Many people begin a yoga practice, or some other kind of therapeutic movement practice, is to alleviate pain or stiffness. In a culture where many of us spend a huge chunk of our days sitting down and looking down at some kind of device, neck pain is an incredibly common complaint that a lot of yoga practitioners have. As you know if you've practiced at Fearless Heart, we love tailoring our classes to what practitioners need on any given day, and most of us have a repertoire of stretches and movements for loosening up neck tension. However, if you've ever dealt with chronic neck pain, whether from a single injury or from repetitive stress and postural patterns, you know that sometimes, everything makes your neck hurt. Maybe you've heard yoga teachers give you the cue to "relax" or "soften" your neck in a posture, and you think "if I could relax my neck on command, I'd do it." From my own experience as a practitioner and a teacher, I find that when it comes to neck pain, sometimes there's a little more going on. Here are a few things to consider.
When it comes to exercise, forget loyalty.
Practicing yoga is wonderful. But being exclusive to one form of movement to stay healthy is like taking a multivitamin and refusing to eat food and hoping that it will be enough.
Even though we are creatures of habit, novelty is so important to the health of our tissues. Quick science lesson: no cell is ever more than two cells away from a blood vessel. This is so that cells have a constant nutrient and waste management supply through the vascular system. The nutrients and wastes are moved between cell walls in the extra-cellular fluid. So what does this have to do with moving in unusual ways? If you only ever move your body tissues in the same manner, certain areas will have a build up of old chemical waste and a lack of nutrient delivery to cells. By squeezing the tissues of our body, we are constantly assisting the diffusion of materials (both nutrients and waste exchange) through our body.
Here is another thought: our bodies are a bit like plasticine. We have the potential to be really malleable, provided our tissues are warmed up first so that they become more fluid. This is a state known as thixotropy and it can be useful to imagine that our body is becoming more liquid as we move it around.
When we don't move it around, the opposite is true, we become more solid and more gluey. We develop what anatomist Gil Hedley calls "fuzz" [warning! real body parts - graphic!] Check this out and then meet me after.
So what does all of this mean for the dedicated yogi? We need to get creative. What else can we do to find novel ways of moving around when a sun salutation becomes second nature? The first step is to pay attention to what you are working when you are practicing. For example, my quads are the boss. When it comes to locomotion and power, my rectus femoris is basically Beyonce. It leads the charge and carries the whole movement. So even when I could be recruiting power from my hamstrings and my glutes, I don't need to because my quads already got the job done. One thing that I have found helpful in finding balance in the front and back of my body is cycling. The pumping action feels so good on my knees, and i can set it up so that I utilize and strengthen my hamstrings, making more space for me to get into backbends because now my quads aren't so tight. I have also recently taken up aqua cycle and I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of cycling with more resistance.
To find novelty to foster change you have to know where your habits are. This is way harder than it sounds, and it may require patience and the help of some good friends and skilled teachers to help. If we already knew where our blindspots were, they wouldn't be blindspots! The practice of coming to know oneself happens slowly and has so many layers. And how many of us feel like we don't even identify all that much with our physical selves? Have you ever caught yourself claiming that your body just isn't doing what you want it to? Who is the "you" in that sentence?! It can be really rewarding to just spend time getting familiar with the sensations that you experience on a regular basis.
Practically speaking though, there are lots of ways that you can boost your physical yoga practice by trying something new. Martial arts are a wonderful complement to yoga. They use the breath to harness internal energy and direct it with focus and concentration. Plus your centre of gravity will be challenged in ways that will definitely help your balancing poses. Walking, especially on different terrain is a great way to strengthen the connection between moving your deep stabilizers and your diaphragm in a way that frees up more motion. Did you know that your walking muscles and your breathing muscles are all one piece? And that those muscles not only maintain your posture as a successful biped, but they also are the driving force behind any inversion or arm balance?
As you saw with the unique mannerisms of Gil Hedley, another trick is just never stop moving. Fidgeting helps you maintain a level of pliability in your body. If you are in one position for too long, even a yoga position, you can become stuck and solidify. So now that you are done reading this blog post, get up and move that fuzz around!
