by Nathalie Edmond, PsyD, E-RYT
I had just submitted the written requirements for my 300 hour advanced yoga teacher training and was preparing for the oral component which is to teach a class to 22 yoga teachers that I had spent a lot of time with over the last 15 months when I noticed all the sensations of anxiety. I felt the tension in the body and the mind that kept exploring different sequences, music options, variations of a theme. Even though I was an experienced yoga teacher, having taught over 1000 hours I couldn’t escape the anxiety. I was also struggling with a cold all week which was making me more vulnerable to emotions. This anxiety lasted for almost a week. It varied in intensity and frequency but definitely increased the closer I go to Friday evening when I would teach my class. I had volunteered to go second so didn’t even have the benefit of seeing many of my cohort go first. I knew that it was probably better for me to be one of the firsts to go than sit with those feelings for another week.
During this week of low to moderate level anxiety I found myself using mindfulness to tune in and befriend. I accepted that I wasn’t likely to rid of myself of the anxiety before I taught and I could use strategies to not feel hijacked by my nervous system. I was in stress response. My life wasn't in danger and yet my nervous system was recognizing that teaching this class was important to me. I wanted to pass. I wanted my passion for the fusion of yoga and psychology to come through to people I respected and admired. I had traveled to Philadelphia one weekend a month for more than a year and fulfilled all the other requirements. I was 485 hours into achieving my E-RYT-500 status. It mattered. I was in a sympathetic response which mobilizes people into action. Typically in a sympathetic response we move into fight or flight. We want to do something to deal with our stress. As long as I can stay awake to the experience and keep my frontal lobes online to communicate with my amygdala (my alarm system that notices danger) I can use the energy of stress response to my advantage.
Think of a bell curve. Too little energy or anxiety and there isn’t much drive to motivate you into action. Too much energy or anxiety and the mind can tend to shut down because you are on overload. I want to be somewhere in between in the sweet spot where I can channel the energy into productivity.
Staying awake to the experience can be challenging. That’s where my daily meditation practice is so key. I can tune in to my internal experience. SIFT through what is happening inside and outside. Sensations, Images, Feelings and Thoughts. Just observe from a place of curiosity and nonjudgment. Come back to the breath. Relax into the reality of the moment. Come back to the breath. Accept rather than resist. Come back to the breath. Check the facts. Come back to the breath. Reassure myself if needed. Come back to the breath.
I remind myself of what is true- I know what I am doing and whatever I teach is an offering. It says something about me at this moment of time and doesn’t define who I am. I am good enough just as I am and this experience matters to me. I want to be viewed in a positive light. In a couple of months this will be a distant memory. All the time I spent this past week imagining the sequence and planning was an act of love. What would happen if we thought of everything as an offering- a gift to the world? What if our to do lists and our worrying are acts of love and a desire to make the world a better place? How do we not get caught up in the worry to the point where it leads to paralysis or unhealthy avoidance?
There is a path to liberation. My theme for my class was about integrating the masculine and feminine energy within all of us, the left and right sides of our brain and helping us all get free by finding freedom in our practice and connecting with one another. The class went well. It was great to go second because the first class helped me drop into my body after a week of not being able to exercise because I was sick which is such a great stress management tool for me. The class I taught wasn’t perfect but it was beautiful and a true offering of who I am at this moment which is always perfect because I cannot be any other way. As soon as I taught the class my nervous system went back to steady state. Thank you nervous system for being there for me.
Want to learn more about befriending your nervous system and including more meditation in your life.
Check out my upcoming meditation classes as well as yoga for depression and anxiety series at mmcounselingcenter.com
May you have a nourishing holiday season.
You’re home with your baby, you find yourself in a quiet moment, so utterly grateful for this time to be drinking up the sweetness of your littlest one, and on the other hand, desperate and tearful, longing to return to any semblance of normalcy that was your life before birth. Does this resonate?
The duality of the postpartum period is one that all women experience to some degree or another. How is it that a time of such infinite joy and blessing, can also be so heavy with difficulty and confusion? It’s easy to feel lost in between such disparate emotions. Often, women try to tether themselves by attaching to the routines and ways of being before becoming parents, only to realize that we no longer fit that version of ourselves in quite the same way.
