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.