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Month: September 2020

Task Force Updates ‘Pain’ Definition for First Time in 40 Years

By Asmae Fahmy for Verywell Health.

In July, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) revised its definition of pain for the first time in 40 years. This new definition describes the experience of pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”

The previous definition, published in 1979, defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

The updated definition offers a more nuanced, systemic view of pain, and aims to change the way pain is understood, communicated, and treated.

IASP also added six notes that expand on the definition of pain from multiple different angles. These include:

  • Pain is always a personal experience that is influenced to varying degrees by biological, psychological, and social factors.
  • Pain and nociception (which is often caused by an outside stimulus) are different phenomena, and pain cannot be inferred solely from activity in sensory neurons.
  • Through life experiences, people learn the concept of pain.
  • A person’s report of an experience as pain should be respected.
  • Although pain usually serves an adaptive role, it may have adverse effects on function and social and psychological well-being.
  • Verbal description is only one of several behaviors to express pain, and an inability to communicate does not negate the possibility that a human or a non-human animal experiences pain.

IASP also added the etymology — origin of a word and historical development of its meaning — of the word pain in order to provide further context.

Pain Etymology:

Middle English, from Anglo-French peine (pain, suffering), from Latin poena (penalty, punishment), in turn from Greek poinē (payment, penalty, recompense.

What Does This New Definition Encompass? 

The changes introduced by this new definition, penned by a 14-member multinational Presidential Task Force with broad expertise in pain-related science, may seem subtle. But they lessen the importance of being able to describe pain in order to obtain a diagnosis.

Pain is expanded to encompass people who can’t verbally communicate it, such as infants, adults with dementia, or anyone with speech or language impairments. This way, the spotlight shifts away from how pain is being processed by others and back to the person experiencing it.

“Research over the last 40 years since the prior definition was put in place has deepened and broadened our understanding of the experience of pain and the mechanisms that drive it,” Marnie Hartman, DPT, CSCS, an Alaska-based physical therapist and Yoga Medicine instructor, tells Verywell. “I think the new definition demonstrates the complexity and individuality of pain.”

IASP notes that not all pain is linked to evident tissue damage and that pain can stem from multiple sources within the body.

In most cases involving tissue damage, our body sends messages about pain through sensory signals called nociceptors. In the past, the presence or lack of these sensory neurons was used to gauge the amount of pain in one’s body. However, this new definition states that not all forms of pain are communicated using nociceptors. One example is neuropathic pain, which can result from nerve damage or malfunctions in the nervous system. Examples of conditions that can trigger neuropathic pain include phantom limb syndrome, interstitial cystitis, and multiple sclerosis. 

“The nervous system is one of the systems involved in the experience of pain, along with the immune system, endocrine system, etc.,” Hartman says. “Other dimensions are also present such as genetics, epigenetics, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and stress responses. Tissue damage may be present, or may have been present at one time.”

This shift focuses on a patient’s experience of their pain, allowing doctors to recognize and believe what they cannot always physically measure. For many who live with chronic pain in the form of an invisible illness, this is an especially validating experience. 

“An invisible illness creates the illusion that a person is, in fact, ‘not that sick’ or in some instances, not sick at all,” Jaime Zuckerman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in Pennsylvania who specializes in the psychological symptoms associated with clinical illnesses, tells Verywell. “When confronted with someone who seems relatively healthy at first glance despite being sick, we assume that they are, in fact, healthy. Being told their symptoms are in their head or ‘not real,’ can lead a patient to distrust their own perceptions of their pain or minimize the reporting of their symptoms for fear of being doubted or belittled.”

Spotlighting the unseen aspects of invisible pain opens the door to different diagnostic measures, further focusing on self-reported symptoms. This definition also takes into account the different psychological, emotional, and social components that can influence the experience of pain. 

What This Means For You

IASP’s new definition makes it easier for pain to be communicated and assessed. It extends the experience beyond what can be displayed on a diagnostic test and emphasizes a patient’s personal pain experience. This allows for more holistic treatment regimens that may span different medical specialties.

How Can it Guide Treatment Protocols?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and multiple other governmental and non-governmental organizations have adopted IASP’s definition of pain. This new definition encourages medical practitioners to embrace a systemic view of pain when treating a patient. 

“Recognizing the multidimensionality of pain especially as it becomes more persistent will hopefully also emphasize the need for multiple care providers to be involved in treatment in order to help shift or lessen the pain experience,” Hartman says. “A deep understanding of the individual and their personal history appears to be the most important aspect in determining who should be the key players on the care team.”