Postpartum, meaning “after birth” is conventionally defined by the first 6 weeks during which a woman’s body is said to need in order to heal back to a pre-pregnancy state. This definition is extremely limiting and narrow, further putting women in a state of physical and emotional suffering, by holding them to such a finite expectation. This very western medical model of birth and postpartum does not consider that every woman’s body and healing process is different, and in reality, postpartum takes much longer.
Crossing the momentous threshold into parenthood is not a process that can be squeezed into 6 weeks. Mothers (and fathers too, of course) experience a great deal of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual change and growth. Too often, new parents are expected to quickly return to work (or not stop at all) and feel a great deal of pressure to “get it together” and continue moving at the same pace as before baby. This takes a toll on the healing process. It can prolong women’s physical recovery, create emotional imbalance and exacerbate stress in relation to parent child bonding, support, finances and child care.
Under the weight of this strain, mothers are constantly reminded to “enjoy every moment” of this profoundly joyous time. Caught between these two worlds, sleep deprived and craving grounding and stability, it’s no wonder that they need a circle of support.
Mothers need a safe and comfortable space to feel heard, validated and supported. The dramatic transition into motherhood, whether or not this is the first child, is a vulnerable time in which women feel a deep fragility and fierceness. When vulnerability is met with intimacy and care it can be held safely and compassionately, which is how they can begin to mother themselves. Grounded in the truths that there too is loss in birth, that joy can be found in pain, and healing, wholeness and happiness is not a singular process, mothers can learn to straddle these dualities with grace. The birth of a mother is remarkable and undoubtedly a time to be celebrated and honored.
Join our Mother’s Circle, a postpartum therapy group, Thursday mornings from 9:30-10:45 starting in mid January with Emily Suzuki at Mindful and Multicultural Counseling in Ewing, NJ.
Contact us via email email@example.com or call 609-403-6359
by Dr. Anna Braverman
My work with young people – people in the “climbing” stage of their lives, has crystallized for me a phenomenon that I think exists everywhere in our society – the misuse of suffering as a marker for effort, success, worthiness, etc.
Let me explain what I mean:
Think of a role you play in your life that matters a lot to you. It might be your role of a parent, a student, a practitioner of your profession, a citizen, a friend, an artist – these are just a few (and we all play multiple roles in our lives). Now, in each of these areas there are some markers of success that are easily quantifiable. For instance, if you think back to a time in your life when you were a student (e.g. in school) you will probably recall that grades are one such quantifiable marker of success – it may not be easy to get an A, but it is quite easy to define what an A is and you can easily know whether you got it or not. It is also easy to quantify how much time, in hours and minutes, you are spending with your child/spouse/friend etc. For that matter, it is easy to quantify how much gross time you spend doing anything (stay in the office, for example).
The challenge is that some of these quantifiable markers of success are not necessarily the most meaningful, important or personally relevant. Grades are a compellingly simple reward system, but their relevance fades once we leave academic settings, or advance in them beyond the undergraduate level. Time spent is also simple, but if you think about it, it is a very crude measure of actual effort and even less good as a predictor of the value of someone’s contribution to any cause.
One thing that tends to be true of most people is that they struggle with ambiguity and tend to be driven to reduce anxiety-provoking doubt. Therefore, people on average, no matter how fervently they proclaim that they do not like to be formally evaluated (e.g., tested), tend to struggle with tasks that offer no built-in way to evaluate success or progress. And what do people do when an obvious way to measure progress does not exist? They try to create a way.
Unfortunately, it seems that there is a process in our society (and perhaps it is not unique to our culture – that may be a topic for another blog) that compels people to view suffering as an acceptable way to measure success. This makes a lot of sense. After all, what really does it mean to spend QUALITY time with a child? That is a deeply philosophical question that requires deep reflection on what kind of person that child is, what kind of person you are, what each of your skill sets are, what both you and this child are most in need of in this particular moment in time, what your general goals for parenting are, what kind of adult you want this child to become, how long the child’s attention span is, and much, much more. Suppose that a deep reflection on all of these questions leads you to believe that this child would benefit most from seeing you take care of yourself so that they feel that they are allowed to take care of themselves too. What if quality time for this particular child right now means seeing you give yourself a manicure? But can you be sure that this is true? Can you be sure that this conclusion was not driven by your selfish desire to have a manicure?
