Yoga, Crying, and Panic Attacks

Earlier this month, I wrote about Postpartum Depression and how yoga helped me to overcome its debilitating effects.  Another delightful little hormonal side effect from my third pregnancy which I haven’t been able to completely shake (9 years later!) is having panic attacks.  I spent about 2-3 years after Abby’s birth with frequent panic attacks.  They are definitely better controlled now and much less frequent, but they can still sneak up on me out of what seems like no where. I say “seems” because in retrospect, it’s usually when I’m stuffing my true feelings about something.

This past week I had one of the worse panic attacks I’ve had in awhile.  My pulse was 107 at its resting rate.  My heart felt like it was going to jump through my chest.  I tried forward bends, alternate nostril breathing.  I even took a warm bath and drank some chamomile tea.  Finally, after a couple of hours, I burst out into tears.  I cried hard.  I let out the shit I’d been holding in.  The shit I don’t always share because I’m the strong one, the competent one, the one who doesn’t make waves, or rock the boat.  Sometimes I’m pretty sure I have a sign on my back that says, “Dump your crap here….I can take it.”  And most of the time I can take it.  I’m able to process the stuff that life throws my way through my yoga practice.  But there are days I just can’t and I just need to cry hard to release it all.

So…I did a little research about crying.  This is what I found:

A study by the University of Minnesota discovered that the chemicals that build up in your body during emotional stress can be removed in your tears, and unreleased stress can increase your risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of your brain.  So your human ability to cry is not only therapeutic, but could even be considered a survival tactic.

Later in the day, I was talking to my momma about this blog post.  She said that she believes when our hearts are open, we cry easily.  I think she is right on the money.  Because there are times that I do cry easily, whether for happy, sad, or angry reasons.  Thinking back on those times, I realize, in retrospect, that my heart was open at the time.  In contrast, this past week, I realize now that my heart was closed as my ego was trying to protect me from some tough decisions.
Yoga, meditation, and breath work are still my favorite anxiety relieving practices, but I will not deprive myself of that good cry when that is what my body really needs!  For now, I’m off to practice some heart openers so that I can cry if I wanna!
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Monkey Mind

You know when there is so much on your mind that you don’t even know what to focus on?  You kind of jump from topic to topic like a monkey swinging from a vine? Yep, that’s been my mind this week.  Ugh!  It can be so completely frustrating and nearly impossible to accomplish anything.  The Yogis refer to this mind as monkey mind.  Seemingly difficult to tame, but it can be done!

This week was the end of the 2nd grading period so I have grades to record and report cards to write.  I have several students’ IEPs due, so I have lots of paperwork to complete for them at their annual reviews.  In addition, I’m being told that my teaching position will most likely be part time next year so I’m sort of worrying about what that might mean for me.  At the same time, I’m wondering if this is a sign for me to dive full into my desire to launch a website for Yogini Next Door. My dear hubby is preparing to launch a speaking division of his consulting business and I’ve been trying to be available to listen and offer advice.  Needless to say, my monkey mind has been in full swing!

As I stepped onto my mat today I became aware that my mind was going a mile a minute.  Sometimes when you are in the midst of monkey mind, you don’t even know it.  There are several ways you can use yoga to help tame your monkey mind.  A couple of posts ago, I discussed the power of breath work to help control stress.  This same breath work can be used to help bring the mind into focus and get a handle on all of your thoughts.  Breath control shifts our bodies out of our sympthetic nervous system and over to our parasympathetic nervous system so that our fight or flight reponses are quieted.  In that calm state, it is much easier to organize and prioritize your thinking.

Another technique for quieting the mind in yoga  is to practice forward bends.  More specifically when you are able to reverse gravity so that your head is below your heart, your body and mind are calmed.  It works in much the same way that  controlled breathing does.  With your head below your heart, your para sympathetic nervous system is triggered which helps to quiet down the release of stress hormones, relaxes the body, and slows down the mind. Some examples of easy forward bends to calm the mind are child’s pose, standing forward bend, down dog, and seated forward bend.  If you aren’t familiar with yoga poses, look for future posts where I will be uploading videos demonstrating particular poses and discussing their benefits to the body, mind, and spirit.

So after a fabulous yoga practice full of many forward bends and inversions, my monkey mind has been tamed, at least for the moment. 😉

Peace and a quiet mind to you!