This also allows for more treatment options for pain when the driving factors behind it are harder to pinpoint.

“With this definition, there is more communication and education around pain—what pain is, what drives it, and what we are learning are important factors for treatment,” Hartman says. “And that is all a big promotion of hope for those who are suffering from pain and those who struggle to help provide care.”

For example, Hartman says that adding a mindfulness practice to physical therapy or acupuncture can allow an individual to deeply assess their pain experience and potentially increase their modality of care. 

 “This provides insight for the individual to further acknowledge and understand some of their own reactions to the pain experience,” she says. “They may then learn how to shift some of these or decrease the intensity or persistence of the experience.”

Hartman hopes a deeper understanding of pain can help patients become more involved in their own treatment.

“I think there can be great benefits in a therapeutic relationship and taking time for care,” she says. “Especially when the treatment is delivered with appropriate education of pain science and acknowledging what of the pain experience is actually being targeted, ensuring the individual is an active participant in the treatment delivery.” 

9 Ways to Help Heal and Balance Your Throat Chakra

By Debra Rose Wilson for Healthline.

Chakras play a role in the flow of energy in your body. Running from the base of your spine to the top of your head, the seven main chakras each correspond to specific nerve bundles and organs in your body.

When one or more of your chakras becomes blocked or unbalanced, it’s thought to have an impact on your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

The throat chakra (also known as Vishuddha) is responsible for communication, self-expression, and the ability to speak your personal truth.

In this article, we’ll look at the role a healthy, or “open,” throat chakra plays in your overall well-being, how to recognize the symptoms of a blocked throat chakra, and how to heal this energy center.

What are Chakras?

We all have energy centers, or chakras, in our body. In Sanskrit, a chakra is also known as a wheel or disk of spinning energy. This energy corresponds to nerve bundles and major organs.

Ideally, your chakras stay open and balanced, allowing them to function well. But life happens — and for one reason or another, our chakras can become unbalanced or blocked.

This can cause physical or emotional symptoms related to the blocked chakra.

Some people believe there are 114 different chakras in the body, but most experts focus on the seven major types.

The seven main chakras (listed by both their common name and Sanskrit name) include:

  • Root chakra (Muladhara). Responsible for your sense of security and stability, the root chakra is located at the base of your spine.
  • Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana). Located just below your belly button, the sacral chakra is linked to your creative and sexual energy, as well as your emotions.
  • Solar plexus chakra (Manipura). The solar plexus chakra, located in your stomach area, plays a role in your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Heart chakra (Anahata). In the center of your chest, the heart chakra affects your ability to love and show compassion.
  • Throat chakra (Vishuddha). Your throat chakra is connected to your ability to communicate and speak your inner truth.
  • Third eye chakra (Ajna). Intuition, gut instinct, and imagination are all linked to the third eye chakra, which is located between your eyes.
  • Crown chakra (Sahasrara). Your crown chakra, located at the top of your head, allows you to feel spiritually connected to the universe, yourself, and others.

About the Throat Chakra

The throat chakra plays an essential role in communication, creativity, and self-expression. When there’s an imbalance in this chakra, you may notice you have a harder time communicating effectively.

According to Diane Malaspina, PhD, a Yoga Medicine therapeutic specialist, if your throat chakra is blocked or unbalanced, you may:

  • be fearful about speaking your personal truth
  • have a harder time expressing your thoughts
  • feel anxious about speaking or communicating

In addition, Malaspina said you may experience outbursts of emotion or even the opposite: extreme quiet or refusal to speak.

“Emotionally, those with fifth chakra imbalance may be highly critical of themselves and others,” she explained. Physically, she said, symptoms may manifest as the following:

9 Ways to Help Heal an Unbalanced Throat Chakra

If you’re struggling with a blocked throat chakra, consider trying one or more of the following practices.

1. Include the Color Blue in Your Life

The throat chakra is linked to the color blue.

According to certified yoga teacher and master reiki healer Guadalupe Terrones, blue crystals such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, aquamarine, and celestite may help balance your throat chakra.

“The throat chakra governs sound and resonance. Minerals are one of the more effective ways to work with the throat chakra, since they each have a different resonating frequency,” she said.

Wearing a necklace with one of these gems may be an especially helpful way to send healing to your throat chakra.

2. Do Neck Stretches

Stretches that open the area around your neck may help balance your throat chakra.

