Yoga for Focus & Attention as the Season Changes

Autumn brings a distraction, more so this year as we navigate the change along with the pandemic and all its twists, turns and complexities.  Have you noticed how your mind and thoughts run around like squirrels gathering and burying acorns?

Squirrel!

It is the season of the squirrel.  Summer has said its last goodbye for the year.  The crispness and color of fall is upon us.  With the season change comes distraction, cognitive fog with fewer hours of daylight and maybe even this year, an accompanying worry about what is next as we are still actively in a pandemic.

The nature of the mind is to have runaway thoughts.   Fortunately, the ancient yogis devised techniques for harnessing thoughts to create focus and improve attention.  At our disposable are simple but effective tools and techniques.

Tips for Yoga Practice for Focus & Attention during Seasonal Changes

  • Infuse yoga postures with the breath.  Each part of a movement is accompanied and powered by a phase of the breath.

  • Do yoga postures with contra-lateral adaptations
  • Adapt the breath in yoga postures to lift energy or calm, depending on what you need.  If you need to focus and lift energy, use a short retention after inhale.  If you need to focus and calm down, extend exhale progressively as you do a posture.
  • Do breathing practices (pranayama), especially with nostril valving such as Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Use meditative techniques such as fixing your attention to an image of light in your heart and mind or using a mantra (a word or phrase that is supportive for you).  A supportive mantra at this time of year is Om Jyotir Aham (invoking light within).

When to Get Help

As the season changes, it’s important to work with your health care provider if you get significant symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that deeply impact your life such as having trouble functioning at work or home, difficulty in your personal relationships, or you have significant feelings of depression and hopelessness or anxiety.

Resources

If you are interested in using yoga techniques to help with seasonal changes, contact a Yoga Therapist as they are trained in tailoring techniques for your unique manifestation of seasonal changes as well as other health conditions you may have.

For other writing on yoga and seasonal changes, see past blogs on fatigue and general yoga practice tips for seasonal changes.

Intention

As you move toward the winter solstice, use your yoga practice to support and nourish your focus and attention.  Use your practice to gently harness your attention to do what must be done and cultivate light to burn off any cognitive fog that clouds your day.

Stick figure graphics by Sequence Wiz, www.sequencewiz.com.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy in person and online.  She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training (200 hr. Yoga Teacher Training | 300 hr. Advanced Yoga Teacher Training for RYT-500). 

Pandemic Ponderings

Tempers, Tools & Pandemic Ponderings, Part 1

What. Are. You. Doing?!

A low, loud voice attached to an angry face bellowed to me from an open car window. The honking came next to punctuate the intensity.

My emotions rallied and my stress response accelerated.

What WAS I doing?

The drive north over the Mackinac Bridge had become a bottleneck of cars trying to complete the arduous entry into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The weight of the muggy, summer weather a hovering reminder that there was nowhere to go.

The stand-still traffic literally made me ‘sit’ with everything. I felt so uncomfortable.

I tried to shrug my shoulders and release my grip on the steering wheel. Re-routing my eyes to the shades of blue within the waves of water, shifted my racing thoughts.

I remembered to breathe. 

I remembered I had a choice to respond more and react less.

My efforts weren’t grandiose yet they were sincere. My body and mind realized the nervous-system-brakes were pumping with each inhale and exhale.

What have I been doing?

What have any of us been doing?

Stress, anxiety, anger, grief.

Ease, vitality, peace, calm.

How were we all going to continue to navigate the ‘traffic jam’ of experiences and emotions within ourselves, especially living within a global virus and universal ‘reset’ of systems, institutions and perspectives?

Cleaning the windshield of our perception to channel our speech, actions and thoughts in a direction of healing, compassion and actionable next steps can be gritty, personal work.  Yet it can be the fuel that moves us forward.

What are some of our best tools to leverage our internal guidance system that supports the bridge between physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual wellbeing and growth?

