My kids have experienced Trauma. Capital T. (Surprised?) I removed myself from the situation 1.5 years ago, but they continue to be exposed. While they both show the signs, it is my son who is particularly noticeable. No, my children are not rude or misbehaving, they are just dealing with too much to be polite to you. They have a deep distrust.
This scenario is more common than you know, and its effects are more detrimental than you want to hear.
It's true. And it happens. To people like me and you. This is not just the uneducated, the "lower classes" (god I hate that concept) the poor. It's in the high conflict homes, everywhere.
Hurt people hurt people. Period.
So why am I posting this picture?
Because my son's childhood was taken from him.Not by war or death or rape. It was taken even though we had that ideal nuclear family. (And I accept fault as well even as I may seem to accuse.) Because his playfulness disappeared.
But the miracle of children is that they can still heal.
Step by hesitant step, his playfulness is returning. It still must be tempered, the fine edge between playful and the disrespect that he has learned, from modeling, and as survival and perhaps cowardice.
But when he plays, when I see him as a 7 year old, I am happy. His childhood isn't lost. It exists in drawings of superheroes. In silly jokes. And in fantastical comments that he'd like to marry Annie, his nana's dog. In these childlike fantasies, I know my child is still there. I just need to keep loving him in the best way I know how, and helping him to heal.
I rarely make anatomy posts... mainly because I am not an anatomy expert. Though I do heavily consult anatomy in preparing my yoga classes. I have an understanding of kinesiology (how the body moves) from my experience as a dancer, which also informs my teaching. I try to work with concepts that I can easily pass on to my students.
For the past few weeks I have been teaching flexion and extension of the thoracic spine in all of my yoga classes. Not in an obvious way, and not that everyone gets it, but in a way that the ability to move the thoracic spine plays a role in every yoga pose. The thoracic spine is key in posture, and underlying every yoga pose is posture.
We start every class with a block (or blanket) under the thoracic spine to bring openness and awareness to this area. To stretch through the chest and pecs, to reverse, or rather bring more pliability to the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine. Throughout class I bring the students' attention back to this space in various poses.
What we all know about posture, but try not to listen to is, through the aging process, and accentuated by our western culture, working at desks, driving a car, sitting, and not moving, our thoracic spine over time rounds forward. Forward head posture. A rounding of the upper back, a flattening of the low back. Tightness in the shoulders, pecs. And, weakness in the muscles of the thoracic spine.
Now, how does this relate to yoga? In every way!
* Strength, and extension, in the thoracic region plays a role in Tadasana. Posture, baby!
* In Backbends, especially if you are going to bring the depth of the bend out of the lumbar spine (low back) where we tend to dump and it hurts. A misconception of backbends is that people who go deep are "just flexible". That is onlyhalf the answer. And many are not as "flexible" as you think, because if they are truly bending safely, they are using muscular strength - yes, strength in the upper back too - to extend the spine to the back!
* Twists! A tendency in twists is that we compensate for lack of mobility by bending, essentially curving the spine. I use the analogy of the spine being like a Maypole, straight and strong, and we want to twist like the ribbon around the pole. This is by no means an anatomically correct idea, but it is a visual that seems to make the connection. So, the area where I most often see this bend happening is in the thoracic spine. When We make this connection, lift and elongate through the thoracic spine, we strengthen the muscles of the upper back, and are able to twist more deeply and safely.
* Forward Folds... want to get into those hammies without compromising the lumbar spine? Did you know that people with tight hamstrings (especially those who cannot sit on the floor with a neutral pelvis with legs extended in front) are at greatest risk for lumbar disk hernia because of the pressure put on the spine? Yea. So, if you are that tight, first sit on a folded blanket. Then, use your core strength (yes even here!) to sit tall. As you lean forward with a straight lumbar spine (IF you lean forward) keep your chest lifted. That means, use the strength of your thoracic spine to lift up! This keeps the stretch in hamstrings, not in the spine. (And yes, if you are lengthened in the lumbar spine, and not pulling yourself deeper, then you can round forward, but notice how the stretch changes. Not so intense in hamstrings, perhaps really intense in the upper back and neck!)
Pay attention. Awareness. Know thyself. That is all. In my lifetime of study and 8 years teaching yoga, if I were to whittle what yoga means to me and what I teach in each of my classes down to the essence, that would be it.
