As Spring is often a time of new beginnings, I’m wondering if you’d like to explore something with me.
At least I think Spring is on the way. If I keep focused on this thought, perhaps it will soon be true. As I look outside my window today we still have heaps and heaps of snow all around.
On Thursday March 10th at 1:00pm ET I’m offering a FREE webinar all about getting curious about this thing called pain.
The experience of pain. What it is. Why it seems so confusing, frustrating. Why it can be so hard to change.
It’s not going to be about giving you all the answers. Rather just to plant some seeds. Maybe sprinkle in a few questions, some of the ways it is different for each of us. What you might consider, in terms of your own unique experience of pain.
I’ve scheduled an hour for the zoom call, but it may not go that long depending on any discussion or questions you may have. If you can’t attend, you will still be able to access the recording the following day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe like me, you feel like the last little while has been really hard. This coming back to further restrictions, schools opening up again, the looming winter ahead (where I live) and just the overall increased stress and uncertainty about a whole lot of things, that are likely different for each of us.
I haven’t had much energy for anything other than basic day-to-day stuff and getting outside, which is now a ‘must do’ in my day. Not much else in terms of creating content, writing, connecting with many people outside my teeny tiny circle.
Perhaps this morning it is the cold air, light snow falling and heavy winds that blew in last night that are providing a push to get moving again. Rather than feeling quiet and contained, I feel a little more prepared to reach out, like these trees. Partially uncovered and extending.
Back in the spring I ran my first online program called Just Right, For You. Part of it was bringing awareness to the many things we do in a day. What nourishes us. What depletes us. What might be needed at any given time, on any particular day and responding to that in some way. Looking at the patterns and habits we have formed over a lifetime and noticing if they serve us well, or maybe changing them up a little might be useful.
What I’d like to do this month, each day, is offer some of the tools and practices explored in the program to consider. Try them out. See if they ring true for you, or not. Definitely not to do ‘all the things’ but rather just a few. Start small. Go slow.
What feels right for me, might not at all feel what’s Just Right, For You.
Which is often why providing someone ‘a simple fix‘ for overall wellbeing, pain, sleep issues, maybe just navigating this wild, world of ours doesn’t seem to work. I have found in working with people, and for myself personally, that what might be right and true is very individual. Personal. My life is probably nothing like your life. What’s that new covid-related saying? “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.”
So, follow along if you’re interested. I’ll be posting on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #JRFU, #JustRightForYou, #dailypractice, #startsmall, #goslow. My hope is these practices will be of benefit to you in some way and that we can remain connected. We’ll begin tomorrow.
“When we ‘find’ our bones and allow them to assume a supporting role, muscles can start to relax. It is in the ‘undoing’ of muscles that freedom in the joints is found – and with it, greater ease in movement.” Peter Blackaby, Intelligent Yoga
How might you explore this and how might it help in finding more ease in your life, less pain, or fatigue?
Try noticing if you’re holding tension or contracting a muscle that’s not required for whatever it is you’re doing. So for example, I often suggest a person balance on one leg and notice if this creates any noticeable tension in their upper body, or jaw in order to do so. Obviously you don’t need your jaw muscles to contract to stand on one leg, but might this happen without you being aware of it?
How might you learn to release this? To relax, let go of what’s unnecessary. I think it can often be more helpful to imagine softening, rather than ‘letting go or relaxing”. How often have you been told to “just relax….”. Easier said than done.
One of my teachers used words suggesting this relaxed tone in our tissues “might feel like the texture of a soft, ripe peach.” Or I can imagine how the muscle tone feels in a baby or young child compared to what I notice in myself at times.
Make the biggest smile you can. Big, huge cheeks. Feel the tissue around your cheeks, maybe your throat, neck and perhaps even your shoulders. Just notice. Or clench your mouth, teeth really hard. Now, let your jaw hang loose. Open your mouth. Feel around again. Notice the difference.
I’ll often suggest people lay down on the floor to rest. Not your bed, not the sofa, but the floor.
Why is that?
When you lay on the floor it’s usually easier to feel the support of the ground below, in contact with your bones. So you might feel your head supported, shoulders, pelvis, legs and feet. See if you can notice that and does this allow your muscles to soften a little? This can be really hard to do. Something you might try is to first tense or contract a muscle (like we did above) and then release it so you can notice the difference.
The first step however, is just in noticing. Like anything, by practicing this you’ll often be able to sense more easily when there is tension ‘held’ in your muscles that you’re not aware of. Tension that might contribute to other changes in your body and likely fatigue, over the longer term. How might that influence pain?
The second step might then be, how to find support. Curious to explore this further?
Creating New Pathways: change your pain, change your life begins this Wednesday, July 22nd. For more information or to register:
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.
Such a beautiful tray of food. No wonder eating comes naturally to me. Rather like breathing. But it may not be so for you and I suggest that perhaps our breathing is not always natural either, but is rather responsive and adaptive.
I experience this in other areas of my life, as well. For instance, everything about being a mother did not always come naturally for me. It began with a struggle to breast-feed our first born. I became anxious, stressed and upset when this did not go according to plan. I had to make a call for support and learn from someone. All was well, soon enough.
Next, however, was being home alone all day in the dead of a cold Canadian winter with a baby, requiring so much time and attention. Not only exhausting (compounded by sleepless nights) but the social isolation I experienced was new to me as well, and did not come naturally. Knowing what to do, how to best raise this human being was a challenge. Parenting as being ‘natural’? In some ways, yes, of course. In many ways, not so much. When it didn’t feel natural, I felt like I failed, somehow.
Back to food and eating though. As I said, it does come quite naturally to me. In fact it comes to me far more often than I might need. Hard to resist when images like the one above, presents itself.
Mostly, we don’t pay much attention to these natural things we do until they become a problem, an issue somehow, in how we might like to live our life.
For today’s exploration let’s combine breathing with eating. How might that go?
Much to my family’s dismay I have a tendency to choke, fairly frequently, when eating. Part of it, I’ve noticed, I’m often rushing. Second to that, I’m often talking. Our dinner time is ‘family time’ and usually consists of our coming together prepared for much debate about the events and/or news of the day. When given the opportunity, I do as well, love to talk. Rather similar to the eating thing.
Meanwhile, what’s more important to survival than breathing?
Breathing is going to sneak in ‘as needed’ whether we want it to, whether we make time and space for it, or not. Whether we’re conscious of it or not.
I wonder how eating might go for me if instead of paying attention to what I eat, how much I eat, or when I’m talking, I might just notice how I breathe when I eat.
What might that bring to my awareness?
Perhaps there is something around eating that might be noticeable for you. Maybe instead of choking like me, perhaps you have a tendency to over-eat, or it could be you under-eat. Or perhaps you have some digestive issues.
Try this: Set aside one meal a day in which you do not feel any time constraints. Let yourself breath slowly as you eat. Notice how it feels to allow your belly to release as you chew and swallow your food. Monitor your breathing if you can. Notice what you feel during and after your meal. Again, try not to judge anything. Perhaps there is nothing to notice or perhaps there is.
Curious, isn’t it?
Check back on Friday when we’ll do one more exploration and it is a worthy one, I think. Also, I wonder how the movement and breathing exploration went for you, from earlier this week. You can sign up below to get all these posts.
Also, just to let you know, I’ll soon be announcing a new 6-week online course where breath is one of the things we’ll be exploring and working with. One piece of the puzzle, when we explore various aspects to consider if you experience pain. You can learn more about the ‘Creating New Pathways’ program by clicking the link below.