At a time of year when many of the people around you may be making new year's resolutions, it can be a really important part of a yoga practice to check in with your expectations of yourself. What do you expect of yourself this year, and how can you find a balance between challenging yourself, and setting compassionate, flexible expectations for yourself? In a yoga practice, we talk a lot about releasing our expectations; this idea is at the core of having a beginner's mind. But what does it mean to actually "release your expectations"? Aren't expectations (whether they're expectations we place on ourselves, or ones that others place upon us) necessary in order for us to accomplish what we want and to fulfill our responsibilities to the people we love?
The thing is, I think that for a lot of us, our expectations of ourselves aren't really our own. More often, they're descended from expectations others have had of us in past relationships (whether that's relationships with friends, family members, co-workers, or partners). I think this unconscious adoption of others' expectations is especially applicable if, like me, you identify as a people pleaser. The expectations we place on ourselves can be a direct line to the core beliefs we have about ourselves. Upon reflection, I was able to realize that my desire to make everyone happy in every situation (at the expense of my own happiness and peace of mind) was directly linked to my beliefs about my own worth as a human being. So often, when you discover a pattern in your expectations of yourself, you can trace that back to a more basic, engrained belief you might operate according to, in a reactive way.
"If I disappoint someone, they won't love me anymore or something bad will happen)."
"My worth comes from my ability to make everyone like me."
"I am not inherently worthy of love, and thus must make up for it by making sure everyone is happy."
"Everyone else's happiness depends on me."
"Other people's happiness matters more than my own."
For me, being a people pleaser and holding myself to a perfectionistic standard ("I can't be anything less than perfect at all times or everyone will hate me") is a really hard habit to break because it's more than just a set of behaviours--it becomes a way of seeing the world.
In her book Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss writes about the importance of giving attention to the feelings that fuel our decisions. Are you making decisions from a place of love, she asks, or a place of fear? I truly believe that the tendency to be a people pleaser and to hold yourself to a standard of perfection comes from fear--fear that we will face conflict with people we care about, fear that we'll be rejected, fear that we won't be loved anymore. A practice I've been undertaking over the last year, when I catch myself in a people pleasing loop, is to start by asking myself "What am I afraid is going to happen if I say no to this person?" One of the odd things about fear, which may sound counterintuitive, is that the more specific you require your fear to be, the more shape and definition you give it by really looking at what you're afraid of...the less scary it becomes. The scariest horror movies are the ones where they don't show the monster up close; your imagination creates something way scarier than what they could actually show. The more vague and undefined our fears are, the less power they have over us.
Starting with fear cuts right to the heart of the matter. What are you afraid of? Start there.
Yoga at it's very best for me has always been a homecoming. It is how I arrive in my body with the sensory awareness of being alive. It has been something for me that allows me to inhabit my body in a way that is pure, and only for me and that makes me feel strong.
Temperamentally I am a fast person. I don't like to wait. I am not very good at being meticulous if good enough will get the job done so that I can move on to something else. I think quickly, I speak quickly and I grow impatient quickly, too. As I make my way through the coursework to become a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner I am learning about myself just as much as I am learning about SE, the nervous system, trauma and patterns in the experience of being human. After all, my nervous system is the template that I am learning all of this through first. Being in this program has had a profound impact on the way that I approach my own yoga practice, and the ways that I help other people cultivate their yoga experiences. Where I have been happily speeding along through life and enjoying the vigours of a vinyasa based practice, I have become deeply curious about what happens when I stop to smell the roses.
So how about a quick sidetrail?
