Today marks the one year anniversary of my first ever moment of teaching yoga online. It is the anniversary of the creation of my first youtube channel. And it is the anniversary of the day my family embarked on new ways of living.
As I write this I’m noticing that some anniversaries are celebrated, and others are noted as a time for pause and reflection on what has been experienced and what has been learned, like deaths.
(I have been known to celebrate when something extraordinarily damaging dies, like a relationship or an administration, for the possibilities that something life-giving will grow in its place – there is great hope and joy in that.)
We are used to celebrating births and lives well-lived, but we don’t necessarily celebrate deathdays. At least none that I’m aware of. Instead, we tend to solemnly acknowledge the day, to give the experience of death the the honor that it’s due.
This week I’ve been celebrating my partner’s birthday and my first bold steps into the online yoga teaching world. I’ve been marking the closure of my children’s schools for “the flu” and my partner’s epic journey navigating and guiding his employees, clients, and their families through the Covid Sea and the Pandemic Ocean as part of his day job.
What anniversaries are you marking this day, week, and month? What are you celebrating?
I’d like to share a yoga practice with you to both commemorate and celebrate the year behind and the year ahead.
My hope for all of us is that we honor our experiences, embrace what is life-giving, and release what no longer needs holding.
May you be blessed like crazy, and may you have the strength to bear it.
There is a beautiful new book on the horizon! (No, it’s not mine yet.) My dear friend and fellow yogi, Joanne Spence, has compiled a wealth of simple practices to calm, balance, and restore the nervous system.
Her work is a robust resource for everyone supporting those affected by trauma and moving toward healing, resilience, and growth. Her approach is accessible, practical, and inspiring, not only in its depth of knowledge but in the overwhelming spirit of connection and support that is evident on each page.
It is such a readable collection of wisdom I devoured it in one sitting. It’s a book we will be able to turn to again and again for ideas, inspiration, and encouragement.
The front cover endorsement is by Stephen W. Porges, PhD., founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium who first introduced Polyvagal Theory in 1994. Polyvagal theory links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavior. Porges is the author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011). It is fascinating work.
Guess who else has an endorsement listed…?
Yep – me! The publisher (PESI) said that they have never had a book have so many high caliber endorsements before. Ever. So thankfully mine didn’t bring down the lot! I am unquestionably in amazing company.
I’m blessed to know Joanne and be alongside her on the journey.
This post explores the science of emotions, the research on social aspects of teaching, as well as the work of embodiment and how it can support us in moments of difficulty or overwhelm. At the end you’ll find an offering to create space for empathy & compassion for yourself & others.
Emotions Dr. Eve Ekman is a contemplative social scientist and teacher in the field of emotional awareness and burnout prevention. She defines emotion as “a process that is triggered in 1/25 of a second, lasts only about 30 – 90 seconds, and helps us respond to important challenges.” Emotions get our attention and remind us of our values. Being aware of our emotions allows us to acknowledge them without criticism and make wise choices about our role in what comes next.
Community Community spaces are filled with people, and as such are filled with emotions, as well as lots of triggers! This is just as true for digital interactive spaces as it is for in-person events. Whether you’re a leader, participant, student, teacher, parent, child, or all of these and more, spending hours each day in social environments creates an opportunity for emotional exhaustion.
Research in education shows that practicing mindful awareness can help decrease burnout and increase an overall sense of well-being. Because this is true in K-12 learning environments, we can reasonably extend these findings to include a variety of other group settings, such as professional and corporate offices, fitness centers, child care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and community events – basically, anywhere there are facilitators and participants, anywhere there are people(!)
“Practicing Presence is the Seed of Empathy.“
Compassion Practicing Presence within community requires a certain amount of non-reactivity. Being able to notice and observe our own emotions allows for a space between what activates us (or triggers us) and our next thought, word, or action. The space allows us to respond skillfully rather than react choicelessly. It also creates pathways to take care of our own needs in the moment. This practicing awareness of our emotional process gives us insight into the experience of others, precisely because all of us are human. Happily, that new information we gain inside that moment of presence increases the likelihood that we can, and will, envision ourselves in someone else’s situation.
These are the seeds of empathy.
Empathy leads to another key aspect of mindful awareness, the active partner of non-judgement: compassion. What’s great about compassion is that it’s for everyone, including yourself, and it can really help guide challenging conversations and all manner of interactions.
Compassion allows us to see our life-partner, who is “letting the housework go” and seemingly choosing to not asking us about our day or our needs, as a beautiful human being who is fatigued and out of resources – not just someone who doesn’t care. Compassion also allows us to see the student melting down in front of us as another human, just like us, in need of support. Compassion can even bring us to a new perspective on the behaviors of our co-workers, family and community members, as well as complete strangers (and even people we might classify as the manifestation of enmity and animus – our enemy).
Everyone is a human being – just like us. This fact is an excellent reminder that, perhaps most amazingly, self-compassionallows us to see our own selves as deserving of gentleness, acceptance, and encouragement, too ~the hallmarks of empathy.
SPACE We experience emotions on a broad spectrum. There’s a wide range of ways we can know anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment. And knowing that the initial emotional reaction only lasts 30 -90 seconds, it benefits us to wait it out, seeing if it subsides or changes before we say the thing we really want to say (that thing we feel absolutely justified in saying). The magic in this moment is patience. And one support for practicing patience is to go ahead do something.
Here’s an embodiment practice for that. I call it SPACE because I love talking about, thinking about, and accessing spaciousness as a pathway to loving and being loved. It’s a way of being present in my body that allows me both to notice and observe my emotions, as well as wait for them to change or subside before I choose my next thought, word, or action.
S – settle
P – pause
A – abide
C – center
E – expand
Basically, SPACE creates space. And space allows for compassion.
First, I settle into my body by feeling my feet and noticing gravity. I pause and breathe. I abide in the present moment. (Rest.) I find my center. And then I expand from there – breathing in and growing my ribcage in all directions.
By expanding, I’m creating physical space inside my body, bringing about sensations associated with happiness, freedom, and joy. I’m also creating intangible space between what is said and done, and what is understood and experienced. No one knows I’m doing this. I can settle, pause, abide, center, and expand while I am listening to another person speak or while I’m experiencing their actions. This embodied work allows me to feel grounded and gives me the space to choose what I will say and do, as well as what I will not say and what I won’t do.
Continue practicing awareness. Keep non-reactively observing. Carry on with feeling your body and making space.
If nothing else, the next time you notice a strong emotional reaction, let that be your cue to press and settle into your feet and expand from your center. The breath will happen. You will pause and abide, and you just might find yourself and others surrounded by the spaciousness of compassion.
While you are moving through your unique morning ritual, practicing asana, concentration, or meditation, consider practicing spaciousness:
Settle into your body by feeling your feet and noticing gravity
Pause and breathe
Abide in the present moment
Expand and grow your spacious heart
Then, take this wisdom with you, out of your practice space and into the world!
(You don’t have to have a ritual that seems fancy or mysterious. Rituals can be practical! You can practice SPACE quite effectively, and beautifully, while you are brushing your teeth or enjoying a shower.)
With Love, Empathy, Compassion, & All Things Spacious