The psoas muscles are your deepest core muscles. They run on either side of your lumbar spinal column, pass through your pelvis across the pubis and then attach to the inner thigh bones.
The important physical functions of the psoas muscles are hip flexion (lifting your thigh bone up), hip abduction (takes the thigh bone away from the midline of the body), lumbar flexion (draws the lumbar spine forward) and external rotation (rotates the thigh bone outward).
Equally important is that the psoas is one of the first muscle responders for the flight, flight or freeze response in the body. When one feels threatened and adrenaline rushes into the bloodstream, the psoas will jump into action and will either help you run faster (hip flexion), tighten up around your organs (preparing for a fight, like armor), or immobilize you (stuck on the spot- freeze!). Since the psoas also attaches to the diaphragm their actions will affect your breathing. When the psoas is activated it will help you breathe deeper if you are running or fighting (pulls the diaphragm down with more force), or slow your breath way down if you are going into freeze mode, like a opossum playing dead (diaphragm movements frozen). The psoas is also known to hold emotional energy. People have been caught off guard when they are in a psoas stretch and burst into tears. It is a fairly regular occurance in a yoga class.
A tight psoas, especially if it is just on one side, can cause lumbar back pain, sacroiliac joint instability, nausea, weakness in the core, instability, hip pain, knee pain and shoulder misalignment. Tight psoas muscles can also cause an excess of guarding of ones emotions as well as poor sleep, poor digestion and low sexual drive.
Many people will think they have back problems when their pain is actually coming from the psoas. It is not always obvious if the psoas is weak, tight, or in a hyper-contracted state.
Stretching is not always the best thing for the psoas, especially if it needs to be released.
Here is a good way to both strengthen and release the psoas-
Sit on the ground with your feet about 3-4 feet apart.
Lean back slightly and support yourself with your hands behind you.
Turn your toes out at a 45 degree angle.
Keep your knees soft. Then lift the right right leg up about 3 inches from the ground on an inhale. Exhale lower it back down. Imagine you are lifting the leg from the inner ankle, or inner knee. Try not to compensate by using your abdominals, shoulders or the opposite leg. It is also important not to lift the leg too high. Repeat on the other side. If one side is more difficult to lift, that is your weaker side. If they feel the same, and the movement is not too hard to do, walk your hands closer to your body, arch your lower back forward and try to lift the leg again. See if one is easier than the other. If the movement is too hard and you can not lift your leg off the ground, lay down on your back. Have your legs the same distance apart as above and try to lift each leg. Up on the inhale, down on the exhale. Lift up only about 3 inches.
This movement is both a test to see if there is asymmetry in your psoas strength and also a way to correct it. If one leg is hard to lift, start with 3-5 times lifting. Even if your leg does not leave the ground, you are still toning the muscle. You might want to work the weak side twice as much as the stronger side.
You can stretch the psoas like this:
Get a stable chair (kitchen or dining room chair is best) and place it against a wall. Stand alongside the wall and use it for support as you put your right foot on the chair. Sink your hips down. You can lift your back heel off the ground and have a little bend in the left knee. Make sure that when you sink your hips down, your right knee does not extend past your right toes. If it does, step your left leg back further or your right foot forward more, or both. You want to give a lot of space between the left leg on the ground and the right foot on the chair. When you sink your hips look for a stretch in the front of your left hip. If your left toes are facing the chair that your right foot is on, you will be stretching your superficial hip flexors. Now, if you turn your left toes out to the side at a 45 degree angle and you sink your hips you should feel the stretch on the left side closer to your groin. That will be your psoas, and that sensation you feel will be your psoas stretching. It is best to pulse the movement here- inhale pull your hips up, exhale sink your hips down. 5-10 pulses on each side is good.
It is important to know that some people will not feel a strong stretch in the psoas, especially if it is weak and hyper contracted. You may also feel it very differently on one side than the other.
