exhale.” Simply sit quietly and focus on the breath. Try to sit as still as possible.
  • When a thought arises label it “thought” and go back to breathing. If a body sensation arises such a cramp/tingle/pain/ache/itch, label it “cramp/tingle/pain/etc” and go back to breathing.
  • At the beginning your experience might be this: Breathing….”thought”, breathing, “thought” “thought thought thought, breathing thought thought thought…..”

It is completely normal to think, however, try not to attach any significance to this. It is what it is. Over time and with practice, you might begin to notice this: “breathing, breathing, breathing, thought, breathing, breathing, breathing, thought”. The space between thoughts that arise gets longer. With practice you can start to become aware of the thoughts that arise. Is it a different unrelated thought each time, or are the thoughts that arise the same or are they related to a theme? Try not think of “thinking” as something negative or unwanted and try not to attach any meaning to the thoughts that do come up. We want to break the habit of over analyzing our thoughts and just let them come and go. There is no destination, it is about the Process.

In your journal, make a note about how you felt during this practice. What did you witness?

Namaste,

Lindsay