Yoga Thoughts for Difficult Times


Following the 2016 elections in the USA  I wrote a blog post about the results from a yoga and mindfulness perspective. You can view my thoughts here. While I tend to keep this blog a-political, if you know me in person (or on my personal Facebook Page) you would know I am a fairly political person, and you can tell from that aforementioned blog post that the election results were tough on me.

Here we are, more than a year and a half later (is that all?) and I am writing a similar blog post. If you read the news you know it has been an even more difficult past few weeks of news coming out of the United States, most specifically hearing reports and recordings of children being separated from their parents on the US/Mexico border. 

If you are anything like me and many of the clients I work with, this has taken a toll on you in many ways. You may have found yourself depressed, or frustrated and feeling helpless or angry. Or all of the above. There may even be a temptation to shut off all the news and move to an ashram in the mountains somewhere. Or maybe just do enough sun salutations and head stands till you no longer feel the feelings you feel.

The temptation to just tune out entirely can be a strong one, and I think, and most experts agree, it is important to honor it from time to time. Otherwise there is no question you will burnout. Even Rachel Maddow takes a night off now and then! If you are going to tune out, tune out! I say this as someone who often is guilty of the opposite. Thinking “I will tune out I just need to read that one article” and next thing I know I am screaming at my computer screen again.  If you are taking a new break let it be a conscious time of healing, finish a project you’ve been distracted from, practice intense self care.

This is where a mindfulness practice is extremely important. My practice helps me check in with myself, to notice when I am feeling overwhelmed and grant myself a pause. Such pauses are extremely essential, for my own well-being, my ability to take care of my family and for my ability to care for others in the world.  I’ve made a rule for myself that I don’t listen to anything political if I am on my way to teach a yoga class or yoga therapy session. This helps me hold space for myself and my clients.  

Another way to check in a more positive feeling way is to do something positive. For some this may be donating to a political campaign or a cause that it is important to you that is currently under threat. But maybe you can do something even bigger. If you live in a country where you can directly affect upcoming elections (ahem US readers) go campaigning, it sounds tiring but odds are you will feel great when you are done. Or volunteer for that cause that is important for you, whether it is helping at an animal shelter or local clinic or stuffing envelopes or donating blood. Or hold a fundraiser. With the news of children being taken away from their parents at the US border becoming worse day after day I felt paralyzed. I was crying and felt guilty every time I held my son. I thought about just checking out, but as a U.S. citizen these actions were happening in my name I knew doing so didn’t sit right with me. I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and hold a fundraiser to raise money for a group supporting the families at the border by holding a class to help people deal with uncomfortable emotions. And we raised close to 500 USD! It almost felt selfish to do this, because it made me feel so much better. Am I still depressed reading the continuing flow of news? Of course! But being active helped me recharge, and feel less helpless, and the class I provided helped others recharge too. Look around your community, what service can you provide that can make the world a bit of a better place today?

Remember regular acts of self care are ESSENTIAL It can feel selfish, after all those facing brutality don’t get to “tune out”. But the truth of the matter is if you want to keep fighting for what is right and pursuing a just world you need to take care of yourself. So take some time to check out from the news and check in with yourself. Turn off Facebook and do a longer yoga practice. Listen to music instead of Pod Save America. You may discover in just 30 minutes or so you feel better ready to take on the challenges of the world. And there are many challenges and the world needs the specific things your energy and skills can bring to help make it a little bit better.

Finally, to end this post on a slightly more positive note, I will recount this story for you. 

My mom brought the book "Emma's Poem" for my son on her last visit here. It is all about Emma Lazarus, the woman who wrote the poem on the Statue of Liberty. But really it is all about immigration in the United States, and about a society that welcomed in poor hungry refugees fleeing their homes so they can provide safe homes for their children. About how these refugees weren't welcomed by all, but the country still opened up their arms to them. I was reading it to my son early this morning and all of a sudden I just lost it. I started thinking about how if what was going on now was going on 100 years ago (when the book takes place) it would have been MY grandparents and great-grandparents being ripped from their parents arms. About how stupid and unfair all of this is. About how some of the decedents of those ancestors now think current policies are just, because the laws are different than 100 years ago. 