Appreciating the completeness of yoga solely by putting your body into a yoga pose is like hoping to experience the majesty of the Grand Canyon by looking through a paper towel tube, understanding the vastness of the ocean by observing a tablespoon of water, or trying to figure out the mystery of the cosmos by viewing a photograph of a planetarium. The more ways we can view something, and experience it directly, the closer we can come to understanding it. Yoga is a vehicle to view, and to merge with, the true self. The koshas are the different views (or lenses) we use. Kosha means veils, or sheaths, and the koshas are the veils of illusion that we view life through.
There are 5 main koshas, or lenses that we use to see the world. Knowing what kind of veil you are looking through will help you to make more sense about what you are seeing and experiencing. It's a bit like the "glass half full or glass half empty" scenario. When you know if you are more of a half empty or half full person, the way you perceive the world around you will make more sense and become more predictable. If it makes you unhappy (or the people around you unhappy) to see a half empty glass, you can actually start to see the glass as half full if you want to. It takes a change in perception. But before you change a perception, you might want to know what your perception already is, and you will probably want to know your other choices. This is not just about going around and saying things are great when you don't really think they are, or saying "it's all good" when it is not. We are not trying to "fake it til we make it".
This shift in perception is like taking off your far-seeing glasses and slipping on your cheater glasses in order to read fine print. If you don't realize that you are using the wrong eyewear to see something, you might feel helpless, hopeless, or get angry and frustrated because you can't read the text that you want to read. And if you can't read that text, you can't get what is needed, you will not have the freedom to choose because you don't really know what your choices are. Being someone who now has to cycle through both far seeing glasses and cheater glasses while wearing contacts, I find myself wondering what people did back in the olden days before corrective lenses were a thing. Did they think everyone saw things blurry the way they did? What were they missing in the landscape around them and from being able to read books, or from recognizing people they passed? Until I was in about 4th grade I thought everyone saw the blackboard blurry. Then I realized I needed glasses. I remember crying from this realization that I could do something about not being able to see. Similarly I wonder about people who are doing asana with just their body. What are they missing? I did asana for many years before I "plugged in" to the subtlties of prana and the koshas, and just like when I discovered I needed glasses, I cried with joy. My yoga practice took on a new and profoundly deep mean. So I do actually have an idea of what they are missing, just like I remember what it is like to not be able to see the blackboard in school.
In the seminar Asana Through the Koshas we are going to study the koshas and what it may look or feel like to be perceiving things through those koshas. We will use yoga asanas to experience the koshas and, this is the fun part, we will experiment with viewing the asanas through these different veils (or koshas). The lovely thing about learning to practice this way is that you will find a deeper level of connection with the practice and with yourself. You will find out you don't need to struggle through asanas in order to practice yoga.
Interested? Check out the workshop coming up this weekend, 3/5-6 AND the Subtle Anatomy workshop happening on Friday evenings 3/18 and 3/25. Find out what is happening beneath your skin.
This new year day, January 1st, 2022, will mark the 19th year that Yoga Loka has been in business! It is a great accomplishment, but as I have always said, a class is only a class if a student shows up, just like a story is only a story if someone is really listening.
As we sail into our 19th year I want to once again thank you all for your efforts, your practice, your attention, your trust, and your stories. Everything that you have all shared with me over the years is like a precious gift, whether it was about your families, your work and hobbies, your struggles and your successes. People sometimes ask me if it is hard to hold so many stories, but really it is an honor and a privilege to have these shared with me. One of the superpowers that has arisen from my practice over the years seems to be the ability to listen and hear when something is off and not in alignment with the story teller- whether that is because the timeline is inaccurate, the players were misunderstood (and therefore mis-cast) or the meaning of the story has not yet been understood or acknowledged by the teller. I think one of the most important things I have done in the past 19 years is to help people reframe their stories and therefore integrate them, whether that is by helping them to explore how their body is working, how the emotions are interfering, or how the importance of the story blown out of proportion, or minimized.
One of the things that has come out of this community we share is friendship. I know some really deep ones have formed, and it is very gratifying to know that Yoga Loka was able to facilitate that. I know it is a struggle now that we are just appearing on zoom, but never fear- we can still connect online, and after all, zoom only is not a forever-thing, it is just a for-right-now-thing.