The truth is, that we can have a pretty strong hunch, but we can never be 100% sure that we are succeeding, because almost everything in life that is meaningful (like raising children, building a career, being creative) is also complicated. But somehow, there seems to be a process in people’s minds that says that if they have suffered or made sacrifices while doing something it is more likely to be the right thing to do than if they enjoyed it. Therefore, people seem to be more likely to conclude that if they give up their date night to spend an evening with their child (whose only desire that night may be to chat with a friend), that is more likely to make them feel like better parents than giving themselves a manicure.
Even the way we talk reflects this bias. For instance, it is not very common (probably because it is not always viewed as socially acceptable) to openly compliment oneself on how WELL one has done something. However, it is perfectly acceptable to imply that one has worked on something more hours (and slept fewer hours) than anyone else at the office. It is not socially acceptable to praise oneself as a parent, but it is acceptable to expound on all the sacrifices one has made for one’s child and the suffering one has accrued while making said sacrifices.
I wish there were an easy way to get out of this pattern of thinking, but there may not be. After all, using suffering as a proxy is a shortcut, and people create shortcuts for a reason – because the alternative road may be long or complicated. The alternative to using this shortcut, in my opinion, is to reflect deeply on one’s values and goals, and to be mindful of what one truly wants to see as an outcome of a particular action or activity. This may require a good measure of honesty with oneself and general self-awareness. However, the benefits are considerable. Imagine what it would be like to give yourself permission to leave work on time, to take the weekend off without guilt, to invite a babysitter on a night you really need to recharge, to accept help from a loved one, etc.
I encourage all of us (myself included) to reflect on the moments of suffering in our lives and try to be mindful of which ones are driven by the inevitable pain of being human, which we cannot avoid (e.g. by painful life events), and which ones are instances of needless suffering driven by the desire to quantify success/progress in areas of our lives that may be inherently not quantifiable. This might be a necessary first step to suffering a little less.
Reflections on living a life of choices, as opposed to a life of forced moves
written by Dr. Anna Braverman
One of the cornerstones of mindful living is living a life where we make conscious choices and then take responsibility for the choices we have made. The opposite of this is a type of existence where we let life happen to us and experience our life circumstances as inevitable. Often this kind of living leads to feeling trapped in some way.
Learning to open up to the possibility that we have choices when it comes to the big picture circumstances of our life (like our relationships, work, health, etc.) can be a lifelong process and often becomes an important theme in therapy. But what about what seemingly is the minutia of our lives? What about the myriad daily tasks we perform, the small promises we make, the emails we send, the tiny insidious turns of phrase that roll off our tongue multiple times a day? I have been reflecting on the fact that we often don’t treat these small occurrences as real actions, and therefore often do not treat them as worthy of mindful consideration. However, I have come to reflect that these small habits, despite, and maybe even because, they are so small and so easily able to fly under the radar, have the power to train our brains to turn in a certain direction – to view the world through a certain lens. In particular, I have been reflecting on how our mundane choice have the power to turn us toward, or away from, a stance of active choosing in our lives.
All of this sounds a bit abstract, so let me illustrate:
Let’s use the example of a simple email. Suppose you have been asked to join some optional activity at work and you are crafting a reply to indicate that you will not be attending. Now think of the first opening phrase that pops in your mind. For many people, the go-to opening sentence would sound something like this:
“Thank you very much for your invitation. I would love to attend your event, but unfortunately I am unable to attend….”
This is a great way to reply to an email – if it were true. However, hidden in this sentence is a message that you have NO CHOICE but to skip the event, that you are SORRY about that, and that if you COULD attend, you certainly WOULD. In other words, that you are a victim of circumstances that are keeping you from what you want to do. However, what if the actual truth, if you allowed yourself a moment of honest reflection, is that you have no interest in that event, that you would rather not take time to attend it, and that if you really wanted to be there you would have been able to swing it – you simply are choosing not to.
Now, one might ask, “So what? What would be the harm in writing a polite email and making someone else feel good? It’s only a small, innocuous white lie – everybody does it!”
That may be true. But I have been reflecting that the danger of getting used to communicating like this is that the first one to get this message is our own brain. The person getting the email will soon forget all about it, but our own brain, through constant repetition, becomes imprinted with the idea that there is no such thing as WILL NOT – there is only CAN NOT. Put simply – if you become subconsciously convinced that the only way to bow out of a lunch meeting is by having a massive headache, your body can certainly deliver one for you.
In my own life, I have been practicing using more honest and choice-based communications, that are still perfectly polite. For example:
Other situations where this becomes relevant include: