Last night during our Yoga Mountain Center Staff Meeting, each staff person was asked to step into the center of the circle, say their name and 'strike a pose' that matched how they were feeling in the moment. Somehow, I was asked to go first and unbeknownst to me I just sat there and started sobbing. My pose was 'sitting in half lotus with my shoulders hunched over, sobbing and trying to get some breath' or to be more accurate to how I was feeling yesterday, 'Sad and Anxious Heart Pose'.
I don't know if I would have allowed myself to be this vulnerable in this situation, had it not been that I just returned from a 4 day training module in Somatic Experiencing. SE (as it's commonly called) is the life's work of Peter Levine, PhD, who created this therapeutic, body-centered method for working with trauma in it's many forms. As he so aptly states, trauma is not an event, but how our individual systems, as human/animal beings, respond to the event. And, of course we would each respond to the same situation quite uniquely.
SE works not only with acute trauma, such as sexual assault, medical trauma, or PTSD, but is also a day-to-day method for regulating our highly sensitive nervous systems through understanding the role of the PNS and SNS (parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems) in our bodies and learning methods and techniques for working with these systems. We talk a lot about reds and blues in SE- blue meaning seeing, feeling and understanding what is calming, grounding or pleasant in any given situation, and red being what is acutely challenging, triggering or activating an any given situation. For example, finding blue might mean just feeling a cool breeze on your skin on a hot day or enjoying a warm cup of tea with a dear beloved friend. A feeling of red might occur when we are feeling very triggered, angry or aroused, and our systems are wanting to fight, flight or freeze.
One of the new insights I gained in this second module of my training, is that a healthy balanced nervous system has access to the full spectrum of thoughts, feelings and emotions- not only the blues but also the ability to be more and more okay with the reds as well. When we can work to create (and it does take some practice, time and effort) a system that is grounded, oriented, and resourced (think blues), we are better able to say 'I can handle this' to those much more intense, or even traumatic states that might arise from time to time (or maybe for some of us, often). We might even get to a place that feels really intense for us (think about what is very difficult for you to bear- like the anger that you don't like to see in yourself or feelings of intense anxiety or fear) and still be able to say 'This too', or 'No big deal'. I'm not saying this capacity is easy to develop, or will happen overnight and we might need the help of a trained therapist, but I have personally witnessed this in myself and others.
So perhaps rather than thinking of the goal is to banish the reds and live in the blues all the time, it is to understand the value of being able to ride the waves and to pendulate or smoothly glide between different states of mind, emotions and being. To not get 'stuck' in one state, but rather to be able to flow between different states and to find the meaning and value in each experience, no matter how challenging. One practice that has been especially helpful to me is to remember to actually seek out, look for and 'pounce on' (to use SE language) the blues in the midst of the reds. An extreme example of this would be Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, Holocaust survivor and author of the book, Man's Search for Meaning who in the midst of the unthinkable cruelty of a concentration camp, would go outside and look at the stars at night or notice people caring for each other. Frankl eloquently writes, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
In my case in the staff meeting, it was just feeling and sensing all of the unconditional love and support in the room when I was melting down in the circle. There was bright blue right there embedded in my 'fear and anxiety pose' as different people put their warm hands on my body and I received nods of compassion and empathy and someone else handed me a tissue box. With mindfulness, we can all develop the capacity, over time (and often with professional help) to seek what is beautiful or meaningful in the midst of our own, or another's pain or suffering, and to remember all the ways we are held and supported. To be well resourced means to allow ourselves time and space to orient to our surroundings and to breathe deep and to find what is pleasing, soft and stabilizing in the moment. With this awareness our whole being begins to soften and our PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) has a chance to come back on line as we find the safety and love in connection.
A dear friend of mine just rescued two adorable kittens from the local Animal shelter. Upon first meeting them, what was immediately and acutely apparent to me was how deeply they were bonded to each other in their 'big scary new home' (as it may have seemed to them!). They constantly used each other for comfort, companionship, warmth and play. They were finding the deep blues in the midst of the reds of being rescued, spayed, transported to a new home, getting their shots etc. As we grow our courage and resilience on the inside, may we also remember that we are quite like those kittens, that our animal bodies have their own way of responding to each and every situation we find ourselves in, and that some of our greatest resources lie in our ability to be real, vulnerable, to connect, to play, to love each other and to ALLOW ourselves to be loved.
Oreo & Piera orienting to their new space
while taking good care of each other!
Asana Suggestions: Begin class by simply orienting to the space: Notice your breath, the quality of light in the room and perhaps even make eye contact with someone near you. Partner postures are a great way to connect with ourselves and each other. Another idea is to do a full-spectrum class where you can explore a wide array of poses and really notice what is happening inside of you in each pose. Play your edge safely and with curiosity and compassion.
Contemplations to Deepen Your Practice:
* Do you mindlessly tromp and rush through your day or do you take pauses to slow down, look around, orient to your surroundings and take in what is happening with a few mindful breaths?
* What do you feel inside your body in this moment. Pause to notice any sensations or feelings and allow them to just be. Allow yourself the gift of experiencing yourself in present time.
* What is a wonderful resource for you that is blue? It could be anything that helps you to feel grounded, whole, calm, and supported. Can you feel where that resource lands in your body?
* Call to mind a situation or event that is mildly triggering for you right now. Is there any blue embedded in the red of this situation? What is it? Can you allow yourself to be with that for a moment.
* Observe an animal in it's natural surroundings today or on a nature show or DVD. How do animals respond and react to their surroundings and each other. Are there any lessons to be learned from them?
* Bonus: Practice making eye contact with someone today- really seeing that person and at the same time, notice what is happening in yourself as you connect deeply and fully with another.
How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Viktor E. Frankl