Last week I wrote about how we have lots of workshops coming up. I hope that if you find connecting in asana classes over zoom challenging, you will consider trying a workshop or two. The workshop format gives you a chance to ask questions and clarify what might be confusing, to connect with others, to ask many many questions, to take notes, and to rewind and play the video again to hear what you might have missed, or what you just need to hear again. And since many of these workshops are multi-day experiences, you will find a "group" does form. You will connect in the way you need during these isolating times, perhaps even at a deeper level considering how isolated these times actually are.
Click here to check out the worskhop page for the list of what is scheduled so far. And there is more to come! I can't wait for you to see all that is planned for 2022! We may be living in wacky times right now, but remember that your source is always within you, and the wacky-ness of the times is really the thing that pushes us further in towards that source. Just keep looking for the things that bring you back to your source and you will be fine. And taking that journey with others is always better (like in a workshop!). And yes, even a workshop on hamstrings can be the thing! You just never know, so stay alert and tranquil, and stay tuned.
Please use this coupon code for any of the below 2022 workshops for a 22% discount at checkout. More information can be found on the workshop page:
I started doing yoga when I was about 19 years old. I was born with a flexible and strong body and the poses came pretty easy to me. It was of course still work, but it was more like dancing than working out. Obviously the yoga bug bit me and I've been practicing ever since. That was about 30 years ago. And like everybody else, my body has changed quite a lot in those 30 years.
I remember seeing yoga for “over 50” advertised and thinking, ``What's the big deal? Isn't 50 just like 40 and isn't 40 just like 30?” Now I realize the answer is a big fat no. I turned 55 this June and I really feel the difference in my physicality. I noticed things starting to shift when I turned 50, but each year on top of 50 is making a difference. What are those differences? I'm not as strong and I'm not as flexible and I don't have the desire to do as many as the fancy things my 19 and 20 year old body used to do. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying! Now add to the 55-year-old body 30° weather. It's true that the warm weather does make us more fluid and flexible and limber and the cold weather does the exact opposite. So when it started to get cold out I began to feel all the 55 years in with the 30 degree cold and thought “Whose body is this?”
Doing yoga asana while old and cold (and wearing many layers) feels like I am in a strangers body. And you know what? I love it! It might sound crazy, but for somebody who spent many years doing yoga and not actually feeling anything in their body, to feel the restrictions and the stiffness and the tightness is actually quite lovely. It has made me more tender-hearted towards my body. Feeling the limitations of my physicality has revealed a give and take, surrender and effort, which I didn't have when I was younger and was able to easily demand so much from my body. There's also a fragility which I have come to appreciate. In a way it separates the “who I am” from the body that “I am not”. The great enlightened sage, Ramana Maharashi, suggested we ask ourselves if we are not this mind, and we are not this body, then what are we? This question makes more sense to me now that my body is not as reliable as it once was. That's where the fragility comes in. There's a kind of separation between my body “the vehicle” and what I am, as well as a deeper appreciation for this vehicle than I've had before, and an understanding that this is in fact merely a vehicle. An important one for sure, but still just a vehicle.
I've also found that my yoga asana practice is no longer about being better at doing something as it was for many years. It's also not about curing something that is wrong or out of place, it's about restoring, maintaining, and showing reverence. This gives a different, and hopefully more mature, perspective on my practice. As a result it's changed many of the ways I relate to important parts of my being, as well as to the aging process.
For many years I would hear from students older than myself how much they needed the practice. I didn't quite understand that then but I certainly do understand it now. One of the struggles that younger people can have doing yoga is staying consistent with their practice. I imagine this will change when the practice has become a necessity, and that there's no going forward without it. Practicing becomes a choiceless choice when we realize yoga doesn't just help accentuate our life, it is our life. Many people feel that freedom is in having a plethora of choices, but wiser ones realize that freedom is really being presented with the choiceless choice.