Namaste,
Lisa

 

 

Loving Yourself

If you’ve never read The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, I recommend putting it on your books-to-read list.   I get chills each and every time I read it. She opens with her poem titled, The Invitation.   She begins by declaring, “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.  It doesn’t interest me how old you are.  I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”  Not too long ago, my answer was no, nope, nada.   I was too afraid of what other people would think of me if I ever let anyone see the real me. So I didn’t follow my passions.   It took many years of yoga and meditation for me to finally get what it means to “Dance as if no one is watching.”

I really don’t know where my playing small began. My memories of self depreciating thinking go back to my early teens. Anyone who has ever been a teenager, knows that any thoughts of inferiority are just magnified while you are a teen.  However, on the outside, I was what most parents and teachers would ask for.  I got good grades, was a member of the Honor Society, & was captain of my all state golf team.  I seemed to have it all together.  Inside, I was petrified.  I continued to feel small and insignificant throughout college.  I never felt like I fit in. But again, I graduated Magna Cum Laude from a private institution and from all appearances, seemed to have it all together. My early adult life continued much the same.  I managed to keep the illusion of “perfection” going,  all the while feeling like an imposter on the inside.  However, keeping up this illusion of perfection is exhausting!

It wasn’t until many years into my yoga practice that it hit me that I had never really allowed the real me to show up.  Yoga teaches us to accept ourselves as we are at that moment.  For me, whether I’m in a class or alone at home, when I’m on my mat all the comparison and judgement just falls away.  There is only me.  I’ve really gotten to know myself over the years of my yoga practice.  It’s in those quiet moments on my mat that I’ve really gotten to accept myself as I am.

It wasn’t long ago that my middle daughter said to me, “Why aren’t you more like so and so’s mom?  She is so much fun.”  I’ll admit it hurt.  It hurt a lot.  But after the hurt, I realized that I’m okay that I’m not the “fun mom” all the time.  I’m not the mom who is adventurous, who would jump out of an airplane, or who is the life of the party.   Who I am is a mom who enjoys the quiet side of life.  And I’m okay with that. One is not better than the other!  They both just “are”.  It just took me a long time to realize that it’s okay to be who I was meant to be.   And I want my kids to know that, too.  I want them to be okay with who they are and be comfortable in their own skin.  Most of all, I wish for them to discover who they truly are and to fall madly in love with that person.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself:  I love that I feel shaken to the core during a drumming ceremony.  I love that I cry when I meditate on how great God is.  I love that fun for me is the quiet hours of the morning in silent mediation, baking with my girls,  cooking for my family, and reading a good book.    I love that my idea of fun is witnessing my kid’s unfettered joy of life.  I love those times when my husband looks at me and makes me melt.  I love that I love to write.  I love that I want to share the joy and ecstasy that I’ve experienced practicing yoga.

Oriah ends her prose by asking, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”  With a heart full of gratitude and awe for this amazing universe we are a part of, my answer is, “Yes, I can.”

Peace and love until next time…

Namaste,

Lisa

Finding Balance

I knew that making the time to write after the holiday break would be a challenge, and, boy was I right!  Anytime we want to make room in our lives for something new, it takes a bit of time to allow that new “something” to become part of our routine.  It’s hard enough to find balance in your life; even harder when you throw something new into the mix.  My years of yoga practice have definitely helped me to learn how to find that balance  (both literally and figuratively!)

I’ve gotten to a point in my yoga practice that my body just  “knows” what poses I need at that very moment (despite my not wanting to do them at that point in time!).  So while I was on my mat last night, I felt drawn to balancing poses.  These poses are challenging; they require concentration, focus, and strength. As much as my body seemed to yearn for balancing poses, I found them unusually challenging last night.  So while wobbling my way through tree and dancer poses, I thought how my difficulty balancing on one leg mirrored the difficulty I was having balancing my life off the mat over the past few days.  As much as I want to write, I have been trying to find the “perfect time” to do so.  As a working mother of three, there just isn’t a perfect time.  SO, I made up my mind that it is up to me (and no one else!) to make the time.

I can remember that  when I first started back to work in 2009 after being home with my kids for over ten years, I was terrified of how I’d find balance between work, my family, and time for myself.  I LOVED being a stay at home mom.  I enjoyed the luxury of time. Early on I had figured out how to balance taking care of my babies, keeping up with the household, and (because of a very supportive husband) still having time to attend either yoga and Pilates classes throughout the week.   SO, how was I going to find balance once I went back to work full time?