Terrones recommends doing simple neck stretches to help prevent the buildup of stress and tension in your throat or neck area.

To do this stretch:

  1. Drop your chin down toward your chest.
  2. Tilt your head to the left. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and try to tilt your head so that your left ear is as close to your left shoulder as possible. You should feel a stretch along the right side of your neck.
  3. Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Move your head back down to your chest and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Focus on Your Breath

A breathing technique called lion’s breath is believed to be beneficial for the throat chakra. It’s thought to help ease stress, get rid of toxins, and stimulate your throat and chest area.

To practice this breath:

  1. Inhale through your nose.
  2. Open your eyes and mouth wide.
  3. Stick out your tongue, and “roar” your breath out audibly — the breath of your exhale should be loud like a lion’s roar.
4. Use Throat Chakra Stones

You can also use throat chakra stones in various shades of blue to help balance and unblock a blocked throat chakra.

How you use throat chakra stones is up to you. Some options include:

  • placing one on the base of your throat while you rest
  • wearing them as jewelry
  • carrying them with you when you’re on the go
  • using them as decor
5. Try Yoga Poses

When you release tension in the areas of your body that are near a chakra, you help restore the flow of energy in that region, Malaspina said.

That’s why yoga poses like Shoulder Stand, Plow, and Fish — which release the neck muscles — are recommended for the throat chakra.

Shoulder Stand


6. Try a Reiki Healing Session

Reiki healing is another option for unblocking your throat chakra.

A reiki healing session benefits all the chakras in your body. However, Terrones explained, a reiki practitioner can spend more time on your throat chakra if they feel you may benefit from additional energy being sent to that area.

7. Work with the Bija Mantra

Sound vibrations are ancient tools believed to tap into currents of energy that exist in the universe.

A bija mantra is a one-syllable sound that, when said out loud, helps activate and balance the energy of a particular chakra. Each chakra has a unique bija mantra or sound.

Terrones suggests working with the throat chakra’s bija mantra, which is “ham.” You can do this by chanting “ham” out loud.

To chant this sound, use a natural, comfortable tone for your voice. Then, as you breathe out, let the sound roll out slowly for the duration of your exhale.

8. Find Time for Journaling

Journal writing is an excellent tool for cultivating the capacity to listen to yourself.

“Getting quiet and doing freewriting is a powerful exercise for connecting the heart with the mind — where the throat chakra lives between body and mind,” says Malaspina.

9. Keep Your Neck In-Line with Your Spine

According to Terrones, it’s important to keep your neck in line with your spine to avoid neck strain and hyperextension.

This is especially important if you do yoga. The repetition of some yoga poses, like backbends, may increase your chances of neck strain and hyperextension.

The Bottom Line

When your throat chakra is off-balance or blocked, you may experience negative symptoms related to communication and self-expression.

Fortunately, you can heal and balance your throat chakra in several ways, including the nine strategies outlined above.

If you want to know more about your throat chakra and other chakras, consider working with a professional energy healer, such as a reiki practitioner or a certified yoga instructor.

What to Do If You’re Afraid of Giving Birth

By Beth Ann Mayer for Parents.

Scared to give birth? You’re far from alone. Experts share common reasons people have fears about giving birth and ways to ease those worries.

For the first two trimesters of her pregnancy, Katy Huie Harrison wasn’t afraid to give birth. After four miscarriages, she didn’t think she’d get that far. Then, around 30 weeks, it hit her: This could happen. “I was like, ‘Holy cow, I’m going to birth a baby,'” says Harrison, Ph.D., owner of Undefining Motherhood, an online community guiding mothers on their parenting journey. “I definitely felt nervous, but I wouldn’t say I felt afraid.”

But at 34 weeks, she was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. She felt like the other shoe dropped.

“I thought, ‘Something was meant to go wrong. This isn’t going to work,'” says Dr. Harrison. “I knew having an induced labor as your first birth had a much greater chance of labor stalling. I was convinced at that point that I’d be induced, labor would stall, my blood pressure would skyrocket, and the baby would go into distress.”

Dr. Harrison isn’t alone. More than 3.7 million babies are born in the U.S. each year, but about 80 percent of pregnant women express fear and worry about their pregnancy or childbirth. These fears are common but manageable if they are talked about rather than dismissed by providers, loved ones, or even the person giving birth.

Experts explain common reasons why women are afraid to give birth and the best ways to overcome those fears.

