A Few Small Theories about Managing Challenge


stormcloudI don’t know anyone that has not had to work through a challenge. I’m sure there are a few people out there that don’t think they’ve been dealt any big blows, and good on them. Perhaps this is due to their super-human ability to overcome difficulty, or maybe they have simply been very blessed. Nevertheless, eventually, but inevitably, life will catch up in some way or another, and throw in one or two presents to remind us of what it is all about.

There are small challenges and big challenges, but in essence, the only thing defining what is small and what is big is our perception, and that is based on what we have experienced in life to-date, first and second hand.

Theory Number 1: What you hear can and will affect you, if you let it.
When working with hardship, what other people say, including, friends, doctors, employers, and enemies alike, will change your perception about the challenge you are faced with, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes a kind word or suggestions may make what you are dealing with seem easier, or give you false hope. Other times we are met with unskilled communicators that leave a negative remark in vulnerable hands. In sanskrit, there is a term viveka, meaning discrimination. It is best to use this discrimination to filter out what side comments are useful, and which to simply let go of. At the end of the day, all these remarks should be handled with a grain of salt, or vairagyam, dispassion. No attachment, no re-play button on the message recorder. It may sound easier than it is, but truly, if you are holding on to something that is only increasing the challenge,  it is using up energy stores that you may need to get through the challenge ahead. Only you have the power to create a filter of what you let in to your world vision. Choose the helpful bits without getting too attached to them, and let the rest go.

Learn also, to discriminate fact from fiction, and stick with fact (and a pinch of dispassion). Even when a ‘fact’ is coming from a doctor or an employer, they are also doing the best they can to use their viveka and buddhi, sanskrit for intelligence, to communicate their best estimate or guess given the knowledge they have at the time. It doesn’t make it true, only true in their experience, which proves very important as they need something on which to base their work. An element of trust is involved, which is why it is so important to involve yourself in relationships based on reverence and trust.

Theory Number 2: The fear factor. Even fear is preferred to the unknown.
As a culture, we thrive on fear. In times of challenge and hardship, the mind craves a storyline that it can evolve and embellish; any hardship is nestled in a good strong dose of fear. It doesn’t take much looking around in the media to see that we gravitate to stories based on worst case scenarios, and celebrate those that overcome great risk, even when it ends in tragedy. The question is, if we didn’t have fear, how much sweeter would life be, and how much less painful would it feel when moving through our own cliff-hanger moments?

How do we manage fear? I can only say from my own experiences, having meaningful things to do goes a long way in sating the mind Whether it is taking up an instrument, caring for a friend, cooking, finding a good boxed set, or diving into work that you are passionate about, dwelling in fear speculation for too long is unhealthy. Am I recommending escaping the challenge rather than dealing with it? Yes, at least in small measures, I am. Making time to escape and finding small pleasures will help to renew energy stores you may need to face the challenge head on in those times when you can actually make decisions that make a difference. The moments in the evening or during slow points in the day when we tend to bury ourselves in fear and worry are not those moments.

The perception of the challenge at hand is only as large as the fear that is feeding it. A wise Buddhist master once said (and I paraphrase) ‘fear and hope are our two biggest mental obstacles. Fear leads to worry. Worry never solved anything. Why worry? If you have a problem, you can fix it instead of worry. If you have a problem and you can’t fix it? Don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway, just don’t hope it goes away. Hope? Hope leads to let down. Make hope a belief, then it will happen. Hope without belief is fear in disguise.’

Theory Number 3: Enjoy this one while you’ve got it. There will always be another.
It is widely understood that being in a time of difficulty leads one to want to be anywhere other than there at that moment. Learning to stay when times get tough is an important lesson. One challenge begets another, and while the size, form and circumstance may be different, when we learn to stay, the misconceptions and tethers of tension and adversary tend to fade away and we can see the situation more objectively. Life is a rich and diverse landscape, and the more we can accept there will be patches of rocky cliff line that tumble and open onto a soft, grass-feathered plain, the more we might be able to accept all of it in good measure. The preparation for the journey comes with discernment and intelligence, not fear and worry, about what lies ahead.

Theory Number 4: Get out of the mind and into the body.
Even when the mind is full and rife with worry, the body is available. The body is an enormous resource that we largely take for granted as a vehicle there to serve us, only to get from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, getting from point A to point B can be important, however, the body has an extraordinary ability to settle and to clear the mind. Taking even ten minutes a day to come back to the breath, to lie on the floor and link some simple movements to the inhale and exhale will bring great satisfaction and clarity. Moving the body with the breath gives the mind a focus that is not on the hardship at hand, and can be done in a way that is accessible to every body, whatever the limitations may be. The key here is to make each movement meaningful so that you are not just going through the ‘motions’ but you are really inquiring to how it feels to be in the body, what is happening when you move, even a finger? Undoubtedly you will find that you don’t just move the finger, but you might relate this particular movement up the arm, into the shoulder, the jaw, and so on. The body is an interrelated organism just as we are interconnected with all of life. These movements have the potential to unlock tension from within the body and bring about a new perspective to the mind. A mental shift is all it takes to make magic.

Footprints


IMG_0121-0.JPGFrom an early age, well before we are born into our physical body, each of us begins making our mark in the world, our imprint. As we develop, we find our feet and intuitively understand the sensation of movement, and also our relationship with gravity. We learn to fall, and to get up. Sometimes it is easy to regain our balance after a stumble; sometimes it is more challenging. This pattern of falling down and picking ourselves back up remains a thread in the tapestry throughout our physical and also our emotional lives.

Over time, our brain evolves and involves us in numerous and increasingly complex concepts and activities, and falling down and getting up become almost as automatic as a reflex. Most of the time we don’t think about it, unless there is a particular instance that is cause to slow down, evaluate and even change how we approach being in our body, or being in our life.

When we take a tumble, either physically or emotionally, it can sometimes be painful, even traumatic. It can also be seen as a wonderful opportunity to titrate past experiences, to break habit patterns that may not be serving us, and to re-establish a simple, steady foundation and to affirm the path beneath our feet.

The path is important, because beyond the up and downs of our lives, there is also the potential to traverse and transform. The process of bridging, whether it be connecting two physical places or two seemingly disparate moments in our lives, is an powerful aspect of integrating our life’s story. After all, being truly present in a moment, stabile and grounded yet alert and up-lifted, includes not only how we stay in the moment, but also how we span; how we journey through hardship and joy to incorporate an expansive landscape of life as one rich experience.

In today’s world where the motto of moving ‘onwards and upwards’ is celebrated as a mark of success, all too often the obsession with making, meeting and surpassing goals overtakes the importance of simply staying still and finding the joy and the beauty in the sameness, in the quiet of a forest or in the journey we have taken. Reflecting on the past enables us to acknowledge where we have come from and informs where we are now; it can also provide guidance to where we may be headed.

Recently, I have travelled back to a place important to me; a place rich with family history, and a place where I grew up. It had been a few years since my last visit, and during that time I went through a period of life threatening illness resulting in a successful liver transplantation. While I had been excited to return to family and friends, I had no idea how emotional and reflective it would be to be back in a location imbued with such meaning, in the presence of beings whom I love so dearly. At every sign post memories emerged, and I was forced to dive deep into the reflection of who I was from an early age, to who I have become today. The result has felt like both heartbreak and celebration. I have observed past footprints dissolving into deep waters while standing in my present reality, and have given pause to allow a path to unfold for my future.

Like the oceanic tides, we must fall to rise again. All of us will eventually but inevitably witness the passage of time and the transience of all of life. May each of us learn to appreciate each and every moment, for these are the imprints we leave across the diverse landscape of our lives that makes each of us unique and complete.

Raw Fairies: The Story behind the Mini B Cleanse


10291694_10152074708161791_2897529945003820036_nRead the Raw Fairies full review
I’ve got to be honest. As a general rule, I don’t subscribe to detoxes or cleanses, having experimented with many ways of cleansing the body from the inside out, both naturopathic, and prescribed. When I was younger, I enjoyed the challenge, the observation of the mental shifts and changes, and the body’s ability to adapt and transform. I still am fascinated with the ladder two aspects, which is why, perhaps, I’ve stuck with this week’s ‘accidental’ cleanse.

It all started with my increasing frustration and impatience in getting to know my new body since my liver transplant. The liver is an amazing and important organ that performs over 500 daily functions, and is the master of digestion. Having spent my entire life with a digestive disease, by the time I was 40 I had gotten used to the feeling of being bloated, being asked regularly if I was ‘expecting’, and the daily shifts of clothes being a size too big or a size too small. When I went into liver failure, however, my digestive system shut down and nothing worked anymore. Effectively, my body went into starvation mode. Because of my friend Rhian Stephenson, I started juicing and using supplements to keep my weight up, and I believe it was this that enabled me to continue to function in the world, and to continue practicing and teaching yoga. At the same time, I cut gluten from my diet and was doing the best I could to maintain and ethical diet, despite my doctor’s insistence on eating meat.

After the transplant, the first weeks were spent chewing on ice and vomiting. Anything put in my mouth was too dry to eat (I had to literally remove the uneaten food by hand, there was just no saliva to help start the digestion process), and anything that went into my stomach was forced out very quickly due to the medications. Needless to say, I lost a lot of weight in those first weeks, even having gained 15 kilos of water weight overnight after the surgery. My body was like a sponge, spewing out water from its pours but not able to ingest any nutrition.

After three or four weeks, I started on Soyade Blueberry Yogurt. It saved my life. Despite my mother’s efforts to stuff me with anything she could, it was actually the Soyade and Elderflower water taken in copious amounts that slowly brought me back. From then on it was daily deliveries from the local Thai and Italian restaurants (many thanks to Ellen Walsh Moorman and Emma Henry who were both delivery girls and mealtime companions) that gave me the strength to get up out of bed and start walking the stairs everyday, and throughout the night.

By the time December came (three months after the transplant), I was back at home, practicing yoga, and even teaching a few classes. In January, I was back to teaching and practicing. Ambitious and perhaps premature, but this is the way it went.

Slowly I was transitioning from being underweight on a diet of white bread, peanut butter Kit Kats-anything I could stomach, to my old diet of juicing, blending and eating a primarily plant based diet. Every week in clinic, I weighed in and was given accolades for each kilo gained. It was too easy.

By March I had made a full transition, and was feeling, once again, that my weight was out of my control as I continued to watch the scales climb. I was eating a plant-based diet, juicing every morning and afternoon, and practicing yoga, yet my body continued to morph into its new shape. While my primary concern is to be healthy, which in the western world of medicine is gaged by bloodwork, blood pressure and weight, in all honestly, I began to feel a bit hopeless.

I enlisted my friend Jaro to help me by coming around once a week for personal training. I had tried going running a few times, but realized my liver and the stent inside my body still felt a bit raw when shaken up. With Jaro’s help, we are now getting my cardiovascular system and muscle memory in some kind of order, and it feels very good to use my body in a different way. Long gone are the days when I ran marathons, but I envision a day when I might participate in the transplant olympics, and even encourage them to bring yoga to the games, not as a competition, but as an exhibition. It gives me inspiration to run, skip and do press ups on the bench.

Nonetheless, my weight has stayed the same, and my clothes still don’t fit. I began to wonder if I would do a week of raw, vegan food controlled in portions, I would feel better in my body. Perhaps there would be a discovery in the portions of the meals or the combinations of foods within a given day.

Finally, I come to the part about Raw Fairies. A friend had mentioned to me she used this service from time to time to get back on track when she felt she’d been eating the wrong things or too much, and I decided to give myself a little treat by taking the guess work out of my meals for a week. I went to their website and found it a little complicated, but signed up for a week of food deliveries.

10384460_10152070253516791_7187113262191912401_nOn Monday, the doorbell rang at 7:30am and a kind man handed me a bag. I took it inside, and was pleasantly surprised with an array of juices, smoothies and salads. Even though I had hesitated in choosing the cleanse, I made the decision that morning to take it seriously and to follow the cleanse to the best of my ability.

I’m on day four, and while exhausted and achy, I am surviving. I have had a flew blips, indulging in coconut water on day two, and on day three treating myself to a few raw vegan tacos at Triyoga, but then, I have been teaching yoga classes and Rolfing people all week. I think on a cleanse one generally takes it easy, and I felt if I didn’t give myself a bit more to eat, it would both be unhealthy and unwise. Afterall, it wasn’t my intention to do a cleanse, but to see how much a normal, healthy portion is, and in what combinations the food are prepared and presented so that I might incorporate it into a sustainable daily diet. It was my hope that this in turn, would help me to come to terms with my new metabolism, which currently still seems like a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, it has been a very interesting psychological process so far, which I will go into more in my full review of Raw Fairies. One more day on the cleanse, but a lifetime of exploration and discovery.

Integration: Post Transplant Life Eight Months On


It’s hard to believe it has been eight months since my life changing operation; on September 26, 2013 I was given a second chance at life after receiving a liver transplant. Every day I thank God to have another day on this planet to explore, to grow and to provoke positive change in myself and others.

In a sense, the journey post-transplant has been the most challenging, but also perhaps the most interesting. While organ transplant in itself is a miracle that relies on the most cutting edge technology and highest standards of healthcare, in some ways, the healing has felt like a rather crude process. No one at the hospital mentioned the word ‘trauma‘ or the ramifications of putting the body and mind through such an invasive surgery, not to mention the time spent in hospital in some extreme situations with its repeated invasive procedures. It isn’t until the body recovers and is back at home that the mind can begin to process what has transpired, understand the transition in relationships, and move on to being in the present without fearing the future or fixating on the past.

At first, I was eager to escape as quickly as I could back to my old life, as if nothing had changed. Luckily, I quickly realized this was not sustainable, and as sadness, frustration and confusion set in after a month or two of being out of hospital, I could not understand why I wasn’t feeling grateful and positive every morning just to wake up alive?

Several months have passed since this time of deep sadness. It was a time of guilt over what I put my loved ones through, guilt for not feeling wonderful to simply be alive. These days I am working on arriving at a place of acceptance. I have accepted that I did the best I could for my son given the circumstances, and I am actively listening to my own needs and to the needs of those around me, working to find a balance in my life. I have a new internal system that is working out its kinks, but it takes time. I am learning to live with a partial numbness in my torso under the remaining scar, and learning to let go of controlling my changing metabolism without holding judgments against my body.*

I’m exploring how to be in the world and with myself, as a human being rather than a human doing. How can I integrate my roles as a mother, wife, yogi and Rolfer, etc? Every day is a challenge and a joy.

We all are living with various containers: time, our bodies, our mental constructs. The more we can understand the nature of these containers, the more we can simplify and break down the divisions of the mind that no longer serve us. We can differentiate content versus container; we can clarify structure versus function; we can challenge what is fixed and what is changing. The more we can separate, the more we can integrate. When we integrate, we find unity in ourself, in others, in the world. Sounds well worth the journey to me.

*Only last week I learned from my doctor that every transplant patient gains weight. Apparently when one is in liver failure the body starves itself and as a survival mechanism after this experience the body clings to every calorie it can. This, in addition to my 67 year old liver means that my digestive process is wise, if not a little slow. Stay tuned for my upcoming week with Raw Fairies, a raw, vegan delivery service. I’ve been doing pretty well to eat healthfully on my own, but decided to give myself a gift and a little kick…It starts tomorrow!

Samskaras and Untangling Trauma


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Trauma. It is a loaded word that like everything, manifests in many different ways and for different reasons. Who knows why some people are traumatized by some things and others go unscathed? Psychotherapists such as Freud and Jung believed this has to do with the stable base that you did or didn’t have between pre-birth and aged five. Yogis believe it has to do with karma, that what you have put out into the world in past lives and this life comes back to you, eventually but inevitably. Of course, for most of us life seems more complicated than that, and past lives are not something that register routinely in the memory bank.

Whether it was an early experience, or something more recent that brings up a phantom of the past, no one tells you what the repercussions of trauma may be, and what is more, it is difficult to know what the triggers might be of any one given experience. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”, and it is safe to assume that the most of us have had one or two a few of those.

In yoga philosophy, there is a term called samskaras, which mean impressions, or grooves, that are left in the subconscious mind. It is as if our mind were a record, and the grooves, or samskaras determine what tune we will play. The samskaras colour our nature and how we act and react in the world.

In a way, we might consider that fascia in the body is a little bit like literal samskaras. Stressful experiences that we have can be stored in the fascia and create tensions and knots which impact how we inhabit our body, how we move, and even how we think and react. When we start to heat the tissue through movements such as yoga, or receiving bodywork like Rolfing, areas of the body that have been deeply held closed for any period of time begin to open, and the original experiences can present in any number of ways, including as anger, anxiety, fear, or grief.

Last year I underwent a rather massive surgery in the form of a liver transplant, and while I was not told I would be left traumatized, the eight weeks spent in the hospital post-operatively were riddled with the potential ‘distressing experiences’, not to mention the few years prior to the transplant in and out of the hospital. The human body is clever, and knows when to cloak and hold on to something for something for survival purposes, and when it is safe to unveil itself so healing can begin. I was in a yoga class the other day when at the beginning of class we were told to make an action with the arms that deeply affected an area that had been the centre of physical trauma during my hospital stay. Within five minutes into the class, I was reduced to a bucket of tears. Given my 56-day stay in the hospital with ongoing cannulation and daily blood tests, I already had an awareness of the tension and tightness in my forearms and have been having various sorts of alternative therapies to address it. Nevertheless, I was surprised at my sudden outburst (and a little embarrassed). It’s like my father used to say, ‘you never know what is going to have an impact on someone, you might say the sky is blue today and that just might be their trigger.’ Years later, I finally really get what he was trying to say.

Given that most of us have experienced some distressing or disturbing experience in life, how can we move through our day causing the least impact on those around us in a sensitive space? Here are a few suggestions:

-Never assume you know what someone else is experiencing. Even when we know a little bit about the circumstance, we never really know.

-Listen more, talk less. Trauma can feel chaotic and overwhelming. Give your friend space to speak, or not. Holding a space is about being present and compassionate with all there is.

-Don’t try to solve the problem or fix your friend. Empathize, instead of sympathize.

I was very fortunate to be in the class with a teacher who knew me and who said exactly the right thing. She told me she didn’t want me to be in any pain, and I should go do something nice for myself. Wise words, Helen Sylianou. Thank you.

A last note. Bodywork can be an amazing source for unleashing emotions and experiences that have been long held in the body and mind, that, when untreated can even lead to chronic pain or worse, disease. For those who have suffered deeply traumatic experiences, I recommend craniosacral therapy as a first stop. Noninvasive and gentle, craniosacral therapy aims to relax the body and fascial tissue into a state where it can begin to unwind itself, at the same time bringing balance and calm to the whole system. Once the body is ready, Rolfing is a more direct intervention into the tissue that can change the whole structure rather dramatically, but can be a more physically intense experience. These are the two methods that have has the most profound and transformative affect on me, and coincidentally, they are also now my two methods of practice.

 

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