Monday, October 9, 2017

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION, PART 1

Accentuate the positive, they say.  Did that last week.  This week I'm focusing on the negative.

I'm three sessions (of eight, plus a day-long retreat) into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course being offered at the medical facility in my town.  Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the brainchild of Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School after studying Buddhism with noted teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh.  He eventually honed his work to create an 8-week standardized series called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, largely uncoupling the method from Buddhism, instead emphasizing the scientific aspects of the practice.  His course, marrying meditation with Hatha Yoga, has spread worldwide and seeks to help those suffering from stress, anxiety, pain, and illness.  He teaches "moment to moment awareness".   He's also written books on the topic; the most read being:  Wherever You Go, There You Are, and, Full Catastrophe Living.

I've always wanted to take an MBSR course, but never was one offered near where I live.  I wasn't into commuting long distance to go once a week, although in times of battling my Twin Demons: Anxiety and Depression, I've been very tempted to just do it.  So, I was thrilled to find the course offered a 10 minute drive from my front door.

The first session was an orientation and introduction to meditation using the "Body Scan" technique.  Yoga practitioners would find it a familiar practice, lying in savasana and focusing on discrete body parts, as in practicing Yoga Nidra, or "yoga sleep".  The idea, of course is not to go sleep but to find awareness in each body area and to also find relaxation in quieting the mind while concentrating on the sensations in your big toe, for example.

Our homework was to do a guided visualization 30 minute Body Scan (accessed through Mindfulness Northwest website, or the Insight Timer app.) six days a week.

The second class focused on Perception.  The idea was to separate the fact of what we experience from the story we tell ourselves about it.  Our response to life's ups and downs is often far more dramatic than it needs to be.  Could we be more objective about the events that arise?  Even positive ones?

Our homework was to continue the Body Scan, as well as making note once each day of something positive and to be aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body response to the positive event.

This week we are to continue awareness of the waves of "good" and "bad" that arise in life, but to focus primarily on our responses to the negative or unpleasant events.  Can we name it, and be aware of our physical, emotional, and intellectual responses to it?  We've also added a 30 minute sitting meditation, following the breath or a mantra, as well as a 30 minute very gentle yoga practice.

There are 20 people in the class, most total novices to meditation and yoga.  I have some quibbles with the fact that not enough attention is being paid to having precise instruction and good props for the asana poses and that the facilitator often rushes us from a deep meditation on to the next thing, but that's just cuz I think I know better.   I don't want to be the class critic!


So, I'm going with the flow and finding that my daily awareness is increasing and I am becoming more mindful and more relaxed about some life events that have caused anxiety for me in the past.  I'm able to be a tad more objective and quiet the little voices that want to lead me to worry.  Progress!

I'll keep you posted as the course goes on.

Namaste,  donnajurene

Saturday, September 30, 2017

LACE UP THAT CORSET!

I've been taking private yoga therapy classes with Yoga Circle teacher, Elizabeth, for a few weeks.  I requested some assistance with finding poses that would address my scoliosis, relieving some intermittent back pain and finding daily proper alignment, both on and off the mat.

Imagine my surprise when corseting became the focus of our time together!

The very best and most important "pose" any of us can do is to strengthen our inner core.  Nope, not the 6-pack muscles, which are fairly superficially located; rather, the deep core muscles which hold us erect and strong.

I'm doing a home practice in conjunction with my private lessons which has me first meditating on diaphragmatic breathing.  These deep core breaths are both energizing and relaxing.  I go to that many times during the day -- especially to relieve stress.

Next, who knew?, but our "core" is also linked to our pelvic floor.  These muscles are known to women as those that tighten as we do our Kegel exercises, but in this case I isolate only the front part of the muscle group, tightening the "floor" of the core.

The Transverse Abdominus are the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, wrapping around the body completely, front to back.  To tighten these, pretend you are zipping up a pair of really tight jeans.  Your abdomen should draw in, not poof out.

The trickiest, for me, of the core muscles is the Lumbar Multifidus. They run along the spine and tightening them is a subtle movement of drawing the center of the back close together as if lacing up a corset.

Put all these moves together and tighten!  Done as a practice, each time you are working toward a nice strong core that holds one in proper alignment, strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and back, relieves pain, and allows flexibility.  Magic!

It's not as easy as putting a corset on the outside and drawing it tight, but it IS healthier.  In my reading I found that some women in the 18th Century drew their corsets so tight (in an effort to have the smallest waistline possible -- slaves to fashion!), that they constricted their breathing to only the top part of their lungs, causing fluid to collect in the bottom of their lungs, a slight cough to develop (all those hankies!), and a chronic shortness of breath (all those heaving bosoms).

Learning the internal corseting is a challenge, but I'm working on it.  My lungs are growing more elastic, not less.  And standing up straight with core zipped up makes me inches taller than a slumped "casual" posture and elevates my mood and confidence as well.  Plus it takes about 10 pounds off the profile in the mirror.  Maybe not a 17 inch waist....but c'mon, that's just freakish!©

Namaste, donnajurene

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corset
              Inner Core Handout -- Sarva Yoga Therapy
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peloponnesian_Folklore_Foundation

Saturday, September 23, 2017

WORRIED ABOUT BEGINNERS

I've written about being a beginner yogi before, but every time I meet a newbie in class I am reminded of how awkward and uncomfortable I was when I started.  I see that same look of insecurity on some faces around me as they puzzle their way through setting up their spaces -- rolling out the mat, gathering props (or not...what is all the stuff for anyway?), and trying to figure out the pretzel poses the teacher is leading us through.  It can all be a little intimidating.

I always want to say...

"Tell the instructor ahead of time if you have any limitations or hurt-y, tight places; DON'T make it worse!"

"Go slowly; take your time."

"Do absolutely NOTHING that hurts!  You can push a little more with experience -- not on the first day or week or month!"

"Ask questions; watch the instructor and watch those in class who are more experienced."

"Pay attention to proper alignment if you can; a straight spine and a sucked-in ab will hold you safely in any pose."

"Try a variety of teachers if your schedule allows flexibly in attendance; everyone has a different approach and focus for teaching."

"Stick with it; the benefits are amazing!"  

I always wonder about those I see once or twice and then never again.  Have they decided yoga isn't for them?  Did they get hurt?  Were they embarrassed or felt inadequate?   Before I dedicated myself to working through all those reasons for walking away, I stopped myself from yoga many times.  But something called me back.  

There are physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects to yoga that have transformed my life.  I want that for everyone.  Keep coming!  

Namaste,  donnajurene

Photo Credit:  Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_lkeskinen'>lkeskinen / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Thursday, August 31, 2017

PRIVATE LESSONS

It never occurred to me that I'd find a holistic approach to living by practicing yoga.  I thought I might get more flexible; maybe quiet my constantly ruminating and planning mind, at least a little bit, 2-3 times a week when I was at class.  Maybe, just maybe, I'd get a "yoga butt".

Two out of three of those things has happened.   And so much more....

I've become aware that my minor degree of scoliosis and how my bones and muscles interact has for most of my adult life been the culprit for so much of my back and leg pain.  I've discovered that one of my lungs is unable to expand as fully as the other due to a shorten musculature that holds my ribcage tight.  I've discovered that my Ayurveda type contributes to my desire for warmth, quiet, and calm and this is why I find it so uncomfortable, jarring, and exhausting to be cold and in noisy, chaotic environments.  It also urges me to sugar binge, sabotaging on a regular basis my healthy eating plan!

These are not negative things....these are areas of self-discovery I'd have never understood or been able to address without yoga.  As I've said over and over in this blog, yoga is NOT just about pretzely poses...yoga is life.  Yoga is a guide to living fully and mindfully to our highest and best purpose.

This week I started a series of private sessions with YCS teacher, Elizabeth, who has a practice  providing therapeutic yoga to clients.  If you've attend her classes, you know how gifted she is at crafting a class specifically to the physical needs of her students.  Often I come away from class feeling like we've barely moved (especially in gentle classes), yet my body is loose, relaxed, and renewed -- any aches and pains vanished.  I am always amazed.

She started our private session with reviewing a lengthly questionnaire she'd asked me to complete ahead of time.  It was very detailed with questions about all aspects of my life -- physical, psychological, spiritual.  Then she did a detailed postural assessment from which she will determine how best to craft an asana home practice I can use to help counter the effects of my scoliosis, with poses that will encourage muscles to stretch instead of contract, with asymmetrical breathing that will help me expand lung capacity, with reminders to be mindful of the millions of times a day I revert to unbalanced postures and how to realign myself.  We talked about diet, hydration, and my Ayurvedic type and how to counter coming out of balance by incorporating foods and activities that are its opposite -- or when my day requires the energies of a different type, how to find comfort and "home" by incorporating foods and activities of my dominant type to ground me.

She also is reminding me to be accepting of "is-ness".  We are not working to overcome or "fix" my scoliosis or even my tendency to sugar binge.  We are accepting of these givens and finding and employing the very best tools to help me live my best life with who I am... and to love the journey.

I've only just begun this new exploration of how therapeutic yoga can help me.  I'll keep you posted.  For now, I'm really excited to enhance my practice with personalized attention and with learning actions I can take throughout my life to remain as strong, flexible, balanced, and as aware as I can be about myself and how to "take actions on my own behalf", as Karen (YCS owner and lead teacher), often reminds us in class.

Mind, body, spirit = Yoga.©

Namaste,  donnajurene

Photo Credit:  www.pixabay.com