Keep it simple and sincere:

Breathing, moving, observing and reflecting to access and explore:

  • Functional movements and managing the stress response
  • Discernment as to what needs immediate attention
  • Feeling the ebb and flow of emotions

Singing, mantra, meditation and play are additional tools are outlets to express ourselves and release pent up energy while also strengthening transformation and connections with the world we live in.

All of it is a practice. On the good days it takes practice so on the challenging days we can respond more, create choices and move forward.

Take a few minutes or more each day to practice. Choose from the list below and observe the effects of your practices throughout the day. How does your body feel? Where is your attention? What thoughts and emotions do you experience? What supports you to express yourself?

 

Hands to Head to Heart

  • When able, touch the earth with your hands, take 3-4 deep breaths.
  • Practice bringing your attention to the textures, colors and smells.
  • Repeat the mantra: I am here and I am breathing.

Short Breath Practice

  • When able, place one hand at the heart space – upper body and one hand on the stomach
  • Feel your body’s subtle movements as you inhale and exhale
  • Inhale a sense of fresh oxygen and space – Exhale a sense of release
  • Take 3-4 more breaths inhaling through the nose (fresh oxygen and space) and exhaling a loud sigh through the mouth (release)

Soft Pull of Gravity

  • Place your feet on the ground, sense the soft pull of gravity that keeps you connected to earth
  • Inhale -sweep your arms wide and up, Exhale- sweep arms wide and down, 3-4 repetitions
  • Repeat the mantra: I am standing on stable ground. I am creating stability within myself.

 

For those in-car or other moments – reminders you are not alone

Music: Check out Trevor Hall and Brett Dennen’s ‘Put Down What You Are Carrying’
Listen here: https://g.co/kgs/5ngUuP

Podcast: On Being with Krista Tippett – Shaping Grief with Language with Gregory Orr
Listen here: https://onbeing.org/programs/gregory-orr-shaping-grief-with-language/

 

What would you like to add to this list to support each other within our collective, ongoing practice? Look for this blog when you visit Facebook at 5 Koshas or Heather Van Dalfsen and Instagram with Heather Van Dalfsen to share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Photo taken by Heather Van Dalfsen

Cultivating Another Mental Attitude with iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation

“When in distress, cultivate another mental attitude” Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, Chapter 2, sutra 33. 

As the pandemic drags on, do you find yourself wondering, what is wrong with us? Why are we so dysfunctional? This is depressing. Something seems wrong. Something seems wrong….with me.

In my studies for iRest Yoga Nidra certification, I am studying the pratya bhijña hṛdayam, The Heart of Recognition, or alternatively, The Recognition of Our Own Heart. This text is the most direct statement of The Recognition School, that reached its peak around the year 1000 CE, in the Kashmir region of what is now Pakistan. The Heart of Recognition is that we actually are a condensed form of the one consciousness. We Recognize Our Own Heart when we glimpse the qualities of the one consciousness even in our contracted form.

The first five sutra-s of this foundational text (the pratya bhijña hṛdayam) say:

  • Everything comes into being and is animated by one consciousness. The one consciousness is the ground of Being. 
  • This one consciousness has an inherent impulse to manifest, and unfolds the universe from herself, upon herself. She pours forth the universe in continuous re-creation.
  • This consciousness manifests in diverse ways and differentiates into entities that relate to one another as subjects and objects.
  • Even as there are many subjects and objects, they are still all manifestations of the one consciousness. Just as in a hologram, the whole is contained in each fragment, the whole of the one consciousness is within everything, in condensed, but complete form. There is nothing that is not consciousness.
  • And so even our minds, are the one consciousness, in contracted form.

Western psychology holds that consciousness is an attribute of the mind. Eastern psychology takes another view: the mind is the product of consciousness. So, we can take another view: that consciousness is here, and the mind is its product. Everything belongs, it is all a manifestation of one consciousness. Our thoughts and emotions are here, and we can welcome them, without judgment. And, no matter our present state of mind, we are deeply ok, we are the entirety of the one consciousness, in condensed form. 

As condensed consciousness, we forget that we indeed are the one consciousness. And then we can remember……we can get a glimpse of that vast oneness: spacious, timeless, connected, complete and whole through the practices of iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. Using ancient techniques of body and breath awareness, we can disidentify with our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. We can allow that perfume of the one consciousness to enter our own awareness, finding a familiar sense of joy. The more we practice, the more we can live out of a place of remembering. And we find that everything belongs. We find actions we can take that will help transform our suffering into growth, our pain into purpose, our sorrow into joy. We can listen to the longings of our heart, and live with a sense of life living us. And we can let go of our need to control results, because everything belongs.

How to Reduce Stress with Yoga

The stress from the COVID-19 pandemic is as unprecedented as the the public health regulations and recommendations needed to control it. There’s stress around the fear of getting infected. There’s stress around making a living as the economy contracts. Parents are stressed about their children keeping up with their education.  There’s stress in the uncertainty about how long this will last.

Especially amidst this coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to set aside time for yourself to reduce stress levels and process what’s happening for you and your family, even if only for a couple minutes. If you’re looking for a way find some inner peace and balance, yoga reduces stress with simple and accessible tools.

A Holistic Approach to Stress Relief

The pressure can build up, and a sense of discomfort can make us turn to habitual discomfort relievers – checking social media, turning on your favorite reality TV show or heading to the junk food cabinet. We have all been there in the last several months.  These temporary pressure relievers are unable to offer lasting stress relief. Yoga is a holistic approach to stress relief that synchronizes your body and mind to help you come back to your center so that you can mindfully do the best you can in these circumstances.

Research has shown that regularly practicing yoga can help to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.

Stress-Relieving Yoga Tools

When it comes to yoga for stress relief, it’s all about awareness, holding attention, and breathing. Start with awareness of where you are beginning (body, mind, emotions). Hold attention on the breath or the coordination between the breath and the movement. By focusing on breathing, you will have more conscious respiratory rhythm, which helps you tune your nervous system. Incorporating meditation (again, holding attention in one place) into your routine will help you become more mindful of the world around you and, more importantly, yourself.

When you focus your attention on one specific aspect like breathing, you temporarily offload the stressors of the world around you to gain new perspectives and regulate your autonomic nervous system

Table to Child’s Pose (Cakravakasana)

Use this posture to connect to your breathing and to stretch your low back. To get into Child’s Pose, start with a tabletop on your hands and knees. Place your knees hip-distance apart and your hands below your shoulders. On an exhale, hug in belly muscles. Lower your forearms to the floor and slowly move your hips toward your heels as you lower your head and chest toward the floor.  Repeat the posture several times and then rest in the Child’s Pose for six full deep breaths.

Cranky Knees? Sit on a chair and fold chest toward thighs on an exhalation.

Morning: Make inhalation and exhalation equal in length to energize. Progressively make the inhale and exhale longer.

Evening: Focus on progressively lengthening your exhale to calm and relax.

Eagle Pose

Pauline Zweck, RYT-200 pictured above in Eagle Pose

Balancing poses require deep concentration, which makes them effective for stress relief. All your energy is focused on staying upright, keeping you in the moment and helping you forget about the stressors around you. Eagle Pose is also a great posture for relieving stress in the upper back and shoulders. If you’re having trouble balancing, try staring at a fixed object or spot in the room. Choose something that’s pleasing or calming to you.

To get into Eagle Pose, begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your shoulders down and back. Making sure all your movements are slow and smooth, pick up your right leg and cross it over your left, standing on one foot. Imagine you are sitting on a chair that is not  there. Now, cross your left arm over the top of your right arm at the elbows, and bring the back of your hands together. Bend your elbows until your hands are in front of your face. Hold Eagle’s Pose for at least six full breaths before switching to the other side.

 

Holistic Stress Relief

Stress is not a new invention brought on by the coronavirus outbreak but it provides a learning opportunity. By learning to stay present amidst the storm of the pandemic, you will embed tools for a lifetime. Practicing yoga impacts every layer of who you are – physical, physiology, mind, character and heart. You can become a stronger, healthier person and relieve stress by regularly practicing simple and accessible yoga techniques, leading to an overall higher quality of life.

Yoga Contentment in Nature

Can We Be Content?

By Jessica Jordan

Yoga Sutra 2.42  

santosha anuttamah sukha labha

Santosha: Contentment

Anuttamah: extreme, ultimate, unparalleled

Sukha: pleasure, happiness

Labha: arises, gained, benefit

 

Yoga sutra 2.42 focuses on contentment, achieving unparalleled happiness by engaging the contentment already within us. But how do we put this into practice?

We are constantly exposed to a barrage of television and internet influences as to what is normal and expected of us, contributing to our lack of contentment. “If I just had that one more thing, then I’d really be happy.” “If I could just get a bigger house, then I’d be happy.” And in a world of online shopping, our instant happiness is just two shipping days away.

The happiness we get from acquiring passions is only temporary. We need to find new ones to sustain this sort of happiness. There is no end to it. But true contentment, leading to total happiness and bliss, is in a class by itself. (Desikachar)

In the Western world, I think most of our lack of contentment comes from trying to keep up with some unrealistic measures of who we’re supposed to be. Where does the “idea” of who we’re supposed to be even come from?

Look around. We are trained our whole lives on what we should and shouldn’t do and say. “What should I wear to this event?” “What kind of car should I drive?” “How much should I participate in my child’s sports program?” “If I say what I really think, will it offend someone?”

Which brings me back to my original question: Can we be content? And how do we do it when external forces are constantly pushing us in different directions?

Our contentment comes from within. Sutra 2.42 tells us it’s already with us. It’s a niyama to practice in order to come closer to the happiness that we already have.

From perfect contentment arises unparalleled happiness. (Moors)

From contentment one gains supreme happiness. (Mukunda Stiles)

There are two practices I try to use in my daily life with guidance from this sutra. I ask myself, “Do I really need that?” “Do I really even want that?” “Is that going to make me happier?” “Is that going to make my life better?” By retraining myself to ask these questions, I’ve started to see that there really isn’t much I truly need to be content.

The second practice is one I use before I meditate. I think of all the things I’m grateful for that I already have. This way, I am retraining myself to notice what is already so wonderful in my life and experience contentment from these observations. Believe me, my list of blessings just keeps getting longer.

Jessica Jordan is a Certified Yoga Teacher, 2020 Graduate of the 200 hour River Flow Yoga Teacher Training at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She lives with her family in Highbridge, WI. 

Studio Update Covid-19: Staying Present – Moving Forward

We want to take time to thank you for your support of the studio’s transition to online classes during the pandemic. Our number one concern is the safety of every student, customer, teacher trainee, employee, and teacher. We know that technology has its own unique set of challenges, but we hope that you have found your way back to practicing with your favorite teachers and friends.

Our schedule looks different to assure staffing support for technology and to provide varied offerings for Safer At Home schedules. We plan to continue in the on-line environment for the foreseeable future. We are also excited to continue to look for new and varied ways to expand our online offerings, including some special events, concerts and workshops.

It is hard to predict how operating in the studio will work going forward. Rest assured, safety is our main intention and the best public health science available will guide when and how we re-open. Yet we look forward to the time when we can welcome you back into the studio in person to continue to help you with your health and wellness journey. When the time is right, we will be ready.

Many of you expressed interest in continuing to have some online classes even once the studio is re-opened. We hear you and we will explore all suggestions. Inclusion in our offerings is important to us and everyone has different needs and abilities to attend the studio. Some of you may feel at higher risk during business reopening and we want to support you as much as we can.

Many people in our community are struggling with the pandemic, all in their own unique way. We hope that you can use your practice to be strong and steady for yourself and to help others. We have no other option than to get through this together as a community.

We deeply appreciate your referrals to 5 Koshas. There are options available to those who may be in financial distress. If you know someone who needs our services, please encourage them to connect with us at: office@5koshasyoga.com. Staying strong, stable, compassionate and balanced in perspective is more important now than ever before.

With our deepest gratitude,

Jay, Heather, Andrew, Mary

A Different Way of Being through Yoga Nidra

By Jay Coldwell, RYT-200, iRest® Level 2 Teacher

The Yoga Nidra experience.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient technique, sometimes called “yogic sleep”. It’s signature practice is a guided body scan led in a particular order. The sequence of the body scan typically follows the physical organization of the motor cortex and sensory cortex in the brain. By focusing on the felt-sense of the body in this order, you reduce the activity of the Default Neural Network, which is where most of us live most of the time. That function of our brain continually tells us “our story”, and interprets the world around us, with a bias towards finding danger. In its place, we activate the Present-Centered Neural Network, which helps us live in the moment, see things clearly, and find inspiration.  

So, what is this experience like? 

You may find a different way of being. A way that is quite aware of the present moment, that is insightful and non-judgmental. A feeling of groundedness, peace, an inner joy. Sometimes the practice will be experienced as a restorative, transformative deep relaxation, and even sleep. Other times the practice will become an opportunity for deep inquiry, healing and integration. Whatever your experience, it is perfect for you, in this moment. 

 

What is iRest® Yoga Nidra?  

iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation is a modern adaptation of ancient yoga nidra techniques, informed by the wisdom of modern psychology.  Studies have demonstrated that iRest is an effective practice for people with anxiety, depression, chemical dependency, and PTSD. iRest has been brought to many diverse populations, including those who are homeless or suffering domestic abuse. It is beneficial for people living their lives in any situation, in work, school, or home life. https://www.irest.org/blog/how-effective-irest-proof-within-research-helps-too

 

iRest teaches that we can use our time in yoga nidra to notice everything that arises. These may be feelings, emotions, thoughts or beliefs; we learn to welcome them as guests, whether they are comfortable or not. We feel these messengers from the heart, as a felt-sense, and gain insight as to the message being delivered. We may receive insight as to actions we need to take, advice, as it were, from this messenger. These actions may help us to live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. We gain ease in living life that continues to bring joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. We find that we are not these experiences, rather we are the Awareness in which these experiences arise. We then can welcome and be with the great variety of experiences reality has to offer, and always respond most authentically and joyfully to them, no matter the circumstance. That is iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation. 

How is iRest practiced? 

iRest is practiced in many ways. It may be a 35 minute guided meditation in a quiet place. These extended practices are key to developing skills for daily life. But these skills may be practiced throughout the day in very short sessions, no matter where you are: 

  • It may be taking just a moment to scan the body from head to toe when you feel a need to be more present. 
  • It may be evoking your felt-sense of an Inner Resource or Sanctuary, when life feels a bit overwhelming. 
  • It may be noticing the breath and flows of energy in the body to help decode a message your body is sending.
  • It may be setting an intention for the day or the hour or the moment. 
  • It may be recalling your Heartfelt Desire, the feeling of life living you, as you measure whether this moment, or a particular decision fits what you are here on earth to do. 

As you incorporate iRest Yoga Nidra in your daily life, you may find that you now live more out of a sense of present-centeredness, rather than in a continual repetition of your story, and scanning for danger. You may find life living you.

Jay Coldwell is an iRest Level 2 teacher & Partner of 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness, offering “Mantra and iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation” on Mondays at 11:00 AM and 5:15 PM at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness, 2220 Sherman Street, Wausau, WI. Sample guided meditations can be found at this link: https://www.irest.org/try-irest-now

Journey of Sound

by Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner.

You may have recently heard the term Journey of Sound, but what exactly is it? The term describes an experience that falls under a broader term: Vibrational Sound Therapy, or VST. A VST practitioner blends vibration and sound with the use of Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, chimes and gongs to induce a deeply relaxed state in the body and mind.  Using sound and vibration, VST activates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress in the body.

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, Director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center explains, “If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears, but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”

Science has proven what ancient cultures have known for thousands of years: sound has the power to heal. Studies show that this practice called “journey of sound” or “sound bathing,” directly reduces anxiety and depression.

Participants at 5 Koshas say they like the Journey of Sound because it’s deeply relaxing and nonintrusive. Participants lay comfortably on yoga mats (or sit comfortably in a chair) with feet positioned toward the front of the room where the bowls are arranged. With lights dimmed and the room at a comfortable temperature, the Journey of Sound begins with a guided meditation, then the singing bowls are brought to life and participants are immersed in 45 minutes of beautiful, multilayered vibrations and tones. As you listen to these sounds, you tend to feel them just as much as you hear them, highlighting how the experience of sound manifests not only through hearing but through physical vibrations and frequencies. The Journey of Sound experience is unique to each person.

If you’re looking for a gentle and effective way to reduce stress or anxiety or would simply like to enter a deeply relaxing state, a Journey of Sound may be just the thing for you!

Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner. Flora was instrumental in developing the Aspirus Hospice Massage Therapy Program and has worked as a Hospice massage therapist for over 14 years. Flora brings her present and caring approach to her Journey of Sound events and offers individual VST sessions in addition to group sessions. To learn more about Flora and her services, visit https://www.beyondblessedtherapy.com/

February:  Expressing Love & Embracing Self-Love

by Renee Peterson, MSW, RYT, RPYT

It’s the season of love.

Most people think of February 14th as a day to celebrate and recognize the love of their life and those dear to them. It is, and this is important! But what about celebrating self-love? Some people might think self-love is self-centered and ego driven but it is quite different. Self-love is being mindful and aware of what you need to be healthy and productive.

Psychology studies report that self-love and self-compassion are key for mental health and well being, keeping depression and anxiety at bay (Medical News Today, Ana Sandoiu March 23, 2018). When we don’t take care of ourselves and continue on the path of Doing vs. Being, we experience adverse health effects, such as, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, heart disease, etc. Our inner critic, or in yoga terminology, the chitta vritti, is the monkey mind of continual thoughts running through our minds. We experience these thoughts in the form of ridiculing, judging, and constantly reminding us to remember what to pick up from the grocery store or what deadline is coming up. You get the picture.

According to Patanjali, “If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga.” Practicing yoga is one way to cultivate self-love.

How do we achieve self-love?

Professor Neff, Sbarra and colleagues define self-compassion as a construct that encompasses three components:

1. Self-kindness – treating oneself with understanding and forgiveness,
2. Recognition of one’s place in shared humanity – acknowledging that people are not perfect and that personal experiences are part of the larger human experience,
3. Mindfulness – bringing your attention to the here and now, experiences in the present moment. Bringing about emotional equanimity, calmness, clear rational thinking.

Yoga centers us, grounds us and brings us back to neutral. When we practice yoga we get in touch with our breath, physical body, emotional state, spiritual side, and our heart center. The physical and breath practice of yoga allows us to move with comfort to release tension in our body and quiet the voice of our inner critic. This allows us to feel freer boosting feelings of self-love and kindness. When we are kind and loving to ourselves, we can be kind and loving toward others. Appreciating the simple things in life.

When we are kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we are all ‘perfectly imperfect’ we treat ourself with kindness. When we pause to mindfully reflect on how we are breathing, physically feeling, and listening to our thoughts, we can begin to let go of our stress and tension and lower our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our bodies.

Try it: It only takes a minute or two. You decide how you feel.
Take a moment to sit comfortably,
Close your eyes or gaze softly downward,
Notice your breathing. Is your breath short and shallow? Smooth? Hurried? Just notice without judgement.
Now, focus on slowing your breath down.
Smooth breath in, slow breath out.
Soften your physical body with each exhale.
Allow the negative thoughts in your mind to form ripples that move away from your consciousness.
Keep breathing for a minute or two or longer. Smooth inhale; smooth exhale….

Slowly, bring your awareness back to the present moment.

How do you feel?

This may be your first step toward self-love. Simply quieting your mind, quieting your body, and releasing your thoughts.

This is yoga: controlling the rising of the mind. Now direct your thoughts with positivity and kindness to yourself and toward others.

As the song, Seasons of Love*, goes from the musical Rent we have:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousands moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee….

(The song goes on to teach us:)

Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the loooooooove
Remember the loooooooove
Remember the loooooooove
Measure in looooooove
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of Looooooooove
Seasons of Looooooooove

*lyrics by Jonathon Larson.

Renee Peterson, MSW, RYT, RPYT, is certified as a 200-hour Viniyoga Wellness Instructor (2014-15) and Prenatal Yoga Teacher (Jennifer Colletti, Yoga Center of Minneapolis, 2017) in addition to completing the Yoga Bonding Postnatal & Mom and Baby Yoga Teacher Training Course (2016). She teaches people across the lifespan and is particularly gifted with adapting yoga for a variety of individuals including prenatal and postnatal and people with structural conditions.   Renee has a caring and nurturing approach with her students.  Prenatal, Family Yoga and Yoga for Beginners and Beyond are among Renee’s regular classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She is also faculty with the River Flow Yoga 200-hour teacher training. Learn more about Renee and her classes at: https://www.5koshasyoga.com/teachers/renee-peterson-ryt-200/

Mind-Body Practices to Manage & Alleviate Chronic Pain

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”…. Buddhist proverb

Pain is an important part of life. Pain is protective. It helps stimulate the healing response through release of chemicals and hormones in the body. We will all feel pain in our lives. However, pain can also become prohibitive. It can stop us doing the things we want to do. It can become chronic and consuming, where it affects the way we think, and feel and interact with those around us. It becomes suffering.

The best way of dealing with pain is to try to eliminate the source. Sometimes this means medical treatment. Sometimes it means rest and recuperation; breaking the cycle of repeated injury that we can easily fall into. Sometimes eliminating the source isn’t possible though. It continues. There are good days and bad days, changing with the weather, our diet, our mood and for inexplicable other reasons. Some pains relate to diseases or conditions which cannot be cured and we have been told to ‘live with it’.

The Buddhist proverb tells the story. We will all feel pain, and not all pain can be directly eliminated. But do we have to suffer? Mind-body practices have a unique ability to help, especially when it comes to determining whether or not pain leads to suffering, because that distinction occurs within the space of the mind.

On the simplest level body work such as yoga and massage can improve blood flow to tissues, increase lymph flow, help wash away inflammatory chemicals and contribute to tissue healing. The mental aspect of mind-body practices however can help how we process pain. How we react to it, and how we let it affect us. Chronic pain leads to stress, fear and depression which can be reversed. Meditation has been shown to be very helpful for pain from many sources. Science has shown, using scans, that the brain handles pain differently in patients who meditate, even to the extent of different parts of the brain being active. It has also been shown to be able to reduce the amount of pain medication people take. So it is a powerful tool.

Taking part in mind-body practices is not an admission that its ‘all in the mind’, and pain is certainly not ‘weakness leaving the body’ as the military saying goes. One of the core goals of mind-body work is taking a non-judgmental approach. Feeling pain is not your fault, its not because you have not been trying to get better. The very step of calming your perspective to the situation can be a first major step in the pathway to feeling better.

If meditation can improve the way the brain processes pain, then it can alter pain perception, it can improve how the pain affects us emotionally and how we handle our thoughts and feelings in the context of chronic pain. Chronic pain leads to a rewiring of the nervous system that makes it increasingly easy to feel pain; like a memory that becomes ingrained. Meditation has the power to reverse this imprint, as well as improve emotional and psychological well-being.

Combining physical and mental exercise in a mind-body practice therefore has the greatest ability to impact pain by combining the benefits of both. Yoga has a unique power to achieve this and yoga has an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support its power over pain.  Doing a practice regularly and consistently is important. Doing it with a friend or an understanding partner can really enhance things through the benefits of social connection.

While pain may be inevitable, suffering as a result of it isn’t. If you deal with chronic pain consider exploring mind-body practices and deepen your understanding of and relationship with your pain. Wrestle back control of your situation and don’t let your pain become suffering.