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?
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. There’s no commitment from you required, I’m only gauging if there is interest at this point.
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.
To experience community.
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’.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
When looking at this picture, I imagine I may have been holding my breath in the moment. Quite a natural response, if I felt I didn’t have quite the stability and balance required to make it to the other side without falling. Perhaps I did feel able, comfortable, and so my breath flowed easefully at the time. For the most part, whatever occurred was probably not something I noticed or was aware of at the time.
It’s interesting to note how our breath might fluctuate throughout the days based on different needs or experiences.
Last week I suggested rather than bringing awareness to how your breath moves, which is often what we’re asked to pay attention to I suggested we might also focus on when it doesn’t. When you might be holding your breath. I wonder how it went for you? Did you notice anything?
This week, let’s explore this a little more.
Today and tomorrow, why not pay attention to your breath while you’re moving or doing an particular activity. It might be during a time or activity from last week, when you noticed this momentary breath-holding.
Choose something where you are not pressured or rushed for time. Maybe it’s when you’re making your bed in the morning, or perhaps brushing your teeth. Another might be when your moving from sitting in a chair to standing up. Practice, allowing your breath to move freely as best you can, as an integral part of the activity. Notice, if the activity or movement is made easier or more difficult when you breathe freely. Try not to judge it as good or bad. Just be curious.
I’d love your feedback about what you notice.
Then on Wednesday, we’ll explore this in another specific activity in our daily life. You might be surprised. Check back then, or sign up below to regularly receive these blog posts.
I was having a discussion with a client this week about the breath and how we breathe. We were talking about the relationship between our body, our breath and how breath moves in relationship to gravity. The forces of gravity, the loads we feel.
Breath awareness is often a focus in yoga. Both in yoga classes and also in a more therapeutic practice of yoga. We spend a lot of time noticing breath, feeling the breath as it moves. Noticing the length of breath, the inhales, the exhales. Where we feel the breath move, in our body.
Taking a different path, perhaps we can explore how breath might not always be moving, or moving so well. As in when you’re holding your breath. Which you might not readily notice throughout the day, unless you pay attention to it.
The basis of this inquiry is from Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book (highly recommend the book). She states the purpose of the inquiry being:
To identify the situations and activities in which you most commonly engage in breath holding. We don’t usually recognize how much tension we invest in simple activities such as talking or cooking because we don’t recognize the situation as terribly stressful. You may be surprised and disconcerted to discover that you hold your breath in almost every conceivable situation.
Let’s check this out.
Starting today and for the rest of this week, take notice of when you hold your breath.What you’re doing when you hold your breath. Where you are, who you’re with. Make a mental note, or actually write it down so you don’t forget.
You may notice it when you’re speaking on the phone with someone. Perhaps your boss. Or you may notice it when you’re leaning over to make your bed. Or you may notice you hold your breath when your attention is really focused on something, like when driving down busy streets.
Then, you might want to see if you can change it in some way. Just breathe a little more freely if you can. Try not to judge anything, just notice.
I’ve noticed this pattern of breath holding in myself, particularly, in these days. Before I started wearing a mask I would sometimes catch myself holding my breath as I walked by someone. Or when I felt they were standing too near to me. I suspect there was some fear involved in my response. It’s like I didn’t want to take breath in, at that moment.
We’ll do more specific explorations, next week. And maybe get a little curious about how this might affect or influence pain.
Check back with me on Monday (June 29th) for more. In the meantime, keep noticing.
A half hour in a dentist chair or a 6 hour drive. Both feel about the same to me.
Why might that be?
Though dentist chairs these days are made to be pretty comfortable, the tension, breath holding that goes on there, remains. At least for me, it does.
A 6 hour drive? Well, though probably not tense I sure can’t move around very much. And for someone with really long legs the cramped space and low seat really does me in.
Now imagine you’re at work, sitting with your laptop in front of you, working on a project that has you so engaged you don’t notice how 4 hours has passed. Or maybe 6 hours. Since you … literally … moved. When you do finally move or stand up your back, neck and shoulders are complaining. A whole lot. You might say to yourself, “ach, this back. Acting up again. When will this pain go away? Probably never. It’s always there, always going to get worse as the years go by.”
Or a similar scenario, but maybe your supervisor is breathing down your back. “Get me those numbers! Why aren’t you finished already? You know how important this is… why is it taking you so long?” I can well imagine those back, neck, shoulder muscles are having a say in how you’re feeling throughout your day, as well.
You might even find it hard to breathe at times. Do you even notice that happening?
What stresses might you have in a day? Why do we call it stress, anyways? Might it be this ‘stresses’ your body, as well as your mind?
What are those little niggly things creating sensations in your body that you’re not really aware of? Not listening to. Paying attention to.
Maybe it’s not the tension, tightness, pucker, hold-your-breath, kind of stress.
It might be more subtle. The slight contraction of your jaw muscles. Shoulders lifting ever so slightly as the minutes are tick, tick, tick, moving along. The gripping of your toes, or perhaps your butt muscles.
What consequences might these create in your body over long – periods – of – time?
This is not to say that all stress is bad. We need to stress the body. That’s why people hit the gym, run for miles on end, love – love – love a sweaty yoga class. Stress can be a good thing. Create a good feeling.
What we don’t want however, is the long – slow – drip by drip – neverending – periods – of – stress.
I bet you notice the BIG periods of stress in your life. Maybe what’s happening right now, for instance. The little, or more subtle ones? Likely not so much.
And if we begin to notice, what might we do to move out of this stress state? Do we have the flexibility, variability to do so?
Repeat. Over and over.
Can we shift, from one state to another? Might we even begin to notice our ‘state of being’?
Difficult. Maybe if we slow down, find some stillness, time or space. Find that pause.
A 4-week Workshop to notice what’s ‘Just Right, For You’.
These are uncertain times and so many are feeling vulnerable, whether it’s about health, financial security or so many other concerns.
And yes, there are times when it’s helpful to quiet the mind, tame the thoughts, seek some silence, stillness and perhaps peace in all the chaos.
However, that isn’t always helpful. Doesn’t always work.
I know myself when I am stressed what helps me most is to move. Yes, I start cleaning my house when wound up, upset, feeling anxious, or stressed. There is something about burning off energy that might help to bring some space for quiet, relaxation, peace when you’re done. It might help you sleep. Maybe calm your nervous system. After all, when we are in crisis or feel threatened the nervous system is all about getting your attention, mobilization, preparing for action that might be required.
What might be helpful for you? Below are a few ideas, you might like to try:
Put on some loud, upbeat music and move in some way.
Clean. Get at those windows and at the same time get some fresh air when you’re opening them or stepping outside.
Practice yoga, tai chi, whatever floats your boat.
Lift some weights.
Get on that ‘dust collector’ piece of exercise equipment sitting in your house and expend some of that nervous energy.
If you’ve got a few extra pantry items that you seemingly stocked up with, bake.
Let me know how it goes. I know after working at my desk today, I am feeling the need to get up and move it!
Take good care of yourself (and others).
**If you’re feeling distressed, please be sure to reach out to a local resource. For those in Ottawa, call the Ottawa Distress Line