Maybe there’s time to rest.

I just finished offering a two-night workshop series this week with a CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) program that provides peer support to parents of children with complex medical needs.

The topic – sleep.

How did the facilitator, one of the Moms, introduce the topic on the first night?

“Beautiful, delicious, sweet, wonderful, elusive, lovely, sometimes a jerk – sleep.”

Anyone who is a parent will know the trials and tribulations encountered when your child is sick. Yet, imagine how you might find sleep when your child depends on feeding tubes or respirators as they can’t breathe on their own at night.

I didn’t have the opportunity to learn as much as I might like about them. That they showed up for an hour on two separate late evenings to do so inspires me. Suggests there is a need.

It is always challenging in planning and preparation to balance experiential practices with information. Experience is helpful for people but my role as I see it, is to also teach people mechanisms as to why these practices might help.

To provide tools that might be able to influence the elusiveness of sleep, when life is often so full of uncertainty. To gain a sense of agency over their own personal experience.

Perhaps,

  • How they might give themselves permission to… rest. Seems so simple yet in our culture, not so much.
  • How they might take two minutes in the day, to notice what and how they feel and respond in some way with some helpful practices. With compassion.

As I’ve learned from mentors such as Shelly Prosko, Physiotherapist and Yoga Therapist (via research by Kristen Neff on self-compassion) a simple mantra or affirmation of kindness to oneself,

“It’s okay”, as you breathe in.

As you breathe out “This is enough.”

Can this be enough, just as it is?

I can at times feel anxious before doing this work. Is it enough? This week seemed more so, with all that’s going on and feeling not quite myself, rather fatigued.

In the end, I hope the sessions served to support them in some way.

As feedback from the facilitator, “The fact that these moms actually took an hour out of their time to join us is so wonderful. They do not take that time for themselves often enough. A lot of times they do not even have an hour to do anything other than care for their children. So, thank you for giving them that chance to restore and relax.”

I am most grateful for the opportunity. So much credit to these parents and really to anyone, all of us, caring for one another.

Might there also be time to care for ourselves, as well.

Permission to rest…

Showing Up

I’ve been rather absent for the past three weeks, at least in this space. COVID-19 showed up for a close family member so it has been all-hands-on deck for a few weeks now.

Yet, here we are. A new year, another moment in these particular days that we may not be liking so much.

What I don’t like so much now and maybe in the past as well, is there seems to be this one way to be. A particular way to show up in the world, in any given moment. Whether in times of crisis or just the regular days of work, being part of a family, in relationships, or on my yoga mat.

“This, … is the way it’s to be done. This, … is the way to show up.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I was never much good with the status quo. At times I can tune in to this quickly. On other occasions it takes a long while before I get the sense that what might be well and good for one, doesn’t feel quite right for me. I’m hoping that as I head into my 60th year on this planet the gap between the two is shortening.

There is always a message, a signal trying to capture my attention and act as a guide. The harder part is listening. Even harder is acting on it.

Why is that?

Well, there does seem to be a cultural or societal expectation to go along with the crowd. We look for cues outside ourself. What is the other person doing, saying? How are they responding? From a young age we’re often taught to fit in. Be nice. Say yes. Maybe don’t say anything at all. Grin and bear it. Smile through the pain or discomfort. Do what others do. Again, “this… is the way to show up”.

Yet times are changing. A slow but forward motion allowing for difference. Celebrating it, even. This might be in terms of looks or gender but also a general movement to change other beliefs. That it might be okay to express who we are. What we feel. What we believe. How we see the world, that what we feel in our own uniqueness, matters.

As I think about another year’s passing what is becoming clearer to me is, there is only … right now. Now is the time to show up.

Which doesn’t therefore mean, my way, is the way. It doesn’t mean anyone or anything else is wrong. It’s only that what will be right and well for one, is not the same for another. Funny enough last year I created an online program exploring just that. It’s interesting to notice that often what I teach, is what I most needed to learn for myself.

Here’s what I’m learning these days.

It can be useful to have a place where I can simply show up with whatever I feel, wherever I’m at. Happy smiley faces not required. That in this New Year I don’t have to be better, more enlightened, 10lbs lighter, happy, smiling, fit or always be in a good mood. Trying to sustain all that these days might be quite a challenge.

That I have permission to do, be, what feels most right.

Maybe the same is true for you.

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.

Balancing Act

In preparation for sleep at the end of your day, it might be another time to check in with how you’re feeling.

You might feel fully exhausted, in which case you may have an easier time falling asleep. Yet, even if you’re physically exhausted there is also a possibility of being in a mobilized, or upregulated state in your nervous system.

  • You may have been going full speed ahead with what feels like a million things required of you on any given day. Trying to balance what seems like never-ending demands.
  • Maybe you’ve just had an emotional or stress-filled conversation with someone.
  • You might be feeling some of the long-term stress from these strange times of Covid-19.
  • Maybe you ate a big meal late in the evening as you didn’t had time to do so, earlier.

