Last week we started a conversation about our choices – the easy ones, the familiar ones, the unconscious ones, and the difficult ones. You’ve met Anna, our “choosing differently” hero of the week, and witnessed a transformation in the way she approached her yoga practice. Before we’ve met for a private class, Anna’s usual strategy was to block her body’s complaints out of her mind. Breathing forcefully was her go-to tactic: drowning discomfort in the breath seemed like one of the very few options available. With an invitation to listen to her body (and pay attention to what it has to say!), and a few adaptations to the poses, Anna’s practice softened, and her mind became more peaceful. I then asked you, the reader, to explore the ways in which you can apply “listening and hearing your body” on and off the mat.
How did that go?
This week’s blog post is an invitation to dive deeper into the “body listening,” and ask yourself “What am I listening to?”
Say hello to Katherine*, this week’s “Choosing Differently” ambassador. Like many of us, Katherine strives to be more active – she walks and bikes during the summer months, and snowshoes in the winter. She finds that her activity level is governed by the way her body feels on a particular day. Katherine lives with fibromyalgia, degenerative disk disease, arthritic changes in her feet and knees, and, to top in all up, an annoying heartburny digestive condition. Her sleep patterns are erratic; there are nights when she doesn’t get much sleep at all. Seasonal depression and anxiety are no strangers to Katherine, and are worsened by periods of heavy stress load. **
We start our private session with an inquiry into thoughts and emotions – the lens which frames Katherine’s experiences on and off the mat. Once on the mat, I closely observe Katherine’s alignment and the flow of her breath. I ask Katherine to describe sensations that are arising with movement and during longer held poses. Our conversation goes something like this…
Me: “ Can you describe what you are noticing?”
Katherine: “Yes, my left hip feels completely stuck. It can’t catch up to the right!”
Me: ”What are the sensations in your right hip?”
Katherine: “ Right hip moves fine. It is the left one that’s giving me grief.” This statement is followed by the lengthy description of “grief particulars.”
Katherine’s account of her mat experience is an indication to alter the original session plan: instead of further pursuing hip mobility, I guide Katherine through one of “Pain Care Yoga” principals.
Shifting the focus is an important part of Pain Care Yoga. You see, most of us intuitively understand that positive frame of reference is good for our wellbeing. Yet persistent pain, just like a canker sore, demands our constant attention. In Pain Care Yoga we use specific exercises to divert attention to a more positive experience, thus gradually resetting sensitivity baseline of the nervous system. Learn more by joining a class!
Back to our private session: eventually we return to in-bodied sensations. I encourage Katherine to focus on her “good” side.
I might as well have turned all studio lights full on and hung a disco ball from the ceiling, for Katherine’s face suddenly lights up. I know she’s got it, but ask anyway: “ What are you noticing?” “ I always listen to my grumpy side,” Katherine answers “ and focus on what feels wrong. You just taught me to listen to what feels good.”
Today’s invitation is to refine the way you listen to your body, and explore the feedback loop that is created by your point of focus:
What body sensations do you usually pay attention to?
How does that particular point of focus alter your thoughts, mood, and attitude?
To close the feedback loop, how do your thoughts and mood affect the way you feel in your body?
* As usual, all names are changed for privacy. I also ask the students to OK the writing before it is published.
** I do not attempt to either diagnose or “label and file” Katherine’s symptoms. What your read here is a mere recount of what she has heard from multiple medical specialists over the years.