Sense Making

ballpen blank desk journal
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How do you make sense of your days? Of what’s happening in and around you.

You might be someone who writes in a journal.

Either early morning, or late at night. I’ve recently heard of a thing called Morning Pages which I understand are meant to clear your mind, “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”  Or perhaps, as the creator says, they “could be called mourning pages as they are really a farewell to life as you knew it and an introduction to life as it’s going to be.”

I’m not a journal writer but I do write a lot of notes. I learn best when reading and writing on paper. I (attempt to) figure things out that way. Most often it’s not in the morning when I write. Sometimes, it is in the middle of the night (more on that later). Regardless, it does seem helpful to empty out or (try to) make sense of what is occupying the mind.

Might a sitting or meditation practice, be useful?

I sit for a few minutes each morning, and well, whatever happens, happens. Most often, for about 5 to 10 minutes. I notice my breath, find a place to focus and just sit with that for a bit. I feel into my body. Notice how I might find support in gravity. Allow myself to be comfortable. Some days that may appear to be very still. Other days I shift quite a bit. I subtly move my spine, my legs, whatever.

This short little practice seems to make some sense for me at the moment. Helps me find some ground, stability and space to navigate through the uncertainty of these days.

You may appreciate the practice of prayer.

It might be the way you prefer to begin (and/or end) the day.

Practices and rituals allow us time and space to consider, wonder, be curious. Make sense of things, or perhaps support us in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

When much seems beyond our control it might be helpful to consider, make sense of what we value most. What matters most?

I think this can be useful practice. What’s most important. The world around us will surely change and challenge us constantly, but maybe focusing on the simple things we might value like care, communication, community, and connecting with others might make the most sense, for now. Maybe for you it is being outside. Truth-finding. Helping others. Maybe it’s just this getting up each day… and putting one foot in front of the other no matter what.

What is it, really, that matters to you most? How do you know that?

#morningpractie #mornings #journaling #selfstudy #meditation #prayer #practices #values

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.

To Breathe

Can you bring your attention to your breath? What do you notice?

Immediately following these two questions, your breath is likely to change somewhat. Just bringing your attention to it, is enough to alter it a little.

Walk into most yoga classes and there are often very specific instructions given as to how to breathe. I’ve done this as well when teaching. I still do from time to time, so I’m not saying to never do so. Yet, we might consider when and why it might be useful and appropriate.

Might we begin by just noticing it?

Leave it be.

Allow your breath to respond… rather than consider it is another thing to be fixed. Or regulated, standardized, conformed to. Imposed upon. Being asked to disregard your own natural need or rhythm, during a given experience or situation.

If you’d like to follow along, here’s a 4-min recording you might use to explore your breath early one morning. Or maybe another time during the day. There’s no right or wrong here. Rather, an opportunity to tune in to what might be a place of noticing what we feel, what ‘state of being’ we’re in, what we are experiencing. (Click the link below. You may be directed to another link, or not, depending on where/how you’re viewing it.)

With consistent practice of this checking in with your breath, your body, you might find a pattern. Maybe a baseline of some kind. This might be easier in the morning before you’ve moved or thought too much about the day ahead. But it may be at another time that works well for you.

What does your breath feel like? And then later in the day, notice when it changes. And it surely will from time to time.

Be curious. Check it out. See what you notice. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

#morningpractice #mornings #breath #breathe #needs #baseline #kindness #compassion #curiosity #feelintoit #feeling #noticing #awareness #time #space #slowdown #yogatherapy #yogatoolsforlife #JRFU #JustRightForYou #startsmall #goslow

Softening

While still in bed you might consider one place to soften in your body.

Notice where you feel some tension or tightness. Stiffness or rigidity. Perhaps you can begin to soften your jaw a little, your eyes, or maybe soften your breath.

It might be useful to imagine or bring to mind a memory you have of a safe, warm, lovely place. I imagine my toes in soft sand, and that they are as soft and supple as when I was a wee toddler.

