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Mindful yoga for trauma survivors

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month. Yoga and meditation can be really helpful for survivors of trauma. It has helped me immensely. Here are a couple of practices that I have found very grounding.

A few things first, though…

First, yoga and meditation are not a panacea for survivors. Finding a great therapist, AND finding a yoga teacher that has trauma-sensitivity training can both both be important for your healing journey.

Secondly, what helps me, might be different from what helps you. Sometimes an active yoga practice is called for, sometimes, being still is the best.

Thirdly. I love this book by Kristin Neff, Ph.D called Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I think it should be required reading.

Breath awareness:

yogic breath awareness for trauma

Finding a comfortable space where you can take some time to pay attention to your breath can be healing. I use a breath awareness practice daily to help me connect with my body.

Here’s how:

If you can prop yourself up on an angle, (like the student in this photo) with a bolster or pillow, and some yoga blocks or books…or even the arm of your couch if that feels ok for you. Or, find a comfortable seated position…on the floor, on a chair.

The key here, is doing what feels ok for you.

Keeping your eyes open is ok. Closing your eyes is ok.

Place your hands on your heart and belly, or wherever is comfortable for you.

Begin by paying attention to how your breath feels in your body. Really pay attention. What is it like? Noticing the quality of your breath. Maybe feeling your ribs expanding and contracting. Maybe feeling your belly inflating and deflating.

It’s really normal for thoughts to distract you from your breath. Be kind to yourself, and bring your awareness back to your breath.

If you begin to feel panic, or feel uncomfortable, that’s totally ok. You can stop any time.

Keep paying attention to your breath for as long as you feel comfortable.

Legs Up the Wall Pose (viparita karani)

viparita karani for trauma

Very often, trauma survivors spend lots of time in the flight-fight-or freeze state. It’s a heightened state for our central nervous systems, and can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.

This pose is known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of the flight/fight/freeze). It’s one of my personal favorites.

How to:

It’s a little awkward for many to get into this pose, but I recommend first, grabbing a pillow or yoga bolster (or even a folded towel) to have close by.

Sit with your hips near the wall, and swing your legs around and up. Sometimes you need to scooch (technical term..haha) your hips closer to the wall using your arms. I did say it could be awkward, right?!

Be mindful of tight hamstrings. If straightening your legs feels bad, then you can move your hips away from the wall until it is comfortable. Bending the knees is fine, too.

Eyes open or closed. Your choice.

Once your legs are up, you can place a bolster under the hips (like in the photo)….or not. Whatever feels right for you.

I like to take a deep deep breath in, and let out a big sigh when I am in this pose. I sometimes do that a few times, and try to soften any tense muscles that I feel.

Stay in this pose as long as you wish. To get out of the pose, bend the knees, and roll to one side. Get up slowly.

Here is a link to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

How to let go of control, and be cool with life when it sucks.

how to let go of control, and be cool with life when it sucks.

So, apparently, Saturday is National In Control Day. Who knew that was a thing?!!

Truly…I think it should be National Letting Go of Control Day.

Here’s what I know:

  1. We can’t control all aspects of our lives…especially the outcomes.

  2. Having expectations about the way our lives will turn out can lead to disappointment when it doesn’t go as we had planned.

  3. We like to avoid that disappointment (and hurt and anger and upset and confusion and depression) as much as we can.

  4. Trying to control our lives even more doesn’t lead to less disappointment (or hurt or anger or upset or confusion or depression).

  5. We like being happy (and joyful, and contented, and peaceful), and want to hold on to that feeling as much as possible.

  6. We like to keep feelings of happiness (or joyfulness, or elation, or peacefulness) as much as we can.

  7. Trying to control our lives even more doesn’t lead to more happiness (or joyfulness or contentedness, or peacefulness).

  8. We control aspects of our lives often when we are fearful that they won’t work out. Because we want to avoid negative emotions…being happy feels great, being sad does not.