And in paying attention, so much wisdom is available to us.
Now I go from this philosophical concept to a very real-world, tangible thought:
June 26, 2015 - the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage nationwide.
WOW! What a landmark event in American history! Yay US!
This is not what I mean by paying attention... here it is.
Facebook created this splendid little App where all of us could click and change our profile picture to rainbow colors to show our pride in this landmark ruling.
I did it. My friends did it. We all celebrated how our newsfeed was showing up rainbow, how proud we were of this! Yay US! Yay support of all people in LOVE! The world felt GOOD!
Then today, July 1, 2015 - this from the Conservative Post:
Everyone Who Changed Their Facebook Photos To Rainbow Just Got DUPED
Which states that, "Over a million people changed their facebook profile pictures to a rainbow filter in support of gay marriage. New reports reveal that the “Celebrate Pride” tool may not have been the best idea… According to Daily Mail, this tool was actually Facebook’s way of performing psychological testing on their users."
And people are offended by this!
Why be offended? We can only be offended if we aren't Paying Attention.
Facebook is a gigantic social experiment, and it's the largest ever. If I were a social scientist, I'd damn well be using Facebook for research. So for me, it comes as no surprise.
Then the question is, was I harmed in this?
Again, Pay Attention. If I am aware, and if I know myself, then I can easily say, Ahhh, No.
What changing my profile picture did was show my alignment with people of all colors and identities to find, feel and seal the deal of love in whatever way is meaningful to them. What it did was, allow me to see - visually see - my tribe. We are after all a visual culture. Seeing my newsfeed fill up with profile pics decorated in rainbow colors, wow, that was grand!
What it might have done was, piss off a few of the non-supporters, and well, because I Pay Attention, I weighed out the pros and cons of changing my profile picture, and then I made the CONSCIOUS CHOICE to change it, because, well, I want the few non-supporters I know to see clearly that I do not agree with their stance. Not that I wish to cause a debate or alienate them, but I am also not here to please them, to placate their fears. And, I align with equality on all fronts.
In the end, every action has a consequence. The more we Pay Attention, the more we become Aware of the consequences of each action, the more we Know Thyself, the more CONSCIOUS CHOICES we can make. And conscious choices are usually the better choices.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
This quote reminded me of the Hindu story of Hanuman. Hanuman, the monkey god, was so devoted to the Lord Ram and his wife Sita, that when Sita was kidnapped by the demon King of Sri Lanka, Ravana, Hanuman made the "great leap of faith" across the ocean to rescue her.
In this way, Hanuman is a great friend, a "masterpiece of nature". But there is another angle.
Hanuman, lost in his monkey-mind, often forgets his gifts, his power. There is another character in the story, a man called Jambawan. Jambawan to Hanuman is like Samwise Gamgee to Frodo (for all you LOTR fans out there!). When Ram asks Hanuman to make this great leap, and Hanuman says "oh gee, Ram, I don't know if I can!" Jambawan is the one who says, "Hanuman! You have all these great gifts! You are strong, you are flexible, you are powerful, and you CAN do this!"
Jambawan is, in this way, his own masterpiece of nature, by being the one who reminds Hanuman of his greatness, while remaining humble. But, Jambawan, by reminding Hanuman of his greatness, allows Hanuman himself to become the masterpiece of nature. To live in the fullness of his powers. To do the thing most challenging, yet most awesome.
Who in your life is your Jambawan? Who reminds you that YOU yourself are a masterpiece of nature? Who is your reflection?
#meditationmonday for Yoga Mamas!
Without going into great detail of Hindu mythology, the Hindu Trimukti (trilogy if you will) is Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu. Brahma is the Creator. Shiva the Destroyer (read: Transformer, but NOT the toys your kids play with). Vishnu the Sustainer (read: Nurturer).
The trimukti represents the cycle that is ever-present in our lives. From the physical realm to the experiential and spiritual.
At any given moment, we can see all three within our selves, or we might identify more closely with one.
When I teach Prenatal Yoga Teacher Trainings, I tell the students that the act of becoming a mother is Creation - a Brahma state. (We probably all agree with that!)