This is my third year back to teaching and we’ve all gotten into a pretty good routine.  I slowly found a way to balance work, family, and me-time.   There are still times, though,  when I can “feel” that things are a bit out of whack.  I start to get a short fuse.  I get irritated easily.  And, like a volcano, I can feel the lava kind of simmering inside of me.   I’ve come to think of this feeling as my spirit trying to gain some attention.  She starts quietly, but if I don’t pay  attention to her, she  blows!  This awareness has helped prevent major eruptions at our home!

What precipitated the feeling this time around was a very full weekend.  I made my father in law an apple pie for his birthday gift,  then we all attended his birthday party in Chicago Saturday night.  The rest of the weekend was filled with taking down Christmas decorations, grocery shopping, laundry, and school work.  I didn’t get my mat out once all weekend nor did I get on the computer once to write.  By Monday night, my spirit was starting to make some noise!

By being aware and tuned in to this feeling brewing, I was able to come home from work Monday evening and practice yoga and do a little writing.  In the past, when I wasn’t aware of my body, mind, and spirit, I wouldn’t hear those warning signs and then the volcano would erupt and all hell would break loose.  Yoga has really helped me tune in to myself and my family.

I don’t think that having a balanced life means you get it all every day.   Some days may be filled with duties to work and/or family.  Other days you may have the gift of time to do what makes your soul sing.  Some days will be a lovely mix of everything. To me balance means being able to be “all in” no matter what you are doing.  Being consciously aware each and every day.  Hearing your own needs along with the needs of those you love.  And then finding a balance between the two.  That is truly the dance of life.

Until next time…

Namaste,

Lisa

Yoga and Postpartum Depression

My yoga journey began out of desperation about 9 1/2 years ago.  After giving birth to our youngest daughter, Abigail, I had debilitating postpartum depression.  I felt the depression close in before I even left the hospital.   The day after Abby was born, while I was alone in my room, the pediatrician on call came in to inform me that Abby had been born with 2 holes in her heart.  He went on to talk, but I didn’t hear him.  What crazy doctor walks into a woman’s room who has just given birth and who is all alone and delivers such news!?!?!  In addition to this news, Abby was our surprise baby.  Michael had had a vasectomy the prior fall and news of a baby was, well, a bit earth shattering.  So my guess is the combination of whacked out hormones, news of my precious new baby’s heart defect, and the guilt of  feeling that at one time I didn’t want her was too much for my psyche to handle.  So I checked out.  I cried pretty much round the clock for the first couple of weeks.

I finally pulled myself together and reached out for help, for the sake of my husband our three precious children.  My ob/gyn referred me to a psychiatrist who wanted me to take antidepressants.  I was a nursing mom who had no interest in transferring powerful drugs to my new infant daughter, so I left feeling defeated and hopeless.

Not long after, in what can only be referred to as kismet, Michael found an article in our local paper announcing the opening of a new Pilates/yoga studio in town.  Witnessing the magnitude of my depression, he called the studio to reserve a space for me at their next yoga class.  The rest, as they say, is history!

I felt an immediate connection to the yoga practice, which has just intensified throughout the years.  The yoga asanas (or postures) themselves are just plain powerful.  Years later, during my yoga teacher training, my yoga teacher would always say, “the medicine is in the pose”.  Each yoga posture is designed to heal some part of the body, mind, and spirit. In the instance of postpartum depression, the yoga postures, breathing, and quiet introspection lifted the blanket of depression from me.

Studies have illustrated yoga’s ability to combat depression through balancing brain chemistry and stress hormone levels.   I can attest to its healing affect on my own depression.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, I recommend finding a certified yoga teacher who not only has experience, but also has an empathetic heart to help you find a practice suitable for you to help you overcome your depression.

Blessings to you on your journey.

Namaste,

Lisa

Breathing

I went back to work today after having a blissful two week break for Christmas.  Last night as I laid awake anxious about going back to work, I realized that I was barely breathing.  You’ve probably noticed similar times in your life that when you are feeling anxious, stressed, worried, etc.,  you barely breathe. One of the biggest changes yoga has made in my life is helping me to develop an awareness of my breath and what to do with it when I’m feeling stressed or anxious.

Most people typically use only the top portion of their lungs to breathe on a daily basis.  We do this unconsciously, of course.  However, when we are doing this shallow breathing, our body is tense, our blood pressure is elevated, our heart may be racing.  This is a good place to be if you are running from a bear, but not a good place to spend each and every day.  Our body does not know the difference between stress responses caused from being chased by a bear or from stress responses created by work, kids, finances,  and relationships.  And when we spend each and every day at this heightened stress response, we are like a ticking time bomb.  The connection between the increase in heart disease and cancers  at the same time our collective stress levels are at an all time high is no coincidence.

