Why boundaries are important for Recovery

Having healthy boundaries is important for our own well-being.  Creating solid boundaries, however, can be challenging even when life is going well. What happens to our boundaries when the wheels fall of the tracks and we find ourselves going through a traumatic situation?  When we are going through a traumatic situation in can be difficult just to get through the day so making the determination of what’s supportive of us may not even be on our radar due to the strong and intense emotions we are feeling.  When we are is emotional distress, rational thinking often goes out the window because our body is in survival mode.

 

After a serious life interruption last year, I took at long and hard look at what healthy boundaries meant to me during my recovery.  When bad things happen, especially if it is a situation that is on-going, we can feel like we have no control over anything in our life.  It’s the loss of control that can create a sense of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.  While I was going through my experience and subsequent recovery, I found that creating strong internal and external boundaries gave me the stability I was looking for.  If I wasn’t able to control certain aspects of my life, I certainly could put supportive parameters in place and give myself permission to determine how I would interact with myself and others.  This allowed me to take my life back and gave me the structure I needed to get through my situation.

 

Understanding our boundaries, or looking at what we need to heal, allows us the opportunity to look within and ask the question “what do I need right now that will support me”?  If we don’t acknowledge our boundaries, it can build resentment, martyrdom, lack of self-esteem, and disharmony within ourselves as well as our relationships with others.  Boundaries allow us to express our needs clearly and when those needs are met, that begins the path to healing.  And it’s important to understand that internal boundaries are as important as external boundaries.

 

Here are five boundaries to consider when in recovery:

 

  1. Say no—saying no to others can be difficult but sometimes is necessary if it helps us conserve energy or recharge
  2. Listen to our Internal dialogue—each morning ask your-self, “what do I need today that will support me”?. Is it yoga or meditation? Walking in nature?  Determine what you need then do it.  Commit to, and honor, your self-care regimen
  3. Eliminate negative self-talk–Practice using a mantra or affirmation daily and especially when thoughts about the situation begin to overwhelm you. Give your mind a job so it doesn’t go off into negative internal chatter.
  4. Seek help—if you need support, get it from friends, community, or a trusted therapist
  5. Eliminate triggers—remove permanently or temporarily anything in your control that’s triggering, including people who sap your energy.

 

Creating boundaries can enhance your resiliency and shorten your recovery time.  They keep us in touch with our heart and authenticity. When that happens, we are well on our way to healing and living our best life.

 

Therapeutic tip of the month January!

At first glance, this posture doesn’t look like it’s doing much, but there’s a lot more happening than simply opening the hips. Gomukhasana, or cow-face pose, benefits digestion, and when you add the forward fold, it can release the upper back, lengthening and offering release to the lumbar spine. We typically feel the sensation in the hips, so if we’re not careful, we can put stress on the back that we don’t necessarily feel. If one finds themselves rounding in the back, then simply allow the back to rest in a rounding position and place some support (such as a blanket) under the hips. If the back and hips are more open, and one can hinge at the hips, the forward fold becomes more active and leading with the heart may be appropriate. If uncertain, be gentle with yourself!

Release a lifetime of stress with Neurogenic Tremoring!

It’s a typical Wednesday night at Breathe Together Yoga in my Core Release & Restore class. As I look around the room, I see students of all ages and physical abilities. I’ve guided the class through a series of somatic yoga postures and the class is currently in a resting, or “pausing,” state, in Supta Baddha Konasana (also known as reclining bound angle pose). In this pose, students lie on their backs with the soles of the feet together and, in this case, hands are by their sides. I ask the entire class, “Who hasn’t done the neurogenic tremoring with me before?” Several students raise their hands, which allows me to make a mental note to check on them early in this process.

