Accepting Help

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On August 5, my husband, Jim, drove me to the Frederickson Surgery Center to have a hole in the macula of my right eye repaired. Needless to say, if I could have found another way to fix the distorted vision in that eye, I would have chosen that. The success of this surgery required that I keep my head down, as if I were looking for ants on the floor, for 45 minutes of every hour for 5 days. That meant sleeping on my stomach with my head in a device similar to what you rest your head in when you have a massage, while resting my torso on a cushion that elevated my hips slightly and aligned my body so my head could rest in the elevated head rest.

For daytime use, we had rented a chair similar to those you see used for massage at the airport. The chair, with an attached tray, was quite clever, really, and it came with a separate mirrored device you placed on the tray so you could see the TV or someone sitting in front of you. I also listened to the book Rocketman, which I had downloaded to my phone.

Jim is a good cook, so I was fed well. He was also determined that I mind the 45 minute rule of head down, so meals were not leisurely, although never rushed.

You would think that the most difficult part of this experience would be the five long days of inactivity and disrupted sleep. However, my daughter keyed in on the biggest obstacle for me: having to allow others to take care of me. As I reflected on my daughter’s insight, I began to understand how the vulnerability that accepting help implies clashed with how I saw myself.

I have held a strong belief that I needed to be strong, in control, self-sufficient. Especially as I have aged this has become more important to me. In our culture aging does not have a positive connotation. To age is to raise the possibility and probability that if we live long enough, we will become more vulnerable and need more help to manage our lives. That is an image that I, and perhaps many others, want to deny might apply to us. “Having to be taken care of” raised that image for me. I have to admit that I placed a high value on my ability to be strong and self-sufficient, even as I noticed the changes in energy my age is already bringing.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patangali talks about five klesas or afflictions that are the source of all human suffering. Avidya is the affliction of misperceiving what is temporary and changing for what is real and enduring. Avidya underlies all the other klesas. For example: To be vulnerable, if only for five days, was a wake up call to face the reality of the vulnerability implied in aging. Not thinking that could happen to me is the avidya. Observing and reflecting on this allowed me to remember that there is a deep, unchanging spirit within me and everyone that is what is truly of value and real (vidya). The YOGA is to identify when avidya is taking hold and then return to knowing our true nature or spirit, which is unchanging and eternal.

Closely related to avidya is asmita, which is a confusion of who we are: we ‘identify our true value with things inside or outside of ourselves, all of which are subject to change.” For example: being at peace when you are healthy and strong and being totally depressed when you identify with weakness and vulnerability. My resistance (and a bit of suffering) was based on seeing myself as vulnerable and needing to be taken care of as I recovered from surgery. This identification of being less than, allowed for feelings of inadequacies, even while knowing intellectually that this body, its strength and ability to care for itself, is not eternal.

In the midst of discomfort, I was able to find some joy in gratitude. I accepted help. Jim made me meals, monitored my adherence to recovery rules, drove me wherever I needed or wanted to go, and generally looked after me. My dear friends came and read to me, talked to me, brought me goodies, made me tea, and just lightened my five days. While the idea of being cared for was an obstacle to agreeing to the surgery, I was very grateful and even relished the kind attention I received, the inquiries as to my recovery, the thoughtfulness, and the prayers. In the end, I accepted help and realized my recovery was an opportunity to be real and allow others to identify with their own generous and kind natures.

Here Comes the Sun

Horizon imageVisualization can be a powerful tool of yoga, especially when the visualization focuses on an object in nature. One of the most revered objects of visualization and meditation in yoga is the sun.

It is no wonder. The sun is the source of life. All that grows is sunlight transformed. The sun warms the earth, the air, the water and provides light. The light of the sun in yoga is also associated with the qualities of clarity, healing, protection, courage, and health. When we link to the light of the sun in our practice, we may grow in that quality we desire in our life.

If a student comes to a yoga teacher needing more clarity on her life path, the teacher might suggest a practice that incorporates both a visualization and a mantra or chant focusing on sunlight. The practice then would incorporate “sight,” and sound, all with the intention of linking to the clarity the light of the sun brings.

Mantra, like visualization, is another powerful tool of yoga. The translation for mantra is “that which protects.” A mantra focusing on sunlight can help the student move toward clarity not only because of the word or words, but also because of the vibrational quality of the letters of Sanskrit. It is believed the Sanskrit language has the ability to touch and affect our entire system.

The bija mantra or seed sounds of the sun is a powerful mantra connected to the sun. The bija mantra is a relatively simple series of seven syllables in Sanskrit that denote the colors of the light of the sun: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

It is even possible to use the bija mantra with the sun salutation or other postures, which can intensify their effect. You can imagine how the layers of movement, sound, and visualization can focus the mind, and, if practiced over time with consistency, could help bring greater clarity to the student.

I know because I have worked with such practices myself and found they helped me to achieve greater clarity, courage, and healing.

Bija mantra:
Bija Mantra
 
You can hear the bija mantra by clicking below:

Discovery Yoga and Yoga 4 Wise Women often include visualization and chant. If you would like to explore these tools check the class calendar or contact me to schedule a private session.

 

Yoga and Grief, Part Three

Yoga and GriefYoga is about being present for our experience, whatever it might be – a yoga pose, a conversation with a friend, an emotion. This is not easy. Our minds tend to wander. We often judge our own behaviors and vulnerabilities and seek to escape from our discomfort.

When we are sitting with someone we love who is dying, our emotional discomfort is at its height, and our minds may increase that suffering. “How long will this go on?” “What will happen to the family?” “Why is God letting this happen?”

And, the mind may journey to the past. “Why didn’t I spend more time with him or her?” “How could I have spoken so harshly?” “I would do so many things differently if I had a second chance.”

These projections and ruminations increase our suffering and keep us from experiencing the painful emotions that are a direct part of the loss. Our inability to stay present steals the time we can be with our loved one as we are more in our heads than in the reality of the present.

Being present with the reality of our grief is key to accepting loss. To do this we need to experience a tender, gentle attitude toward ourselves, without criticism.
This allows us to move toward acceptance and healing.

In yoga we are asked to observe the “effects” of our practice. Are there any areas of tension or openness? Is my breath long or short? Is my mind active with thoughts or quiet?

We are training to free ourselves from the judging mind. Without the judging mind, we don’t have to feel bad about what we notice. We don’t have to compare ourselves to others. This freedom can allow us to see and accept our vulnerabilities. It allows us to have compassion for ourselves.

When we begin to be present with our pain, treating ourselves with compassion for our suffering as we would treat a child in pain, we can begin to accept our loss.

Bringing compassion to the brokenness we feel in our grief can help us connect with the love we have for the one we have lost. We can come to recognize the love that bound us that still lives on within us. When we reach this place, we have moved to a deeper healing and sense of peace, and a profound honoring of the one no longer with us.

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A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” begins Thursday, September 5th. For more information, you can read a description of the class. If you or someone you know is grieving and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me by noon, Tuesday, September 2nd at eterryyoga@gmail.com or call 717-645-0067.

 

Yoga and Grief, Part Two

Yoga and GriefWe know intellectually that all of us at sometime in our lives suffer loss and the trauma that ensues. When this happens, our entire being experiences grief. Our mind and heart, as well as the cells and systems of our body respond to loss. Physical symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, a feeling of heaviness, fatigue, and depletion. Mentally we may have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and remembering things. Emotionally, we may feel anguished, anxious, depressed, powerless, or angry. Spiritually, we may sense a loss of meaning or purpose in our lives.

So how can yoga help us to heal?

Yoga sees healing as “a change in mind, in perception, in attitude” so that “mental, emotional, and physical suffering are alleviated,” and the person’s quality of life improves.1 One reason yoga is effective in healing is because of its holistic vision of the human system. Everything is interconnected.

Try this experiment. Stand with your hands resting on your heart; slowly open your arms out to the side as you breathe in; slowly bring your hands back to the heart as you breathe out. Do this 4 or 5 times. Then mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my body,” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Next, mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my mind” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Finally, focus on “peace” as you breathe in and open the arms; focus on “in my heart,” as you breathe out and bring the hands back to the heart. Repeat this series with your mental focus on the words two more times.

Now sit down in a chair and take a minute or two to notice – without making any judgments – how you feel. Does your body feel more relaxed? Is your breath slower? Is your mind quieter? Do you notice any sense of peace emotionally, even a twinge?

Another way in which yoga encourages healing is in the practice of observation and acceptance. Yoga develops our awareness by requiring us to observe the effects of what we do in our practice, just as you did in the exercise above. Our observation is without judgment. It is a training in learning about ourselves, and accepting where we are at a particular moment in time. This practice of non-judgmental observation and acceptance prepares us to deal with change, and our struggle to accept our loss.

The vision yoga gives us of our human system and the practices it gives us to touch all dimensions of our being with awareness and acceptance empower us to begin our journey from suffering to healing.

If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me. A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” session begins Thursday, September 5th.

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1 Desikachar, Kausthub. “The Yoga of Healing: Exploring Yoga’s Holistic Model for Health and Well-being.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy. No. 15 (2005) 17.

Yoga and Grief, Part One

Yoga and GriefGrief is a response to change. And, all changes, whether positive or negative, involve loss, explained Jennilu King. As a grief counselor, Jennilu helps others deal with loss and has her own insights and wisdom on the subject.

“Grief is the heart’s natural healing process,” she told me as we sat at Panera recently talking over breakfast and coffee. “It needs space, time, care, and attention in the same way as when you have open heart surgery. After surgery you come home with support in place, information about diet, and therapy appointments. You rest. All of this is part of the recuperation process that is about healing from physical trauma. Our heart needs these same things to heal from loss.”

Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t give people space and time to heal from loss. Not meaning harm, a concerned friend or relative may tell someone experiencing loss, “you need to get on with YOUR life,” as if there is only a designated time to grieve and then it is time to move on.

Those who are grieving, however, need to take time to nurture, nourish, and accept themselves and their lives. Yoga creates this time and space.

Yoga is about healing from suffering. The purpose of yoga, according to the yoga master TKV Desikachar, is “to reduce disturbance and return an individual to his or her inherent peace and power.” For those suffering loss, the physical postures of yoga help ease the physical effects of grief and improve energy. Breathing techniques support the connection between body and mind and help create a sense of calm. Sound and meditation support focus, healing, and the movement to a space of peace.

In the context of the yoga class to support those who are grieving, the tools of yoga offer techniques to help participants cope with grief, find compassion for the journey they are on, and honor their loss. All of the practices help to create space and balance in the body, breath, mind, and emotions.

If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me. A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” session begins Thursday, September 5th.

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Yoga for Life

Support for those who are grieving

Yoga for LifeThe experience of loss is always about change – struggling with and finally accepting change on many levels. Yoga, as a discipline and a philosophy, is also about acceptance of what is – of who we are, of the situation we are in, and of the circumstances that brought us to this point. Through the physical and mental practice that is yoga we can learn to apply principles of acceptance to all areas of life.

This five session series of gentle yoga will provide a safe space in which participants can begin to make peace with both the pain and the changes that loss contains. All levels of physical ability will be welcome in the group.

Thursdays, September 5-October 3, 2013, 2:00-3:30 pm
TMC: wellness through movement
2134 N. 2nd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Facilitated by:
Jennilu King, Grief Counselor
Elizabeth Terry, Yoga Teacher

Cost: $35 for the course.
Participants will need to have a yoga mat.
Contact Elizabeth Terry at 717-645-0067 or e-mail eterryyoga@gmail.com for more information or to register.

“Making peace with change is at the heart of every journey…”
– Paula D’Arcy

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PTSD and Yoga Therapy

PTSD and Yoga TherapyIn my Wednesday night Discovery Yoga class, one of my students told me about a program she had heard on NPR that talked about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the use of yoga as a therapy in treatment. It turns out that the program was Krista Tippett’s “On Being,” a wonderful show of interviews that can be heard locally on Sunday morning from 7-8 am.

Ms. Tippett was interviewing the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk on her July 11, 2013 program. Dr. van der Kolk is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and Medical Director in a community-based trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has spent much of his life researching traumatic stress and treating people suffering from PTSD.

In his work and research, Dr. van der Kolk found that people suffering from traumatic stress live with the “images or sounds or physical sensations” of the experience – they don’t go away. As a result, something changes in the brain so that the body in a traumatized state experiences the world as unsafe, frightening, even terrifying, even long after the original trauma.

The person with PTSD experiences these fearful emotions in his body. It is not surprising then to hear that such a person often lives out of touch with what is going on in his body; the strategy becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the emotions he feels. That was exactly what Dr. van der Kolk and his colleagues observed in people coming for treatment for PTSD – they were largely disconnected from their bodies.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Dr. van der Kolk began to see it was critical to help people reconnect to their bodies, “to help people … to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies.” That led to yoga programs for people suffering traumatic stress. He found that yoga, which seeks to connect mind and body, was “an important component of an overall healing program.” He went on to say that other activities, such as qigong or martial arts, might have a similar effect. What is needed is “something that engages your body in a very mindful and purposeful way – with a lot of attention to breathing in particular…” This kind of practice seemed to have the effect of resetting “some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma.”

Any of you who do yoga have most likely observed the calming, balancing effect of a good practice. This research documents the profound and transformational effects possible with the kind of engagement yoga demands. For the Western mind in the 21st century, this kind of research adds credibility to the insights of the ancients who always saw yoga as a tool for healing suffering.

This is just a short summary of this interview. If you would like to know more, the full transcript of this interview and the podcast can be found at OnBeing.org.

Please leave any comments, insights, or thoughts you have on this subject.

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