Check out the workshop page for seminars that will help you while you are old and cold:
I sustained an injury a few weeks ago at the dog park. I had about 120 pounds of rolling playing puppies crash into my shin, which dropped me down from both pain and surprise. The first two days I was unable to walk or bend my knee, which was not great fun. I wasn't in pain, but I was concerned about how much mobility I was going to have going forward. I attribute my rapid healing to acupuncture (thanks Ann!) and some herbal poultices and patches, the Joint Freeing Series and good old rest and ice. By the following Sunday I was able to participate in asana classes again. Ironically, the thing that remains difficult to do is the restful child’s pose AND the pose of the month, Natarajasana (dancers pose).
There are so many things I want to share about this experience, which was probably the most intense soft tissue injury I have had since my karate days. As I do more and more asana, and I am figuring what I can and can't do (which changes every day), my understanding about working with injuries in asana has been confirmed, so that is what I will share today.
I imagine that if I went to a standard asana class with an instructor that was schooled in "alignment" and I mentioned my dog encounter, they might tell me off the bat which poses I should not do. They might have a standard list of knee poses that are considered to be the “bad ones”. I say this from experience, as back in the days when I went to studios for asana classes, I would tell the instructor of some valid injury or limitation if asked, and inevitably the instructor would tell me not to do something that I knew was actually fine for my body. What an instructor often would not do was ask me what I was feeling in the pose before suggesting I either come out of it or try it a different way. Now I know this kind of individual attention can be difficult- especially if you are in a big class, and if you are the new kid in the class and most likely transient, a teacher may not give you that kind of attention, understandably so.
If your instructor forgets to attend to your injury because they have a ton of other stuff to manage, or they don’t know how to advise you (and by the way, lately there have been warnings to instructors to NOT ask because if they do, and if a person aggravates that injury in class, the instructor opens themselves up to liability being that they knew about something but didn’t do anything to prevent a re-injury) then you are on your own to manage yourself. And that is the thing right there- we should be on our own. We should be ready and able, as soon as we decide we are going to do asana, to listen intently to our bodies and see if what we are doing is good, or not good, is helping or hurting. This can also be problematic. Some of us just want to be told what to do when we go to a yoga class. I hear that and that is ok! But then again, at some time, for some reason, we might actually want to, or need to, know if what we are doing is helping or hurting.
I just spoke to a woman yesterday who was a professional dancer in the early part of her life. Lately she has been having issues with her hip. She told me that armed with her desire to strengthen her core and try to get some mobility back, she went on YouTube, found a core-strengthening video, followed it, and hurt herself. She said the whole time she was following the video, she knew that she knew better. “I am smart about these things, and I still got hurt. I don’t know what happens to people who are not as in touch with their bodies”. She is a very busy person, and she really wants to get better. She made the wrong choice and she recognized it before doing more damage. There are really great things that can be learned well on YouTube. But there are some things we will never get from a video, like a direct question “how is that feeling?”, “how are you doing with that” and then subsequent feedback and options that respond to those answers.
If an instructor gives us the list of no-nos, we might accept it with no questions asked. But here is the thing about my knee in Natarajasana- it hurts when I bend it back too far and reach for my ankle if I am sitting sideways, but not when I am standing or on my stomach. It is much easier when I hold the right ankle with the left hand, less so if I use the right. When I am holding my ankle, even in the sideways sitting, and I engage the quads and pulse pressure in in my hand, I can feel the pose is doing me good. I can feel that is a therapeutic pose for the thing that is still lingering in my knee. If I am lax and just holding my ankle without engaging, it doesn’t feel good. If I engage, I feel that I am changing something for the better. From the outside, it looks the same. From the inside, it is so much different.
We must embrace our potential to understand our bodies better, and teachers should give us the power to understand this body and know what the therapy might be for it. It is so individual. No one pose is going to heal or harm an injury. Had I been hit on the front or the back of the knee instead of the side, I would probably be having a different experience in Natarajasana, and maybe a different pose would be the one that was my therapy pose. We have to listen in to know, and we have to be guided to understand the messages we are getting from that feeling.
One other thing to consider- sometimes you hear a teacher say in an asana "align this way to protect the knee (or back or whatever)". It makes me wonder about the difference between "protecting", “strengthening” and "healing". Just like a substances in one amount can be a miraculous cure, in a different amount can be a poison, some movements that seem dangerous can actually be the therapy, when done with awareness, intention, vigilance and intelligence. I wouldn’t recommend a YouTube video for that either, because you again are missing the important question, “how is that movement feeling now?”. As a yoga therapist, I am always listening for how a person describes the sensation- there are so many things a “pull” may mean. My job is to help you understand which pull is good, which is not.