As I start to guide them through the warm ups, a sequence that invites the tremoring to be initiated, I begin to briefly explain what is happening to their bodies. “You might feel a rocking, shaking, or bouncing,” I tell them. “This is your body’s way of releasing stuck energy that is held by tension. As your body shakes, energy that you have held onto (possibly for a very long time) is being released. And you don’t even have to remember the experience being released.” Then, I announce that I will go around the room and check in with every single person (which I do for every class) to see how their experience is going and to answer any questions they might have.

Based on the Trauma Release Exercises (TREs), neurogenic tremoring is the body’s natural mechanism for releasing tension and energy caused by stressful, anxious, or traumatic experiences. What is being released can be something that happened today, last week, or during childhood, and students will likely not have any idea what it is. The body, as an intelligent organism, is releasing whatever is ready to be let go of. This regulates the body’s systems and brings the nervous system back into rhythm. It’s a modality that is so simple and easy that it’s appropriate for just about anyone!

As I walk up to one of the new students, I ask them how they are doing and their face transitions into a big smile. “This feels weird! But it feels really relaxing!” As I approach each student, I ask, “You didn’t know your body could do this did you?” They respond similarly, laughing, and saying “no.” I tell them they are in complete control and they can take a break or stop the process entirely whenever they feel like it. After class, I greet students as they are putting their props away and ask how they are feeling. “I feel so relaxed,” one person says. “I bet I’m going to sleep very well tonight,” someone else chimes in. I invite them all back on Monday, when we will do the whole thing all over again. And based on the number of regular, returning students, it seems to benefit them!

Suffering happens.

Spring is an excellent time to cultivate the shifts  or changes we want to pursue.  Depending on what’s going on in our life these shifts can be from anything from self-inquiry and service to business or relationships goals. But what happens when we are simply going along and something bad happens?  I could have just said challenging.  But let’s face it…bad things happen.  We often are just chugging along with our lives and we are not prepared for those interruptions when they occur.  And in some cases, we can never prepare ourselves.  The fact is that no one goes through life without pain or suffering. But the other truth is that none of us are sad forever.  The yoga practice was made for these situations. It’s important to develop these tools, coping mechanisms, understandings, practices or whatever you call them to help us heal, and if I’m being completely honest, simply function in times of crisis.  I’m no different than you.  I have great moments and not so great moments.  If you think about the challenges you’ve had, you can bet that everyone reading this newsletter has their own challenges.  What’s unfortunate is that we often go through these situations without the support or self care rituals that are so healing.  It was 20 years ago that I stepped out of a therapist’s office and decided to pursue holistic practices to help me heal and I’ve never looked back.  Today I study Buddhism, practice and teach yoga, and have a strong support system in place (which does include therapy when needed….just being real).  Service is also a great healer for me so I might do more of that when things are tough.  Because of this, when challenges arise, I can deal so much better and in a much healthier way than I used to be capable of.  I am more aware of everything that is happening in my body, with my breath, and with my thoughts.  I allow it all to happen, acknowledge everything I am feeling, and then begin again.   I am not as afraid of emotional pain as I used to be because I know it will pass.  And I know, no matter how much life is kicking my butt, I am blessed beyond measure.  These are the things that keep me going, and probably keep me sane along the way.

 

I believe so much in this work and have seen how it’s helped me, and so many others along the way. If you have the time next month, do consider attending the Yoga for Trauma Recovery intensive over two weekends.  If not, then maybe attend one of my workshops.  And if you only have a small amount of time then come to class. Just show up.   There is a saying in yoga, “practice and all is coming”.  Yoga is union and the more we connect to ourselves on all levels regularly, the easier it will be to navigate through those trying times that we all face.   Consider this your personal invitation.  I hope to see you soon.

Yoga and Spirituality

People will often ask me if my spirituality has changed since becoming a yogi. I was born Catholic, went to catholic school, received the sacraments, raised our kids catholic. I always will be tied to my catholic roots. But when it comes to my connection with God or my “Path”, I would have to say that yoga has definitely changed my perspective.

Yoga allows me to get quiet, become more connected to the sensations, thoughts, emotions and patterns of my body. What I tell them is that my yoga practice has awakened my spiritual path in a way that Catholicism didn’t. In Catholicism, to me it felt like I was told what to read or pray, then it was read to me, and then I was told what it meant. What it didn’t allow for me was the ability to think freely on my own or to consider my purpose.

Although I appreciate the rituals of Catholicism, the rules are a thorn in my side. As I’ve gotten older this type of dogma does not sit well with me. What the path of yoga offered me was the ability to look right into my soul without judgment. Believe it or not, looking deeper takes courage as we may not always like what we see. And by doing so, it allows the opportunity to be more compassionate towards others. This has definitely been the case with me.

Yoga is greatly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism so if one is going to deepen their practice they will get a lot of exposure to these belief systems.   As I began to look deeper into these other religions and philosophies, I began to see that when you remove the dogma, each philosophy or religion has the same belief systems. Be kind to others. Love everyone. Show compassion for yourself and others. Now that is a path I can follow.

“Is this it?” The beginning of my path to healing

About twenty years ago, after the birth of our third child, a daughter, I remember thinking to myself…”is this it?”   I was thrilled to be a mom, had a great husband, a house, and really cool job but still I felt a deep sense of loneliness, and a sense that this was too good to be true and, like most things I had experienced, it would be short lived.

I had been a keeper of lists.   And as I added things to the list, I was convinced that as I achieved that next item on the list, I would finally be happy. After the birth of my daughter, there really wasn’t anything left to add. And if I’m being honest, I felt guilty that I had this beautiful life but still, deep down, I was not happy not to mention not thriving. I wondered many times what was wrong with me even though most people wouldn’t notice because I was, and still am, as some would say, high functioning.

Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I had what I would call an interruption. A triggering event occurred and it sent me reeling into a downward spiral. I had experienced other triggering incidents before and had been able to get over them, or actually suppress them, and move on. This was different. It could have been that my body had simply had enough of the suppression and that the stressors and traumas in my body had reached capacity. Or it could have been that with three young children under the age of 5, that I was simply exhausted and did have the energy to fight it. Whatever the reason for this breakdown, it was a gift.

I went into therapy for the first time and was diagnosed with PTSD from childhood trauma and anxiety disorder. The diagnosis came as a relief. But the solutions and eventual healing seemed inaccessible, if not overwhelming. The therapy offered to me, was seen as an intervention by my insurance company, meaning I could go for six visits and then after the six visits (so really six hours), in their minds I would be healed. What?? I had a choice after my six visits, which was to go on meds or look to other forms of healing and that is when I found meditation and it was the beginning of my exploration with holistic and alternative modalities. What I discovered isn’t anything profound. And what I found was that the more I connected to my body through stillness (and eventually movement), the better I felt and the more aware I was of my reactions (which there still so were many of) but also I noticed my moments of peace.

My first meditation course was at my local gym, an upscale establishment in an upscale town. I had no idea where to search for such classes so when this one caught my attention, I immediately signed up. “Watch the thoughts like you are watching a movie”, the man presenting the workshop suggested. I had a really hard time with that idea. Then the man suggested using a mantra, which is a word or saying one repeats over and over silently to themselves and can be offered as a prayer or intention, and offered the suggestion, “I am peace”.  This idea I could get my head around. I kept silently repeating it using the breath….. “I am” on the inhale, and “peace” on the exhale.

And I knew right then, that this was the beginning of something beautiful.

Loving Equally

Kiss your Friends’ faces more

Destroy the belief that

Intimacy must be reserved for

Monogamous relationships

Be more loving

Embrace platonic intimacy

Embrace vulnerability

Use emotionality as a radical tactic against a

Society which teaches you

That emotions

Are a sign of weakness

Tell more people you care about them

Hold their hands

Tell others

You are proud of them

Offer support readily

Take care of the people around you

 

This poem came across my facebook newsfeed recently and it was exactly what I needed to see. I thought, wow, what a beautiful, courageous and radical way to look at love (I am so sorry but I do not know the author.   If anyone knows please let me know because I want to hang out with this person).

A while ago my daughter and I were talking about love and she asked me if I thought it was possible to love everyone equally. I told her it’s possible but I’m not there yet. This conversation sent me on a quest of self-inquiry.   I thought about those who I love the “most”. My husband and our children, without a doubt, are the greatest loves of my life. I then thought, well who would fall next in line? Extended family? Friends? Community? Teachers? After thinking about it a while, I came to this conclusion. It is whoever I allow it to be. It’s a choice to love or not love equally. That was a radical realization.

One of my favorite teachers, Ram Dass, suggests that we “love everyone”. He said he loves everyone and everything equally and it’s hard for the people in his immediate circle to understand sometimes why he might love the books on his shelf as much as he loves each of them. How can someone love a book as much as a person? When he and others speak of their Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, they speak of him as if they have never loved or felt love like they did when they were with him. One of the most beautiful things I ever experienced was to listen to these people talk about their Guru in this way. They could care less what others think about this experience because their love is that deep. If sounds very much like the deep feelings of romantic love or parental love but it may be even so much greater it cannot be put into words. Imagine a love that deep.

We can so easily get stuck in a limited belief or a “set of rules” that apply to how we love or who we love for that matter. How can we embark on a mission of love if we have a fear of intimacy or a fear of being vulnerable? They’re counter-intuitive. Trust me for years I tried that approach, and all it does is harden the heart.

It wasn’t until I read this poem that it clicked for me. Why do we place limits on how much we love others unlike how we do so within our immediate family? Now before we go off on a tangent about the need for boundaries etc., let’s just say that for our purposes today that the kind of love that I am referring to is platonic with healthy, appropriate boundaries in place. With that in mind, if there is ever a doubt, it is a very fair question to ask of people with boundary issues.   The answer might come from our limited belief system, our own fears, our life experiences, or how love showed up (or didn’t) in our lives.  No matter what we think the reason is I would bet that it comes from a place of fear; Fear of not being lovable; Fear of intimacy; or Fear of being vulnerable and so on. So we judge others if they love in a way we can’t understand. And maybe, just maybe, we are fearful or unaware of our own limitations around our ability to love ourselves. Radical.

Of course this is a work in progress but this I know for sure. When my heart is open and I am coming from a place of love I am a better person, wife, friend, daughter, sister, mother, teacher, and student. When I’m not, I’m the opposite of that, and quite frankly, I’m a hot mess.   Which would you choose? Today, I send my love to all of you and I eagerly wait for the day when I can say I love everyone equally. And I’m getting closer to that goal every day.

 

 

 

 

Sitting with our emotions….

Over the last week, it’s been necessary to fall back on my Buddhist psychology tools. One of the ideas of Buddhist psychology is to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we are feeling at the moment and meeting that moment and those feelings with complete and total compassion. If you’ve been in my classes lately, you’ve heard me reference Jill Bolte-Taylor, a neuroscientist who had a stroke at a young age and wrote about her experience in her book “A Stroke of Insight “ (as well as spoke about it in a very well received TED talk). In her book, she talks about how our brains only recognize an emotion for 90 seconds. N-I-N-E-T-Y seconds. What allows the emotion to continue is that a story takes root, which continues to validate and reinforce the emotion. And then we suffer. This idea of meeting ourselves exactly where we can be extremely effective and allow us to cope in a way that serves our overall well being. We see the thought/emotion, we recognize and acknowledge it and we move on.

One of my main coping tools over the years has been anger. If I’m being completely honest, I’d say it was an addiction. The adrenaline rush and the wanting to “fight” (albeit somewhat subconsciously which is very common with people who have PTSD) was very stimulating but exhausting emotionally and physically, not to mention depleting to my heart and soul, and often ended up with someone I care about getting hurt and always ended up with me hurting myself as I’d sit with deep regret afterwards. Of course I’m human and I still do get angry but not nearly to the degree that I used to. By meeting myself exactly where I am has allowed me the ability to meet everyone in my life where they are. If I’m doing this right, and it is absolutely a practice, more often than not, I’m doing my best to meet them with love and compassion regardless of whether or not I agree with them. Because the truth is, everyone is entitled to their experience. Being confrontational, judgmental, and self-righteous is a hard samskara to break….trust me as I know this all too well. What would happen if we allowed everyone to have their own experience and not try to convince them to see it our way? That doesn’t mean we condone supporting things that we don’t believe in but we use emotions, feelings, and beliefs to thrust us into action in a way that serves us, our conscious, and inspires others. If we tell people they need to feel a certain way, speak a certain way, or process a certain way….we lose them as well as an opportunity for dialogue…..not convincing them (which something I’m still working on too) but dialogue.

Join me today for restorative at 4:15 and Core Release and Restore at 7:30. We will practice sitting with our emotions and then we’ll just see what happens. As I learned in the silent retreat a couple of weeks ago…the physical practice brings ease into the body but the sitting brings clarity. We will be doing some metta again today as I think it’s necessary and can be extremely helpful in shifting our frame of mind. I hope to see you.

In the meantime, be kind, loving and compassionate to yourself and others. Peace on Earth.

Election Blues

So many of us awoke in disbelief and with a heavy heart. Some of us awoke with hope that this change is what is necessary for our country.

For those of us that practice yoga, this is a great time to use our practice to help us navigate through the disappointment, fear and disbelief. For those of us who don’t practice, now is a great time to start. One thing that can never be taken away from us during difficult times is our willingness and ability to love and show compassion for everyone. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. As difficult as today might be, the sun is still shining, the sky is still blue, and like trees in a grove, we have community (and a wonderful community it is). 

Please join me tonight for a different kind of practice. We will open our hearts, participate in Metta meditation, practice, and of course, release. Join me whether you are a Trump, Hillary, or 3rd party supporter. Let’s heal together so we can move forward towards acceptance of what has been presented in front of us and begin to mend our broken hearts. Know that I am sending so much love to all of you

Veterans Day

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

A couple of weeks ago while teaching at the VA, I ran into a vet who had attended my yoga classes at the in-patient building. From time to time, I run into men and women who attended my classes on the “outside” but it usually takes me a second to recognize them, as they usually appear very different to me, because when I see them in the hospital, they are in crisis mode so they don’t look like themselves. I initially didn’t recognize him because the last time I saw him, he had just made his third attempt at suicide. So I was delighted to see such a big smile on his face. He looked so grounded, happy, excited, as well as proud (a funny word to used here but that is the word that comes to mind). He said, “do you remember me? I went to your yoga class!”. And I said, “of course I do, it’s so good to see you. How are you?”. And he told me that after some very dark times, he was doing much, much better. And it showed. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a VA hospital employee badge so I asked him if he was working at the VA. He told me that he was indeed working at the VA now, and that he was hoping to do peer counseling at some point. I couldn’t help but smile at him as it was so humbling to witness how far he had come. I told him how incredibly courageous he was to be able to face his wounds, trauma, and fears and now be able to come out on the other side so that he can help his fellow vets. He agreed. I ended with, “I’m so glad you are here, by the grace of God”. And he nodded and said, “yes, me too”.

I want to mention how fortunate I am to work at the VA hospital where they do an amazing job trying to provide support for our vets when they return. I have to give a special shout out the to WRIISC program who embrace alternative modalities like yoga and meditation and put a great amount of effort into providing these (even though is often really isn’t a part of their job). But they believe in this movement (not sure what else to call it).

Happy Veterans Day to all of our courageous vets, who work on the front lines and then come home and try to put their lives back together. Thank you for your service and sacrifices. Sending you thoughts of love, peace, and healing today and every day.