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.

Turning off, turning in

If you’re feeling stressed or wound up at the end of your day it might be helpful to notice, perhaps try to shift it, BEFORE trying to head off to sleep.

Let me preface this by saying you may not be ready for slow, restful or focusing-in practices. It may be that you feel the need to move in ways that burn off energy. Maybe rocking or swaying from side-to-side, bouncing a little, shaking things out. Perhaps some dancing in the dark… might be what’s needed in the moment.

However, if you’d like to try some ways to calm the nervous system you might practice one of these restful poses. Or maybe do them after the movement mentioned above. Something like legs up the wall, providing support and perhaps release for the back muscles, or tension elsewhere in the body. Or maybe the beginnings of turning inward, so a forward fold on a chair, or over a bolster.

This doesn’t have to take a long time. You may want to stay in one of these poses for 5 to 10 minutes. See what happens.

Notice the length and the quality of your breath. Notice if it shifts at all, while in the pose.

Notice your thoughts. Feelings.

Maybe it’s helpful for you to listen to calming music, be in a place with lowered, soft lighting.

Taking a few minutes may help to make the transition into sleep a little more easeful. Try it. I’d love to know if anything changes at all for you.

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.

Re-store. Re-set. Re-new.

I remember the first restorative yoga I attended. Taught by the lovely Olivia Kulla, back in my Doha days. I thought I would feel all so sleepy, y’know? After the supportive poses, soft music, candle light. Basically having so much support, someone to “tuck me in” so to say. Allow me to fully rest.

What I didn’t realize is that afterwards I didn’t feel sleepy at all. During, yes. But after I felt energized. Rested. Ready to move forward with whatever I needed to do. It was a fascinating experience.

It was a good lesson in doing less. How less might be more.

Valuable.

Though I no longer practice strength or power styles of yoga like Ashtanga or even a flow-style of yoga I do like to get my sweat on. Take me on a good hike. Some downhill skiing and I’ll be right with you. I’m not against high-powered, cardio building stuff.

Yet, there is something about resting.

Not sleeping. Not watching TV. Not scrolling on the phone. But shutting out what can be overwhelming sensory information that bombards us from every angle these days.

Why not slip into some rest, mid-day? All the suggestions below take only minutes. Like 5 minutes or less. (Though of course if you have more time, you could do them for longer.)

  • A little legs ups the wall, pose.
  • Supported child’s pose (it even sounds sweet and supportive). This, is restorative yoga.
  • A 5 minute meditation. Maybe using an App like Calm or Insight Timer.
  • Stand up and sway from side to side, gazing out the window. Maybe you bounce a little, shake out the arms, legs, fingers, feet.
  • Close your eyes. Massage around your eyes, temples. Maybe into your neck and jaw. The back of your neck.
  • Nadi shodhana or equal nostril breathing. I’ve had clients say how energized they feel after this. However, it might also be used to help fall asleep, so notice how it shifts your energy.
  • My favorite is laying down on the floor. Perhaps a blanket folded, to support the head. Maybe a pillow under my knees which often feels good for the low back. And just rest. I always suggest laying on the floor, rather than a bed, or sofa. If you can notice it, find the support of your body’s structure (bones) on a hard surface. This might allow for the muscles to release any ‘holding’ or tension… and to relax.

Why not do one of these for 5 minutes a day, either before or after lunch (one might feel better for you) and notice what you notice. What feels right and do-able for you?

Restorative yoga. It seems these days it’s often combined with yin, or slow or gentle yoga, or perhaps confused with these. Yet in the trainings I’ve done in the style it’s not about stretching. It’s not about holding. Rather, all about support.

As you can see from the suggestions, it doesn’t have to be restorative yoga but perhaps making some time and space to do something else, take a break, might be useful. What does providing some mid-day support or rest feel like, to you? Let me know how it goes.

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.

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.

 

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’.