Posts In: mindfulness

Yoga and racism

June 9, 2020

Your yoga practice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How you “be” on the mat moves into the world. Whatever you’re experiencing off the mat impacts your practice on the mat. And the bulk of your practice actually happens off the mat. Yoga is more than asana and breath. 

Like many of you I have been saddened as I learn more about the racism that is such an ingrained part of our country. Of course I knew that racism existed. I grew up in rural Indiana with only two black students in my class of 365. As an adult I thought I was a good ally. Now I’m seeing that I have more to learn and to do. 

Attending Salem’s local march with 2000 people in attendance was uplifting and encouraging. But I also know this is only a start for the real change that needs to happen to bring equality to our country.

While I’m turning to trusted sources for information like this https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR29xdWzzYUpcDUx3ShKh-ntnb12qKsZrQA7HZAgyo_K6tfSuRBO63pax2w

and this 

https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234

I’m also turning to yoga for guidance. 

Yama Help

Yoga has eight limbs and In class we focus on limb three, asana or postures, and limb four, breathe work or pranayama. I bet you’re wondering what limb one and two are, right?

Yama, limb one, is about staying away from unhealthy behaviors, words, and thoughts. It’s about returning to our true nature. That true nature is wholeness and love. We live in a broken world which often negates our wholeness rather than connecting us with it. In order to see that true nature in others we have to find it in ourselves. Limb two is Niyama which helps us in our aim toward harmony. 

There are five Yamas and all can help guide us during rough times. I wanted to focus on the first Yama, ahimsa, often translated as non-harming. Think reverence, love, and compassion for all. 

My way to approach ahimsa is to first look inward. How am I being loving to myself? How can I show myself more compassion? 

These are tough times. You may be triggered by the racism that is being filmed, discussed, and shared. You may be triggered by what you find inside as you look at how you may have been unknowingly contributed or been an unhelpful bystander. I am personally taking a hard look at myself, what I value and how those values show up. 

A friend shared this tool with me 

https://medium.com/@alishiamccullough/the-7-circles-of-whiteness-cb60e53d14e0 

I’ve found it to be helpful to look at where I live around the issue of racism. I aspire to circle 7 and I have work to do. When checking out the article be sure and check out her questions in the beginning. Great coaching questions and a way to bring in self-compassion during the discovery process. We can’t share what we don’t have. As you deepen your self-love and reverence, you can find more for others. And right now our world needs that. 

How that shows up for you will be your unique blend. I encourage you to step into a more active role for equality. Refer to the list of above if you’re not sure where to begin. Be sure to season this work with love for yourself as you imperfectly move forward as well as love for those you encounter on this journey. 

I’d love to hear your rescues in the comments.

While most of us will arise from this pandemic with our wellness (or relative wellness) intact, few of us will be unchanged. If you know anyone who fears being infected with the Covid-19 virus, you know how scary it can be for them. My mother tested negative after a week of fever, fatigue and disorientation that resulted in a hospital stay. Waiting for the results, not being able to get tested, or wondering if you’ve been exposed all feel stressful.

Even the people I know who have been well during this time have altered their patterns, some significantly, like the business owners I know who have temporarily closed down. Others have gone for weeks without hugging family or friends, social interaction, or regular activities.

You may have experienced the fear of getting ill or losing loved ones. You might be feeling financial stress, unable to pay your bills, wondering whether you’ll have a job or business to which you can return. I also hear people talking about loneliness, boredom, and disappointment about lost opportunities like a birthday party for a family member, high school graduations, or a long planned vacation.

I too have experienced stress this last month. In addition to my mom’s illness and hospital stay, my brother died after battling brain cancer for three and half years. Not going back to visit my Indiana family was sad, but I knew it was the wise, right choice right now. My massage business is closed and my spouse’s business has been impacted. But with all of that I’m still well and hopeful. One of my lifesavers has been yoga.

My Yoga Survival Toolbox

I started practicing yoga in college to help reduce my stress. That has continued to be one of the things I love about my practice. Here are a few of the ways I use yoga to help me manage stress

Awareness: Sometimes when you’re going through a stressful time, yet you have stuff to do—a job to attend to, kids that now need to be homeschooled, meals to prepare, etc. you may bypass what you’re feeling. Sometimes paying attention can feel overwhelming or scary. Yet, noticing and acknowledging your inner world is crucial to shifting your inner landscape. You may not even realize how stressed you are until you pause to pay attention. Even that act may lessen your stress.

Breath. I use breath awareness throughout my day. When you’re under stress you may tend to hold your breath or to breath more shallowly. That triggers your body to stay in stress mode. When you learn to shift your breathing to that of a more relaxed state, even if you don’t feel relaxed at first, you begin to alter your nervous system. 

I recommend a breath practice that makes use of a longer exhalation, say an eight count exhalation to a four count inhalation, at bedtime. Try making it a habit before you fall asleep. It will help you downshift your nervous system making it easier to enter a deep and restful sleep.

Poses: I choose poses to support how I want to feel on a given day. Somedays I need to move so I might do more active standing poses. Other days I know I need the relaxation so I pick a slower paced yoga, maybe not even getting off the floor. I don’t have an expectation of what I’ll be doing when I sit on my mat. I refer to step one above and check in to find the most appropriate practice for me that day.

When determining your repertoire, consider spinal twists. There are lots of twists to choose from–seated, standing, on your back, and even on your belly. All will help you reduce stress and support healthy digestion which can become imbalanced during challenging times.

Yoga deserves its long standing reputation as a stress reduction tool. Simple, powerful, and effective. I invite you to experiment with these tools and see if they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

If you want to join me for live streaming yoga I’ve got two classes I’m offering right now on a pay what feels right basis. If funds are tight, join us for free.