In order to make the transition from Woman to Mother, takes an amount of Destruction of our former self - Transformation, if you were. A Shiva state.
Being a Mother is essentially a Vishnu state - a state of Sustaining, or Nurturing.
So as mothers, we embody all three. And all three are necessary to maintain balance. Neither being better or worse, yet too much of one creates imbalance as well. Shiva stands between Brahma and Vishnu to represent the
Destruction that creates room for Creation.
Take a moment to consider these three deities, and what they represent. Does one stand out to you more than another? Are all three present for you in this moment?
Take 5 minutes to sit and ponder. Is that aspect in balance for you?
In my own life, and reflecting back a few years, I have realized that I recognized most with Vishnu, the nurturer, in too much abundance, to the point that the relationship I was nurturing became harmful.
So I called in Shiva, some destruction power, to open up the path for new creations.
Just one way to look at a challenge!
I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. Sharing in vulnerability is a beautiful way to acknowledge that sometimes life is difficult, and that we are not alone.
My daughter's teacher once said, "My role is not only to guide your child, but also to carefully place obstacles so that she may overcome them."
This thought has stuck with me for years, literally, and it is one I come back to time and again. For my self, but also for my children.
6 months ago I left my husband. I moved out. We have two children.
Divorce is not easy, in fact I could say it is downright hell. However, it is not something that we all, as a family now apart, cannot overcome. And in the process of doing so, we will be stronger.
I have watched this play out in my daughter over the past 6 months. She has always been a sensitive child with an internal strength, yet also easily overwhelmed and likely to give up when faced with a difficult challenge.
Recently though, I have seen her stepping up to challenges, taking control of a situation where she would have usually turned to me, becoming more independent.
This development, some would say, is sad - the loss of innocence, the growing up before we're ready. Yet, I am not abandoning her. I am still her mother, here to guide, to nurture, and yes, to place obstacles.
She is almost 10. I see a resilience in her that I knew was there, but I had not seen shine as it does in recent weeks.
Yes, she still becomes overwhelmed. Yes, she still is easily frustrated. And yes, she is still quite angry. But this too she will overcome. With some gentle guidance, and some careful placement.
In my life and in my practice I have been learning to slow things down, to be patient, to allow my strength to grow from within the pose - within the situation - within the relationship - and from there to move forward with the practice - with life - with love.
It has been an interesting progression for me, one for whom flexibility has always seemed to come easily, yet as I entered my 5th decade (yes, 5th! I'm 40) on this planet in 2014, has come to hurt my body.
In my young(er) life, I was a free spirit, go with the flow, vinyasa till your head falls off type of yogi.
In recent years, I have become more and more fond of the slow flow, the alignment-based, the do-this-so-you-can-do-that-better style of practice and of teaching.
Interestingly, in my life, I have also taken a stronger stand, I have aligned more solidly with ME, I have taken some scary steps forward. I live the do-this-so-you-can-do-that-better lifestyle. Step by step.
Who knows if there is a connection between my strength in my physical body and my strength in my life. Yet, as I have explained to many a friend and fellow yogi, I was before a dancer. I am still that artist. Just as dance is a physical expression of a thought, feeling, story, my yoga is my physical expression of the same.
As with all things, what I experience in my life is a story told through my teaching. Through the postures, the sequence, and through the themes I bring to those postures and sequence.
When we move slowly, we engage more, we build strength. We are able to cultivate a deeper awareness of our body, which translates to the deeper layers (the Koshas) of our being. And, in the space that we create between the poses, we give ourselves time to experience the pose, to allow the pose to work on us, and to learn more clearly and more fully about who our true self is.
Sometimes we need to roll around in the mud and the muck with Kali, in order to embrace our own transformation. It is especially true in this season, the darkest time of the year, this time as we approach the Winter Solstice. When we actually remove ourselves from the glaring lights of the city, of department stores, of holiday frenetic cheer, when we find some space of isolation, we realize that the darkness is there too. When we accept the darkness, we are more ready and able to turn our gaze toward the light.
I just taught the best Private Yoga session ever!
Seriously though, I love working with yogis one-on-one, there is so much to be gained, both for you, the practitioner, and for me, the teacher.
Here are THREE reasons why you should invest in yourself!