I turn over and feel the softness of the duvet cover, my pillow.

Maybe I imagine something soft like the these strange little plants (pictured above) that I seem to be obsessed with. Of them blowing softly in the breeze.

Maybe I imagine the soft snow, landing on my face, as I go out for a walk.

Life is hard enough. Might we move towards, bring in, feel in some way, a touch of softness to it.

Even by just imagining it to be so.

#morningpractice #mornings #softening #notice #nourish #touch #stiffness #rigidity #breath #breeze #imagine #yogatherapy #yogatoolsforlife #JRFU #JustRightForYou #startsmall #goslow

Here I am, again

As you wake in the morning, before anything else, can you notice your first thoughts? Before you look at your phone, even open your eyes. Notice what it is, you’re thinking about.

And consider that. How do these initial thoughts begin or influence your day?

Maybe you can catch a glimpse, almost before you’re even fully conscious. Or maybe you won’t notice anything at all and that’s okay too. But you might want to practice this a little.

For some, with a little practice and curiosity you might find a creative spark or some new insight within these early morning thoughts.

Perhaps, to start, you might just notice that… here you are.

“Here I am, again.”

It is morning. I am awake. This is a new day.

Allow yourself a few moments. Some time and space to just be… with whatever, before the rush of the day draws you forward and up.

That might be enough.

You’ve received another day in the world. And that might be something to notice.

#morningpractice #mornings #notice #awake #alive #noticing #thoughts #gratitude #creativity #creativetime #dreamstate #yogatherapy #yogatoolsforlife

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.

Preparing for Slumber

Depending on where you are in the world and your environment, you may notice some changes taking place. A change of season. It is quite obvious where I live as the foliage, the trees and the grasses are all preparing for winter. Transitioning to a new phase. Not only the beauty you can see here but the seasons also provide a steady rhythm to life. Continuity.

When menopause struck and I was suddenly experiencing disrupted sleeps, yet another transition. A new season. I couldn’t help but recall another stage of life gone by, the early days of parenthood. Those feelings of being absolutely depleted, exhausted. I can only surmise my dreary eyes gazing upon those loving baby faces helped get me through it.

I distinctly remember every time we got in the car to go somewhere, babies safely tucked into their car seats, I immediately fell asleep. Why was that?

I was exhausted.

I knew our babies were safe. I had some time and space when I no longer had to be vigilant, listening and watching over them.

The subtle swaying motion along with the soft hum of the car as my husband drove provided some cues, a stimulus that helped me drift off to slumber.

What were some of the things you did to help get your babies to sleep? I can recall softly stroking their head, their face, “tickling” as we called it. Soothing, rhythmic music playing in the background. There were at times suggestions made to put them on top of the dryer or something similar (maybe for the same hum, swaying that the car provided me). Wrapping them tightly in my arms. Bouncing, swaying, rocking.

We used another strategy when our twins were babies. During the day, we kept them downstairs in the living room, using one of those portable beds so they could get used to sleeping amidst the goings on of our daily life. But at night we took them up to their cribs, to a quiet, darkened room. A different signal that it was now night-time, different than their brief naps during the day.

We can use strategies, we can develop habits and routines to help create conditions for sleep. These are some of the things often discussed in terms of general sleep hygiene. Learning more about our circadian system or rhythm can also be helpful.

What what else might be useful if we’re having trouble with sleep?

Well, there is evidence to show how stress can affect our physiology and our sleep. And, I can imagine many are feeling the effects of stress these days. This hyperarousal, or perhaps it is more like hypo-arousal these days.

How does stress show up in the body? What happens? What are the changes that take place? Can we change or influence our nervous system’s response to stress?

Navigating transitional moments of life is a challenge. Often, there is a letting go required and a stepping into the unknown. Uncertainty. There may be feelings of loss, grief, sadness. Maybe there is anger or resentment or … well there are likely to be many feelings. Including love, beauty and joy. Maybe freedom. All showing up, moving, shifting like a roller coaster ride. Felt and experienced in the body.

