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.
As you lay in bed, you might imagine your first cup of coffee or tea. You might prefer warm water with lemon, fresh ginger, a touch of honey. Perhaps a spicy chai. The ritual of running water, filling the kettle, getting out your favorite cup, warming it first with some hot water. Waiting for it to brew. The smell. The first taste. How it warms your hands, your body as it makes its way, particularly on these cold days.
When you go to actually make it in a few minutes, maybe notice more fully and appreciate this very simple way to begin your day. What pleasure it brings. What you notice in your body. Perhaps a feeling of warmth, or of a softening somewhere.
Maybe before climbing out of bed you imagine something else. Taking a few moments to think about a loved one, warms you. Maybe you imagine sitting by the fire with friends. Perhaps you place hand on heart and offer yourself a few minutes of love, compassion… and that warms you.
What about including warmth in the morning in the way of a hot bath, or shower. Really sensing how it feels. The wakening spray of water landing upon you or warm waters, surrounding you. Maybe you notice the sounds. See the steam rising. Feel the water’s cleansing, soft, fluid properties. This warm and tender waking of your body and your senses.
Perhaps, warm foods. Many people these days are into green smoothies and such. I enjoy a light breakfast of crisp greens, bright ripe tomatoes and a boiled egg in the summer. But as we move into the cooler months it might be useful to bring some warmth to food. Just being cooked makes food easier to digest on these slow, sluggish days. Maybe hot oatmeal, toast, biscuits, whatever you prefer. Waffles with the sweetness of local maple syrup, or baked fruit like plums or apples, spiced up as you like.
Or perhaps your thoughts on any particular morning lean towards the injustices of the world around you and you feel this fiery, hot, anger welling up inside. And that’s what warms you up, gets you moving forward in your day. Who knows?
I get that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, hot tea, warm baths, clean water that we are privileged to enjoy.
Yet, finding these small moments of warmth, calm, building some resilience to greet the day and whatever that means for you, might be useful.
Or maybe it’s just in the noticing what fuels you, that counts.
Can you bring your attention to your breath? What do you notice?
Immediately following these two questions, your breath is likely to change somewhat. Just bringing your attention to it, is enough to alter it a little.
Walk into most yoga classes and there are often very specific instructions given as to how to breathe. I’ve done this as well when teaching. I still do from time to time, so I’m not saying to never do so. Yet, we might consider when and why it might be useful and appropriate.
Might we begin by just noticing it?
Leave it be.
Allow your breath to respond… rather than consider it is another thing to be fixed. Or regulated, standardized, conformed to. Imposed upon. Being asked to disregard your own natural need or rhythm, during a given experience or situation.
If you’d like to follow along, here’s a 4-min recording you might use to explore your breath early one morning. Or maybe another time during the day. There’s no right or wrong here. Rather, an opportunity to tune in to what might be a place of noticing what we feel, what ‘state of being’ we’re in, what we are experiencing. (Click the link below. You may be directed to another link, or not, depending on where/how you’re viewing it.)
With consistent practice of this checking in with your breath, your body, you might find a pattern. Maybe a baseline of some kind. This might be easier in the morning before you’ve moved or thought too much about the day ahead. But it may be at another time that works well for you.
What does your breath feel like? And then later in the day, notice when it changes. And it surely will from time to time.
Be curious. Check it out. See what you notice. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
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 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.
Well, much like anything, it depends. The answer is rarely straightforward and definitive.
As mentioned in the last post everyone comes in with their own experience of pain, history, individual, unique life circumstances. What might be helpful for one, will not likely be the same for another.
Below are a few comments made during a recent class, which illustrates this difference, for each person.
“I slept so much better all last week.”
“I’m not really using my cane anymore. My leg feels stronger, and I have no pain.”
“My back went out last week for a couple of days. I was flat on my back, so I used one of the (breath-awareness-distraction) practices and it really helped me get through it.”
And your back now? – Me
“It’s fine, now.”
“I’m so surprised. Normally I cannot walk around without my shoes on.”
Did you feel pain, while we were doing this (walking exploration, practice)? – Me
“No, I had no pain at all.”
I can’t say what will happen for you, or for another. Most often though, people will begin to experience feelings of calm, safety, less or no pain during class. And, some will begin to transition those responses and feelings into their daily lives.
Like most things in life, what we do, what we practice, we get better at. I would say the same, in this case. If you only practice during our class, for an hour a week, you may not see as much progress, notice as much difference. However, if you do a little, each day, I bet your experience will be similar to these others.
What I highlight to people, from both their comments and experiences is that something changed. To get curious about that, and realize they created the change.
It wasn’t something done to them.
From there, they begin to feel some hope. Perhaps a little empowered and more able to start exploring and learn to self-manage or resolve their persistent pain.
Most people I talk to wonder how yoga might help with their long-term, persistent or chronic pain. So, I thought I might tell you this week a little about who comes to these classes, what we do and why, or the outcomes experienced.
Let’s begin with who attends.
Most people in these classes (or private 1-to-1 sessions) have never done yoga before.
Classes tend to consist of people who don’t turn up in yoga studios, who probably never thought of doing yoga to help with their pain. After all, most of the marketing and imaging around yoga is out of reach for many people, let alone people who have difficulty or experience pain when they move.
Most, are around mid-life; perhaps 45 or older.
The oldest student who’s attended is 78. Most are about 50 – 65 years old. Once in a while someone younger will attend, perhaps in their 30’s. Currently, my youngest client is 13.
What are some of the conditions, or diagnoses they have?
The most common condition is people with persistent back pain and/or those with fibromyalgia. Most often, those with fibromyalgia have had it 20 to 30 years or more. Others have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, other musculoskeletal pain (hips, shoulders, feet, and neck seem to be the most common). Chronic pelvic pain, is another. Or those who are currently going through cancer treatment, or recovering from it.
What are some of the conditions or diagnoses that often accompany persistent pain?
Most often it’s either (or both) anxiety and depression. Many suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue, sleep issues (insomnia, sleep apnea, etc.), incontinence.
You can see there is such a wide variety and it’s not really ‘yoga’ people coming to these particular classes. Again, from what I know about most, they are people who have tried many other things that haven’t worked for them over the long term or are using yoga as complementary to or integrated with other aspects of their personal comprehensive pain management or treatment plan.
Up next on the blog, we’ll dig into what we do in these classes. I hope you’ll join me.
Unhelpful beliefs about LBP are associated with greater levels of pain, disability, work absenteeism, medication use and healthcare seeking. Unhelpful beliefs are common in people with and without LBP, and can be reinforced by the media, industry groups and well-meaning clinicians.”
The purpose of the editorial (made free due to popular demand, read it here) and the infographic is to “identify 10 common unhelpful beliefs about LBP and outline how they may influence behavioral and psychological responses with pain”.
The authors are also “calling on clinicians to incorporate these into their interactions with patients.”
This is so important. It’s why I always include a touch of education and information as part of my Pain Care Yoga classes. When people are in pain, it’s difficult to understand why it might be safe to move, how important it is to move and how movement “doesn’t mean you are doing harm – FACT #5”.
I hope these FACTS will bring some curiosity to your beliefs. I hope you might consider what you believe and how they might influence your experience of pain, either positively or negatively.
Sometimes, however, information is not enough. I, we, can give you all the ‘FACTS’ but often until you experience that you CAN move without pain it’s difficult to change beliefs.
As called for in the editorial, I am personally committed to bringing evidence-informed information and education to the people I work with and hope to provide a new experience to get you moving again, with confidence.
Foster NE, Anema JR, Cherkin D, et al. Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions. The Lancet 2018;391:2368-83.
Buchbinder R, van Tulder M, Oberg B, et al. Low back pain: a call for action. The Lancet 2018;391:2384-8.
Like many people my age, we’re not looking so much to get more stuff. Rather, we’re hoping in some small way, we might make a contribution. Help others.
What does this mean for you?
Here’s the thing,
Do you suffer from persistent or chronic pain? Or know someone else who does? Are you tired of finding only short-term relief from pain?
Most people think that pain is inevitable as we age. I used to think so. Now, I know that pain can change. I see it all the time in the people I work with. Science, also tells us this is true. You can learn a bit about my own story of pain and how it changed a little later, but first here’s the deal FOR YOU!
Starting today November 25th until December 2nd,receive 30-40% off my regular pricing.See how you might change what is getting in your way, limiting your life, the contributing factors to your experience of pain. Check this out!
$58 for an initial 90-min session (approx. 40% discount) if you book this week!
$58 for a follow-up 60-min session (approx. 30% discount) if you book this week! (All appointments to be scheduled between Nov 25th, 2019 and Jan 15th, 2020)
Book your first 90-minute session for $58 (regular price is $95)
Book a follow-up 60-minute session for $58 (regular price is $85)
Book a package of 4 sessions, 1-90 min and 3-60 minutes for $280 (regular price is $335)
BONUS:You’ll also receive a FREE audio recording of a slow, guided awareness practice. With the usual busy, stressful holiday season soon upon us, this can be used for relaxation, to help guide you into to sleep or rest or just notice what you feel, what you might need on any given day.
GIVE BACK:I will donate $5 to *Chrysalis House for each session booked, whether a first or follow-up session. Chrysalis House provides a safe and secure shelter to aid in helping and support those affected by domestic violence. Which tends to escalate around the holiday season. Together, helping others.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact me here to book a session or for further information. To learn more about individual sessions, click here.
NEW LOCATION: I have a new location for my private 1-to-1 sessions. Various opportunities presented themselves but when I heard about this space called “Comfort Corner” it sounded just right. Thanks to my local community for providing all the leads and contacts in/around the West Ottawa area when I went looking for recommendations. People helping people.
Pain is surely complex. Which is why looking for the ‘thing’ to ‘fix it’ usually doesn’t work.
You truly are unique. Each person I work with comes from a unique background with unique experience and their own history, body, circumstances and environment. We’ll work together in partnership to
explore what might be contributors to your pain,
how you might change things up,
create new patterns of moving without pain,
learn to move with more ease,
experience how YOU CAN modulate your pain
My goal is to help you learn to ‘be your own best resource’. So you don’t have to rely forever upon me, or other health care professionals. You’ll have the tools, resources, information and practices to help you through the inevitable journey of life’s ups and downs. To live a meaningful and purposeful life, no matter your situation or condition of health.
I would love to work with you!
Group Classes are helpful for chronic pain but this 1-to-1 work can make all the difference. Why not see if it’s right for you? Or if you have family, friends or colleagues who you think might benefit, please share with them as well.
Email me at email@example.com or you can contact me here to book a session or for further information. To learn more about individual sessions, click here.
*Chrysalis House is a safe and secure 25-bed shelter in Western Ottawa. It is a place where a woman can go to protect herself and her dependants from violence and abuse. In this supportive environment, a woman can focus on her personal needs and choices, as well as on her dependants’ needs.