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!

Yoga Rehab

yoga rehab photoPain doesn’t have to be a normal part of everyday life. When we learn how to effectively improve the function of our shoulders and hips we perform better in our athletic endeavours, we can chase after our kids with more ease and life becomes more enjoyable.

After the success of my first two Pain Clinic Workshops for hip and shoulders I’ve decided to offer a combo class specifically for yoga teachers, fitness instructors and students to learn the skills to get out of pain, improve the function of their hips and shoulders so they can feel great and get back to the activities that they love or even to excel at the activities they already enjoy.

Often times as a teacher, we see our students or clients struggle or hit a road block in their progress due to pain, injury, or lack of range of motion. As a teacher do you notice your clients cringing in pain? Struggling to breathe or holding their breath in a posture or exercise? Finding excuses? Cancelling appointments? Afraid to re-injure themselves?

Learn the skills to move better without pain, nurture relaxation and move optimally with stability and ease.

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

My next workshop is called Yoga Rehab and it will be held Saturday, March 25th at Leslieville Sanctuary 1:30-3:30pm. Cost is $45 + hst. Participants will receive a handout and free practice video.

Contact me to register or ask a question.

Myths about Injury, Pain, Ache and Strain & The Truths of Healing – Part 2

Tree Handstand VariationIs my last article I discussed Susi Hately’s* 5 myths about pain and truths about healing. Here are 5 more to convince you that life without pain is entirely possible. It is all up to you.

Healing from pain should be a multi-disciplinary team effort. Going to just one healthcare/wellness practitioner may provide some ease from the discomfort but the pain keeps returning.  Often what we fail to realize is that the problem doesn’t lie in the same place that feel the pain. Restriction through the hips can be the source of knee or ankle pain for example. Elbow or wrist pain from the shoulder blades. That being said, to address the issue of pain is to treat the whole person, not just the “spot” of pain.

Along with your yoga therapist you may wish to see your chiropractor to relieve subluxations, massage therapy to relax and calm the muscles, physio, osteo, acupuncturist, naturopath, aromatherapist, reiki, healing waters,  etc. Diet too, is often overlooked when it comes to the healing process of physical pain. The food that we consume can impact how we think, feel and act. It is important that you also take this into consideration and get tested for food allergies (I won’t go any further into this today).

Here are 5 more myths about pain the truths of healing:

Sixth Myth: Acheyness is normal.

Sixth Truth: Physiologically, yes, it is. And, it doesn’t have to be a normal part of your life.

 

Seventh Myth: Being achey is a part of yoga.

Seventh Truth: Nope. Ease is part of yoga.

 

Eighth Myth: Pulling the shoulders back, belly in and chin in/back is part of improving posture.

Eighth Truth: A well-functioning body surrenders upward. This creates a calm, steady, and strong posture.

 

Ninth Myth: Once pain is there, it will never be resolved.

Ninth Truth: Tissue can change. It is a matter of listening and being aware and then acting on what you hear and perceive.

 

Tenth Myth: Pain is just a way of life.

Tenth Truth: For now, maybe. And if there is a compelling reason for change, and the right professional/team of professionals to guide you, anything can change.

When you work with me in rehabilitative yoga, I can refer you to excellent healthcare/wellness providers in Toronto to help you get out of pain fast.

(*Myths published by Susi Hately – Functional Synergy)

Myths about Injury, Pain, Ache and Strain & The Truths of Healing

TrikonasanaI’m going to let you in on a secret. Tell everyone. Seriously. You can live pain free and it’s super easy!

Often in conversation, whether it is in a yoga class or a passing conversation, I hear resignation to pain caused by injury, illness or stress. As a society we have taught ourselves to accept our physical imbalances, our fatigue, chronic stress, rigidity and tightness in the body, and our inability to move in the same way we did when we were younger. All these things I have just listed do not have to be your reality, despite what you think or may have been told.

After I was in a car accident in 2008. I thought I would have to live with at least a certain level of back pain for the rest of my life, despite my regular yoga practice and chiropractor visits. After studying therapeutic yoga with Susi Hately, I learned that I could have a pain free/discomfort free life. So let’s get clear on  some of they myths of injury/pain/ache/strain and the truths of healing.*

First myth: Pain is part of getting older.
First truth: Tissue can change and function can improve at any age. It all depends on the stimulus you give it.

Second myth: Nothing has worked.
Second truth: Nothing has worked, yet.

Third myth: Feeling pain means being overwhelmed by pain.
Third truth: By learning to move in a range that doesn’t increase pain, your pain will decrease.

Fourth myth: It took 40 plus years to create this problem, it will take a long time to resolve it.
Fourth truth: If your reason for resolving the issue is compelling enough, the speed of healing can be quite mind blowing.

Fifth myth: True change is impossible.
Fifth myth: True change is entirely possible. The first and second steps are awareness and self-care.

If these myths are resonating with you, consider getting in touch with me to chat about how I can customize a program specifically for you.

Pain Clinic workshops will be coming soon. Stay tuned for more details. Contact me to be added to my newsletter or to schedule a consultation or class.

(*Myths published by Susi Hately – Functional Synergy)