Perhaps exploring this a little, what we notice, the sensations that rise and fall throughout the day (and night) might be useful. Making sense of it. Accepting these moments with some kindness and compassion, moving through them with awareness, finding some ground when we need it most. A way to settle into slumber when night falls.

Curious?

I’m planning to offer an online program where we can explore this both through some gentle movement practices, journaling or other written work, information, breath and awareness practices. If this is of interest to you please let me know, send me a message, comment below, sign up to the site or email me at info@yogatoolsforlife.com. There’s no commitment from you required, I’m only gauging if there is interest at this point.

Take care.

 

Pain is weird and it can change

Do you know that you can experience a HUGE amount of pain, yet have no damage or injury in your body?

Have you ever heard of phantom limb pain? It’s when someone experiences pain, yet they don’t even have the body part? Think of someone who’s maybe had their arm amputated but still feels pain there. How can that be?

Or maybe you’re someone who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. No obvious damage or injury can be found yet absolutely, you feel pain.

Do you know the reverse is also true? You can have NO pain and yet have ‘damage or injury’ in your body?

Have you ever found a bruise on your body yet had no idea how it got there? Or maybe you broke a bone playing one of your favorite sports but didn’t really feel pain, until you got to the hospital? There was obviously tissue damage, yet no pain. At least at first, perhaps.

Maybe you’re someone who has disk degeneration, yet no pain. According to this study (brinjikji et al 2014) if you’re 60 years old, 88% of people whose back has been imaged will show disk degeneration, yet experience NO pain.  If you’re up to 70 years of age, it’s up to 95% who have what looks like damage or injury and yet has NO pain.

When you have a headache, think of a really, really painful headache, … do you think you have something broken or damaged in your head?  Likely not.

So why do we think that way about other parts of our body?

Pain is weird, for sure. And complex. And our understanding of it does not always match with what’s going on. Often, we are confused by it, don’t know what to do about it and just live with it.

Don’t get me wrong. You NEED pain. Otherwise you would likely not survive. You need a mechanism to tell you something is up and you need to attend to it.  

It’s the persistent chronic pain that seems to be the trouble. In Canada and most places around the world, 1 in 5 people live with it. If it were an easy fix, we would have done so by now. Two areas that the evidence tells us seem to be most helpful are: understanding pain and movement. We’ll cover both.

Well, there is more to it but if you’re curious to know how you might change, how you can influence your own experience of pain, I’d love you to join a new 6-week online program starting July 22, 2020.

Advantages of this being online?

  • anyone can take it in the privacy of their own home,
  • at their own pace
  • all the content is yours to keep forever, and
  • I’ve made it affordable and accessible so anyone can enroll. $25 week, for 6 weeks (both a payment plan and options are available).

 If you or someone you know might benefit, click the link below for all the details.

Or you can always contact me here, to ask any questions.

Nourishing, Responsive Breath

I could really go on and on about breath, from many different angles and actually have been sent down the rabbit hole for a few days now wondering how I might approach this, in a single blog post.

Our breath, the in-breath and the out-breath happen quite naturally, right?  Of course, they do. It is one of the most important things necessary to our survival. We do not have to think about it. It is just one of the many wonderous systems in our body, working behind the scenes.

However, if you look at how a baby breathes, and how many of us older folks breathe, you might notice a difference. How in babies and young children it almost seems like their whole body moves when they breathe. How their big, soft bellies expand with each inhale. For us, often, not so much.

What’s different?

There could be a whole mess of reasons, but the one I’ll explore here is one you’ve perhaps been exploring over the past week.

Muscular tension might be involved when we hold our breath, or when it doesn’t flow so freely.

What might create this tension?

Last week, I suggested you might explore ordinary movements  you do in a day (like making your bed, maybe it’s vacuuming, perhaps while brushing your teeth) and are they perhaps a little beyond what feels easeful for you? It might be the way you feel while doing something, when rushed. When it feels like there’s not enough time and space to do so (maybe when you’re eating, for instance). Tension might have something to do with your thoughts and emotions. The context in which you live, the people you connect with, while talking, using (or not using) your voice.  

Generally, muscles and tissues may become strained, fatigued over time if they are recruited, or over-recruited, ‘switched on’ a lot. We may not be aware of this, particularly if ongoing over a long period of time. It often becomes our usual ‘pattern’ rather than what might be a responding or releasing (and relaxing) as required.

There are also some areas of the body where this tension might get in the way of a full, easeful, ‘natural’ breath we see in a baby. I think of the stomach or belly area for one. How many people unconsciously hold or constrict in this area for a multitude of reasons? This, which happens to be the area containing your primary breathing muscle, the respiratory diaphragm. Or might someone hold tension unconsciously in their pelvic floor (diaphragm) muscles, again for a variety of reasons?  I think of all those ‘core exercises’ we’ve been told are good for us or how often women socially, culturally, ‘suck in their stomach. Or perhaps you’ve been told to do kegels at one time or another, or hold, strengthen or tighten up your pelvic floor muscles. Which may be useful. Or maybe not.

Both diaphragms are meant to move with each breath yet with tension and tightness in one or both, might this change how we breathe?

Holding tension might not allow for a full, deep breath such as when our respiratory diaphragm moves down, creating the in-breath. Maybe, we hold tension in the pelvic floor, without realizing it and again, not allowing for optimal breath.

Now, think about what is more important to our body, to our brain, but breathing. And how this regular intake of oxygen not only provides nourishment our body needs to survive, but it also forms or influences our physiological state. For instance if we are under threat, or even perceived threat there are immediate changes to our physiology, including our breath, that takes place to aid in our survival.

Which is all great when we’ve broken a bone, need to pull our hand away from fire, stay clear of toxic fumes or something similar. Back in the old days, we would need all our senses, these sensations, to help us stay clear of dangerous predators like tigers and the like.

What happens now though, is often we are unaware of:

1. The threats (real or perceived) that we encounter on a daily basis. These aren’t likely threats like running from tigers, but threats in terms of our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our communities, our environment. How much of the news do you see, threatens your sense of safety? Does this create a sense of tension, stress, holding of your breath perhaps, in your body?

2. The response of your nervous system and subsequent physiology that accompanies this. You may have read that stress is not good for the immune system, for your mental health, etc. but there are also effects on other areas or systems that occur including your pain system. If pain is meant to protect you, yet you ‘feel’ threatened, stressed, and tense might that turn UP the volume of pain? Have you ever noticed a correlation (not saying cause, here) in your stress levels and your pain?

Conversely, how might a sense of safety, turn DOWN the volume of pain? Even a few simple words from a parent to a child such as “you’ll be okay” often turns down a pain response.

  • Can we learn to notice our breath and what that might tell us about how we feel?
  • Can we find a breath that is supportive for us, when it’s called upon?
  • Can we find a breath that is supportive for for us, when we need rest, find calm, sleep?

There is no right or wrong in this.

Rather, can we find a responsive, flexible breath that supports us for whatever it is we’d like to do? To live in an optimal state of health? As a first step, can be begin to notice this at all?

If you’d like to read in-depth about the breath, yoga therapy, current findings, and research about breath related to pain care, you might check out Chapter 8 by Shelly Prosko, in Yoga and Science in Pain Care – Treating the Person in Pain.

Personally, attention to breath and subsequent practices has had the most influence I find, when working with people who experience persistent pain. Time and time again. Though as Shelly rightly points out “the practices must be individualized to meet the unique needs of the person.” Telling people to take big, deep breaths, may not be ‘the answer’ or ‘the fix’ for everyone which is often what I see out in the main stream media. Suggesting there is some kind of ‘ideal’ breath, for all people, at all times.

I was looking at this tree (pictured above) in my back yard at lunch time today. It sways and flows. Appears strong, yet supple. Not rigid, brittle, tight or constricted. Takes in nourishment, gives back some. Might we be like this tree … A breath in. A breath out. Responding as need be, in any given moment to what life is asking of us.

I’ll be diving into this in more detail with information, a little bit of research and experiential practices in Week 4 of my upcoming online ‘Creating New Pathways‘ course. Want to learn more?

Interested to learn more about this thing called ‘yoga therapy’? Some FAQ’s plus links for ways yoga therapy can help, information for healthcare providers, where we’re at in terms of current research and yoga, yoga therapy.

“You said what?” (Actually, I didn’t)

I look at these flowers and wonder what happens between having a felt sense of freedom and space or that of feeling tightly clenched and constricted. What creates the dance between these two opposites in my my body, my breath, perhaps even my voice?

Recently I find myself rather tongue-tied, influenced each day by current events.

We celebrated Canada Day on Wednesday. Yes we did. Yet, this celebration doesn’t quite feel the same for me these past few years, given what I’m seeing and learning about our county’s history and what Canada Day might (not) mean for our indigenous population or others, unlike me.

I wanted to acknowledge how much I love this country. Having lived abroad for so many years I hold deep appreciation for not only the land, but the culture, society, values, all it’s people. Yet I didn’t want to not also acknowledge it’s dark history and so… I mostly said nothing.

I find uncertainty in knowing what to say, how I might use my voice regarding events unfolding, day by day. How #blacklivesmatter. The need to acknowledge the disparity and racism that exists. Which is not recent, but rather long standing. I still don’t know how to express my thoughts, even here, as I write. I have much to learn and therefore … I mostly, say nothing. Yet, that can’t be right, either.

There’s no way forward in standing still, or silence.

Usually I love to talk, to speak out, as noted in my last blog post. So this not talking does not come easy to me. However, I do notice times, places, situations where I expressly, consciously ‘hold my tongue’ as they say, for a wide variety of reasons.

What happens when there is something you want to say, but you’re afraid to say it? How does this happen in my body, this holding back, this silencing? How do I manage this? Surely, musculature is involved. Therefore my brain, my nervous system play a part. A thought or feeling proceeding it.

I wonder what happens to my breath, when I consciously hold back saying something? When there is a conflict between what I want to express but am unsure how to proceed? Or, perhaps if I don’t believe what I have to say matters. Or maybe this expressing of my self, is not welcomed in a particular environment or social context?

What effect might that have on physiology, my body, my breath? How do I even notice that in my body? What do I feel, how does that feel? Do I even notice when this occurs?

Do you ever notice for yourself, times when you don’t express yourself, hold back on your opinions, aren’t sure what to say? I can say there have been more than enough times when I have done so. In work situations, for sure. But also with family, friends, even strangers I encounter. For me, these are often situations when there is discomfort, conflict or uncertainty already permeating the air, circling into the mix. It is a pattern, I’ve come to recognize.

Today and over the weekend, try this: notice what happens to your breath when you speak with someone. Notice if you pause, give yourself time to think about your response. Notice if you allow others to complete what they’re saying or do you tend to interrupt? Can you feel your breath supporting your voice or does your voice or breath feel held, or tight? Can you notice any of this happening to the person you’re in conversation with? Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable in what you wish to express? Do you hold back?

Or the opposite. What do you notice about your breath, your voice, when you’re singing your favorite song or in easy conversation with a trusted friend or partner?

What allows one to open up, speak freely? What might not? How might paying attention to your breath be an indicator of this?

I’m interested, to hear how it goes for you. Anything you notice about your breath, your voice. Your thoughts as you begin to speak or decide not to speak. What happens? How does it feel?

Let’s circle back on Monday and consider how our breath might have some influence or relationship to discomfort, and perhaps the experience of pain.

“Your graduation exam for this exercise is to practice breathing during an argument or confrontation”. – Donna Farhi

If you’re interested in diving into this type of exploration or other practices and how they might influence your experience of pain, I offer online 1:1 private sessions.

Reference: This exploration, these practices that I’ve been suggesting are from Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book.