So much to do, so little time. If you are like most people, your list of things to do is endless. Just as you cross something off, giving you a minor sense of accomplishment, another task gets added to the list. And it certainly seems like Restorative Yoga has no place on this endless list.
But while this may seem like a never-ending saga, the truth of the matter is that many of us thrive on checking off the boxes on our to-do lists, giving us a sense of accomplishment. In today’s society, many of us feed off of the “glorification of busy.”
With unbelievable emphasis placed on how many boxes we have checked off our list, we lose sight of the benefit of finding stillness.
The Glorification of Busy and How Restorative Yoga Fits In
When we think of moving our bodies to stay healthy, we often gauge the value of the workout by calories burned or how much we sweat.
Time is a precious commodity as it is a resource that we cannot recoup once spent, so we want the most bang for our buck.
Many people who have not experienced Restorative Yoga have the impression that it is the “relax and take a nap class” where we lay on the floor, supported by props and just chill out . . . not burning many calories, not sweating, not being productive.
So why would anyone want to do that?! Click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com because the list of reasons to practice Restorative Yoga is compelling!
Whether you experience depression to a point where you need medical intervention or it’s something you find you can personally manage in your life, yoga for depression can be a supportive practice and can help alleviate some of the associated negative patterns that come up. Depression can present itself in many forms, particularly patterns that are considered low energy with symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion and inability to engage with life – or high energy, presenting with symptoms like anxiety, anger, muscular tension and irritation.
Follow along and learn about the array of symptoms associated with depression and why it’s important to understand the diversity of ways depression can show up so that we can support our students coping with these challenges. This is a short yoga practice for depression that can be used on yourself or with your students.
If you’re a yoga teacher reading this, I don’t need to convince you of the numerous benefits of meditation. But for many athletes, meditation can be a much harder sell. As both an athlete and coach in multiple sport modalities, I totally understand and I have grappled with these barriers myself. After all, time is precious and much of the available time that an athlete has is spent training specifically for their sport.
So it can be challenging to convince athletes that spending 5-10 minutes per day sitting or laying in meditation can produce tangible benefits in their sports performance. Fortunately, this concept is becoming easier now that many high profile athletes are beginning to open up about their own experiences with meditation. With the increased interest around meditation and its applications to sports performance, there’s so much more research now which means that the benefits — such as improving focus through distractions, enhancing concentration, heightening breath awareness, reducing in sensitivity to pain, and aiding in physiological and mental recovery — are now well-documented by scientific studies.
Since I currently have my feet in both the athletic competition and coaching worlds, I thought I’d add my voice to the conversation and share one other interesting benefit that I’ve noticed in myself and the athletes I coach: how a consistent meditation practice can significantly improve mental durability.
What is Mental Durability?
Many people think that mental durability means “being tough” but, while mental toughness certainly is part of it, there’s a lot more at work here. Mental durability is the resilience of your mind and refers to its ability to withstand the stress caused by the rigors of training and competing without becoming burnt out, frustrated, or mentally fatigued.
Intuitively, we know that training day after day for competition can take a toll on our bodies and, as athletes and coaches, we do our best to manage that reality through intelligent physical training program design. However, that same stress can also take its toll mentally and I believe we should be taking steps to prepare for and guard against that as well. This is something that meditation is well-positioned to do – specifically in developing the grit or mental toughness to keep going in the face of discomfort, the ability to remain present and composed as the intensity increases, and the capacity to focus through nerves and distractions. Just like our physical training, these are all skills that can, and should, be developed through repetition and practice.
Why Mental Durability Matters
Let’s be honest here, high performance output for competition is tough. It’s important to note here that “high performance output” is a relative term meaning that for each individual athlete, their own maximum effort typically involves significant, if not extreme, discomfort — regardless of where he or she stands on the leaderboard or in the rankings. This means that you don’t have to be an elite level athlete to understand what I mean when I say operating at maximum capacity when it’s time to throw down in competition or the day of your event is no walk in the park. That’s why we reserve these high intensity performances for the peak of our training — whether that is a single day or a series of days throughout a designated competition season.