Do you ever walk into a cafe and the song that is playing transports you to a different moment in your life? Suddenly you can place yourself in a different context, the sensory experience pulls you in as if that moment it happening all over again. Your body re-experiences the emotions from that moment in time. For that moment because of the song you are no longer in the cafe, you are a time traveler, temporarily returned to a moment of emotional intensity in your past . When called to examine it, the song itself means nothing to the actual event that occurred in the moment that you are now re-experiencing. But it has become associated with that moment as part of the snapshot that was taken in your physiology in that event. The two details are now linked together. Sometimes these associations are pleasurable. But that isn't always the case. Let's say the song that comes on recalls a time in your life where you felt deeply afraid or stressed out. You are now doomed to re-experience this series of emotions every time you hear the song. With SE and with yoga, we have the opportunity to choose something new with every breath we take. I wanted to share four ways that being a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in training has influenced my yoga practice:
1. More Isn't Always More
In order to break down the "devil in the details" way that link our senses and the past events we tie the details to each other, we have to slow down. A lot. It actually takes a lot of work for us to fully arrive in the present moment. Even right now as you are reading these words, are you able to feel your tongue? Are you tapping your toes, or maybe reading this on a mobile device while doing something else altogether? So when that song comes on in the cafe, what can you do to bring yourself more fully into the moment so that you can create a new experience for your nervous system? Can you wiggle your toes in your shoes? Can you look around and notice the little details in the cafe? The pattern of the floor tiles? The font on the cafe logo? Even in a yoga practice we can find ourselves mostly absent. When you are in your seated twist can you pay attention to the movement in your ribs as your breath changes, while also noticing the loosening of your shoulder tension? Can you keep your sit bones equally on the ground while you twist your torso? Or does the movement into the pose occur, immediately followed by the cascade of thoughts that take you back out of the moment (what's for dinner, don't forget to email the project team, don't forget to renew the car insurance...) We all do these things and guess what - they happen quickly. So when you notice yourself leaving the moment, take a second to re-establish your sensations. Getting good at being slow takes time, apparently. But I'm starting to appreciate it.
2. People Are Resilient
We humans have an enormous capacity for taking strain and finding ways to bounce back. None of us make it through life without the contusions left by doubt, instability, expectations, heartbreak, physical injury, spiritual questioning and any number of other indignities that we may endure. Our battle scars accompany us on the yoga mat too. But the act of showing up again and again even when we are plagued with doubt, when our bodies hurt, when we are drowning in sadness, when we feel lost is a sign of that capacity. We can adapt to work within the restraints of so many situations. Imagine cutting your index finger. Without cognitive command your body sends platelets to clot the cut and you instantly adapt your movements in order to temporarily protect your finger. You don't have to think about it every time; your body already knows exactly what steps to take. You have an innate capacity for healing at a level that is far greater than you may imagine.
3.We Need Each Other in Order to Thrive
People are designed to create community. Our physiology rewards us for spending time being in the company of other safe mammals. Our desire to be near each other is deeply wired and holds many benefits to our nervous systems. When we spend time with other people who are pursuing similar goals not only does that help to validate our sense of purpose, it also creates a very real downshift in our nervous system cycles. It helps us to feel secure and it helps us to slow down. Some people find it awkward that I have such a penchant for doing partner work in classes but I have many reasons why. When you engage in contact with another person in a safe environment where there is mutual respect and care, you are refining your neuroception, which is a neat way of saying that you can more clearly define and identify what is safe and healthy in your environment. We are also living in a culture that is sadly lacking in opportunities to nurture one another. Touch is mostly relegated to parenting, or it is assumed that it belongs solely in the realm of either sexual overture or violence. But touch is a vital part of being a healthy mammal with a well functioning nervous system and we benefit from being nurtured but also being in a nurturing role. Partner poses are wonderful because they create opportunities for that kind of connection with someone. I'm also a pretty big fan of high fives and hugs too (with consent, of course)
4. Don't Assume Anything
When a new practitioner shows up to my class, it is an opportunity for me to refine my observation skills. I am not responsible for making them have any specific experience, I can only invite them to notice what shows up for them in any given moment. I'm not there to entertain them, or cater to them. We can't always know what battles a person is engaged in at any given time. One of the biggest gifts that we can give to anyone is to hold space for them to be and to do so without layering our own expectations and needs onto their experience.
I am learning to enjoy the messiness a little bit more. I have always been in a big hurry but I can feel moments where I am less rushed and I am grateful for it. When I notice myself hurrying through something, I ask myself a question that I once heard Tom Myers pose to a class I was attending, "Where are you going? There is no there!".
To learn more about Somatic Experiencing or to book a session with Lindsay click here.
