How NOT to do yoga

Hi Friends,

It is Friday! I wish you an excellent weekend ahead!

I was thinking about my yoga “evangelism” and some subtle things I have not explored on this blog about the differences in types of yoga. Based on some questions/comments that readers have contributed, and my recent bad experience with a hot vinyasa class which actually triggered my fight/flight/freeze response, I thought it would be valuable to comment further.

On Monday I was working in the morning and missed the hatha yoga class I planned o attend. I had a hankering for a class so I searched the available ones at the different branches of my gym and found a noon class not too far away. It was vinyasa (or flow) yoga, a class in which there tends to be continuous motion throughout the class.

This particular gym tends to pair upbeat rock music with the flow sequences, at least after the teacher walks through the sequence once or twice. Then we flow on our own, and sometimes the music is turned up. In this particular class the music was turned up so loud I actually got triggered, and immediately considered leaving the room, it felt so loud and uncomfortable.

relaxing kitty
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I nearly left the room but first I searched for the teacher and asked if she could turn it down slightly. She did. The class was “energetic” but I took breaks as necessary during the flow and did not get caught up with what everyone else was doing. I made the practice my own and adapted to what my body needed, as I have been taught by several wise teachers. 

After the class I explained what had happened to the teacher. She told me not all teachers at the gym would be as willing to accommodate but that they could supply earplugs if they were needed. I was so shocked by this, given what I have come to value about yoga, and its value on soothing my nervous system and coming back to the body.

The practice I am most fond of can be described as hatha yoga. At this gym, the most similar practice is called “root” and at other venues it may be described as mindful yoga.  I also enjoy soma yoga, which is a process of teaching the body to let go of involuntary patterns of holding that we sometimes develop subconsciously over time.

The point of this comment today is that not all yoga classes are the same. It is important to give yourself the opportunity to try different classes and different teachers to see what works best for you. While there may be classes that are challenging in terms of developing your strength, all good teachers understand that some students may need to adapt their practice.

YOU are the only one who knows what is right for your body. No teacher should ever push you beyond your limits. They simply cannot know if you have injuries or vulnerabilities that affect your practice. Even if you spend an entire hour laying on the mat in savasana (corpse pose) and focus on your breathing, you have done your yoga.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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Wellness Wednesday – What do you do when triggered?

I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.

In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.

In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.

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I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.

It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.

Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.

In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”

“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…

The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”

Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.

Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.

So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.

Be well,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

600 days

Hi Friends,

This post will be short and sweet. I just want to acknowledge and celebrate my 600th consecutive day of meditation and/or yoga according to my Insight Timer app. Yay! I guess I can count that habit as a consistent one, the practice of being mindful of thoughts, emotions, my body and sometimes the space around me as well.

There is probably a Buddhist admonition not to take pride in one’s meditation. Something about ego and all of that. But I am proud of establishing the habit and I am not Buddhist. So I am going to own it and celebrate! Cheers!

What daily or weekly habits serve you best in your life? 

cristy@meximinnesota.com

600 days

Things I love about home

  1. Waking up in my own bed, in a nice dark and quiet room.
  2. Cuddling with my kitties and knowing that they missed me while I was away.
  3. Making my half-caf coffee in my own kitchen with cardamon and cinnamon in the brew pot and adding a few tablespoons of coconut milk.
  4. Not needing to go anywhere else for food, or figure out what is nearby.
  5. Going to bed at 6:30p.m. and not having to apologize or explain to anyone.
  6. Driving my car to exactly where I want to go, no timetables or calculations required.
  7. Sitting in my favorite chair in the living room and writing.
  8. Going to my favorite yoga classes on a Thursday night.
  9. September in Minnesota
  10. The enormous blessings I remember when I arrive home. What an amazing life I get to live.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Cristy and Clem with the Tower Bridge in London
Selfie with my hubby on our last full day in London, September 18, 2018

Throwback Thursday – responding vs reacting

The following is an edited blog from February 2018, pre-scheduled while I travel. Good reminders as we embark on the journey.

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One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

brain on vacation
Photo credit link – Ted Talks

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

cristy@meximinnsotana.com

 

Enchanted by an idea

I have been possessed by an idea I had while at yoga class on Saturday. It reminds me of the notion Liz Gilbert describes in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. It is one of those ideas that came to me with a visceral sense of excitement and fascination.

It is an idea that caused me to reach out to my favorite yoga teacher to collaborate, since it involves yoga as a tool for mindful leadership. Y’all know that I practice meditation and yoga regularly. Meditation is a daily practice and yoga is typically 3-4 times a week. I consider yoga one form of my meditation practice because it is about body awareness and has helped “ground” me in my life and truth more firmly.

As I contemplated this idea, I met some women after class who are also attendees of the class. We reflected in this women-only gym on how this hatha/soma yoga practice has enhanced our lives. I started to explore my idea with them, explaining how radically my world has changed since beginning to re-embody myself through this practice. They shared their own stories, and we sat for an hour in mutual exchange of some big life realizations.

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I carried that spark to my yoga teacher, asking if she would meet with me to discuss the idea, to figure out if we could co-create a workshop around this notion. I seemed to have confirmed there would be interest, but of course had not figured out the venue, the exact audience, the marketing, etc. That will come later. We will meet on Wednesday to discuss.

Who knows where it might go, but the idea has taken hold of me. Last night I woke up from sleep around 1:30 a.m. and the idea was with me in vivid color. It didn’t give me insomnia like some ideas do. But it did very firmly take hold of me, and it seemed to ask if I wanted to dance with it.

Indeed, I do want to dance. There is pleasure and excitement in the idea, and it is starting to blossom into more creative ideas within me. This is truly enchantment. It is allowing rather than pushing and striving. But it is also being ready for what emerges, even if a fluttery nervousness is also present. That is part of the process, and I accept it as well.

When did you last dance with an idea that would not leave you? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

You are not made of sugar

And therefore you will NOT melt if you walk or run in the rain. 

This was what my husband just said to a friend of his, who asked for his help to to get in better shape by walking and possibly running, and taking care of himself. So he agreed to coach this young friend. He has taken a hiatus from running for a few years, and wants to get back to it, and possibly lose some weight as well.

Eight years ago when hubby and I met, we were both avid runners, but I was running 10-milers and half-marathons and he was training for a crazy number of marathons. For a couple years, we had a crazy streak of Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac madness. I still run, and have done the Twin Cities 10-miler for about 8 out of the last 10 years (due to a connection to the sponsor).

Now that I know that yoga is a better path to body wisdom for me, I run a lot less, and I actually find it easier to maintain my weight. Cortisol and stress-generated hormones are probably the reason for that. Now that I understand how insulin resistance and stress-hormones work, I am able to follow an eating plan that makes it easier to keep weight off.

I used to joke to my husband that running kept me out of prison because it allowed me to deal with the frustrations of working with a boss (at the time) who was clueless and full of herself, without resorting to violence. This is a very tasteless and insensitive joke, I now realize. Workplace and school violence are no joke, and it breaks my heart that children must go through metal detectors to get to their classrooms these days.

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Managing our emotions is a key part of emotional adulthood. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, and our emotions drive actions (or lack of action) and therefore our results, we must take the time to develop awareness of our thoughts. Since subconscious thoughts come from long-held beliefs, it can be hard to “tease out” those habitual patterns by ourselves.

I have found that coaching and therapy have been two incredible tools for dealing with anxiety and depression that are hallmarks of those struggling with a.d.d. or any kind of addiction issue. Also, family patterns and learned habits of dealing with stress can be hard to unravel. Knowing how all of those elements work together can help us move forward in our lives.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to access therapy, and it is not available to everyone, which I believe is tragic. Yoga, meditation and running are wonderful tools to deal with stress. There is no shame in seeking help, whether through therapy, or a trusted friend or confidante that can compassionately witness our pain and sit with us through it.

No, you are not made of sugar. You will not melt. But there is no shame in getting shelter from the emotional storms that may batter us more than a gentle Spring rain.

Peace, y’all.

 

 

 

Surrender

This morning I woke up very early (3 a.m.) , a byproduct of the time change perhaps, or maybe that 2 phase sleep that humans used to undergo in ancient times. Some historic investigations of human patterns in sleep indicate that we did not expect one long sleep prior to the invention of electronic lighting and an industrial economy. Typically there was a “first sleep” at night for about 4 hours and a period of wakefulness for a couple of hours followed by a “second sleep” or morning sleep of another 4 hours.

When I learned about this pattern, and as I have really worked on getting better quality sleep in recent years, it relieved some anxiety about the morning wakefulness I sometimes experience. I am a morning person, and these beautiful, quiet, spacious times are actually welcome for me, when I get to bed early enough. Today I will attend a meeting on behalf of my boss, who opted not to travel here from Miami on Health Economics and Value Based Healthcare from 9-5.

Since my director volunteered me to attend this all-day meeting on his behalf, I was not able to turn down the opportunity. I am trying to get myself psyched up for it, since I will likely see a few of my less favorite colleagues there, one in particular that always seems to challenge my patience.

So instead of trying to get back to sleep this morning, I surrendered to the wakefulness, knowing I love my morning solitude, my writing time, meditation and personal journal time. I am unwilling to sacrifice these when called upon for professional responsibilities, so sleep is sacrificed for a day. I can cope in the short-term, and I will be gentle with myself.

As I consider what my day will involve, I open myself to the possibility of learning something new. I am very interested in value based healthcare conceptually. Though sometimes the economists cause me to grit my teeth in the way reduce human health to cost effectiveness models, I strive to be open to an understanding of how we best can serve patients while creating sustainable health care.

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The concept of surrender came to me again in a recent insight I have had regarding an issue I want to solve with my family. I have been obsessing and tossing and turning it about in my mind, looking for a solution. It has kept me up at nights, and clearly it agitates me. But when I was lying in savasana on Sunday night yin yoga class, I had this strong sense of an inner voice asking me to surrender that problem. Surrender it? To whom? To what? Permanently?

Some inner knowing may be nudging me toward backing off from the problem, and allowing it to unfold. I am not sure, but some of us with a tendency toward worry or anxiety can allow our minds to run rampant with playing out scenarios. I realize I have a tendency to do this, probably a learned tendency from parental figures.

We have to acknowledge sometimes that we are not in control of everything. No matter how much thought and energy we put into some outcome we may want, at some point we need to allow things to unfold. Some people put their trust in God. I am not sure how I feel about that. I do believe there is some higher power, some creative and loving force in the world. I have felt this presence at times, and it is nothing less than miraculous.

Right now, and considering other obligations I will handle today, I will surrender the worrying on that particular issue. I will pay attention to my distractions, and notice when my mind wanders. And I will stay mindful of being in the present moment with the intention of learning today. Now that I have gotten my writing done early and prioritized the daily routines I most treasure, I can move on.

Have a happy Wednesday, peeps. Remember, it’s pi day – 3.14! Treat yo’self! 😉