"Meditation can be a help tool for learning how to step back from the intensity of the current experience and see it as part of a bigger picture..."
Three Ways Meditation Can Boost Mental Durability
The widely discussed performance applications for meditation include refining focus, concentration, and breath awareness – all of which form the building blocks for mental durability. To truly maximize the effectiveness in a sport setting, it’s helpful to look at how these specific skills trained in meditation can transfer to competition and ultimately increase your mental durability. Let’s look at some of the applications I’ve used for myself as well as the athletes I coach.
1. Meditation provides the perspective needed to manage discomfort. During high output, things quickly get uncomfortable. This can go on for hours depending on the length of your event. When you’re giving it all you got out there, the longer the discomfort goes on, the more difficult it becomes to stay focused on the task at hand. Most of us eventually feel a palpable deterioration of mental clarity and perspective where we begin to then fixate on the discomfort, analyzing all the things that hurt or what we feel is going wrong. Meditation can be a help tool for learning how to step back from the intensity of the current experience and see it as part of a bigger picture — which is important because the moment you feel like more is going wrong than right, the wheels really start to fall off the wagon.
To practice this ability to mentally step back from the discomfort to see the bigger picture so you have it in your pocket on competition day, I find it helpful to routinely do a simple body scan meditation where you’re alternating between noticing the parts of your body that feel unpleasant and those that feel pleasant. As you do this, try to avoid judging, analyzing, or interpreting and simply notice them as pure sensation without needing to label them. After a few moments of sensing these two separate and distinct areas, imagine blurring them together and allowing them to coexist in your experience as you breathe calmly. As I once heard Yoga Medicine founder, Tiffany Cruikshank, say during a meditation: “imagine that every sensation in your body is like one brushstroke in the painting of your entire experience in this moment as you step back to look at the whole picture.” Practices like this one, when done consistently, can help develop your ability to zoom out, take in the whole experience, and likely see that many things are still going well and working in your favor.
2. Meditation teaches presence and patience when the panic starts to set in. In the sports performance world, we often talk about “flow state” or being “in the zone.” While it has many definitions depending on who you talk to, my experience with it is that it’s a state where you’re fully immersed — mind, body, and spirit and involved in the process of performing. This state requires absolute presence with your full awareness and engagement directed towards the present moment. By definition, this means that you cannot be worried about whether your training was adequate (the past) or the eventual result (the future). Often, the panic sets in when we feel like we don’t have what it takes to see it through to completion; in other words, we allow the past and future to seep into the present and interrupt the flow.
Obviously, there is a place for forethought — after all, competition in any sport requires strategy even if the only person you’re competing against is yourself. However, a well-thought-out pre-competition strategy is different from obsessively worrying about the outcome mid-performance. One will help you, the other not so much.
To practice this skill, I recommend a meditation with a specific focus on your breath. For this one, set a timer for five minutes and focus on being right there for every exhalation — completely present for the feeling of emptying and being empty of breath. When your mind wanders off and you notice it, gently bring your attention back to the process of exhaling your breath. You’ll learn to use something that’s always with you — your breath — to stay anchored in the present moment. One step at time. One rep at a time. One breath at a time.
3. Meditation reduces pre-competition nerves and refines focus. For most athletes, we have some sort of taper or deload period built into our training leading up to competition. This is the time where your coach tells you to trust your training and ease up to let your body fortify itself and prepare for maximal effort on the day of competition or your targeted event. In my experience both personally and as a coach, this is the time when athletes start to get a little nuts! After so much intense training, all this extra rest and recovery time causes us to feel stir-crazy, get extremely antsy, and then direct that energy toward worrying. This is the perfect time to double down on your meditation practice — after all, you’ve got the time, why not use it to condition your mind to perform optimally the way you’ve conditioned your body. There’s nothing worse than finishing your event after countless hours of training, knowing you had it in you physically but mentally you just couldn’t rally.