Meanwhile, I am working on my own pulling and pushing, finding my way back to the Natarajasana that I was able to do prior to my injury. And to all of you who have been in classes lately, thanks for keeping me company during my therapy session!
After my last newsletter about integration someone asked me a great and relevant question, which was "what does it feel like to be integrated?"
Her own experience was that not being integrated felt like pieces of her body were not aligned, and things felt as though they were off kilter. I thought that sounded about right to me.
It helps to know what it feels like when you are not integrated. What I have found with my clients, and my own self is that we may not realize we are not/were not integrated until we achieve some level of integration. Some of us have existed in a non-integrated place for so long, it feels quite normal and so moving towards integrating requires trust and courage to know that where you are heading, even if it feels weird or wrong, you are going in the right direction.
I believe we can equate non-integration to not being grounded. Some people know quite clearly what it feels to be grounded, and know once they are grounded, they are also integrated.
To be integrated means we can store the information we are constantly getting from our senses in the right places. For example, maybe we hear a loud noise and our immediate response is that we need to attend to that noise right away. But what if that noise has come from the TV, and is really part of a movie? It has already happened, we have no control over it, it was manufactured and not only are we in no danger from it, we can't do anything about it (other than turn the TV off), and if we are able to recognize that, it can be stored in the "acknowledge it and leave it alone" file. What if we hear a noise and it is right behind us? Is it threatening or not? Is it benevolent or dangerous? If we are grounded at the moment we hear the sound, we will be able to store that in the right place (defend yourself, run, embrace, etc). If we can store the noise in the proper place, for example it needs to be attended to, or filed away for use later, or discarded, we can integrate the sensorial experience into right action. If we can not do that because we are overloaded (information came too fast and we are confused) or we aren't physically healthy and we are depleted of energy (it takes the energy to discern and to recognize the source and proper response of the noise), if we are overloaded because other things have used our discernement muscle to capacity, we will instead respond in the way that "saved our life" once. This may cause us to shut down, or make a very wrong decision about how to respond, or we flood with emotion (think about a glass filled with water and you try to add more).
Creating space when you realize you can't integrate something (or everything!) will help. You can make space literally in your body by physical movements (walking, dancing, yoga and other exercise). You can make space in your brain by stepping back and getting distance from the situation so you can see things a bit more clearly, especially to see how this thing may affect you personally. We tend to think that things affect us personally first, then on second or third glance we realize it really doesn't, or at least not in the way we think it does.
If we can make it a practice to seek integration we will see that all information, stressors, fears, can be sorted out and attended to, when our container is fit to do so. When I shared several weeks ago that I needed to take a step back, my intention was to give time for everything to find its place in my being. I do not want to shut out the news of tragedy, difficulty, pain and suffering. I just needed to stem the flow a bit so everything could find its place. I have made some shifts to the amount of information I take in (yeah, it's a really intense time now, right?) but I still want to be engaged and aware. And to do that means, for me, more time in practice and more time doing what I love, which is serving this community.
This is a quote I recently heard during a lecture by yoga therapist Mindy Eisenberg. When I heard it I realized it summed up my experience since I first started practicing yoga, and is one of the things that has kept me at it for 35 year. Being in community heals so much of the fundamental pain and suffering we experience as humans.
Our culture has always been a culture of isolation. Now with the pandemic, our isolation is amplified. Some of the struggles that occur when we are separated from community may not be so obvious. Maybe you are struggling to finish something because you just can’t find the inspiration to complete the project. You might be letting your self-care slip by the wayside, and you might be exercising less and eating more. Maybe you find you have less energy and zest for life. Community (or Sangha, which is Sanskrit for like-minded community) can increase prana, and this prana is the fuel that pulls us up and out of tamasic (lethargic) place.
Being inspired by others in your community can shift your perspective and lead to an uprising of joy. Experiencing joy from other peoples sucess is an amazing healing tonic. Our ability to enjoy that is a good sign of unity. Arriving at the non-dualistic experience which is attributed to a yoga practice is ironically often best understood by dualistic observation and engagement. Before we can go off to the forest or the mountains and live the life of a sattvic (harmonious) renunciate, we need to be able to look at all the mirrors our community holds up for us and see how we are reflected in the faces of our neighbors, friends and relations. In other words, we need to heal the spaces between "me" and "them" and in doing so we can begin to understand "me" and "them" is actually one and the same.
Zoom and other online platforms have become the medium for community gathering since the start of the pandemic. We really are able to transmit our concern, care and compassion for each other through zoom. I have experienced this. It may not be optimal, but it's what we have now. And it is also a matter of perspective. If we want to connect, we will connect, whether its over zoom, face to face or behind masks. So don't be concerned that connection to community wont happen over the internet, and try not to get stuck in the fact that it is not happening the way you want it to, or the way it was 2 years ago. We adapt because that is what we do - we are designed to adapt. If we look back at history, even let's say just 60-100 years ago, we can see how well humans can adapt and integrate the unthinkable into their lives.
Remember: we are a family; we are a team. We can move through this pandemic together. No, we NEED to move through this together as humans. The first step is to show up and come together. Then we can work towards our common goal. In the context of our yoga practice, part of the goal is to care for ourselves so we can care for others. When we care for others we become less separate from others. As that separation lessens, we are being healed. This takes us back to community being medicine.
Many people over the last few months have asked me how I managed to keep the doors to Yoga Loka open given the fact that many similar small businesses have closed. I attribute this to us being a strong community that recognizes we are a team working together. Parts of the team may be focused on healthy aging and maintaining a strong body, or balancing and quieting their minds, or lifting the vibration and healing energy of the universe. We instinctively know we cannot do what we are doing alone. Even if you have never see the other people in your asana or meditation class face to face because you started after the lockdowns, or you are coming to private sessions, you are part of the team, the family and the sangha. We are all serving each other by contributing positive energy and health to the whole, and by lessening our negative energy output which inevitably effects others.
The upcoming winter months are looking dismal, but don't give up! If you splinter off, you are without community. If you haven’t been for a while, come back! Sometimes we need to step away from the team to realize how much the community supports us. If you can’t afford to attend classes, let me know- we need as many people working towards a peaceful environment as possible! Don’t let finances keep you isolated. You are needed for the wholeness to happen. Your participation, in any community, is an essential ingredient in the healing balm this world needs so much.
Ask a realtor the best way to invest in real estate and they will say what matters is location, location, location. Ask a comedian what the secret is to good comedy they will say timing. A chef will tell you the secret to a good meal is to use the best ingredients.
If you ask a meditator what the secret is to a quiet mind, or a yogi what the secret is to their peace of mind, they will tell you "steady, consistent practice over a long period of time" (Yoga Sutras 1:12, 2:28) is the key to success.
This secret ingredient is probably why so few people have a quiet, peaceful mind! I was intrigued by the title of this article, "Spiritual Bootcamp for Brain Health" by John Douillard. It is a short article, and in it you will read about some practical and measurable side effects of spiritual practice. These benefits may inspire you want to do a spiritual practice. What do we do with this inspiration? The word Bootcamp, to me, implies really hard work. If you follow through with the work, you get results. If you don't, you won't. It is really that simple. Location, timing, good ingredients, and consistency. Those are the components of an effective Spiritual Bootcamp. (Here is another interesting short article about training your mind)
It is hard to stay as dedicated as needed to get the results on your own. The camp part of bootcamp suggests community. Don't get upset with yourself when you can't do it on your own. It is not really expected that you do this independently at first. You need guidance, constant inspiration, and the important thing is, you need to know HOW to do it because the sequence of steps is important, and can vary depending on the person.
I would like to relate a quick story to illustrate what I wrote above. Our family got a dog in September. This is a new thing for me, I never had a dog before and so didn't know much about training one. We did some reading, enrolled him in doggie kindergarten, and tried as best as we could to follow what we learned. We found it hard to stay consistent, but fortunately our guy is well behaved and cooperative. However the one thing we didn't master was how to call the pup back if he ran off after a deer in the woods, which happens to be his favorite pastime. It is also a scary one, because sometimes the deer runs across a street, or far enough into the woods that we lose track of him. We made up some stuff to try to get him to listen, and the three of us did different things, and you guessed it, it wasn't working. I mentioned something to a client of mine, who happens to be a dog trainer and she pointed me to a printed resource that I purchased. I made the whole family study it. Poe the pup was grounded for 3 weeks while we all practiced the protocol for "reliable recall". The pamphlet (which to me was like the yoga sutras of dog training) was explicit- you must do it this way for a long period of time. Each step was outlined. If it doesn't work the author wrote you needed to reread the pamphlet and do it again because you missed some steps. We followed it, and bam! it worked. We know that we have to stay diligent and practice in between walks, and that we still need to reread the pamphlet. We can see when he starts to falter. This is not a one time thing, he is growing and maturing, and he forgets, and sometimes desire to run over rides his current level of training. Just like the mind and meditation, the training needs to evolved along with the practitioner if peace is desired. There are just too many distractions and enticements in this world of form, whether they are deer running in the woods, or fretting over an old story.
A few Saturday's ago I attended a vigil as a peacekeeper. Victims and survivors of sexual violence spoke of their experiences and struggles to be heard, recognized and helped As I scanned the crowd in my orange safety vest looking for people who might need a mask or assistance of some kind, I started to feel my body reacting in a very uncomfortable way. My diaphram began to flutter rapidly and violent sobs threatened to escape. Of course no one would have been able to listen to these young people sharing their horrific stories without feeling something, but I was very surprised at the visceral reaction I was having. Even more surprising was that it stayed with me for days after. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. I have not considered myself to be that 1 in 5, but here I was, very triggered by something. I have worked with many people over the years who have experienced sexual assault, and I have grieved their experiences, but their stories never hit me like this. What was it in my own experience that was causing this level of anxiety, fear and despair? What I was able to trace it back to was a time when I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. A smaller, younger girl was in a room with me waiting for a teacher. She started telling me repeatedly and graphically, how her father was assaulting her. I remember that I just wanted her to stop talking and leave me alone. Her voice and her face have never left me even though I am fuzzy on most of the details (for example I will always remember her last name, but I can't recall her first name).
The point of this sharing is to, once again, point out that our bodies hold so much, and that what is being held can spring out at any moment. Also what we may think was a small, insignificant incident may actually have imprinted itself in us quite strongly. During my few days of this unfamiliar anxiety, even with all my yoga and TRE training, I just wanted to drink some wine and watching TV to take the edge off. And I did do a bit of that. But, also because of my training, and my obligation to the people who tell me their stories, I knew I also needed to look at what was rising around in me, unbidden and unwelcome. So after some wine and TV, I sat and practiced. I meditated, I tremored, and I walked a lot out in nature, and I kept that girl’s face in my heart. And here I am telling my story. Some of the anxiety is still here- even as I type this, I feel the tears seeking release. And so there is more work to be done.
This experience allowed me, on a visceral level, to really understand that there is not a hierarchy to trauma. This is what I had been taught, but now I know it in my gut. I do not mean to imply that my experience encountering the little girl is the same as her horrific experience was with her abuser . However, my experience is still clearly living in me and clearly has the possibility of being somewhat debilitating, even if the story might seem minor or insignificant. As much as i would like to believe I can "just get over it", I know it isn't as easy as that. I know that my work is to continue to acknowledge what's in my body, increase my resillency, dishcarge the charge, and seek resolution in my own self.
There is another important thing about recognizing our trauma; once we feel the strength of reactivity from a trigger, we have little choice but to open our hearts to other people as they struggle with their own reactions and triggers. Until we experience the power of the pull of unresolved trauma we can easily wonder why people can't "just get over it". Post-traumatic growth has been pointed to as the way for our society to become more humane and compassionate, but before we get there, we all have some work to do. "Post" in the important word here.