All of a sudden I had tears streaming down my face. He's only a year and a half so I figured he wouldn't really notice or care, but all of a sudden he jumped off my lap. "Now I've done it" I thought, "I can't believe I am already messing him up so badly". But he toddled back to be with a little wooden toy and proceeded to try to put it in my mouth like a pacifier (which we don't keep around the house) and then pressed a tiny toy fish to my mouth to kiss instead.

So maybe the world sucks right now and I bet I am not the only one randomly bursting into tears but I feel a bit better  knowing I am raising one really intuitive, empathetic little man who is already bringing more positivity into the world.  This moment was a great reminder that even when the world seems at its worst there is always room to create more positive change.  

Cultivating Change within Your Yoga Practice

March is usually a time of change.  The days get longer.  Spring seems to be in the foreseeable future.  As we near the end of winter (at least I hope here in Brussels) I know I am not alone in feeling a bit stir crazy, eager to move, yet at the same time, frustrated by the horrible weather, lacking motivation to get off my couch and onto my yoga mat. This is, in my opinion, a great time to try something new in your yoga practice.   This can me different things for different people, here are few of my Moody March suggestions.

Try a different style of yoga.  This is one of the most straightforward ways to inject change into your yoga practices, it is something I've been doing myself.  My typical practice tends to be Hatha based but I've recently started trying out some Kundalini practices. The chanting, rapid movements and focus on energy movement has kept me eager to return my mat.   Adding Kundalini practice highlighted how tentative I had been to step away from my postnatal practice, since I’ve begun I’ve become more confident in safely expanding my physical practice.  You may discover something similar, or perhaps the reverse, that you’ve been pushing yourself too hard physically, and what you actually need is space to breath and relax. 

Expand your Yoga Practice- Asana the physical yoga poses, is only one of what is known as the  8-limbs of Yoga.  There are many amazing non-physical ways to expand your yoga practice, as they gain popularity they have become more popular here in Brussels.   Some things you can try include:

  • Seated meditation.  Many yoga studios offer a weekly seated meditation practice.  These offerings are often low-cost or donation based.  You can also look into a local meditation center, in Brussels we are lucky to have a Shambala Center which offers  weekly “learn to meditate” sessions. As they are part of an international Shambalha Community such centers exist throughout the world.
  •  Gong Meditation/Bath This is a recent discovery for me, and a really great one.  Gong Meditation, or sound bath, is a process of using gong sound waves as a therapeutic way to massage and heal the body and mind. Those that know me know I tend to view such Whoo-whoo offerings with a grain of salt, but after my first 2 hours of truly profound experience I am convinced of the power of the gong.   Sessions can be done individually or in a group.  In Brussels you can find an amazing experience with The Jewel Within Yoga
  • Commit to your practice  It is often easier to get out of the house and onto your mat if you’ve made a commitment to do so.  There are many ways to do this.   You can purchase an “unlimited” class pass to your local studio, giving you access to as many classes as you like for a certain amount of time. Or make plans to attend with a friend, even if your motivation declines you can’t let them down.   You can also look into committing to a series of classes that help deepen your practice.  My 8-Week Yoga Therapy Course for Stress, Anxiety and Depression provides a way to commit to your practice while learning ways to find balance in body and mind.  

I hope you find some inspiration to evolve your practice today.  If you are interested in the 8-week course or any of the other practices mentioned here please get in touch today.  


4 Ways to Live your Yoga in 2018

Continue your yoga practice off the mat this year.

A regular yoga practice has have amazing physical and mental benefits, including improving our response to stress and reducing anxiety. Most of us feel really great after a yoga practice or meditation practice, that is why we keep doing it. Yoga is more than a physical practice and includes theory and philosophy on all aspects of life. Incorporating some of these into your day to day life can help improve mindfulness and keep that good feeling going all day.The more you practice the more regular and long-term it will become, but there are other ways you can live more yogicaly, and mindfully, in your day to day life. Here are 4-ways I like to like to continue my yoga practice off the mat.