I think the main reason that FHY exists is because we have a hub for like-minded people to come together and help each other in the act of self-discovery. More than anything this place to me is my home, my tribe, my chosen family. Next week we will turn six and I am feeling very reflective. A lot has changed for me and we as a yoga studio have evolved enormously as well. Last year I did a post about goals and resolutions-ish and corralled a number of community members into sharing what they hoped to achieve in 2016. I asked the same thing of a select number of yogis as we turned to face 2017 and this post is about the answers I received. It isn't so much about the goals though. Rather, it is about turning towards each other as a community and asking for help. Creating statements about our hopes and dreams is about looking for support and accountability from each other as we attempt the bumpy and non-linear experience of personal growth.
For me, 2016 was another very big year. There were many gifts and a lot of insights. Some of them were deeply joyful and moving, but the insights that came wrapped in pain, embarrassment and disappointment are just as important. I hope that I can use the upsets to foster movement and to be grateful for the opportunity to examine my own samskara.
In the past year my relationships to the main hubs in my life have all changed. My personal definition of family continues to evolve as my role within my most initimate relationships grow and shift. That includes where I belong as a partner, as a parent and as my own parent to my inner child. My relationship to yoga became stale and sad and then nearly stalled completely. I found myself taking time away from my personal practice and feeling disconnected from it. I began investing again in my education by returning to school to pursue becoming a trauma renegotiation therapist. It has been hard work and the courses demand far more than my intellect. It has been a place where I am constantly forced to examine my own shadows and the patterns that have been grooved into my physiology and my relationships over my lifetime. It has been ugly and scary. And it has been incredible. Through Somatic Experiencing I have been able to rekindle my own appreciation of a yoga practice as a safe place for me to come into my own physical experience. This year there are even bigger challenges ahead as I continue to find ways to blend my two careers and to walk the path of healing personally with those tools as well. I will need my tribe to hold me to account and to be my refuge at times, too.
I am extremely grateful to have spent another year on this planet learning how to be a good human. I am grateful to the people around me who are the best teachers I could imagine. Here are some of the goals that our tribe have for the coming year. I hope to help support each one and I hope that you will too.
1. One health related goal
*I will keep eating mostly vegetarian, and cook more delicious, plant-based recipes at home. I will learn one new delicious, plant-based recipe a week so that eating this way becomes the natural, satisfying default and I feel great.
*Attempt to be more conscious of my body's needs. I think I've spent years and years existing in my brain and treating my body as some sort of mechanical transport, which is why body has had it with me. So this year is devoted to being more attentive to my body.
*In 2017 I would like to work on finding a consistent homeostasis in my body that helps me loose some unwanted pounds, feel energized and vibrant, strong and resilient. I want to achieve this by practicing care and loving passion for this wonderful and miraculous friend that is my body.
*One health related goal I have for 2017 is to find more balance in my life by making space to explore new ways of expressing myself creatively.
* to stay positive during times of injury!
*Before coming to Canada, I was pretty active but somehow I've let the climate (read: snow) stop me from doing a lot (read: help me make excuses to avoid doing physical activities). So this year, my goal is to complete my first Canadian sprint triathlon this summer.
* To continue a yoga practice 2-3x per week, try to institute a once weekly home practice, and more frequent meditation
*To supplement my regular yoga practice, this year I want to make time for other physical activities like hiking and swimming.
2. One professional goal
*be more active about developing my skills and knowledge as a yoga teacher by reading 5 books on yoga and anatomy this year.
*I would like to find an employment situation that allows me to earn a reasonable living but that also allows me to serve my community through the effort and energy I put into my work.
*I will learn how to apply behavioural science in design and be courageous through my fear of sucking at it. I'll let my heart and gut lead me to my next step and take the leap even if I don't know where it'll lead.
*Publish at least one new solo-authored article of my own.
*to see Somatic Experiencing clients 6-10 hours a week beginning in January. I want to expand my scope of practice and to help more people realize their more centered and self-regulated self through this super cool nervous system renegotiation tool
*One professional goal is to allow myself to focus on a few things and do them really well. It is time to set a new foundation that melds my passions in a sustainable way. I have learned a lot about what I am needing less of in my life. Embracing what I'm building and letting it unfold will lead me there in time.
*Being truthful and asking the same of others.
*To be more present at work. With such a busy schedule I often find myself distracted and preoccupied with other non-work related thoughts making it difficult to stay focused on work tasks.
*This is a tricky one. In hundreds of ways, walking back into my old workplace/kinda old job is wonderful and a real blessing. In other ways, I'm intrigued to see how this time around it will unfold. One of the biggest things I toyed with before accepting the offer this time was if I were going to do this job full time (5 days a week) or part time (4 days a week) as I really want to start working on other things - side projects that will bring others and myself joy. I'm looking to 2017 as the start to finding and establishing *that* other side project...
*set constant research goals and keep track of them on a timeline, by the end of the year have a clear path to graduation
3. One family goal
*To spend more quality time with my family. When our schedules get busy, quality time together is easily overlooked. I would like to have more family dinners, more date nights, and more hikes with the pup.
* take more initiative to enjoy activities and conversations with family members (i.e. be proactive rather than reactive).
*to find compassion for myself in my quest to build a new family. I walked away from some family members in 2016. It was liberating and sad at the same time. I have forgiven to the best of my ability. I have come to accept our differences. I choose to surround myself with those who love and support me. I am grateful for this tribe as well!
*spending more time and connection with elders in the family.
* to spend strictly screen free (for me too i mean) time playing and being present with my kiddo, to spend more time with our expanded tribe and to have a really awesome island camping adventure in July together.
*continue to work towards loving my mom for who she is.
*Plan our nuptials!
*I will nurture my friendships more attentively, be more generous with my time, and be courageous in forging new relationships. I will build relationships with family with humility and forgiveness, focusing on what we could have.
In 2017 I want to build better relationships with my siblings by letting go of past hurts, sibling rivalries and past resentments. I want to build new relationships with both, that is a better reflection of who we all are NOW in the present, as adults, rather than one entrenched in the past based on memories of who we were as children. This will be yet another way to practice loving kindness and compassion
4. One personal development goal
*Curb my negative self-talk. This has gone on long enough and really needs to stop. No one's going to fight in my corner if I can't do it myself, so this year's about focusing to being kind to myself. This also ties into my health-related goal because often my negative self-talk revolves around my body.
*Letting go of things that have gone. Also to learn and practice resilience.
* take a more active role in my sessions with my therapist by clarifying for myself what I'm hoping to achieve from therapy.
* I would like to be more cautious of the impact that I have on the people around me. I would like to save the very best of me for those who are closest to me and always there for me. I would like to listen more, hold space more, be more inclusive, and say no when I don't actually have the capacity for doing my very best.
*pushing myself to be an observer and notice when I'm getting drawn out of my centre
*I will practise self-confidence and joy through regular reflection and gratitude. I will do a YTT in India this spring/summer and I'll let it challenge me to be the best version of myself, even if it's painful.
*I would like to continue to be a more authentic and honest version of myself by doing the work of practicing being kind, honest and compassionate with myself and others, and encouraging and supporting those nearest and dearest to me to do the same. I believe that I can manifest change in my own world by very simple acts of kindness….something as simple as making eye contact with somebody and even simply sometimes saying hello meaningfully can leave an impression. Kindness can also take the form of non reaction, especially to words and thoughtless behaviors that rattle my chains, and this is perhaps my most daunting challenge… who said life was meant to be easy?
*To integrate the things yoga has taught me into other aspects of my life. With the help of my physical, spiritual and mental yoga practices I would like to bring more balance, confidence, and mindfulness to my every day life.
* to speak less and listen more. To allow my words to be clear and meaningful.
5. One community goal
* to embrace my new volunteer role for a local non-profit organization, KW Counselling Services, in order to support this community in a meaningful way.
* be more active about attending classes at FHY taught by as many different teachers as possible--take more classes that I don't usually go to.
*Open our home more to our community and share food, stories and conversation.
*this year I would like to give back to my community by volunteering and continuing to support local businesses.
*volunteer time to veterans and refugees.
*Having received a great deal of strength, solace and support from all of the communities of which I am a member in 2016, in the new year I would like to be in a position in 2017 to reciprocate. Sometimes the community supports me and other times I support my community, and in 2017 I would like to be of service.
6. One thing you would like to continue from 2016
*I will read 12 great books that either help me learn about the world, develop my yoga practise and other interests, or open my eyes to beautiful stories.
*One thing i would like to continue doing from 2016 is following my heart. I walked away from my job and started a new journey to build my new world. It was liberating and rewarding. I'd be lying if I left out terrifying! It is absolutely necessary!
*2016 has been an incredible year for me in terms of learning about myself, starting a new career, and beginning my yoga instructor training. I want to keep building on the things I have learnt and to continue to step out of my comfort zone.
* I would like to stay strong enough not to give into the temptation of numbing T V services.
*pursuing friendships, allowing myself to be vulnerable, making exciting impulsive decisions
Working on building a regular meditation practice along with building new patterns of activity and thought so that I can be flexible and resilient when the next challenges of living manifest.
*I love that I take daily moments to reflect on my self-care to journal, do yoga, deep breathe, take baths, be mindful of my self-talk. I want to continue to worry less about the future, money, health, my mother, my clients. I want to spend more money, laugh more, throw caution to the wind, be more of who I am, less hiding with more engaging in life and connecting with others as there continues to be safety, protection, love, support and my angels around me to catch me every time.
7. One environmental goal
*Doing my part to protect the environment is something very near to my heart. This year I would like to rely less on my car by walking and taking public transit whenever possible.
*find a way to support permaculture initiatives and learn more about it.
*I'm going to steal this from you, Lindsay :). Carrying my coffee cup around sounds like a really simple and easy thing to do to avoid adding more cups to the landfill.
*buy/attain only secondhand clothing this year (with the exception of shoes).
*Limit the purchase of new items
* Look for more opportunities to contribute to Fossil Free WLU's efforts.
*continue to compost and recycle as much as possible! Avoid buying on impulse, be sure I LOVE something before I buy it
*I will keep eating mostly vegetarian while trying not to overthink it too much.
*Having spent some time outside in 2016, I have realized that there is so much peace and solace to be had by spending times outside in the natural world so in 2017 I need to spend more time outdoors….time allowing I might find a hiking or biking club…maybe we could even start one from members of our community…How about it Sunday Brunch clubbers…brunch followed by a hike somewhere?
8. One thing you are super grateful for right this minute
*my discovered sense of self
* My partner and our puppy. Our lives have certainly become more chaotic with a new puppy but I am extremely grateful for the little family we have built together.
*really grateful for tune up balls and star wars!
*I am super grateful for the choices I have available to me, even though they overwhelm me. I am really grateful for the experiences, people and culture I get to enjoy at work, even though sometimes it's stressful and challenging. I am super grateful for the support, playfulness and intelligence of my friends and loved ones who've helped me feel more like myself than ever.
*I am super grateful for the beauty of nature that surrounds us. I love how easily a tree will accept our emotions and an animal might visit to bring a message. It is so amazing, really!
* I guess that strangely enough I would say that I must be glad of the catastrophic setbacks including the most recent ones, which have brought me to this place where I truly am aware that I am fully alive and awake. Despite all, the fear of the unknown, the anxiety, the grief, etc. if not for setback and my willingness to face forward regardless, I would still be living like one of the walking dead. A place where all the life and humanity in me was slowly by degrees, being consistently beaten out and sucked away. I have been, to quote Elizabeth Lesser, broken open by setback and I have come to truly understand that there is a huge difference between feeling broken, and feeling broken open…. there is a huge difference and anyone who has had a similar experience will absolutely know what I am talking about. I am relishing discovering the new potentials that manifest out of the dark soil in this strange place and am SO glad that when I get overwhelmed by it all, there are special emissaries and spirit guides who magically appear to provide me courage, strength and support to keep picking myself up and to continue forward on my journey.
*My tribe. The people that I have around my daily are smart, engaged and hopeful for the future. They are strong and compassionate and I am proud that in this life I have had the opportunity to choose who I name family.