  9. This is totally normal. You are human.

Paying attention to what is happening in the present moment (this is called mindfulness!) can help ease the desire for controlling our lives. If we pay attention to what is happening right now, in THIS moment, it allows us a little space to open up to life as it presents itself. ALL of life…the happy the sad, the in-between. Because when it comes right down to it, now is all you have.

Sometimes, when we pay attention to NOW, we have to feel that pain or that upset or that sucky moment. Becoming aware of what you are feeling, what you are sensing, what you are thinking, how you are breathing in a particular moment in time can help you be cool when life seems to suck…especially because you can learn to watch things continually change. They can shift from one feeling to another while you are paying attention.

I suggest starting with a short meditation session…and make it a daily habit. Pay attention to your breathing, and learn to embrace this life and all it has to offer.


*When you CAN’T seem to shake the upset, and it doesn’t move on, and you feel stuck. PLEASE ask for help. This too, is normal. It doesn’t mean you are crazy. It means you are human, and sometimes we humans need help.

Here are a couple of websites and numbers to help if you feel like you can’t go it alone:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

You can find a therapist at this website: Psychology Today


Why I practice

private yoga instructor in Tampa

I have been practicing yoga for 18 years, and meditating for 8 years…I’ve gone in waves of being super diligent in my practice…to completely blowing it off. And, I can ABSOLUTELY tell when I’ve been blowing it off. It’s when I’m NOT practicing that I REALLY understand the reasons why I practice…because the benefits are present when I am being present, and practicing daily.

Here are 3 BIG reasons why I practice:

  1. Less anxiety. This is my absolute #1 reason for both meditation and yoga practice….but ESPECIALLY meditation. I suffered with anxiety for YEARS without even knowing it…until I started meditating. I realized that with a daily meditation practice, the anxiety that has been a constant in my life isn’t there in the way that it used to be. The constant buzz of nerves I felt in my belly (for YEARS without realizing it) goes away when I practice. I now can actually FEEL the anxiety coming on, and have the opportunity to respond to it in a different way…which has absolutely changed my life (I know, I KNOW…this sounds pretty dramatic, but it has been truly life altering!!)

  2. Greater strength. Another biggie. The physical strength that comes from my yoga practice isn’t even as important as the INNER STRENGTH that comes from both yoga and meditation. My practice leaves me feeling empowered.

  3. More self-compassion. So, with yoga I’ve learned over the years to be ok with falling out of tree pose, or my tumultuous relationship with shoulderstand. Truly, I’m ok with it…some days I nail the poses, and some days I don’t. With meditation, I’m ok with the monkey mind…and I can see when my super-judgmental thoughts creep in about it. The biggest benefits come from paying attention without judgement. I think this is why, when I’m not on the mat, or meditation bench, that I’ve gotten so much better with self-compassion.

Does any of this ring true for you? Why do you practice? I’d love to know! Leave your comments below!

finding balance.

balance, equinox, partner yoga

The spring equinox is Wednesday, March 20th….let me tell you…my hippy-people LOVE this stuff! If you go to a yoga class this week, chances are, you’ll hear something about the moon or the equinox.

So, what does this REALLY mean? Well, the equinox is a time when we have almost equal amounts of day and night, right?! Whether or not you believe in the energetic qualities of the different moon phases or seasons, I think it’s a GREAT time to reflect on balance.

You COULD consider grabbing a partner and doing some snazzy yoga-balance poses (like the pic above)…

I’d like to ask you: HOW are you finding balance in your life?…and ARE you finding balance in your life? I’m talking about the balance between DOING and BEING.

We can get so caught up in constantly DOING…that we miss out on the BEING part. I get it! We get super busy! How can you find balance, then? Here are some ideas:

  1. Self care. Take time to take care of YOU. In whatever way that may be.

  2. Get out in nature. If you think my people like moon phases…don’t get us started about EARTHING! Take your shoes off, and walk through the grass, or sand, or anywhere for that matter! Or go for a hike!

  3. Turn off your phone. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Truly be there for each experience you are having.

  4. Meditate. Even if for a few minutes. Take some time to pay attention to your breath.

What do you do to find some balance in your busy life? I’d love to hear them!!

#blessed

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Thought I’d repost this from a few years ago:

3 ways you can be TRULY blessed.

A friend got a holiday card she shared with me a few years ago, and it went like this: "We are so BLESSED" it said..."*Mike got a huge promotion at work, we took a 2 week family vacation to France, and bought his & hers Audis"...it went on to talk about their gifted children and all of their accomplishments ad nauseum.

Cringeworthy...am I right?!

It's great when friends find financial success, are proud of their kids, and get to take trips and buy things. I love to hear about all the exciting stuff in their lives....but it's NOT because they are blessed!

  1. Keep your #blessed about people, not things: You are truly blessed to have people you love in your life. Your family, your friends, your spouse/partner/loved ones.

  2. Just be yourself! You've got this. You are already blessed. Being blessed isn't happening when there is no adversity in your life, you have all of life's wonder and grace with you already.

  3. Be humble. I'm not talking about the humble brag (like, "I can't believe parking is $24 for my 90 min. yoga class. #cityliving"). It's difficult to find true humbleness in the world of selfies...when we constantly share our joys and accomplishments on social media...but a humble person is helpful, conscious of others, and kind. Try it!

So, go about your day with this true feeling of being blessed...and possibly re-think that holiday card you were planning on sending out.

*not his real name!

What’s up with crystals anyway?!

crystals.jpg

…the New Age phenomenon beloved by white girls everywhere. –Katherine Gillespie

I set out to write about crystals, and their energy…and how different crystals can help different issues you may want addressed. I thought I’d attempt to demystify them…and went on to research each crystal, and how they can be healing….

Well…GUESS what I found?! The “healing energy” in crystals is no more healing that a placebo! Yep. Maybe this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. Apparently, the healing powers of crystals is just bullsh!t. Sigh. My hippie ways are being crushed right now.

I love crystals. I think they are gorgeous additions to my yoga/meditation space…I may or may not have bought a stone or two based on their energetic qualities. I will neither confirm nor deny spending money on malas based on the stone’s energetic qualities.

So, this placebo effect. It’s definitely a thing! Studies show that the placebo effect can change your brain. There is definitely a power in THINKING that you will feel grounded (or whatever quality a gem is claiming to have), can actually make you feel grounded!

I say, buy yourself some pretty crystals! And, realize that there is power in intention, and thinking a certain way. If you set your mind to feeling a sense of calm…you can achieve that state…AND you can either achieve it with a pretty gem, or without!

Just don’t use crystals to try to cure any type of sickness. That’s just nonsense.

You are beautiful.

It’s International Women’s Day! The theme this year is #BalanceForBetter, and focuses on bringing gender equality to the world.

I’d like to bring attention to the crazy standard of beauty that women are held to…and the inequality that is ever-present. It’s certainly a topic that has been talked about ad nauseam. And yet, many of us STILL aspire to look like someone else...to an unattainable ideal. We base our self-worth on our appearance. This sh!t gets old…things need to change. Change can start with you. And me.

Mindfulness is paying purposeful attention. So…if you are hard on yourself for not looking a certain way, or weighing a certain amount…bring some awareness to your thoughts and emotions that come up around this. Bring a little curiosity to the way you react. Give yourself a little compassion, too (sometimes this can be the hardest part!).

I adore this short animation that my daughter sent me. It shows how women’s body ideals have changed so much over time.

So, take some time today to appreciate being YOU. Because, you are beautiful just the way you are.

great expectations.

What kinds of expectations do you have for yourself? For others? What if you could sweep away the cobwebs of doubt, and have only the highest expectations about the things you could achieve?! What would that feel like? I absolutely LOVE This American Life on NPR...and this episode really spoke to me. It's totally worth an hour of your time. Click HERE to listen. ( I attempted to embed the player from NPR, but failed! sorry!!)

What do you think?!