During this time, I highly recommend to my athletes to spend time in meditation visualizing how the entire day of competition playing out in as much detail as possible and ending in a positive outcome. Note the sensations in your body present with every step of the way — visualize the pace of your movement, the contact of your feet with the ground, the cadence of your breath, the power in your muscles, the control in execution, the sensations associated with confidence and resolve — all the elements involved, no detail about the experience is too small or insignificant. This will help you create a sensory imprint that you can recall and return to on the day of competition which will keep you focused and moving toward that positive outcome even if things don’t play out perfectly according to plan. Much of those pre-competition nerves are related to feelings of the outcome being out of our control so visualizing a positive outcome and anchoring into the sensations associated with a good performance can help alleviate performance anxiety and help you stay focused on what you do control — giving your best effort right now.
YOGA IS ONE OF OUR favorite ways to decompress when we’re feeling frazzled, and the following yoga routine from Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight is specifically designed to help us deal with stress. Integrate these simple but powerful poses into your morning or bedtime rituals for amazing mind-body benefits that linger…
With numerous research articles headlining the news these days about the effects of yoga and meditation for your health, many people are starting to realize that yoga can be a great adjunct to your weekly routine. With so many negative implications that stress can have on the body (everything from muscle tension, headaches or food cravings to weight gain or digestive complaints and more), yoga and meditation are particularly effective strategies for combatting stress and its effects. If you’re like many people, you probably experience a hefty load of stress and anxiety on a daily basis, bombarded by it coming from finances, relationships, health or your family. The often-used message that you need to “manage your stress better” seems to feel meaningless without clear guidance as to how. After working with thousands of patients and students over the past couple of decades, here are a few of my tried and true favorites to deal with stress.
The key here is to pick one or two that you think you can add into your daily routine and stick with it. In order to re-educate how your nervous system responds to stress (the true task at hand since the stress doesn’t go away), you must do this daily, but it need not take more than a few minutes. Just like building muscle, the more often you do it the more helpful it will be. Below are a few to choose from; try out a few and see which one best helps you deal with stress, relax and unwind.
A 5-Step Yoga Routine To Deal with Stress
Supine Twist This pose is great for unwinding at the end of your day as it helps you relax and, at the same time, release back and neck tension from sitting at a desk all day. If you find yourself tense or stressed when you come home and unable to really unwind and relax, then this pose might be your choice.
For this pose find a comfortable place to lie on the ground and simply bring your knees into your chest and take them over to one side and rest them on the ground in a gentle twist. The key here is to completely relax and let your body lean into the ground. If your legs are in the air, find a pillow or blanket to wedge underneath them so you can relax. Once you’re comfortable, take a few deep breaths and stay for 1-2 minutes, then repeat on the second side. Ease back into the rest of your night with a fresh perspective when you’re done.
Downward Dog Modification This variation on down dog is a gentle inversion to refresh the brain. This pose is helpful if you tend to feel overwhelmed and are unable to concentrate and stay focused to your normal capacity.
For this pose you’ll need a yoga block or a stack of books, about 4-6 inches tall, to rest your head on. For this pose, come into downward facing dog with your hands shoulders-width apart and your feet about hips-width apart and the top of your forehead resting on the block/books. You might have to move the block/books around a few times to find the right position but notice that the weight is still primarily held in the hands and feet so there is only the weight of the head on your block. Let your neck relax so the blood flow can refresh your mind. Stay for 1-2 minutes and visualize all of your thoughts and to-do lists dripping off your brain onto your block.
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose This pose is a great preparation for deep sleep as it calms the nervous system and helps ease the body into the parasympathetic nervous mode or deep relaxation. This is a great one if stress is affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. For this pose you want to be done for the night and begin by preparing yourself for bed and dimming the lights so that you can crawl into bed quietly when you are finished.
Start by sitting with the side of your body up against a wall, then gently lean back onto your back and rest your legs up the wall. You can move in close with your hips at the wall, or leave a little space between your hips and the wall if that feels more comfortable on your back and hamstrings. As with the first pose, the key is to make sure you are comfortable. You can put a blanket over or under you or strap your legs together so they can relax. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and notice your breath. Visualize the mind emptying with each exhale and allow yourself to linger a little longer in your exhalations. Stay for 3-5 minutes (or longer, if you like), then gently roll onto your side and slowly crawl right into bed.
Seated Meditation If none of the previous techniques stand out for you or you feel like the stress in your life is constant, then a simple meditation practice can be a helpful way to re-train the nervous system on a more regular basis. Meditation is simple and effective way to help shift the body into relaxation as well as help bring context to the bigger picture awareness that is key for stress management. The nice thing about mediation is that anyone can do it, anywhere or anytime. The key here is to find a time and place that you can use every day. For many people this is first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, but it can also be done at your desk by simply setting a timer and closing your eyes. I recommend using a timer on your phone so that you can relax and not worry about time. Begin with 3 minutes and work up to 5 or 10 minutes – but remember frequency is more important than duration, so find something you can commit to daily.
Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position on the floor or in a chair. If you’re on the floor, find something you can sit on like a blanket or pillow to try to get your hips up a little higher than your knees. Then close your eyes and begin by noticing the sensations in your body and the feeling of the breath as you breath naturally. Simply notice the experience and take it in. Notice what it feels like to be alive in this moment as you observe the experience. This practice is simply about becoming aware of the sensations and processes in the body without trying to change them or judge them. In order to change how your body responds to stress, your nervous system must first notice what is happening. Then your body can do the rest. When your timer rings, slowly head back into your day.
Calming Breath This simple breathing technique is helpful if your stress level is more of an up-and-down battle throughout the day. This breathing technique helps to stop the stress response in the body in the heat of the moment by calming the nervous system. The exhalation is intimately connected to the parasympathetic nervous system so you will be lingering in the exhale to induce the relaxation response. Use this one daily or as needed to combat stressful tasks or situations.
Begin in any position, with eyes closed or open, by slowing down your breath as you breath in and out fully for a few rounds. Then without any tension simply inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6. Repeat for 3-5 rounds (or more, if your prefer) and notice how quickly the relaxation response starts to kick in. As you get more comfortable, you can inhale for 4 and exhale for 8, but the key is to relax and feel as if you can lean into the exhale rather than forcing it.
Let’s face it, most of us have tight hips. But luckily, Yin Yoga poses are an excellent resource to help release connective tissues in the hips.
The hip joints are a type of synovial joint known as a ball-and-socket. These joints connect the head of the femur or thigh bone (which is the ball) to the acetabulum of the pelvis or hip socket (which is, of course, the socket).
By design, the hip joints are built for stability. The femur sits deep within its socket and is designed for weight bearing. Due to its innate sense of stability, mobility and flexibility of the tissues surrounding the hip joint is not always a guarantee.
To find out the benefits of and how to use yin yoga for tight hips, click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com.
Join in as Yoga Medicine Teacher and Clinical Psychologist Diane Malaspina walks you through 4 steps to reduce stress, a process for quieting a chaotic mind. In just 4 minutes, we will work on calming meditation techniques that will work effectively towards stress reduction by focusing on breath, amongst other meditation techniques:
Focus on breathing techniques for stress reduction and notice how it connects to emotions.
Gratitude meditation: develop a sense of gratitude by bringing to mind qualities, circumstances, people, that evoke gratitude and then connecting to a state of feeling with gratitude.
Intention meditation: setting an intention to guide the day and to affirm existing qualities
Letting go of negative thinking, attitudes, or behaviors that aren’t serving.
A regular meditation and mindfulness practice like this one helps alleviate the mind from worries and negativity and is a great tool for stress management. Studies have shown that meditation is effective in managing chronic stress as well and everyday stressors that may arise at home, with family, at work, etc.
When I started teaching at a prominent Silicon Valley corporation in 2017, I immediately noticed the intensity and achievement-oriented energy of many of the class participants. These students told me that they sought out yoga for life balance and centering, but I noted they were primarily offered (and also gravitated to) fast-paced vinyasa and power yoga sessions which reinforced an emphasis on speed, pushing oneself to the limit, and focusing on an end goal instead of the process. According to Boston Consulting Company, mindfulness boosts the potential for corporate agility initiatives and seamless transformations.1 It helps people to inspect and adapt their behaviors in short cycles, relax so that they can rewire established attitudes and think clearly in the midst of overwhelming digital stimuli. As yoga and meditation teachers, we are aware of the stress reduction and cognitive benefits of these practices, but how do these practices translate to a corporate environment?
The Questions Are:
How can we as teachers integrate mindfulness in a corporate environment that is often structurally resistant to slowing down in order to emphasize the present over the future and the value of the process over quantifiable results?
How can we retain the sacredness and tradition of the practice to minimize co-optation by such corporate imperatives and thereby maximize the benefits for our students seeking pain and stress reduction, tranquility and equanimity, and the building of community instead of isolation?
After repeatedly seeing that teaching asana alone often didn’t appear to enable students’ awareness of their achieving mindset and clinging mind, I was determined to integrate meditation into my corporate yoga classes.The Vinyasa workouts, for a significant portion of my clients, seemed to be more of what they experienced in their typical workday: rapid, goal-driven activity that perhaps exacerbated existing physical challenges such as wrist, neck, and back pain. Of course not every student approaches the practice this way, but it certainly was the undercurrent.
More and more students approached me with questions about nagging pained sleeplessness, and it was clear to me that more meditation and pranayama to help balance the nervous system would fill an apparent need, but providing a strong vinyasa flow was still expected.
There are clearly beginnings of a mindfulness infrastructure here in the Silicon Valley, the hub of technology and innovation. A September 2018 article in the Nation cites how many hours Americans now spend at work – a third of Americans work over 45 hours per week and nearly 10 million work over 60, nearly a 8% increase in time at work since 1979.2 These numbers are conservative for tech environments so incorporating mindfulness and meditation on the job seems not only appropriate but necessary.
Mindfulness has been appropriated by corporations as another productivity tool, but it also undeniably benefits the mental, emotional, and physical health of the individual practitioner as well as their work production. Thus,it behooves us to take advantage of the corporate receptivity to mindfulness programs in the current moment. Sara Lazar, a Neuroscientist at Harvard University, speaks to the benefits of meditation: “Results suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain. We also found evidence that meditation may slow down the age related atrophy of certain areas of the brain, helping you react less to stress and feel calmer and in more control.”3
Here are five suggestions for ways to incorporate more meditation and equanimity into your corporate-based classes:
1. Infuse research-based science in your classes and connect it to your class theme.
An example that I might reference is how the pre-frontal cortex has connections to other parts of the brain that help us cultivate positive emotion. This reference is from a recent Health and Wellness Company podcast where Richie Davidson explained, “ If we worry about the future and ruminate about the past – those are the kinds of things that can ensnare us and cause ulcers but we can also harness this potential to direct our minds on positive qualities and nurture human flourishing.”4
2. Short meditation as the students arrive to get them grounded and/or close with a meditation.
I often have students close their eyes and begin by observing their body and their whole body breathing. I encourage the awareness of what begins to arise, whether it’s images, incessant thoughts, sounds, or an uncomfortable emotion. Then come back to the focal point of the breath. Spend approximately 2-5 minutes, depending on the level of the class.
3. Create a sequence that weaves mindfulness into the movement together.
In this example, the focus of the asana could be any particular joint, balance, or breath while the cueing intermittently to weave your mindfulness touch-points as referenced below. The key is cueing reminders such as the nature of the mind to go back to the default network or how we can notice without judgment. Then return again and again to the ebb and flow of the breath.
4. Incorporate short mindfulness points during the sequence, especially when in a relaxing hip stretch, child’s pose, or a chest opener.
Refer back to the highlighted research on how the prefrontal cortex connects to other parts of the brain which helps us to access and sustain positive emotions.
5. Post Savasana
Close with a final point of how just even a few minutes of mindful breathing every day can help develop a habit that will shed positive light on ourselves and those with whom we come into contact.
The Results of Incorporating Mindfulness into my Corporate Classes
In my experience, after six months students commented that they enjoyed class because they felt “different.” They felt more connected to their bodies and in tune with their breath on and off the mat. Deploying language to help the students deepen their interoceptive awareness had an impact. One young programmer described how he struggled with chronic insomnia and back issues but after taking my classes he sleeps well, he notices what’s happening in his body and mind, and consequently doesn’t suffer from the same degree of nagging lower back pain from all his late nights on the computer. Although students were not coming to the class specificallyto meditate, they benefitted from the mindfulness practices that I integrated into the existing yoga class structure. Furthermore, many signaled curiosity in additional mindfulness and meditation by signing up for my newsletter, emailing me about the classes, happily providing me with testimonials, and attending the occasional community meditation events.