Your body, your physiology, automatically changes and/or responds to what is going on, what is required in a given moment of time. First of all it takes some awareness to even notice what the state of being, or the state of your nervous system, is. If you’re in fight, flight or freeze (a more sympathetic nervous system response) sleep might not come so easily. However, if you can learn to shift into a more parasympathetic type response (the rest and digest response) it might make the transition to sleep more easeful.

The first step is in the noticing.

Perhaps you can do a body scan to notice what you feel. Bringing your awareness slowly to each part of your body, noticing any sensation you feel or any thoughts or feelings that arise as you do this. Or you may come to know through noticing the quality of your breath. Or perhaps noticing your thoughts and emotions.

People often have difficult going to sleep. More so these days, I find. You might want to look at it, approach it, in a way that requires some preparation. We need both types of nervous systems responses. We have stresses in our life, we need to mobilize. Yet, how might we find some balance and what practices might be helpful in the evening to downregulate our system. To allow for rest and build capacity to meet the challenges of our days. What might make the transition, more easeful? We’ll dig into a few this week.

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?

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

It is, a practice

These dinner rolls I made to accompany a warming pot of stew on Friday night, were not too bad. Though it wasn’t my first time making them. I recall the first attempt, some 25 years ago. Not. So. Good.

I had to practice a little. Take some time to get a feel for the dough, figure out how to make rolls, the many pieces of the task at hand.

While working with someone 1:1 in a private session, we usually meet every week or two. The reason being is after an assessment, clarifying of goals or focus, whatever we decide to use in terms of practice… is meant to be, well, practiced. For a while. Noticing any effects.

If you’ve been following along with the morning practices over the last week or so, I’m going to pause and allow space for that. You might go back through the various options. There may be some you are already exploring, using. They are not meant to be ‘the thing’ but rather to be used as an exploration. An inquiry as to what you notice, what feels useful. What does not. If you want to go back and review, the posts are noted below:

  • Nov 3 – Here I am, again
  • Nov 4 – Softening
  • Nov 5 – To breathe
  • Nov 6 – Pause, notice
  • Nov 9 – Ease, into morning
  • Nov 10 – Sense making
  • Nov 11 – Warming up

You might benefit from some included here or what feels right for you might be something altogether different. These are a few suggestions.

We’ll pick this up again on Nov 23rd looking at various practices you might choose to do during the day. Then again, we’ll pause for a week before moving on to evening practices starting on Dec 7th.  I hope you’ll stay tuned. Let me know If you have any noticings, feedback or questions along the way.

If this is something you’d like to explore with me privately, I currently offer 1:1 sessions via Zoom. Information can be found here.

Warming up

Warm thoughts

As you lay in bed, you might imagine your first cup of coffee or tea. You might prefer warm water with lemon, fresh ginger, a touch of honey. Perhaps a spicy chai. The ritual of running water, filling the kettle, getting out your favorite cup, warming it first with some hot water. Waiting for it to brew. The smell. The first taste. How it warms your hands, your body as it makes its way, particularly on these cold days.

When you go to actually make it in a few minutes, maybe notice more fully and appreciate this very simple way to begin your day. What pleasure it brings. What you notice in your body. Perhaps a feeling of warmth, or of a softening somewhere.

Maybe before climbing out of bed you imagine something else. Taking a few moments to think about a loved one, warms you. Maybe you imagine sitting by the fire with friends. Perhaps you place hand on heart and offer yourself a few minutes of love, compassion… and that warms you.

Warm waters

What about including warmth in the morning in the way of a hot bath, or shower. Really sensing how it feels. The wakening spray of water landing upon you or warm waters, surrounding you. Maybe you notice the sounds. See the steam rising. Feel the water’s cleansing, soft, fluid properties. This warm and tender waking of your body and your senses.

Warm foods

Perhaps, warm foods. Many people these days are into green smoothies and such. I enjoy a light breakfast of crisp greens, bright ripe tomatoes and a boiled egg in the summer. But as we move into the cooler months it might be useful to bring some warmth to food. Just being cooked makes food easier to digest on these slow, sluggish days. Maybe hot oatmeal, toast, biscuits, whatever you prefer. Waffles with the sweetness of local maple syrup, or baked fruit like plums or apples, spiced up as you like.

Fiery, perhaps

Or perhaps your thoughts on any particular morning lean towards the injustices of the world around you and you feel this fiery, hot, anger welling up inside. And that’s what warms you up, gets you moving forward in your day. Who knows?

I get that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, hot tea, warm baths, clean water that we are privileged to enjoy.

Yet, finding these small moments of warmth, calm, building some resilience to greet the day and whatever that means for you, might be useful.

Or maybe it’s just in the noticing what fuels you, that counts.

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.