Yoga Improving Lives. Yoga Creating Social Change. Yoga in Calgary.

This blog post provides an example of yoga contributing to social change, starting with the individual.  It goes on to discuss how yoga may contribute to social change, with an invitation for yoga instructors in Calgary to consider a trauma-sensitive approach to their teaching to flood survivors and responders.

Increasingly, examples of yoga supporting those recovering from trauma and suffering from mental health challenges are being seen in the media.  This is a recent video and article – Yoga Helps Mentally Ill Improve Their Lives – published within Voice of America.  It opens a small window into an example of creating change amongst those who can’t, won’t, and don’t access yoga studio’s for a number of reasons (more on that in another blog!).  In addition, the video exemplifies shifts and changes available for someone, anyone, who practices yoga.  It exemplifies that a yoga class does not need to take place in the serenity and beauty of a studio for people to feel an impact.  The class does not need to involve a vigorous physical practice, nor does it require fashion conscious Lulu Lemon patrons.  Instead the practice invites yoga students into their reality, to explore what it feels like to acknowledge their breath, to be present within their body and notice how it moves – to meet themselves exactly where they are.

One person at a time, yoga invites people into a journey of curiosity, inquiry, and compassion – perhaps asking people for the first time to consider compassion for their body.  One by one people are invited to explore what it is to be and feel alive, perhaps a foreign experience.  One by one people are changing and shape-shifting themselves on a deep subtle level – something words cannot sometimes articulate.

This, I believe, is a root towards social change – yoga is simply an available gateway.

The Voice of America article is one small example of how the yoga gateway contributes to social change…and many other examples contributing to social are small until the different threads entering through the gateway of change begin to weave into a common fabric.  The change demonstrated in the video – an individual shifting pain and anger, another choosing a healthier lifestyle – offers insight into experiences of connection.

The root catalyst and cause for change is through relationship because – being human means having a need for connection.

Connection begins with ourselves – the intimate and subtle acknowledgement of relating to the experience within ones body.   Michael Stone (2009) writes, “when we see the shadow of our actions, we can get motivated to change our habits.  Non-violence is the essence of such change” (p. 64).  This quote can be viewed within an individual’s experience of change, in addition to expanding the quote’s perspective outwards, it reflects on society’s actions upon the natural biosphere.  The interrelated health of an individual directly correlates with the health of the planet – and many people are arguing that internal, in addition to external non-violence will contribute social and environmental change on this planet.  In his article “Ahimsa Can Save The Planet’, Pankaj Jain (2012) states,

The West must now emerge as a new ecological leader, with Gandhi [non-violence] as the foundation of its lifestyle…There cannot be and should not be a separate “war on terrorism,” “war on climate change,” “war on drugs,” “war on corruption,” “war on obesity” and so on. All aspects of modern life—our physical, mental, and spiritual health, the environment, the global security and international peace, social justice, and so on—will get a great boost if we first become nonviolent in our most basic activit[ies]. (p. 36)

Our most basic activities rely on simple choices and perspectives – what we eat, how we care for ourselves, what we consume or do not consume etc – and a mind and heart that feels clear and calm supports perspective surrounding those most basic activities.

My experience living, learning, and teaching trauma-sensitive yoga over the past several months affirms the complex integrated web of health and well being between an individual, community, and the planet.  In recent weeks Calgary has experienced a shock wave of water delivered by the planet that has disturbed stability, health, and well being amongst individuals and the community.  This brings me to an invitation for readers to consider and share amongst community – I am returning to Calgary at the end of July.  I intend to initiate opportunities for people such as those within the video to access experiences of yoga, to offer trauma-sensitive yoga training workshops for yoga teachers and those interested, and to pursue dialog and action that invites healing to both people and the planet.

The gateway for trauma-sensitive yoga in Calgary is open after being traumatized by the impacts from Mother Nature’s response to climate change.

Change is the most constant thing in life.

From afar, I have seen many yoga studio’s in Calgary and the Bow Valley extend their generosity to victims and responders to the flood, aiming to support recovery and healing from this tragedy.  I would like to contribute to these actions by inviting yoga instructors to participate in an one-day trauma-sensitive yoga workshop at the end of August.  My intention is to support yoga instructors extend their generosity in a way that best supports those who are recovering from this traumatic flood experience.

Further details regarding specific date and location will follow shortly.

References:

Stone, M. (2009). Yoga for a world out of balance. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Jain, P. (2012). Ahimsa can save the planet. Hinduism Today. p. 36.