Common Reasons For Fear of Giving Birth

Perception of Birth

We’ve all seen movies and shows with a birth: A woman’s water breaks, she’s writhing in pain and eventually, through screams, sweat, and tears, pushes out a baby. So, people are already predisposed to think birth is a painful experience. Then, if they become pregnant, it can be difficult to go anywhere without someone telling you about how much pain they or someone they know were in during a long labor. “I don’t think anyone wants to have hours and hours of pain,” says Kecia Gaither, M.D., MPH, FACOG, a double board-certified physician in OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine.

Pregnancy Complications

Threatened miscarriages, bleeding, placental previa, gestational diabetes, anemia, and pre-eclampsia are a few complications that can occur in pregnancy that may require extra monitoring. Being diagnosed with a complication can make pregnancy less enjoyable and cause fear of something going wrong during the birth process. Though these conditions can be serious and lead to complications during birth, they don’t have to.

Previous Loss or Traumatic Birth

If something has gone awry in the past, such as a miscarriage, stillbirth, or emergency C-section, it can understandably perpetuate fear in a future pregnancy. “Everything builds with trauma,” says Leah Deutsch, MBBS, MRCOG, LLB, RYT500, an OB-GYN based in London who is pursuing her 500hr YTT certification with Yoga Medicine and is co-founder of The Birth Collective. “When it comes to birth, there is a fear of a lack of control over our bodies and inability to protect and keep that baby safe from unpredictable events.”

Prior Abuse

Women with a history of sexual abuse may be apprehensive about giving birth. Internal exams and the need for a physician and nurses to touch the genital area can be triggering. “People who have been sexually abused have negative experiences with people touching them in places where touch may be necessary when giving birth,” says Christina M. Kocis, CNM, DNP, director of the Division of Midwifery at Stony Brook Medicine.

Pre-Existing Anxiety

In addition to previous losses and pre-eclampsia, Dr. Harrison also has anxiety. This only heightened her fears, as it often does for others. “Folks who have pre-existing anxiety definitely can struggle during pregnancy and giving birth,” explains Kocis.

What to Do if You’re Afraid to Give Birth

Let Someone Know

The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging it exists. Talk to your provider so they can help you find the right resources. “There’s sometimes societal expectations that make us afraid to say we’re afraid,” says Kocis. “But to step back and say, ‘I’m afraid to do this’ is OK.”

Knowing the reason behind a woman’s fear of giving birth can help providers and loved ones cater advice, support, and treatment. Kocis advises women to choose providers who give them a safe space to talk about their fears and provide helpful advice and strategies to help them overcome them. If the provider is not willing to do that, it may be best to find someone else.

Find the Right Support

Sometimes it’s necessary to seek support outside your close circle and medical team. Support groups are a great way to build a safe community where you can share your own experience and open up. It also offers people an opportunity to gain more knowledge about the birthing experience.

Sometimes, different doctors will offer different recommendations in pregnancy and about labor and delivery. Support groups, even virtual ones, give women the space to ask questions and tools to advocate for themselves. “That’s something that I love about support groups—you’re able to go in with a specific question and say, ‘My doctor is telling me this, but I really wanted this. Did anyone have an experience?’ Take that experience back to your doctor and say, ‘These are some options other people’s doctors gave them. Can we talk about them?'” says Dr. Harrison.

If you’d prefer a one-to-one experience, consider seeing a therapist, especially if you feel detached from your pregnancy or are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from a previous loss, traumatic birth, or sexual abuse. “If you feel the anxiety is getting in the way of your ability to connect with your pregnancy or have any chance to enjoy childbirth, then I would recommend talking to a therapist,” says Dr. Harrison. “Sometimes, being able to talk through those experiences can make a world of help.”

Dismiss Negative Talk

Just because someone can tell you about their birth experience or someone else’s doesn’t mean they should. If it’s making you anxious, you have every right to ask them to stop. “Say, ‘I really appreciate it, but I think I’ll have that conversation with my doc,'” suggests Dr. Gaither.

Take a Birthing Class

Hospitals and doctors often offer birth classes, where instructors demystify the birth experience (hint: it’s not all like the movies or how that random person in the elevator says it is). They’ll also go through tips on how to time contractions so you know when to head to the hospital and how to breathe through pain. They’ll also let you know how the hospital handles emergencies.

“It’s important to not only understand what is natural and what your body can do but also what happens if something doesn’t go according to plan,” says Dr. Deutsch. “Understand the process and what might happen so you can visualize before.”

