Join us from April 19-22, 2018 at Yoga Journal LIVE! in New York for master classes, asana intensives and workshops with the best master teachers in the yoga and wellness world. Plus, international speaker and healing expert Max Strom will be delivering a keynote this year on finding happiness and purpose.
This is always a fun marketplace of activities, inspiration and connections with like-minded teachers and practitioners.
Spice Yoga is an official studio partner for Yoga Journal LIVE! New York.
Life is full of moments of disappointment, suffering and loss. We all know this. Nobody's life is perfect, although carefully curated Instagram posts or other public profiles of individuals seem to suggest otherwise. Since we can expect to have to weather life's ups and downs, it would make sense to understand how our handling of painful events can help us adapt and cope, and ultimately, to thrive.
In this post, I'd like to highlight the dangers of unhelpful coping strategies, share some excellent resources, and offer you a 5-minute yoga nap!
Think about the last time you faced a painful event. How did you respond? What did it feel like in your body? Do you remember?
Our natural stress response to emotionally painful events translates to pain that is palpable in the material body. For example, when we say we have a heartache, it is due to tightness across the chest, constricted breathing and increased heart rate. Some people withdraw from these distressing sensations, or numb the pain with activities, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. Others suppress their emotions and demonstrate a stoic front, although inside they may be crying for help. And some others are overwhelmed, sucked into the whirlpool of negative emotions, ranging from self-loathe, anger to depression. These strategies are unhelpful as they run us aground.
Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score, highlights how excess stress and the physiological changes in the body and brain can be debilitating in the long run, predisposing us to autoimmune diseases and more. He worked with trauma survivors of all stripes, but the implications are the same for those who have suffered other emotional pain. The body does not forget.
Can we find a more skillful response to painful events that are part of life?
If you are hurting, one possibility is to switch from evaluating the event (which has caused the hurt) to acknowledging what is happening at the raw sensory input level. So, we move from cognitive processing of "What went wrong?", "Can I handle it?" and "Why me?", to noticing the sensations in the body, of "I'm feeling heavy in my heart," and "My breath is shallow and rapid." We stay with the direct felt sense of the ripples of an event on our emotions and body. This is mindfulness in practice.
As we stay present to what is happening in our own bodies, we are a witness to our processing of pain, and begin to de-couple the binding of sensations to our go-to conclusions of aversion, overwhelm and other judgments.
To begin to transform pain, learn to befriend yourself. Be kind. Stay present for as long as you need you. Cultivate a daily practice of just closing the eyes for 5-10 minutes to check in on your bodily sensations. Tell yourself you are not alone to experience such pain. Humans for millennia in the past, and today all around the world, experience suffering of different magnitudes. It is part of the human condition.
Hold this space for yourself. Trust the process. You'd begin to integrate the painful event and see it for what it is - just one of life's moments. And before long, you might notice less and less of the pain you used to notice, and develop a deeper awareness situated in the body. This feels safe, nourishing, and healing.
You've transformed pain into deep inner connection and presence.
If you find it hard to sense your body, you are not alone! Get literate with the felt sense, and practise with a Focusing community near you.
Restorative yoga is an excellent way to cultivate interoception (perception of inner environment and bodily self) at the same time as the poses and calm breathing can help calm the nervous system. Louise Carr shares a list of great reasons for practising restorative yoga.
Here's the 5-minute yoga nap I promised. The pose is restorative, and we are borrowing it to cultivate presence, relaxation and bodily awareness. Breathe with me!
Instead of a power nap, practise this restorative yoga pose for 5 minutes (and more, as you get more comfortable).
If you haven't experienced my body sensing online course yet, here's an invitation to sign up. It's another way to cultivate deep body presence, and is very suitable for those who are new to more subtle mindfulness techniques. From me to you, with compliments!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Reach out through any of these channels, leave a comment. I look forward to discussing with you!
"On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure." - Bhagavad Gita.
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Many people stay away from yoga and tell me that "I'm just not flexible enough," or "I can no longer twist", or "some poses are too challenging for me."
But are we missing the point when we count ourselves out based on a self-imposed pre-requisite of strength and flexibility? Perhaps we can be more flexible in exploring yoga without fixating on whether we would succeed or fail in it. In yoga, we don't have to meet any performance benchmarks.
The practice is the practice itself.
If we are open to exploring yoga, we begin to discover that the practice will soften and strengthen us in ways that we have never imagined possible.
Physical strength and flexibility will come through a regular asana (physical pose) practice. At the same time, there is a softening through the surrendering of the ego and opening of the heart, and a strengthening of our personal resilience to face life's vagaries.
Beyond the physical, yoga as meditative practice and as a philosophy is an effort in reconnecting to our center, to our true essence of being. Every effort counts.
We'd find at this center the essence that is unafraid to be vulnerable, that abounds in unselfish love, that is immaculate; the essence that does not get stuck in petty pros-and-cons dilemma, and is free from prejudice, hurt and blame. It welcomes 'failure' as part of the process. It does not dissipate energy in constant worrying about the past and anxiety about the future.
This reconnecting with the true essence of being is the euphoria we sometimes get to taste at the end of a yoga class, or experience in life's moments as a sensation of flow, orgasmic bliss, or as a second wind.
IF there is one goal to this practice, it is to tap into this vast potential, to flow with this boundless energy.
Remember, effort is all that is needed. The practice is the practice.
The practice itself is the practice.
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On a quiet Monday afternoon, at class start time, it appeared as if no one was going to come to practise. Then ten minutes later, two people turned up.
It can be difficult for yoga teachers to face a quiet room at class start time and for students to sail nonchalantly into class late. This is a common challenge leading a practice in non-studio settings, where the crowd is not familiar with yoga and the usual class etiquette, and that there’s no advance class list and client notes, and you’ve no idea who’s going to show up (, if any were to show up at all).
When I started teaching at this shelter, I was told that the women had all experienced some form of violence before, and was keenly aware that they needed yoga so much, and that it was hard to come by, so I’ve learned to bend my own rules. In any case, this is a good reminder to teach to the bodies and beings in the room, rather than to follow a preset lesson plan.
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This post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog. It is reposted here with permission.
When we are facing stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system is on alert, automatically recalibrating to increase blood pressure and heart rate and reduce digestion, to prepare the body for battle. Needless to say, our contemporary workaday lives, which is full of stress and sensory overload – tracking indices and social channel updates, digging ourselves out of a bottomless inboxes, rushing from meetings to lunch, to meetings over lunch – place a constant stress on us and trigger this ‘fight or flight’ response all the time.
When we are time starved, we often try to have an efficient workout, either by going for a hard run or a bootcamp session or choosing physically demanding yoga sessions. Perhaps these are efficient from a burning calories standpoint and, with discipline, speed, muscle build-up, weight loss and other results can be attained. But are they giving us overall health, vitality and balance?
With our relative physical inactivity, from desk-bound jobs, elevators and surfing the Internet, getting into weekend warrior mode with high-intensity workouts jolts the body’s system.
Restoring the Body through Yoga
Where it comes to physical yoga, slowly building up the practice with discipline, and keeping it a regular part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle is better than a strong dose once in a while. More importantly, it is critical not to neglect the counterpart of active yoga – the more restful, effortless style of yoga practice often called ‘restorative yoga’. It is so called precisely as it replenishes and renews the practitioner, with the body slowly eased into shapes. Poses are held for up to 10 minutes at a time, supported by various props and gravity.
Sleepless in the City
Now you ask, to quiet our ‘fight or flight’ response, why don’t we just get to bed earlier? Proper deep sleep turns on the parasympathetic response of the nervous system, which has the beneficial effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate and increasing digestion, and also promotes cellular regeneration. It unleashes our capacity to heal ourselves from within.
However, many of us are not actually getting the proper rest that is so crucial for these restorative processes to happen. A combination of city noise (including light and actual sound pollution), mental noise and tension arising from chronically held stress, strain from late nights, irregular and imbalanced work and rest hours and meal times, keeps the mind-body in constant duress. We may not even get to the deep sleep stages of the sleep cycle.
Chronic Lack of Rest is Debilitating
After a strenuous physical workout, it may take you perhaps a day or two for the muscle soreness to go away, but your nervous system takes a much longer time to recover.
Have you ever noticed that nagging fatigue, the feeling that you’re just not ready to start the week ahead? It can be from the lack of proper rest and an over-active sympathetic response.
Our bodies need proper rest for the vital systems to rebuild to compensate for the stress that we subject them to. Without good quality rest, there’s no chance for cellular repair and regeneration to take place. Athletes too under-perform when they are over-trained. Mark Jenkins gives a succinct explanation here.
In the United States, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. It is a lifestyle disease caused by a variety of factors, including poor diet, irregular and lack of physical exercise, but a constantly stimulated nervous system is also a factor for heart disease. It is a likely explanation for hormonal imbalances, chronic pains, diabetes, allergies, etc. As long as we don’t give our bodies the chance to heal, we’d be depleting our overall immunity and wearing down the other essential functions of the body over time.
Restorative yoga is not optional, it is essential to our continued vitality! We all need these self-care therapeutic sessions. Try starting your week, or day, with it.
If short on time, practise ONE restorative poses for 10 to 15 minutes as a pick-me-up anytime your energy feels like blah…).
Like most skills, relaxation takes practice! Start with some guidance, and include it as a conscious time out in your schedule. It’s your weekly ‘Top-Up’!
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