Developmental trauma and a call for further integration

20130506_175610_Sophia_PergaI just spent four days at the International Trauma Conference hosted by the Trauma Center in Boston.  It was a fascinating experience with many layers of learning!

The focus of the conference was on early childhood attachment and developmental trauma – elite researchers from around the world presented their scientific findings that explored the complexity of trauma.  For example, Bessel van der Kolk, from the Boston area Trauma Center, discussed his attempt to include a new diagnosis called ‘Developmental Trauma Disorder’ in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  The “new” disorder was not accepted partly due the proven complexity of the condition.  The disorder places emphasis on early childhood attachment – trauma possible through subtle and covert day to day neglect and abuse.  Another example includes findings presented by Alan Stroufe, demonstrating it was possible to confidently predict dissociation and other possible mental health issues in an adult by seeing how a child was raised between infancy and 18 months of age – focusing on their ability to safely and comfortably attach to their caregivers.  All the evidence pointed to developmental trauma contributing to significant long-term impacts on a person that may lead to a lifetime of recovery.  Not only would this person suffer from the effects of accumulated developmental trauma, but if exposed to a traumatic experience as an adult, the adverse affects may leave a larger imprint due to the already saturated trauma related symptoms they are experiencing.

The reoccurring theme and statement

throughout many of the presentations I attended was –

“to support change we must transform one’s relational experience

This got me thinking!

The conference was a gathering of researchers and therapists who work one on one with clients.  The discussion was based on ongoing early childhood trauma, experiences often people cannot explicitly remember…and the solution is to transform the relational experience.

Dare I return to the age old saying – it takes a community to raise a child?!

I find myself wondering where the community developers and policy makers were, those that have an eye on the systemic and structural issues significantly impacting a family’s stress levels?  The scope of this conversation needs to broaden into a diversified audience.  As an example, consider the possible impacts of maternity leave.  In the USA, mat-leave is 3 months (potentially unpaid), Canada 1 year, Slovakia 3 years, and the numbers (time off and percentage of mat-leave pay) are varied between states around the world.  It would be interesting (and challenging!) to explore research on maternity leave duration and the impacts on attachment (mother’s ability to be present for child due to being physically absent and with accumulated financial stress etc).  Policy makers could have a stake in outcomes such as these for individuals and families – but are they aware of the research identifying the complex nature of developmental trauma?

Imagine the possibilities that reside within an interdisciplinary therapeutic team made up of a clinician (supports process and integration), a community developer (brings a structural lens in addition to integrating supports and resources), a family systems therapist (able to view the dynamics at play within the family setting), and a trauma sensitive yoga instructor (elicits somatic experiences supporting implicit memories to safely emerge therefore solidifying relations with self and others).  I realize that a model such as this loosely exists for individuals recovering from trauma, however are the stakeholders involved communicating to provide an integrated process?

Where is the community raising, or supporting the process of raising the child?

Why are those who have professional responsibilities to communities not a part of this conversation…or attending a trauma conference?

When I reflect upon the observations and questions mentioned, it is evident there are two areas to focus on: a) the treatment of developmental trauma, and b) the prevention of developmental trauma.  When considering these two areas, it is valuable to keep the statement – to support change we must transform one’s relational experience – in the foreground.

When considering treatment, I believe the recovery process could be enhanced through professional therapeutic teams that view the situation through different macro and micro lens’ to support the enhancement of relational experiences and interactions with a client’s internal and external world…(and I must speak to the role trauma sensitive yoga could play because – hey, that’s the focus of my internship)…There is a great therapeutic opportunity available for a person who has experienced complex trauma that naturally magnifies a person’s internal relations with self and relations with others – trauma sensitive yoga (TSY).  This occurs through gently activating stored somatic memories that may not explicitly be part of someone’s memory.  TSY provides an opportunity for a client to interact with simple sensations that may historically trigger them, and learn how to feel safe in their body.  This is one example of how TSY can support a trauma survivor develop new relations with themselves, often rippling outward to positively impact surrounding relationships.

When considering prevention – sharing this research at a conference for policy makers, politicians, community developers, even with the corporate world who often provide financial support to local and national projects and initiatives, could benefit outcomes aimed at prevention.

This discussion is just some of the layers of learning I experienced – I am sure there is more to come!  Until then, consider the integration and intersections between micro and macro practice and development, between clinical, community, and policy…and consider the opportunity for healing and recovery available when one feels safe in their own body!

Searching but not finding, compared to being ever present!

Soundtrack to this blog – Searching by Blackalicious

I just finished a course on the precepts (yama’s) of yoga with Michael Stone and timing is everything!  I’m sure that no matter when I chose to do this course, it would align with life – but I can’t deny the incredible parallel process that emerged from the experience of slowing down to participate more fully in the intimacy of life!

I have a dear friend who often reminds me – “the struggle is the blessing” – a line in the song ‘Searching’ that stands out for me over and over again (as well as many other lines)!!

…And in this day and age, I realize that slowing down really is an art, a practice that requires conscious action because…even if we are simply sitting, being, breathing – we are in action.

Within the searching – I now understand that if I slow down enough, no longer is there a need to search…instead there is listening, watching, feeling…everything is already present!

The first precept is Ahimsa – nonviolence, non-harm.

The first exercise we had to do was sit face to face with our partner, a stranger for me, and answer the question – how do you kill?…and answering the question involved speaking for 20 minutes without interruption to your partner as they listened!  Well, firstly…it sure took a few minutes to get past the ego to authenticity!  What an incredible exercise of vulnerability and how amazing it was to hear and be heard!  I have been engaging with a sitting practice daily, and to witness the responsibility within non-harm is incredible.  It’s near impossible to truly live a life of non-harm to anything on this planet but to exercise an awareness is possible!  Stone (2009) argues,

industrialism is such an all consuming impulse that it’s hard to think outside the box.  In fact we have interiorized the aspects of industrial materialism to the extent that we treat our bodies as resources that should keep up with the impossible pace of increased productivity.  The body, however, just can’t keep up.  We tend to forget that we – our bodies – are nature.  The way we control and repress our own bodies and feelings is reflected in our treatment of other life.” (p. 64)

Meditation, yoga, ceremony…these practices and way of life support ecological intimacy within our bodies and soul.  There are so many layers to life in which we expose ourselves to harm – yet choosing to slow can down provide us with the experience of being present to the ecological system that we are, engaging in the intimacy of each moment.

I am present to the responsibility I have to slow down, to be present, to understand non-harm and so much more in order to sustain life on this planet.

Consider how does an awareness of your body contribute to the health of our biosphere, Mother Earth?

Stone, M. (2009).  Yoga for a World out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Tis the season for…Habit Energy!

Things have been pretty quiet on this blog lately – when in reality life has been bustling!  Having just finished another semester of graduate school and then bouncing into work, room to breath got put aside!

I had a reality check this week, something I know happens in life and often I can see it coming: I over commit – get exhausted – loose perspective!   I find it so crazy – I’m aware of feeling overwhelmed and filled with information and action, aware that the candle within is dimming due to lack of oxygen…yet habit energy persists!  This time of year is especially known to be full – it’s like this full bubble slowly approaching that feels inevitable, yet there is always choice…and it seems I often choose too much!

One of the commitments right now is a course with Michael Stone looking at the precepts.  We spent the last three weeks engaged in inquiry and exploration of ahimsa – non harm and satya – honesty…! In those times of being a witness and striving to integrate and practice these two precepts, habit energy persisted and appeared to get stronger when striving to open and redirect the patterns.  The interesting part was having a subtle awareness of habit energy, yet choosing to live into it because I did not have the space for attention to live with clear intentions.

And honestly – I know practice can become habit too.  I have seen it within…that sense of routine, even boredom has crept in!  And the lesson that came up was, pay attention.  It seems simple – to notice and have attention so I can be mindful of my choices, mindful that this “habit” is causing no harm and coming from an honest and authentic place.

Attention resides within intimacy and intimacy rides upon my breath that returns to attention.  Maybe it’s this spiral of awareness that will crack my codes of habit energy…I think the spiral is a powerful natural design that carries that wisdom of this planet within it, so maybe it can serve in this situation…

…but the most important ingredient is – s p a c e .

If I draw a spiral on a piece of paper, I would not see a spiral if it wasn’t for the space between the circles.  If there was no space, it would just look like a blob or a coloured in circle on a page.  So in order to see a spiral – on a page or in nature – there needs to be space for light and colour, shadow and texture to show up.

The Practice of Social Action.

Be, don’t seek.

Sit warmly open,

lightness in your brow,

not questions.

Be ready for the quiet

when it comes,

and the creaking

of the house’s bones

and the wind’s music

playing the notes of the trees.

Be, don’t brood.

Don’t wait for life

to announce itself

in capitals

or high garb.

Be available to it’s whispers,

know how to listen

when it tells its true self

and not the lies

you’ve dreamt up.