I’m also offering private streaming yoga if you’d like a more individualized approach.

Holiday Sanity?

December 9, 2018
holiday-wreath


How’s your holiday season ramping up? A few years ago I ran into a yoga teacher I know and we talked about the stress of the holidays. I mentioned that next year I would be doing things differently by choosing fewer things to participate in. Her response? “But by next year you’ll forget.” 

Was she right? I made a pact with myself right then not to forget. I’ve always felt like at the time of year when we naturally want to hibernate, when the days are darker, when our natural rhythm invites us to be more internal, we plan even more gatherings. I decided to be really selective and choose only a couple events each December. 

This year I’m going to Regina, a local sound healer’s event on December 21. Then on Christmas morning my partner and I are volunteering at an event that brings breakfast and some essential items like socks, garbage bags, and flashlights to the local homeless population. That’s it. 

Want to know the other thing that created ease in my holidays? A few years back my sister lived in London and even though I sent my packages weeks ahead she didn’t receive them until after the holidays. In fact, she didn’t receive any of the gifts from my family in time. I felt terrible. The next year I mailed my gifts a month ahead. If I was going to get hers in the mail I might as well send the rest of my families gifts at the same time. 

That was the most restful December I’d had in years. It worked so well that, even though my sis now lives in Washington D.C. area, I’ve continued the tradition. My gifts were in the mail by November 26 this year. I’m not telling you this to pat myself on the back. I find plenty of ways to stress myself out. But I’ve gotten good at keeping the holidays restful and special. 

My challenge to you? Take one minute right now and list the one thing that’s most important to include in your holiday season.  Then take another minute to make a note of some obligation you can let go of. I bet there’s at least one. You really don’t have to attend that staff party you hate or make cookies for the exchange or do the secret Santa thing. Unless you really want to. Be mindful about what would feel good to you. 

By the way, I have two remaining spots in my February Purposeful Yoga Retreat in Mexico. It would make a great holiday gift, don’t you think? You can get the details here. 

labyrinth

I had finished a swim and was standing in the locker room when I felt a familiar twinge in my back. “Oh no. The pain is coming back.” It was the early 90’s and I had injured my back while finishing up massage school. My back would feel better after treatments like chiropractic care and massage. But a year after the injury the pain would still return. I felt like I would never be back to normal.

While that familiar twinge had returned many times, this time was different. I realized that what I was feeling was the tightening of a muscle, not pain. I breathed and focused on relaxing. The twinge left and the pain did not reappear! I realized my fear about the pain had been causing my muscles to tighten hence restricting the blood flow and ultimately causing more pain. You mean I could control this? Wow.

I wasn’t new to yoga, but this was awareness was new.

I’d dabbled in yoga since the 70’s. Regular yoga became a part of my routine after other treatments weren’t healing my injury. I’d started a consistent practice to help my body. I hadn’t counted on the“side effects” of yoga including increased awareness.

labyrinth

Your Go-to System

Awareness is a powerful tool. What do you notice right now? Your achy neck? Your breathing? A distracting thought? A feeling of happiness?

Most of us have a go-to system that we check in with WHEN we’re being mindful. We are not mindful all of the time, nor do we want to try for that state. Our habits and patterns serve us well by freeing up focus and energy. For example, I don’t have to think about how to type. I’ve done it enough that the neural pathways take over and I can focus on what I’m writing instead.

As you develop your mindfulness skills through meditation, yoga, chi kung, art, hiking, gardening, knitting, etc. you usually have a system you go to first. You notice your body. You pay attention to your breath. It’s gives you a starting point. Noticing everything at once would be too hard.

As you build your mindfulness muscles you can start to access more information. If you’re new to the gym a trainer will introduce you to a few pieces of equipment. You don’t need to lift every weight, try every machine. Over time you build your repertoire. It’s the same with mindfulness.

You are Connected.

Your body, mind, spirit, energy, and emotions are connected. Think a happy thought and you will feel differently. Your body will shift to meet your emotion. But sometimes the message from the different levels of your wholeness will conflict.

Your body aches from too many hours of sitting in front of the computer. So you commit to prying your butt from your chair on a daily basis and hitting the gym. Great plan, right?

While your body might be screaming for movement your emotional body might be singing a different song. Maybe you’ve recently had a loss and your emotional body wants nothing more than to sit in that chair and eat a daily pint of Hagen-Dazs.™

If you listen to your physical body and ignore the call of your emotions you will end up sabotaging your efforts at the gym. And the bummer is that you’ll probablyfeel even worse because you didn’t succeed.

What’s a Whole Person to Do?

  1. Acknowledge and celebrate whatever awareness/mindfulness practice you do have. When I say “practice” I’m not referring to a formal practice. Every time you pay attention to some part of you you’re practicing mindfulness. To be mindful you don’t need to travel to India and sit at the feet of a guru.
  1. Add another layer. You notice your body is tense. Check in with your breathing. What do you find? When you get comfortable with that layer, add another. What is your mind focusing on?Eventually you’ll be able to check-in with a wide range of awareness. It’s like being a painter and starting with only red, yellow, and blue in your paint set. Over time you add burnt sienna, orchid, sea foam green… And you get different results with a bigger tool kit.
  1. Honor the discrepancies. Find creative ways to honor the different messages you get. How can you nurture your grieving heart while getting your butt out of that chair?
  1. Look for themes. When I coach clients we sometimes do an exercise where they listen to a number of different levels. The cool thing is that there are always themes. Those themes help direct the course of your life. Those themes can lead you to a path that will be supported by yourwhole team.

So what’s your go-to mindfulness system? Are you noticing any themes? Would love to hear your wisdom.

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