If you’re unable to go in person, especially because of the pandemic, many hospitals offer virtual classes. The Birth Collective also holds them.

Try Yoga

Yoga is known to help with relaxation and mindfulness, which can help women anxious about giving birth. Breathing is also an essential part of the labor process. “The physical act of yoga can create a link with the body and an awareness of what is going on in the body. Having that is is a really powerful tool when it comes to the labor process,” says Dr. Deutsch, who has classes on her YouTube channel.

Research — But Beware of Dr. Google

Dr. Harrison credits her research with helping her achieve a positive birth experience, but she cautions that where you find the information matters. The internet is full of blogs and forums that don’t necessarily offer evidenced-based information and advice. “I tell people all the time on my website, ‘Stay away from Dr. Google,'” she says.

Use academic databases if you have access to them, and talk to your provider about anything you find since some of it may be older information that is no longer relevant.

Create a Birth Plan

Ask about birth plans in a Facebook group for mothers, and you’ll often hear, “You can’t plan birth.” This is true, but you can express your birth preferences and advocate for yourself. Birth plans are often a way to have conversations with providers about concerns. Dr. Harrison suggests having these conversations around the start of the third trimester, as these discussions are best had in the doctor’s office rather than during labor at the hospital.

Dr. Harrison taught at Georgia Tech and had access to the school’s academic databases. She searched for evidence-based advice on the induction process and stalled labor and came up with a birth plan, including a desire to hold off on an epidural until she was at least 6 centimeters dilated and in active labor. Her research and plan helped her feel more informed and in control, allowed her to decide what medicines she was OK with, and after a difficult road to motherhood, she overcame her fear of giving birth.

“It made me feel like I was taking control of an uncontrollable situation,” says Dr. Harrison, whose son is now 3 years old. “And gave me the ability to make a plan for what I actually wanted to do.”

8 Lessons I’ve Learned in My 8 Years as a Therapist

By Janice Gill for Yoga Medicine®.

If you’ve ever sought support from a therapist, you’ve (hopefully) experienced the healing benefits and transformation that can occur within the context of a safe relationship. You’ve probably taken away tidbits of wisdom, paired with a whole lot of self-reflection, discovery, and growth, but did you ever stop to think about what your therapist might’ve learned from you in the process? You might be thinking: “What could a therapist possibly learn from me?” Well, as a therapist, I am going to let you in on a little secret: We learn just as much from you as you do from us! We may hold certain credentials and knowledge but there are just some things that cannot be taught in a textbook or a classroom.

I have now had the honour of being a therapist and bearing witness to peoples’ stories and healing for eight years. In these eight years, my views of people and our world have shifted in significant and unimaginable ways, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. These learnings have been so impactful and are so critical for our collective wellbeing that I felt inclined to share, so here are eight lessons I’ve learned in my eight years as a therapist:

1. People are far more resourceful, resilient, and adaptive than we often give them credit for.

We tend to think of people as passive victims in their lives, when they have experienced any sort of trauma, trials or tribulations—we think that life has happened to them, as they have just stood by and watched. The reality is though, that we as humans are an adaptive species. We are making moment-to-moment decisions based on the stimuli and information we are taking in from our environment. We are never passively sitting back, even if from an outsider’s perspective, it may appear to be so. Our nervous system is wired to keep us safe in the face of danger and sometimes, what looks like a lack of action is actually an adaptive response from our nervous system. Some of the strongest, bravest, most inspiring folks I have crossed paths with are those whom have not only survived but thrived in the face of trauma, in its various forms, including: racism, oppression, poverty, violence, and intergenerational trauma.

2. People will often say they want answers and solutions, when what they really want and need (I would say, 90% of the time) is held space and validation, so they can safely explore and share their feelings and experiences about said problem.

When I worked as a Parent-Child Therapist, parents would come to consult with me about the problems they were experiencing with their child. More often than not, the conversation would begin with a seemingly desperate plea, “Please tell me what to do.” It didn’t take long for me to notice the palpable pushback when I started offering some psychoeducation around the problem they were experiencing, along with some subsequent relational and behavioural strategies. Of course, these interventions are important and have their place, however, what I came to learn, was that the most fundamental intervention I could offer these parent-child dyads was the relationship I cultivated with the parent(s) and the safe space I held, which allowed them to express such vulnerable and otherwise unspoken feelings they had been carrying around, including: shame, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, grief, frustration, anger, and isolation.

