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!

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.