1) Detach from your phone

As a yoga teacher who is supposed to expound healthy living I have a dirty little secret. No, I don’t smoke cigarettes or hunt endangered animals. But I am addicted to my phone. I don’t use the term “addiction” lightly, I do think it is a real problem. A problem I am tacking. The easiest and best thing I’ve done so far is to take my phone out of my room!   I got into the nasty habit during sleepless pregnancy and new baby nights of checking my phone every time I woke up, which was a great many times. And before bed. And when I woke up for the day. And before I took a nap. You get the point. The worst was waking up, when I realized I would be physically craving my phone as I breastfed my son. I realized I needed a change. About a month ago my husband and I stopped charging our phones in our room, leaving them downstairs in the evening.   The change has been amazing! Within a few days I was journaling again, instead of one final Facebook pose I “post” to myself in the evening. The mornings are filled with baby giggles instead of reading whatever grim news happened overnight. I've even noticed my overall anxiety level lower throughout the day. There is still room for improvement (read on) but this had certainly created more mindful mornings and bedtimes, which has meant for better sleep and less early morning anxiety.

2) Check in with the breath.

 Breathing, we all do it. Most of us don’t do it well. Without getting too much into the physiology, many of us are breathing using the wrong muscles, essentially using our shoulder/torso instead of our diaphragm. This can be detrimental for a number of reasons, including making it more difficult to take in adequate amounts of oxygen, which can ignite the body’s stress response and affecting the posture, leading to pain in the shoulders and low back (which can also ignite the stress response). This can be a chronic problem but for many people it is easy to make some improvements.   As a yoga therapist what I most commonly see people doing is breathing into their chests instead of their belly and breathing very fast. While there are a number of exercise I do with clients to improve there breathing for a “quick fix” I suggest working on belly breathing. If you notice you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed this is a great time to check in with your breath. Put your hands on your belly and see if they move away from you on your inhale, and back towards you on your exhale.   Take a few breaths this way, slowing down the breath as you do.

Truly changing the way you breathe takes time and practice but noticing when and how you breathe and improving it when you can is a great first step to a more yogic year.

3) Pick a mindful moment.

 My favorite thing from the Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class I took in 2015 was the “mindful activities”. We were told to choose an activity we do each day and devote our time to being mindful during it.   I chose the shower, because I LOVE showering and it seemed like a good idea to start with a task I enjoy doing. All this means is really paying attention to everything, the smell of the soap, the feel of the water, etc. I’ve continued trying to do this regularly years after the class ended.   It served me particularly well in my postnatal period when my thrice-weekly shower was often the only “me time” I would get, Being mindful of it really allowed me to take it all in, ensuring I could really enjoy the break. It is also a great time to check in on where the mind is going. Sometimes it is “easier” to be mindful while other times my mind has drifted away before I’ve even turned the water on. This is a great opportunity for me to really notice how I am feeling, whether it is calm, anxious, sad etc. I do this without judgment.   I enjoy this practice in the shower because it includes a mind body component (a yoga bonus) but other ideas include brushing your teeth or doing the dishes.

4) Check in with your day (journaling).

I’ve gotten back the journaling. I’ve always wanted to be a journaler, I have about 10 journals with a page or 2 written in, soon abandoned. But this time it seems to be sticking. Aside from the lack of screen time (noted about) I think the other secret to my current journal success is that I’ve become very curious about how I am doing. I view my journaling as another opportunity to check in with myself. What am I still holding on to from the day? What have I let go of? Why?   It only takes a few minutes but I find it is now one of my favorite parts of the day.

I hope you have an opportunity to use some of these tips.  If you do, or if you have other great ideas for how we can all live a bit more yoga please pop over to my facebook page and share them there.