"I love that it is a small, consistent commitment I can make to ground myself in these strange times." Victoria C.
I love this testimonial from a student who has been taking the mini-flow classes. It speaks to something that is vitally important these days of much-reduced physical activity, and contact with others.
Here is another part of her email: "So glad you started this mini-membership. It has been a life saver, honestly."
I wanted to share a few things that helped me recognize the importance of small consistent commitments. Recently I listened to an interview with Dr. Daniel Leiberman. He is a professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and author of the book " EXERCISED: The science of physical activity, rest and the pursuit of health. (Watch this 11 minute video where he debunks common myths about exercise) Dr. Leilberman touches upon a few important things in this video and book that are important for us to take note of. For one thing, he doesn't agree with the idea that sitting is the new smoking. We shouldn't blame the chair, he says, we should look at what we are doing during those times we are not sitting. He says that even getting up to visit the bathroom has a positive effect on our bodies, and as such he encourages us to not stay stationary for too long and to make sure when we are not sitting we engaged in positive, fun movement. (yeah, like a mini flow class!). He also points out that when we get older we need to devote more time to exercise, not less. His research on hunter-gatherer societies shows that the elders of the communities do not go off and play mahjong when they "retire"- they continue to actively gather, working towards the well-being of their families (the children and grandchildren). They remain an active participant in the families and comunity. We are in fact the only species that lives to be grandparents, and that evolution did not happen just for the sake of sending off birthday checks and congratulatory cards and kisses. The physical activity of the "gathering" prevents grandma and grandpa from being vulnerable to disease and experiencing the negative effects of aging. And it does the same for us too, even if we are not grandparents or running to Costco to fulfill our kids needs!
About 6 years ago,when I was in my late 40's, my physical activity level dropped. I no longer had time to take asana classes or move around much outside of teaching a class. I know most people think that I am constantly doing asana, but the truth is while I do practice yoga everyday, it usually does not include asana (poses). So back then I was doing a lot of sitting for meditation, and jumping in to demonstrate a pose here and there in a class (probably the worst thing to do!) but not much more. I started to realize, the few times that I did get to take an asana class, that my body was getting weaker and I was losing range of motion. I had been under the delusion that my body would continue to be sustained by all the previous years of yoga and karate I had done. But by the time I got to like 52, this was obviously not the case any longer. The biggest wake up call was when I started to zoom yoga classes and I had to do asana while talking! Gulp, gulp, pant, pant... The random aches and pains, stiffnesses and loss of energy I experienced as I climbed through the 4th decade to my 5th started to make sense. I simply was not doing enough exercise and my body was aging in not such a graceful way. Since doing the mini-flows, which now means I am doing asana every day but one, I am happy to find my strength and suppleness returning. Is it what it was in my 30's? No. But it's far better than it was last year at this time.
Now almost a year into the pandemic I am hearing from more and more people that they are getting stiff, weak, parts of their bodies are cranky, and their energy levels and mental states are not as robust and positive as they were 1 or 2 years ago. Given the personal experience I shared above and the myths of exercise that we have all bought into, I am not at all surprised that people are not making the connection between what is happening to their bodies and how they are using, or better yet, not using them. It is a worthwhile consideration to use our resources investing in what worked before such as exercise, yoga and other forms of self-care. We can seek medical testing and intervention, just to find that even the conditions that do require medical intervention are going to be enhanced with self-care, especially as it will lower your stress levels and improve your immune system. Or we can sit it out and let it all slide. After all, you are getting old, right? And this is what we believe getting old looks and feels like.
I don't think it is ever too late to decide you are going to take the path of action. We can all start up again somewhere and at any time. If you have sat out for a while, know you are not going to come back in where you left off. While that may be frustrating, embarrassing, demoralizing or however you want to label it, it's not a good enough excuse for staying inactive. Yoga teaches us to appreciate this present moment, so if you come back to the mat out of shape, stiff and unable to keep up, remember these words of Pema Chödrön "As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion.”
(If figuring out how to join back in seems daunting, drop me a line. I am happy to try to give you some direction. Even if it is not with a yoga class, I may have an idea how you can invest in your well being again.)