My goal in integrating meditation into the corporate yoga classes was to create something meaningful for this specific Silicon Valley audience and I believe that this approach applies to any other community in which clients want to develop a practice to deal with stress, improve their relationships, or discover more self-compassion.
After feeling some success, I have approach the Fitness and Wellness Director about adding meditation classes to all the fitness center locations and she agreed to incorporate this into the 2020 schedule! My next experiment will be to build a community of meditators with the high-tech clientele outside of Corporate Fitness Centers in the Valley, which will be the next part of this series of articles.
We often use myofascial release techniques to hydrate the tissues, for sore muscles and to promote good health but we can also use myofascial release to prepare for meditation. A common reason why people discontinue meditation practice is due to physical discomfort in the body. In this video, Diane Malaspina shares a short myofascial release sequence that she practices prior to meditation to prepare the body to feel open while sitting in meditation. The sequence includes myofascial release techniques for the neck (using the block) and MFR along the upper traps and paraspinals (2 MFR balls, block). After the practice, you can return to your seat to notice ease in your sitting posture.
Disclaimer: This is just one woman’s story and this content may be triggering for some. By no means am I trying to diminish how anyone else has been treated nor feels.
I rose from my bed after a night that changed my life forever. I would say I “awoke” but this was a sleepless night filled with adrenaline, guilt, shame, fear, and self-hate.
The night before, I was raped. By a friend. I was scared for my life and what was to come as he broke into my room and then the closet I was hiding in with what turned out to be a butter knife. I had my mother on speaker phone as she prompted me through God only knows what I said.
Miraculously, he left.
As I lay my head back on my pillow, I was full of adrenaline pumping through my veins with a heart rate well over 200 and no connection to my breath; but I remember closing my eyes and knowing it was all my fault.
I should have listened to my intuition. I should have locked my bedroom door. How could I be so stupid? Why does it take the worst of the worst to happen to realize how stupid it is not to listen to your intuition?
That last night, my low belly, my space of intuition, was screaming at me. My head told my belly to chill out, I’ve never locked my bedroom door in my life.
Lesson #1 – ALWAYS trust your body. It knows.
As I rose the next morning, I called my mamma back and before I knew it… I found myself in yoga clothes in my car, driving. To where? I had no idea; I just couldn’t be at my apartment.
I had gone to this particular Saturday morning yoga class the last 3 Saturdays since I moved to my new home in Nashville. I had no friends in this new city and nowhere to run; so my body went into routine mode.
I walked into the studio late but the teacher, with a huge smile on her face, was waiting for me (mind you, I didn’t even sign up online). There was one mat space left in the room, of course, in the middle of the front of the room (aka I had to walk past every single other yogi in there to get to my space).
So, with swollen eyes and an empty heart I held my mat as close to my face as possible and made my way to my space. Everyone was watching me (in reality, class was about to start, I’m sure everyone was in child’s pose… but it didn’t matter, everyone was watching, and everyone knew).
I took child’s pose and the rest is a blur. This was a Baptiste flow: powerful, vibrant, and energetic. The teacher never asked if we wanted assists or not… but it was expected at this particular studio.
I stayed in child’s pose, half crying, maybe breathing when it hit me, “why the &%!# did I come to yoga?! Am I really here right now?!” I was in the middle of the front row and embarrassed that everyone was “for sure” watching me, but I didn’t know if I could physically stand up or not.
Half-way through the class I heard Tree pose. “I got this,” I said to myself as I sluggishly rose from my mat for the first time. As I stood up, I almost passed out. Back into child’s pose I went.
Between tears, mental chatter, and wanting nothing more than to leave my physical body… I stayed – praying class was almost over, praying no one would ask me if I was “okay.”
Then it happened… the teacher came over and offered me a physical assist. Still in my child’s pose, she came and gently pressed my hips down. Never asking, not knowing and yet – that assist saved my life.
Quietly, I cried into my mat; but I was different. For, in that moment, I knew I was going to be okay. I knew this was not how I would feel forever. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I was safe here: in this space, on my mat.
Looking back, had the teacher asked if I wanted to be assisted, I’m sure I would have said “no.” My mind would have wanted no part of someone to touch me. Anticipating being touched would have made me crawl out of my skin. And yet, to this day I will tell you that her assist saved my life. My physical body needed a safe touch to know not all touch is violent. My mat supported me as I felt everything from the night before leave my heart space and come into my physical body. Within less than 60 minutes of being on my mat after being assaulted – I had changed.
With everything going on in the yoga world with hands on assists and allegations/accusations/confessions of sexual assault, I am not here to diminish anyone else’s story. Simply, I am here to share mine.
So often men and women alike will listen to the news and take action to almost CYA (cover your a$$). In today’s world, I can absolutely see why yoga teachers are stepping back from offering physical assists.
I would love to challenge that. Offer a different story, a different perspective.
After that assist, after weeks of living with my sorrows trapped in a physical body and mind that I didn’t recognize, I joined a yoga teacher training. If nothing else I would get to be in my “safe space” for a little longer. Through my teacher training experience, we had a full weekend on learning safe physical assists. We offered assists and received assists and through it, I healed. I didn’t even want to hold my friend’s hand as she tried to console me, but yet I could receive an assist from a classmate whom I had met only a few times.
The difference, for me, was the intention. My friend trying to hold my hand was tiptoeing around me, trying to heal me. My classmate’s intention was to help me dive into my body and in turn, help me rediscover the parts of myself that I was neglecting – the parts that needed healing.
After that assisting weekend, I was able to share my story, share my journey. I did it through very ugly tears, but it was the first time I was able to share it fully. In that I had to relive my story. But because of my yoga practice, I could disassociate from that. I am not the chatter in my head. I am not the aches in my body from holding onto all of my tension. I am not my rape.
I was able to embody what happened to me, fully feel it and through that – I was able to let it go. It didn’t happen all at once. But it happened. One yoga class after another I was able to release, surrender. This transformation was through holding strength-based postures, the introduction of new ways of breathing (for me, ujjayi breath helped me stay out of my negative thought patterns and in the present moment), balancing postures helped me ground daily, and savasana and meditation aided the recognition of where I held onto self-resentment, hatred, and embarrassment. And most of all, through giving and receiving physical assists. I felt my teacher’s and peers’ intentions as they guided me towards healing – never forcing or fixing – just offering me the space to explore my physical body in different postures and in turn, challenge my mind and emotions there too.
My yoga practice healed my internal wounds of sexual assault.
So, yoga teachers, know that you have a very vast and important job: you are healing internal and external wounds. I’m not advising to not ask for consent, definitely do. But an assist that I truly didn’t know that I needed saved my life, my spirit, and restored my belief in the divine.
Yogi’s with internal wounds and scars, open yourself up to the possibility that what you think you don’t want, may be exactly what you need – especially if your love language is physical touch like mine. How often in life do we shy away from or avoid exactly what you need in order to heal?
For all the men and women that have been affected by poorly given and/or poor-intentioned assists, my love and condolences go out to you. I pray that you heal, love and receive physical love again on and off your mat.
And I pray that through your yoga practice, whatever it may look like, you recognize and honor the highest version of yourself. For you are in there. May you use your practice to bloom, deepen your understanding of yourself and rise into your highest power once again.
Working as a breast cancer surgeon often leads me into the most feared and intimate moments when I say the words, “the biopsy shows that you have breast cancer.” I purposely chose the word “intimate” because being in that moment with the patient will forever change her inner landscape in relation to herself, her “body home,” and her future. This encounter will be the first opportunity to intercede on her behalf to hold space for these words.
In the moments of speaking about a potential life-threatening diagnosis, neuroception is unconsciously employed, meaning that the patient’s neural circuits are wired to seek cue on the seriousness of the diagnosis within moments of our interaction.1 The impact from our meeting can leave long lasting imprints on the patient’s perceived outcome. I am aware of this potential and therefore, I share bad news with a patient-centered intent. Sensing how she is absorbing and processing the news, I break down terminology and speak clearly because I know that the foreign language of cancer can quickly lead to destinations such as surgery, radiation, and medical appointments discussing adjuvant treatments. She will undergo bodily changes, emotional adaptations, and mental constructs that now include the possibility of facing mortality.
The Start of a Winding Journey
A cancer diagnosis is the beginning of an unknown journey with no clear endpoint that can create fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and stress. Once cancer treatment has been completed, there is no guarantee of a wholly successful treatment that can lead patients into the territory of fear of cancer recurrence (FCR). FCR is a haunting emotion, thought, or preoccupying consequence of facing an illness with an unsure outcome. “FCR causes significant psychological distress and can manifest along different points of survivorship. It is most commonly begins at diagnosis or at key stress phases which include treatment adjustments, bodily changes, additional screening or testing, and even at the completion of cancer therapy. The never-ending concern that cancer can return is an insidiously haunting prospect.”2
Moderate to severe FCR, estimated to affect 49% of survivors, is described as experiencing frequent thoughts about cancer (greater than once/week) and FCR in the absence of triggers.3 Rumination and perceived negative thoughts about cancer recurrence can lead to a heightened stress response within the body, which can influence neuroendocrine function and immune functioning through the sympathetic nervous system.
Roughly 7% of people diagnosed with cancer will have debilitating FCR, whose beliefs become conviction that the cancer will return leading to suffering and death, with constant intrusion of thoughts and fears, and can interfere with daily functioning causing significant distress.4 These beliefs can lead to hyper vigilance with bodily symptoms leading to over estimation of risk, fearfully presenting as a sign of cancer recurrence, or even oppositional behavior like the avoidance of follow-up screening even if a suspicious physical change is apparent. They are constantly living in a sympathetic “fight or flight” mode, not allowing parasympathetic healing to occur.
On the other hand, mild FCR may inspire cancer patients to create positive lifestyle changes to improve health, find purpose and meaning. This can spur a patient to cultivate compassion for others, strengthen social relationships, better health maintenance and self advocacy – all of which contributes to an enhanced wellbeing and increased rates of long-term survival.
A Shift in Realization for Improved Outcome
There are currently 17 million cancer survivors in the United States.6 As cancer diagnoses increase in numbers and individualized treatments have helped prolong life after diagnosis, continuing wellbeing through survivorship will be key. It is important for healthcare providers to share empathy with patients regarding the life changes with a cancer diagnosis. There is a great and often missed opportunity to create change with a cancer diagnosis—a shift in realization that the fragility of life and health can inspire self-reflection, life purpose, and meaning.
Research has demonstrated that cancer survivors who seek out mind-body practices, such as yoga, find relief from their disease-related concerns and often forge a sense of autonomy over their personal health.7 Similarly, research on meditative movement practices, such as yoga and tai chi, demonstrate that cancer patients cultivate an ability to foster feelings of self-agency, coping with uncertainty, and developing trust in their body which translates into a sense of safety within oneself.8 Connection by grounding and landing in the body through yoga and meditative movements can foster a sense of oneness and awareness of a greater purpose.
Conclusions from a Breast Cancer Surgeon
As cancer is an unwelcomed intruder within the body, it often promotes deep seated fears regarding future suffering and possible mortality. Working as a breast cancer surgeon, it is an honor to have the trust of my patients to be their surgeon. However, I know that true healing occurs by feeling safe within oneself, and if that is harnessed, can lead to growth and an enriched future ahead. There is opportunity within great adversity for personal growth, and as a yoga teacher myself, I believe that holding space for the body to find sanctuary has deep value for healing. I have observed my cancers patients set deep intentions, and allow for feelings and sensation to arise through awareness and breath. This seems to help them to calm emotions and work through discomfort which allows for connection and trust to build within. As a breast cancer surgeon, yoga teacher, and the observer, I have great hope for my patients who use yoga and breathwork to harness the body’s wisdom to true healing.
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