Be able to breathe

and let go of your breath,

let go of life as you wish it to be

and take in the simplicity,

the facts-

The sky is.

The day is.

This sparrow is.

Be, don’t try.

Your weariness must have

shown you something by now.

Stay seated in your soul,

remember the sun is there,

truth and time are there.

Be, don’t seek.

You’ve already found.

You already have.

You already know.

You already are.

Elizabeth Page Roberts 2008

So much talk about social change and social action…often this leads to so much time and energy invested to solve problems, so busy, so much burnout, so much talking, not so much listening…

Is that not the process of living into the notion of progress, an ideology that frames present day society?

When thinking about ‘change’ there have been a number of moments in recent times that consistently return me to this one effort – that is…

…to be.

We hear it time and time again, in famous speeches, from spiritual leaders, from our community.  So I think about it, consider, contemplate, question – then life gets busy!

But what is it to truly be, to surrender to the essence of the moment?  Or maybe the better question for us in this day and age – how the heck can one ‘be’ when there’s so much to do?

…And what does this have to do with social action?

Consider the practice of social action is stillness.

Consider evolving stillness and quietness within supports engagement with the intimacy of life, attentiveness to the subtle gifts always present, an opening to the essence of non-harm – the practice of meeting each moment as it is.

Consider meditation is the practice supporting social action.

Be, don’t seek.

Invite the moments of creative suspension to honour each situation as it unravels.

Gratitude…

How deeply can we sink into the ocean of gratitude?

We strive for joy and happiness to complete our lives, the essence of feeling truly alive…and I wondered what was beneath that?  What supports happiness or joy?

I had an experience in life that felt quite profound at the time – I say at the time because I believe this experience is possible to relive within many moments.  With time, space, and on going reflection of this moment…the experience continues to open new doorways.

Are you curious about the moment?…it was actually several moments of living, breathing, being, feeling the swells of the deepest, most abundant and expansive tide of gratitude stir within.  It was as if the full moon evoked a spring tide, pulling the deepest currents to the surface of my consciousness to be embodied within the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual planes.  Everything made sense.  Life had accumulated and continues to accumulate – all the impossibilities, challenges, riches, burdens, loss, gifts…

…it left me curious and with questions.

…is it possible for the essence of gratitude to be found within the layers and hardships?

…what is required of us to explore this essence during times of crisis and hardship?

…consider what contribution gratitude may bring within the moments of abundance or moments of darkness?

How deep is the ocean of this essence?  How can one tap into this ocean at any point in life?  Is it possible?

How can gratitude shift consciousness?

How can gratitude support being myself?

Sooo many questions…any answers…any feelings or thoughts?

Yoga contributing to social change?

Yoga contributing to social change.

Yoga as a tool for social change.

A revolution beginning in the heart…

A revolution expanding into communities and beyond…

For many years I have been tumbling these thoughts around my mind, rounding out the edges of ideas, massaging the questions, and observing…

The west continues to tighten its grip on ‘yoga’ – stretching the imagination of classical Yogi’s in India.  The practice reaches across a broad spectrum of possibilities in present day culture.  Many people are drawn to yoga for a diverse spectrum of reasons…and westerners continue to flock to studios to catch the craze!  All generations are exploring the practice, from little people experimenting with their flexible young bodies, to the elderly aiming to soften the edges of aging.  The practice is not limited to any one ethnicity or cultural background.

The invitation is out for anyone who is curious to move, breath and observe…or embrace the stillness – all qualities of the natural order of life.  The dharma.

Prisoners are practicing.  Seniors.  Under-served youth. Veterans.  Survivors of life threatening illnesses.  Injured bodies.  Those with damaged minds.  Those with hurt hearts.  Those wanting to participate in life…and so many more…

All this being said – if we look to the beginning of the eight-limbed path of Patanjali’s yoga, we return to the restraints and observances…the ethics and morals possible to integrate into everyday life.

So what could be possible if those named above or those who went to simply stretch, get fit, exercise, socialize, move, breath…invited a curiosity investigate – why yoga?

What if their practice deepened into an inquiry of their expressions, postures, breath – into the layers of restraints and observances…compassion, truth, and integrity that reside within?

AND –

What if the looking inward at all the layers of gifts, manifested outward into community and daily life?

Could yoga contribute to social change?

Could yoga be a tool for social change?

Could yoga start a revolution beginning in the heart?

Could this revolution expand into communities and beyond…?

With the practice touching so many lives and integrating into western culture – anything is possible!  Right!?

Strive for the impossible, for what was once impossible is now possible!