It is a seductive compulsion, to want to offer up solutions and strategies for people who are expressing their hurts to us but it is important to remember that another’s pain is not for us to take away and that often times, the most helpful thing we can do is offer our unconditional love and presence, so people do not have to carry that pain all on their own.

3. Parents (and caregivers) are people. Humans raising humans means plenty of room for mistakes, mess-ups, messiness, and repair.

Parent or nonparent, we are all human and humans are fallible. We all do the best we can with the tools, resources, and levels of consciousness we have access to at any given moment. Fortunately, children are resilient, and so long as they have one caregiver who does their best to be present, attuned, and responsive when the child is in need, and initiates repair in the face of relational disconnection, they will have the solid foundation they need to help them weather the inevitable storms of life. Expect to make mistakes and mess up—it’s par for the course. Try to offer yourself and other parents, trekking their own messy paths, the same level of compassion, acceptance, nonjudgment, and unconditional love you would your child.

4. Grief is not only experienced around the loss of loved ones.

Grief is an incredibly painful emotion that arises out of the experience of loss. It is a direct reflection of what we so deeply love and/or have longed for, hence why it can feel all-consuming at times. It can be particularly confusing when Grief shows up at times when one has not experienced the physical loss of an actual person. Grief is the emotion that shows up when we think about what we perhaps didn’t receive as a child that we so deeply needed or the relationship we so desperately yearned for but didn’t have with a parent or caregiver. Other potentially unexpected areas Grief may show up include: life transitions, changes in relationship dynamics or loss of a significant relationship, loss of a job, significant illness, and unfulfilled hopes or desires—either for ourselves or our loved ones.

5. Addiction is primarily an adaptive response to regulate one’s nervous system when they probably didn’t have the experience of a present, attuned, caregiver to co-regulate their inner experiences when it was needed.

Remember: Parents are people. They do the best they can with the blueprint they received from their own growing-up experiences. They may have their own health, mental health, grief, and/or addiction that impeded their ability to be the necessary container that children require to help them process through difficult and unsettling experiences and emotions, as their brain is still developing. If, for whatever reason, a child is consistently left on their own to manage, make sense of, and effectively move on from upsetting experiences, they do not acquire the necessary skills of self-regulation, which are born out of repeated experiences of co-regulation. As they grow up, they must find their own ways to help them tolerate and cope with the often, unbearable sensations and experiences their body and mind are confronted with. Substances are one way that we can indirectly and almost immediately influence our inner biochemistry and subsequent physiological and emotional experiences. They give us the ability to feel things we might not otherwise feel or to numb those feelings we would prefer not to feel, which, with the right conditions, can set up a reinforced pathway in the brain, which gets us reaching for those things over and over again.

6. It takes one person to halt the transmission of intergenerational trauma and that job is not for the faint of heart.

We are in the age of information. Unlike ever before, we have access to myriad resources around psychology, health, and healing—quite literally, at our fingertips. A little self-awareness, paired with a desire for change, can set us out on the path of seeking the information and resources to aid us on our journey of healing and stepping into our greatest potential. Whether or not we decide to procreate, intergenerational trauma stops at us when we become aware of our conditioned thoughts and behaviour patterns that were born out of our early-on experiences, which were often influenced by the experiences of our caregiver(s) and their ancestors. This journey is a privilege and it’s important to note the systemic inequalities that continue to exist that prevent some folks from accessing this privilege. For those who do embark upon this journey, it involves confronting and unraveling, often times painful experiences that have led to our present-day thoughts, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of being in the world. From there, with mindfulness and patience, we can begin to show up in the world the way we prefer to show up—responding to our environment in ways that align with our values, as opposed to continuously reacting out of triggered emotions and experiences.

7. While Western medical perspectives tend to pathologize and locate problems within individuals, problems and diagnoses are often a result of a complex interplay between our inner biology (nature), immediate environment (nurture), and the larger forces and systems we live in and/or are oppressed by.

People are not the problem. The problem is the problem. In Narrative Therapy, we call the practice of locating and naming problems outside of people, Externalization. A person is not anxious, they have Anxiety. And, there are probably very valid reasons for why that person has developed Anxiety. A person is not an addict (unless they happen to choose this language for themselves), they struggle with Addiction—again, probably for very valid reasons. Person-first language is fundamental for creating a more compassionate society that treats all of its members with dignity and respect, despite the problems they may be facing.

8. We are all connected and yet, on our own path. Bad things happen to good people and we don’t always know why. Some things are not meant to be understood. It is no one’s job or right to take away another’s pain or judge the ways in which they adapt and cope with that pain. Striking a balance of empathy and empowerment is essential in enabling people to own their path and walk their journey at their own pace.

It’s hard to see people struggle, especially when we think we may have the answers to those struggles. It’s important to recognize when we are projecting our own hurts, desires, assumptions, and values onto other people. May we be brave enough to sit with others in their pain and hold space, rather than trying to pull them out of it before they are ready. May we listen more than we talk. Connect more than we direct. And, may we honour the individual journeys that each of us are on, while knowing that no one should have to journey alone. 

These Advanced Yoga Poses May Look Intimidating, But You’ve Got This

By Jessica Estrada for Well + Good.

If you’re a devoted yogi who never misses a class, you know that even once you nail the five basic yoga poses, class never exactly gets easy. There are always alignment and breath adjustments to focus on in order to deepen your practice. But one surefire way to keep things feeling fresh and continue building your strength and flexibility is to add more advanced yoga poses to your flow.

As their name suggests, they are usually reserved for seasoned yogis because they’re more challenging to do than your standard downward-facing dog and sun salutations. So if you’re up the challenge, keep reading to learn how to do five advanced yoga poses step by step. And yes, that includes how to nail the elusive headstand.

1. Extended Triangle Pose

The extended triangle pose, also known as Utthita Trikonasana, may look simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult. It requires a lot of strength and flexibility, but the extra effort is worth the benefits.

Rachel Land, a Yoga Medicine Therapeutic Specialist, says the pose helps build leg and hip strength, increases hamstring and adductor flexibility, activates the side body, and opens up the chest. Here are Land’s instructions for doing the extended triangle pose:

  1. Starting in warrior II with your right knee bent, straighten your right leg and hinge at your hip to connect your right hand to your right thigh, calf, or foot.
  2. Press into the ball of your front foot and micro-bend your knee, feeling your thigh and calf muscles engage around the joint.
  3. Drive down through the outer edge of your left foot and engage the left side of your waist, as if you’re trying to side-bend toward the ceiling, encouraging your right hand to hover off your leg rather than resting there.
  4. Finally, draw your left shoulder blade back toward your spine to help turn your chest toward your mat’s long edge. Take a few breaths here and then repeat on the other side.

2. Headstand

Mastering the art of the yoga headstand is no easy feat, but you can get there (yep, even you naysayers) if you follow this step-by-step process and go slow, preferably with an instructor to spot you. Here’s how yoga teacher and mindset expert Melissa Ruiz recommends doing it:

  1. Start in downward-facing dog.
  2. Drop your knees and forearms.
  3. Interlace your fingers and push the front of your head into your interlaced fingers.
  4. Find the portion of your head that feels most comfortable to balance. Go slow.
  5. Activate your forearms, tuck your toe, and lift your hips.
  6. Once you have a stable and comfortable foundation, walk your feet closer to yourself.
  7. Bring one knee to your chest and then the other. Stay here and find balance. Once you’re ready, extend both legs into a headstand.
  8. Focus your gaze on something that’s not moving and activate your core and forearms. Don’t forget to breathe.

3. Crow Pose

Want to step up your upper body strength? Give the crow pose a go. Other unexpected benefits include increased strength in your abs, hip flexors, adductors, and hamstrings, Land says. Not to mention conquering the fear of falling on your face and learning how to trust yourself. Follow Land’s step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Start in a standing forward fold. Bend your knees and plant your palms shoulder-width apart on your mat.
  2. Spread your weight evenly over all 10 knuckles, all 10 fingertips, and across both palms.
  3. Bend your elbows, then rise to your tiptoes and wrap your knees around your upper arms’ outsides.
  4. Magnetize your thighs and elbows toward the midline as if you’re squeezing a beach ball between them.
  5. Scoop your navel toward your spine and look forward past your fingertips.
  6. Follow your gaze, leaning forward over the fulcrum of your hands until your head and shoulders start to balance the weight of your legs.
  7. When you feel light on your tiptoes, squeeze your heels toward your sit bones, and take flight.

4. Bird of Paradise

The bird of paradise standing pose is no joke. It requires a serious mix of strength, balance, and flexibility, which makes it perfect for advanced yogis. Find the step-by-step from Ruiz here:

  1. Begin in extended side angle pose with your left arm pointing toward the floor and reaching the right arm above your head away from your body, creating a straight line from the bottom of your foot toward the tip of your fingers.
  2. Take your left arm and needle it through your leg.
  3. Bring your top arm behind your back, taking a half bind, and interlace your fingertips.
  4. Rotate the heart up and meet your back foot with your other foot towards the top of your mat.
  5. Start shifting your weight towards the right foot (or the leg that is not holding the bind).
  6. Take the leg that’s holding the bind, and get on your tiptoes.
  7. Use the bind you’ve been holding to slowly start lifting your chest and, eventually, your leg.
  8. To take it up a notch, you can also extend the leg holding the bind and get into a standing split. If you’ve made it this far, you’re the real yoga MVP.

5. Wheel Pose

Given that we’re so used to being hunched over our phones and computers for hours on end, backbends like the wheel pose can provide great relief—but can be difficult to master. The wheel pose requires an extreme range of motion in shoulder flexion and wrist, spine, and hip extension. “It creates a rare opportunity to strengthen the back body and arms while stretching the chest, side ribs, abdomen, and hip flexors,” Land says. “It also reminds us that it takes strength to allow space for vulnerability.

Reaching Our Greatest Potential by Generating Positive Synergy

Key steps for enhancing synergistic relationships to increase creativity, productivity, and connection.

The key to optimal performance rests in the words of Aristotle’s musing that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In terms of relationships and reaching big potential, two or more people have the possibility of creating a greater contribution together than they might independently. Synergy is the idea that combined effort allows for boundless innovation, thus having the potential for greater outcomes.

Synergy is everywhere in nature and is more than just working together in a group. Bringing folks together on a project can work well – or not – just like in the natural environment. Consider the positive synergy between honeybees and flowers: the bees feed off of the flower’s nectar, and while doing so accumulate pollen to carry to the next flower, helping the plant reproduce through pollination. Both flowers and bees benefit from the relationship, and the relationship has larger impact benefitting wildlife biodiversity.  But what happens when flowers are exposed to pesticides? This creates negative synergy, as the bees’ health is at risk, with consequences on pollination, and detriments in the overall ecosystem. Positive and negative synergy also influence organizational productivity. Positive synergy catalyzes, unifies, and unleashes great potential in people. Negative synergy shows up as dependence, rivalry, politicking, and blocks the capacity to thrive at work.  

Generating positive synergy is accomplished by applying principles of creative cooperation to our social interactions, and the essence of this is to value diversity and differences. So, how do we get there? Valuing the uniqueness and contributions of each member on the team starts with acquiring the key skills of awareness and mindfulness. 

Practicing Awareness

Awareness is the first step in recognizing perceptions and behaviors that need to be shifted. Many of us are too busy multi-tasking and playing catch-up with our to-do lists to bring clear consciousness to our own mental states. This requires slowing down regularly and periodically monitoring:

  • Reactions to different situations 
  • Judgements of others
  • Responses toward others
  • Beliefs about others’ perceptions of you

Practicing Mindfulness

Our stress levels are typically higher at work due to the face-paced nature and the tendency to worry about future deadlines and ruminate on prior performance. Mindfulness is the skill of bringing focused attention to the present moment without evaluating and analyzing – allowing the moment to just ‘be’ as it is. Such practices positively affect performance, well-being, and enhance social relationships.  Some strategies to become more mindful include:

  • Set a timer for 1 minute and concentrate on your breath – do this 2 – 3 times during the workday to re-wire the brain’s ability to focus.
  • Commit to working on one task at a time. If you find yourself multi-tasking, pause, and redirect your efforts toward the most pressing task at hand until you’ve reached an acceptable conclusion or transition point.
  • Turn off alerts and other distractions that take you off center (like email and text message notifications).
  • Schedule time for answering emails and messages and refrain from continually checking throughout the day.

When we do the personal work of strengthening our ability to be aware and mindful, we can express ourselves more genuinely and lead and listen in more relatable ways. The essence of synergy is valuing and respecting differences so that we can capture each team member’s strengths and leverage those strengths to overcome areas of limitation. 

When groups combine their knowledge, insights, and ideas, they often generate higher level productivity than would have been made by independent pursuits.  The outcome is increased creativity, solutions, and relational connection, opening the door for the expression of diverse views and talents. Momentum and excitement build with relational synergy, creating the space for shared goals and enhanced group effectiveness. 

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