So what can you do about it?  One way is to use your breath.  When you are feeling especially stressed, anxious, or worried,  bring your attention to your breath.  Spend a moment or two in non-judgmental awareness of how your breath is flowing through your body.  Notice if your breathing is fast and shallow, if you are breathing through your mouth or through  your nose.  Then begin to deepen the breath.  Imagine sending your breath all the way down to the base of your lungs.  Fill your lungs from front to back,  and side to side.  Stay here for a few moments.  Now, soften your belly, and send your breath all the way down to your belly.  Expand your belly like a balloon on your inhale.  Squeeze the belly slightly on the exhale to help rid the body of any old, stale air.  Stay here for a few breaths.  Now, either breathing deeply into the lungs or belly, start to match your inhale to your exhale.  In other words, if it takes 7  counts to breathe in, make your exhale 7 counts as well. Do this for a minute or two.

Now for the icing on the cake! This is my secret to stress reduction!

Extend your exhale count to beyond your inhale count.  So, if you are taking a 7 count inhale, try to extend your exhale to at least 8 (beyond if you can).  This is the most powerful breath exercise of them all!  What happens to us physiologically is that we are literally taken out of our sympathetic nervous system, which is where we spend so much of our time.  In this high stress state we experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased release of stress hormones (which by the way, did you know that this constant pumping of stress hormones is one huge reason you can’t lose weight!?!?…UGH!  More stress!  I’ll go more into that another time!)  During this extended exhale breathing practice, our bodies switch over to our parasympathetic nervous system automatically!  Your heart rate will naturally lower, your blood pressure will decrease, and your body will slow down the release of stress hormones.  Not only will you feel better in the short term, but more importantly, the long term health benefits are life changing!

After spending several minutes in the extended exhale breath, allow your breath to return to a normal, even rhythm.

The best part of this breath exercise is that you can do it anytime, anywhere.  I’ve done it at work, while driving, in the middle of the night as I lay awake with worry.  Try it out for yourself over the next few days.

It’s a great start to being in the present moment….

Namaste,

Lisa

Being Present

I used to hate New Year’s Eve.  I looked at it as an ending instead of a beginning.  I used to hate when things ended.  As you can imagine living like this was hard because as we all know, it is a  natural law that everything ends. I spent so much time looking to my past that I missed my present.  Always having one foot stuck in my past, also prevented me from moving forward in my life.  Yoga helped me to practice being present.  It took years of practice, but eventually when my butt touched my mat,  my breathing slowed and my mind became centered.  This eventually began to transfer to my life off the mat.

This year on New Year’s Eve, my husband, Michael, and our three children had a burning bowl ceremony.  We each wrote down thoughts or actions that did not serve us in 2011 on mini pieces of paper.  On my paper, I wrote “Good- bye fear.  Good-bye thoughts of lack and limitation.”  My youngest said good bye to getting angry so quickly.  Then after sharing them aloud, we burned them and watched those negative thoughts and behaviors go up in smoke.  After this ceremony, we set our intentions for 2012.  Again, we each wrote down what we’d like to have happen in our lives during the next year.  This time we placed our intentions in our New Year’s treasure box to keep until next New Year’s Eve.  This has become a beautiful tradition and one that we all look forward to each year.

I like the idea of setting goals, but I think there is a fine line to this as well.  We can get so caught up in the goal that we aren’t enjoying the now.  In other words, we aren’t present yet again.  My very insightful husband often says, “The goal of the goal is not the goal.”  The goal of the goal is how you change your thinking and actions presently in order to obtain that goal in the future.  One of my intentions for this year is to write a book and start a website to share this gift of yoga.  One of my actions or behaviors that changed on my journey to that intention is starting this blog.  This new behavior is already having positive results on my present life.  My soul is singing as a result of having this outlet.  I have always loved to write and through this new intention I am feeding my soul.  If I were still stuck in my past, I wouldn’t have heard God’s calling.  You need to be present right here, right now to hear what God is calling you to do.

So how do you practice staying present?  Having the desire to do so is most important.  Then ask yourself, Why?  Why is it important for you to practice being present?  For me, the answer is easy.  Life is short and our kids are small for about a minute and I don’t want to miss any of it.  When you have the desire and your why, there are many paths to take.  Over the next few posts we will explore some options to helping you practice becoming more present in your own life.

Until then….

Namaste,

Lisa