FIRST: We've all heard that yoga can heal. But can yoga be effective in a public class, where the teacher's attention is divided among 20 different people, all with unique bodies, strengths and limitations? Sort of, but it requires an incredible amount of knowledge and awareness from the practitioner to facilitate their own healing within that framework. Better, if a teacher can work one-on-one with a student, then that very skilled teacher can pinpoint areas of strength, weakness, tightness or laxity, then provide specific cues, actions, engagements and releasing, to better facilitate the healing process.
SECOND: You work REALLY HARD, so an hour is a lot of work! In a Private session we can cover a lot of ground. And because all attention is on you, and you want to do your best, you work really hard to do it right! The time invested is well spent.
THIRD: What do you want out of your yoga practice? Want to get stronger? More flexible? Better backbends? Or, more relax and restore? Meditation? Breathing? What you want out of it is what you get. It's YOUR class! A Private session is neither whatever the teacher feels like teaching that day, nor a conglomeration of poses thrown together from conversations at check-in as to what various students would like to address in that class. A Private session is YOURS and only yours. So, what do YOU want to accomplish today?
Are you interested?
Contact me for details:
fb: Kristen Boyle Indieflowyoga
I have been considering this word a lot lately.
My very recent story is that I left my husband in pursuit of me. Of my truth. Of my dreams.
Why? Because my SELF was being sacrificed in our relationship.
And I don't mean that he demanded this or that of me, but in subtle ways, yes, he did. He demanded what he needed, and the direction I needed to grow could not meet his needs.
I was accused of being neglectful to our family.
I was in one conversation supported as I reached further, set new goals, stretched to grow in new ways. In the next conversation questioned, suspected, and accused.
Essentially, I was giving up ME in that relationship.
So I left it. (and it wasn't easy... in fact, it took years.)
I have been supported by some and questioned by some. The questions come when I say I was sacrificing me.
"But sacrifice is a part of marriage, a part of motherhood..." they say.
Yes, to some extent, I agree.
How much is sacrificed within that relationship, and moreover, how much is sacrificed in the definition of Self within the Relationship? That is the critical question.
As a wife I sacrificed dinner dates, happy hours, friends, the things you do as a young, child-free (pet-free), single person, to spend more time with my husband. This was mostly an easy sacrifice. I wanted to be with my husband. He was after all, my best friend, my support, my chosen partner in life. Did I miss the fun friendships and interactions with friends? Yes. Of course I did. Did I regret not going out with them? Not really. It was important to me, it was a priority to me, to be with my husband. And we had good times together. We really, truly did. And, I grew. My Self grew, through our sharing. My Self grew within our relationship.
As a mother I sacrificed my career. My days became focused on my family and my home. There were groceries to buy, meals to plan and cook, there was cleaning, diapers, laundry. And yes, there was also fun - playing, engaging with my children, long walks, outings, and playdates. I found a new social group through other new mothers. My life shifted in a new direction. In a good direction. One in which I also grew. My Self grew. This too was an easy sacrifice. I wanted most of all to be with my children, to organize my life in such a way that I could be there for them in the best possible manner.
And during all this time, I continued to stay true to my Self, and I did that best through my yoga practice, and eventually through my yoga teaching. Yoga became increasingly important to ME, especially as my relationship with my husband turned.
When my kids both were of school age, I began to reach out and to DO more. More of what filled ME up. More of what allowed my SELF to grow. I taught more classes, added more to my schedule.
And YET, when my kids were sick, I sacrificed my teaching... and I was happy to do it. I was happy to be home for them, to comfort them how they needed me to.
I was happy to sacrifice my teaching and practice when there was a field trip, an activity at school, a school holiday. I was happy to sacrifice my yoga so we could enjoy a family vacation, a day of skiing, a special event.
And still, within my relationship, I was accused of neglect.
And it took me years to figure this out, but eventually I realized I was losing my Self.
So you tell me that sacrifice comes with being a wife, with being a mother, and I do agree. Yet, how much sacrifice is within balance of Self? That is the critical question. How much sacrifice still allows for personal growth within the definition of your relationship, within your own story, and how much causes loss of Self?
Only you can answer that question.
But I invite you to explore it and see what comes up.
Kristen is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and Life Mentor. She offers online and in-person healing sessions. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado