The death of my Uncle and the subsequent grieving process for my parents and the whole family has hit me hard. I have bipolar disorder and at the moment the shock and grief has manifested with anger at the world and extreme irritation at others (apologies if you have been been in the firing line!). So, I have come up with 3 techniques for instant calm:
- Time Out – I tried to keep working through the coma, the death, the wake and the funeral and I kept getting angrier and angrier that my clients did not recognize the sacrifice I was making on their behalf. As a self-employed trainer I also had some long-standing commitments that only I could fulfill and this was even harder than keeping my regularly scheduled classes going. So, this morning I decided to take some time out. I am attending training in Manchester this weekend, then visiting Glasgow for a friend’s wedding next Tuesday so I have cancelled my classes for the week. As it is half-term, everyone is getting a break from the classes for a week and I am getting some essential “me time.” I plan to do a little bit of soul-searching while I’m away so that I can come back to classes feeling refreshed and revitalized and ready for the weeks to come. I recommend that everyone take the opportunity for some time out when and where they can get it!
- Deep Breath – My Uncle died of lung cancer and this irony was not lost on me this week when I asked my clients to breathe deeply or took a deep breath myself. In fact, since last week, every time I take a conscious deep breath I thank the gods that my lungs are able to do this. Max Strom says that grief is stored in the lungs so I believe that breathing deeply and consciously will allow this grief to release which it has been doing through tears. I will continue to breathe deeply and let the tears flow until the pain of his death becomes less harsh and instead the joy of knowing him becomes part of me. I recommend that everyone take a moment to breathe deeply and feel the nervous system calming instantly.
- Dog Stretch – My all time, hands-down (!) favourite yoga posture! This has been my go-to pose for a long time as it stretches the whole body whilst simultaneously calming the nervous system. It is energising and relieves fatigue which is happening to me because of being so busy and yet not able to sleep well. I recommend everyone try downward facing dog wherever they are. If you cannot take your hands to the floor you can place them on the wall or a bench and take a puppy stretch instead.
Please try out these 3 techniques and let me know in the comments if they helped you. And, if you have any other suggestions for dealing with grief I’d love to hear them!
Most people know that wartime saying ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ and some people I know (I’m thinking of you Ruth!) even have it up on their wall at home as a constant reminder to keep calm in the chaos of modern life. We no longer have the threat of invasion by warring factions to worry us but that doesn’t mean we’re not still stressed. In fact, our cortisol levels (hormone produced by our adrenal glands in response to stress) are higher than ever! Now, small increases of cortisol have some positive effects:
- A quick burst of energy for survival reasons
- Heightened memory functions
- A burst of increased immunity
- Lower sensitivity to pain
- Helps maintain homeostasis in the body
While cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important that the body’s relaxation response becomes activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress.
To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place. The following have been found by many to be very helpful in relaxing the body and mind, aiding the body in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
- Guided Imagery
- Breathing Exercises
I intend to discuss these 7 techniques in more detail during the following week, because I have used them ALL at some time, and want to share what I found. In the meantime I will leave you with the reason why I am doing this series of relaxation techniques:
After another late night working on my new Pilates Instructor Training manual I put my laptop down after 1am and turned my bedroom light off at 2.05am only to wake up, in a complete cold-sweat panic, at 6.15am! I just had so much cortisol running through my system that I couldn’t settle back down to sleep and instead I lay there churning over old conversations and thinking “I should’ve said this” or “I should’ve done that” and getting myself into a right old pickle! So, still feeling very physically tired, I read a couple of chapters of an inane romantic novel to try and lull me back to sleep. But, to no avail. I got up at 9am and have spent the whole day wondering around like a zombie and knowing that I have to be on ‘top-form’ tonight for my Pilates and yoga classes in Edenmore which is causing the stress levels to rise again and the whole pattern to repeat itself…
So, I’m signing off to do a quick restorative yoga practice just for me which will hopefully get the hormones back under control! Either that or I’ll start crying. And I can’t do that to my wonderful students. So, I’ll just ‘Keep Calm and Carry OM’ instead.
I was reading a blog post from eminent yogis and meditators Ed & Deb Shapiro where they say: “Yoga is not just about standing on our head or bending in all sorts of contorted positions. It is the uniting of body, mind, and spirit, encouraging a full experience of the intricate relationship between them and how to bring this relationship into balance. Ultimately, yoga is about self-realization, true freedom, where the individual self merges into the universal self.”
I just had to share this because I really think that we have forgotten the real meaning of yoga in our quest to get better at the physical elements of it. All week I have been teaching a challenging twisted forward bend – Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana – or revolved head to knee pose which was difficult for many of my students. (Have a look at the picture, courtesy of Yoga Journal, and you’ll be able to see why!) This seated forward bend also requires an intense lateral flexion of the spine and a rotation of the spine at the same time. The final posture has the back of the head on the outstretched leg with the torso opening up to the sky as much as possible.
I know it looks impossible and some people want to give up before they attempt it. But, in order to reach that final pose you need to trust and know that if you move slowly, deliberately, with breath and awareness, you will get there in the end. You won’t get there after seeing it once and then forcing your body into submission. (But then that wouldn’t be yoga anyway). I think that a physically and mentally challenging pose like this should be practiced with mindfulness, bringing your complete awareness to your body and breath in order to prevent injury.
For me, the REAL meaning of yoga is to practice the physical postures in order to move beyond the body and even past the mind, into the realm of true ‘union’ with yourself and the divine, or as Ed & Deb say; “where the individual self merges into the universal self.” The only way to do this, in my opinion, is to ensure that your physical practice is led by your breath. And I’ll leave the final words with Ed & Deb: “The breath is the entry point to the body, so watching the flow of the breath brings our attention inward, enabling external distractions to drop away. It focuses our attention and deepens awareness as we do each yoga posture, creating a meditation in action. All we have to do is follow each breath as it enters and leaves, bringing the breath, mind and body together”.
As you may have already read, my Mum fell over coming out of the airport on Sunday. Well, today she had to go back to Casualty to have her cast removed and another x-ray to check she hadn’t broken her finger. Unfortunately, it seems that EVERYONE in Craigavon with a broken limb was also in the hospital! This meant we had a long wait in a corridor with Mum sitting on a spare wheelchair because there were no chairs left. Finally, her x-ray was completed and we faced another wait while they found Mum’s Doctor (AKA Dougie Howser MD).
Really finally, she was given permission to leave and so I paid the car park ticket and we went outside. However, as we were leaving the car park, I was too far away from the ticket machine and so (after checking my mirrors, I swear) I reversed back … only to reverse into the sweariest person I’ve ever met! After a few words (hers are NOT repeatable) I left Craigavon Area Hospital a full 3 hours after I’d arrived AND in a much worse state of mind!
So, I have really needed my yoga today. Especially some great pranayama or breathing techniques. The first I tried was ‘Shitali breath’ and to do this you simply curl the sides of your tongue up to create a tunnel and slowly breathe in through the mouth, allowing the air to pass over your tongue, creating a cooling sensation in the mouth/head/mind . After you inhale, you bring your tongue in, close your mouth and exhale through your nose. You repeat this about 6 to 12 times or until you start to feel as if you are cooling down physically AND mentally.
Another excellent pranayama for anger is the ‘Lion’s breath’ and to do this you inhale through the nose then exhale out the mouth and stick out your tongue, making a loud “ha” sound. Repeat 2 to 3 times. This allows your breathing to become deeper and help release physical tension in the lungs and chest.
Try them. Perhaps they will be a better option than just swearing your head off when some daft girl reverses into you!