Pay attention, to what?

Let’s look at a couple more practices you might consider to use in the evening. And why.

If you’re ever in a class or a private session with me you will hear me speak about the brain and the nervous system. Which might be unusual, when thinking about pain. Normally people will talk about tissue, bones, structure. Research over the last 10-20 years tells us pain is much more complex than the state of these ‘pieces of your body’.

Your brain, which kinda runs the show in terms of keeping you alive, is all about your survival. Which is a good thing. The problem is, it tells us something is up but it doesn’t always provide specifics or what we might do about sensation or messages we receive.

Whether physical health or mental health, however, your brain is looking out for your best interests. Which is why when you can’t seem to take your attention away from your pain, suffering, concerning thoughts or stressors, it makes sense when you think about it. It is drawing your attention, purposely to these things. It wants you to act in some way. To do something.

Sometimes, you might know what to do and choose to take action. It’s obvious. If you pick up a hot pan without gloves, your brain is saying you should have put potholders on prior to doing so. If you have a broken ankle, it is telling you to seek treatment and take some time to allow for healing. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, your brain – and subsequently your physiology – will send some kind of signal. You might feel motivated, mobilized, prepared and confident. Or you might feel anxious, butterflies in the stomach, strain in your jaw, neck or shoulders. In each, you receive information about your state of being concerning what is about to happen or what has occurred.

The number one thing pain or any other sensation you might feel in your body is trying to do, is to get you to listen. To get you to pay attention.

Usually working in the background without any of your awareness at all, the brain is constantly monitoring your physiology and making adjustments accordingly as required. It’s releasing hormones, sending messages to move certain muscles, signals that tell you when to eat, or sleep. It adjusts your blood pressure, regulates your temperature. Creates enzymes to digest your food. Tells you when to poop. Well, it does right?

The thing about pain, however, is it’s sending a message but often you can’t figure out what’s up. What you’re supposed to do. It’s hard, it takes time to figure it out. To explore what’s needed or right for you.

But back to this paying attention. What can you do when you’re in the thick of it? Particularly when you’re trying to sleep at night (and let me just add that the correlation between sleep and pain is huge).

How might you distract your brain, how might you shift your focus onto something else? At least for the time being. Well, there is a longer explanation that involves the Homunculus Man (above picture) but I won’t delve into it too much here. Rather, offer a couple practices you might like to try.

This, using the sounds SaTaNaMa was taught to me a couple years ago and it combines the rhythmic movement of your breath with the rhythmic movements of your jaw and fingers and rhythmic sounds. You can check it out here. I’ve had clients tell me it can be quite helpful when they are really in the thick of a painful experience/episode, flare-up. Or if you wake up in the night and immediately feel pain.

You might practice something like nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, for 5-10 minutes before bed. You can practice it sitting up if preferred but you might also do so when laying in bed (or if you wake in the night), using your fingers to close the nostrils. This practice also engages the hands, breath, the face (nose).

All these areas send a lot of sensory information to the brain. Your senses are used to take in information, that helps with your survival. Think about noxious toxins you might smell, seeing danger, touching something dangerous, your sense of taste in terms of toxins or allergens particular to you, hearing a predator in the distance. The brain pays particular attention to these areas so if you can engage the brain, have it pay attention to a ‘safe’ activity it might, just might, change your pain. Allow for some calming, easier breathing. Switch from a danger, or mobilized state in your nervous system to a more safe, restful place.

Or maybe you use one of the Apps available like Calm or Insight Timer that grabs your brain’s attention. Listen to some calming, soothing music. Or perhaps use the smell of an essential oil that for you, might trigger a response that it’s time to sleep and safe to do so.

Let me know if you give any of these a try and how it goes. I hope you find them useful in some way.

More than one thing

Taking a brief pause again until Monday, Dec 7th before offering up some evening practices. If you’ve been following along you might want to return to some of the daytime options below.

Nov. 23 What goes unnoticed

Nov. 24   Riding the waves

Nov. 26   Move. Maybe slowly, softly, gently

Nov. 27   Nourishment

Nov. 29   Re-store. Re-set. Re-new.

Nov. 30   Transitions

Or to the morning practice options as noted here.

Again, this is not to say you should be doing “ALL OF THE THINGS”. Particularly as some of THE THINGS likely won’t resonate or feel right for you in your life as it is today. We all have different lives, environments, needs, bodies, histories.

Which is why getting curious and exploratory can be useful rather than having someone tell you this is THE THING that will work for you. In my experience, if THE THING worked for everyone we wouldn’t have 1 in 4 people living with chronic pain, or so many other conditions or concerns. What if you’re told ‘just do this’ and it doesn’t work? Maybe you end up feeling like you failed in some way (once again), rather than perhaps it wasn’t what was right for you.

If you’d like the opportunity to work with me, I currently offer private 1:1 sessions. Stay tuned for new offerings coming your way in the New Year! Sign up on the yogatoolsforlife website, or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

Move. Maybe slowly, softly, gently.

All of this noticing, listening in to your body, your feelings and thoughts might provide some direction or suggestions in terms of movement for the day.

We were built to move yet it seems through all our modern conveniences we don’t have to do a lot of it these days. Like who can recall even having to get up to physically change the channel on the TV? Seems so long ago.

We’re told, we all know, we’re supposed to exercise for good health. That word, exercise, seems to have a negative connotation to it for many. These days, I tend to think of movement instead of exercise and try to frame it as something I get to do. And even not so much what I do as long as I DO SOMETHING.

Yet, especially for people who live with pain, even thinking about moving can be daunting. Often it seems to be the thing that aggravates or brings on their pain. I often wonder if people say, “Yoga, for pain? You must be kidding.” I get that. Particularly in the way yoga is portrayed throughout the media.

Yet, you might begin to move slowly. Softly, gently. You might even just imagine movement to begin with. Consider finding that felt sense of safety I spoke of here. If you can begin from your place of safety, it might just change things up for you.

Listening in to what you notice in your body can be a helpful guide. Today, you might feel unwell, fatigued or overwhelmed so choose do less in terms of movement. Or in ways that feel really easeful. If you happen to feel energized, or perhaps are feeling some anxiety it might feel good to move a lot! The important part is noticing the difference and and learning to respond in a way that best suits your needs.

In our culture, there is often just this push to do more. Not to rest. Conversely, that people aren’t trying hard enough. I wonder if we might just listen in and (re)learn what might be useful to each individual in any given moment, rather than what is often the expectations and judgements placed upon them.

What might serve you best in this moment? On this day?

Riding the Waves

I can imagine it is difficult these days to feel safe. Find stable ground.

Creating a sense of safety for yourself, like anything, will be unique to you based on your life, your history, experience or environment. Now more than ever, probably a challenge.

For me, getting close to the ground helps. That is, literally. close to the ground. Sitting on the floor with lots of support below helps me to feel secure. Find stability. Another way for me is to find something familiar. That might be my breath. Noticing each inhale, each exhale. Yet for someone who is asthmatic or perhaps experiences anxiety, focusing on the breath might not be ‘the thing’.

Maybe it’s sitting next to your dog, or cat. Perhaps feeling the rhythm of their breath, their purring helps calm your nervous system. Providing that felt sense of safety. We often do that with those we love and care for. Just ‘being with’ them, sitting next to, holding each other’s gaze. Hearing a soft familiar voice might be soothing.

What is helpful to you? You might want to notice that during your day. And if you feel safe, how do you know that? What do you notice or feel in your body? Maybe your breath is long and slow, your muscles soft and relaxed. Your heart rate or blood pressure isn’t noticeable.

If you’re finding it hard to notice, try the opposite. It might be a different experience and one not always welcome but what do you feel, when you’re not safe? How do you know that? Where do you feel it? Hard to breathe, muscles tense, heart beating fast, sweaty palms?

What do you notice about your pain, in either of these states? Or your emotions, thoughts? It might be something worthwhile exploring, during your days. Having an anchor, a place or practice to go to when it feels like these big waves keep crashing down one after another, relentless at times, can be useful.

Hopefully the days will become more certain in the months to come, but it the meantime, this might be a useful practice to cultivate.

#dailypractice #daytime #safety #grounding #stability #breath #waves #uncertainty

What goes unnoticed?

It surely does not look like this out my window today. I have yet to venture out into the snow that landed over night but I will at some point. You see, I find great pleasure in being outside in the fresh, crisp air but also as nature helps me with the practice of noticing the subtle, or smallest things.

Which can be really helpful if you’re someone who lives with pain.

If we understand pain to be a protective system, it makes total sense that pain wants your attention. The most important thing for your brain to focus on ALL DAY LONG long is keeping you safe and alive. Top priority. Your brain is constantly monitoring all the systems in the body, slowing things down, speeding things up, secreting hormones and enzymes, adjusting the nervous system to respond to what is required in any given moment. Telling you when to sleep, to drink, to eat, to move. Providing messages, clues.

Throughout the day you may notice when you are in pain. For some people this may be, or feel like, it’s all day long. 24/7. But I suspect for many there are times when you don’t feel pain. Moments, minutes or days perhaps.

I wonder if you might notice when you don’t experience pain.

I invite you to notice those moments. And get curious. Why, perhaps, are you not experiencing pain just now? This practice of noticing, provides clues.

What makes your day, your life, feel more easeful? Safe, perhaps. Comfortable, pleasurable. Less painful.

Spend some time, noticing that. I’d love to hear how it goes.

If this is something you’re interested in exploring, I offer private 1:1 sessions via Zoom. Click here, for more information or arrange for a free 15-min conversation.

#daytimepractice #daytime #noticing #painsystem #chronicpain #easeful #comfort #pleasure

Ease, into morning

Hard to imagine what it felt like so long ago… sitting through a long-haul flight, train ride or long drive to go visit far off friends, in far off places. I’m sure so many, miss it a lot. Yet at the same time the trip itself may have been uncomfortable. Feeling constrained. Unbearable at times. You might get a sense of a similar feeling sitting through endless zoom meetings, or just cooped-up wherever you find yourself most of the day.

You might feel stiff. Sore. Boxed in. If you’re a little older like me, it may take more time or effort to get moving easefully after a long bout of inactivity.  

The same might be said when waking from sleep in the morning. Unless you happen to be a big mover while you sleep, I wonder if you’re rather stationary for the most part? If so, what might be a nourishing way to move your body before getting out of bed?

How might you make the transition from laying in bed to being upright in gravity, a little more easeful?

Come along for this short movement practice. Some of which you may like, some of which you may not. But it might inspire you to move just a little…  making the transition from stillness to mobility, ready to begin the day.

I DON’T DO ALL THESE THINGS.

Yet, as a minimum, I do a few movements with my feet. They are where I tend to hold tension so I like to give them some time, space and gentle movement before I step into the day. It seems to be a good thing.  

What might you notice, what might feel Just Right, For You?

#morningpractice #mornings #move #gentlemovement #wrists #hands #arms #legs #feet, #ankles #time #space #goslow #startsmall #JRFU #JustRightForYou #yogatherapy #yogatoolsforlife

Pause, notice

Next week we’ll move on to practices you might consider during your day but today is another morning practice, a check-in. Something to consider, explore.

Before getting out of bed,… pause

What do you notice in your body? What do you feel? How do you feel?

Based on that, what might be your intention going forward for the day?

Do you feel tired? Perhaps that means a day of more rest. Doing just a little. Taking it easy and giving yourself a break from all you had planned. Maybe, do less.

Do you feel pretty good? Well rested? Maybe this will be a day you have more energy, less pain. What might that mean for you today?

Maybe you decide to sit and meditate for a few minutes. Prayer, may be a practice that is helpful to you. Reading a poem, might make sense to you. It might be through meditation, prayer or reading you gain some insight into how you feel.

You might still be unsure.

Feelings can be difficult to figure out. What tells you, you’re feeling depleted? Or rested? Or anxious, stressed out? Energized?

What do you feel in your body and where do you feel it? For many reasons we tend to spend a lot of time in our head, mind, with our thoughts. Listening to the signals and sensations of your body, might provide some other clues. For instance, how do you know you’re thirsty? Hungry? Tired? In love?

Tomorrow we’ll add in some movement which is another way in, to this noticing.

Reaching Out

Whew.

Maybe like me, you feel like the last little while has been really hard. This coming back to further restrictions, schools opening up again, the looming winter ahead (where I live) and just the overall increased stress and uncertainty about a whole lot of things, that are likely different for each of us.

I haven’t had much energy for anything other than basic day-to-day stuff and getting outside, which is now a ‘must do’ in my day. Not much else in terms of creating content, writing, connecting with many people outside my teeny tiny circle.

Perhaps this morning it is the cold air, light snow falling and heavy winds that blew in last night that are providing a push to get moving again.  Rather than feeling quiet and contained, I feel a little more prepared to reach out, like these trees. Partially uncovered and extending.

Back in the spring I ran my first online program called Just Right, For You. Part of it was bringing awareness to the many things we do in a day. What nourishes us. What depletes us. What might be needed at any given time, on any particular day and responding to that in some way. Looking at the patterns and habits we have formed over a lifetime and noticing if they serve us well, or maybe changing them up a little might be useful.

What I’d like to do this month, each day, is offer some of the tools and practices explored in the program to consider. Try them out. See if they ring true for you, or not. Definitely not to do ‘all the things’ but rather just a few. Start small. Go slow.

What feels right for me, might not at all feel what’s Just Right, For You.

Which is often why providing someone ‘a simple fix‘ for overall wellbeing, pain, sleep issues, maybe just navigating this wild, world of ours doesn’t seem to work. I have found in working with people, and for myself personally, that what might be right and true is very individual. Personal. My life is probably nothing like your life. What’s that new covid-related saying? “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.”

So, follow along if you’re interested. I’ll be posting on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #JRFU, #JustRightForYou, #dailypractice, #startsmall, #goslow. My hope is these practices will be of benefit to you in some way and that we can remain connected. We’ll begin tomorrow.

We are surely in it

A sense of connection.

The opportunity to be seen, heard, acknowledged. Understood.

Having some agency, a sense of control over what is happening in your life.

The ability to move around in the world. To get up and down, tend to daily tasks at hand.

Do what brings you joy, pleasure.

Nourishes you.

Touch.

To experience community.

Reliability.

Freedom.

Independence.

I can imagine that many of these bring up some kind of sensation in your body as you read through the list. So many we take for granted.

I have a sense you may be missing a few, maybe a lot of these. Feeling loss or grief.

I know I am.

It’s not gone unnoticed by me that many of these are already experienced by the people I see, those I help to support through my work. It is not uncommon for people who have lived with chronic pain, often for years, to feel this sense of isolation, the loss of freedoms, work, connection with others. Well, there is a lot.

This came up up front and center when the hardest hit in our communities were those living in senior or extended care centers. They were already living in such a manner. Already in it.

Many others living with health concerns, disability, low socioeconomic status, new immigrants to our country have this as a part of their ‘normal life’. Not COVID life.

I don’t have the answers but my hope is that we bring some awareness to these issues, some path forward for the long term. Not just now.

Everyone waiting for things to get back to normal. Talk today of vaccines and yes, one can hardly wait. There is so much on hold at the moment. Much fear, uncertainty. I can feel that. Sense that.

But might we also learn from and change in some way, what is often normal for many.

Think back to when this first began and the heightened state of everyone around you. I can surely remember what it felt like walking through the grocery store as everyone was scrambling for Lysol wipes and toilet tissuse. Nervous systems all on high alert, seeking some sense of security and groundedness.

Perhaps we can begin to imagine what that feels like for so many when these big life events or ‘transitions’ happen. Injury, illness, aging, loss, grief. Can we learn ways to help with that, to sit with that, bring some care and ease to the person in need.

We’re all going to be there at some point.

Something will happen. If not before, we will grow old. We will struggle. Lose independence. Freedom. Ability to do things.

Might we provide for, care for, those who are already ‘in it’.

Life is hard, stressful. No doubt about it.

I can recall in an instant what it felt like when I was in a car accident just about this time two years ago. As I think about it my breath becomes short, my heart rate increases a little, I get emotional, my body tenses up almost like I’m experiencing the impact all over again. In fact just seeing a ‘deer crossing’ sign still brings about this response in my body.

I can also imagine another experience. At the same time two summers ago, I was with a group of friends… enjoying days in the sunshine, swimming in the river after a most nourishing lunch. What I notice in my body when I think about this experience is the opposite to what’s described above. Ease of breath, smiling, relaxed, heart slow and feeling all warm and fuzzy.

This happens even as I IMAGINE these two contrasting events. Interesting how my body responds and my actual physiology changes. My breath, heart rate, blood pressure, emotions, etc.

Consider how your physiology might change through the day due to various experiences, thoughts, emotions, conversations, demands that make up your daily routine.

Our body, brain, nervous system is so wise. It helps us to navigate the world around us, keeps us safe and alive, regulates all the systems within our selves. Takes in information external to us through our senses, responds to all the internal information received in our body at the same time. A rather smart organism. I am most grateful that it does all of this automatically that I don’t even have to think about it. Nope. I don’t have to remember to breathe, or make my heart pump somehow, or organize the digestion of my food.

But this not thinking about it, not noticing, or paying attention might not always be helpful.

For instance, if I ignore the fact that I’m really thirsty on these hot summer days we’ve been having where I live, I might become dehydrated. Or if I don’t pay attention to the sensations that tell me it’s time to rest, I may become over tired and become careless, not able to learn, deplete my body’s innate need to rest and replenish all these wondrous systems.

I may not notice a stress response I seem to be ‘in’ all the time. I might not easily move into a different one (parasympathetic response) one where I can rest, sleep, where my heart rate and blood pressure lower, digest my food. I might have elevated stress hormones constantly floating around in my system, thinking it needs to help ‘fight and protect’ me from something. Inflammation might occur. And on, it goes.

Life is hard. Life is stressful. No doubt about it.

What might help is to learn to recognize the signals this wise body is giving us and responding some way. How we might move into action when needed, like if I am in a car accident or if I need to change my business model due to this pandemic we’re experiencing. Or how we might move into deep rest when needed. So we can sleep. Digest our food. Help influence or decrease inflammation. Navigate with some fluidity, between the two responses.

And how might a stress response, impact our experience of pain?  Can we respond in some way when noticing this? Our response might be to change something. It may be to just notice. It might be to extend ourselves some compassion, knowing these are challenging times. The first step though, is the awareness that it’s happening at all. The listening in, paying attention.

Curious to explore this a little more? Might it be helpful to learn how you might have some influence over these systems?

Creating New Pathways: change your pain, change your life begins tomorrow. I would love to have you to join us.