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.

Habits of ours. Helpful or not?

What else might you do to prepare for sleep?

You might want to get a little curious about current habits. Perhaps life-long ones.

For example, I have never showered or bathed at night as I prefer it in the morning to get set for the day. It also helps me to wake up. But I am finding lately that a warm shower at night, the warmth feels awfully good. Perhaps it feels, or symbolizes in some way, that I’m washing away the day and stepping into sleep renewed. Refreshed.

Sipping on a warm beverage might be appealing. A herbal tea, water, lemon & honey, warm milk on its own or with turmeric. These might feel soothing and satisfying for you in some way. A ritual that becomes a way to mark the end of day, the coming into rest and restoration.

Maybe a foot massage might feel good. I have no formal training in massage, yet I’ve been doing this for a while now. It only takes a couple of minutes, but there is something about the massaging of the feet that makes me go “ahhhhhhhh……..”. I have to say in our travels that anywhere and everywhere we see foot massage on offer, people are lined up and waiting!

You can incorporate using oil with the massage, maybe even warming the oil beforehand. I tend to use almond oil, but you might like coconut or another of your choice.  I don’t choose to warm the oil, but rather just pour a little on my hands and then massage my feet in any old way, for about 3-5 minutes on each foot. (You’ll want to put some loose socks on afterwards, so as not to get oil on your bedsheets.) Then just notice… Try doing this 3 times a week and see what it feels like for you. I have noticed that while others may hold tension in their jaw, their shoulders, back or hips the tension I feel, what keeps me awake at night, is the inability to relax my feet.

Other soft, turning-inwards things you might try?

Sit by candlelight. Our natural circadian rhythms are disrupted by all the artificial light surrounding and available to us. Then there are all these screens. Do you know there are night settings you can change on your phone or laptop so you’re not having to stare at such a bright screen?

You might read, color, knit, or some other quiet, introspective activity. We tend to spend a LOT of time on screens these days, so anything other than, might be a place to explore.

Tomorrow we’ll lean into some practices you can do when nothing else works. When you are frustrated, can’t get to sleep, can’t get back to sleep. It’s all about distraction. How might we get our brain to turn off, or at least shift the focus of attention to something else.

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.

More than one thing

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

Nov. 23 What goes unnoticed

Nov. 24   Riding the waves

Nov. 26   Move. Maybe slowly, softly, gently

Nov. 27   Nourishment

Nov. 29   Re-store. Re-set. Re-new.

Nov. 30   Transitions

Or to the morning practice options as noted here.

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

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

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

Transitions

I can recall when our son came home to visit after living on his own in Europe for a couple of years and he had acquired a new habit. That being changing from his work clothes to his inside clothes. They were kind of like pajamas, only a bit dressier. It seemed strange at first. I’d not seen him walking around the house dressed like that since, well, a very long time ago. I guess I can relate a little thinking back many years ago and coming  home, changing out of my ‘corporate suit’ and into something more comfortable. At least I think I did. Did I, or did I move straight into doing stuff with the kids, tidying up, cooking dinner? This leaving of one job or role and straight into another?

When practicing yoga it is often the transitions where problems occur in terms of difficulty or even injury. I wonder if it’s because we’re already thinking about the next ‘pose’ rather than giving much thought to how we might get there.

I think it’s where we often face our greatest challenges. Transitions. How do we ‘go across’ from one thing to another.

Child to teenager. To cohabitating with a partner, moving into parenthood perhaps. Then it often feels like 20 years zip by and we’re confronted with children leaving, the possibility of retirement. Other big transitions in the mix like illness, career changes, loss of loved ones, jobs, homes, maybe moving.

But back to even just the simplest of these. How might you transition from your work day and whatever that is for you… into the evening? Does your 5 o’clock look like a big energy crash? A wild and untamed household? Too many demands on your time, yet again?

How might you make it supportive in some way? Less overwhelming?

If you’ve spent your day where conversation is required non-stop, maybe you recognize your need for quiet. If you’ve been working alone where there is no conversation, you may be in need of connection. How might you meet those needs? And if you’ve others to consider during these transitions – how might you somehow meet in the middle?

I surely don’t have all the answers.

It might be worthwhile to consider though.

Creating some kind of ritual might be helpful. We have rituals around big life changes, or at least we used to. Weddings, funerals, rites of passage.

What might you do? Perhaps it is about changing your clothes. Or slowing down, having a cup of tea, or some kind of (prepared in advance) snack so you’re not reaching for the cookies or chips, or whatever’s nearest to your fingertips.

How do you move from one thing to the next? This going across? How do you know one thing is ending and a new one is beginning? It makes sense to first bring some awareness that it’s even happening. From there, perhaps making choices that might support it in some way. So, it’s more easeful. Less frantic.

What ideas do you have, do you use? I’d be interested in your strategies.

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.

Nourishment

Mid-day. I wonder what this time of day feels like for you.

So often, due to work and other commitments people skip lunch, eat on the go. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, that it’s probably the best time to eat your most substantial meal of the day. Perhaps as that is when the ability to digest our food is at its highest.  

I haven’t quite figured this out yet, eating more for lunch and less for the evening meal. Our family always gathers for dinner, early evening, so it tends to be the largest meal of the day. More effort put into it. More time spent. It’s also just a long-worn pattern I’ve held all my life.

I also used to think sitting down and eating a proper lunch was rather a waste of time. There were many times, years in fact, when I didn’t feel like I had the time and space to do so. Or at least I didn’t prioritize it to be that way. Using time meant for nourishment and rest and instead running errands, working harder, filling the time with even MORE TO DO.

Yet, even just stopping and giving some space and time to eat lunch, might be useful. At least in these days, I have found it to be so.

Do you feel like you have time to stop and eat lunch? Do you make it a priority? Do you have a big meal? What are your go-to’s? I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Next, we’ll explore some simple ways you might also grab some rest, along with nourishment, mid-day. It doesn’t have to take long either. But it might make all the difference. I hope you’ll join me.

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?