Making Space for Presence

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.

Teamwork

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.

Teamwork

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-compassion allows 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.

Teamwork

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.  

Spaciousness

KEEPING ON

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. 

Your Practice

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
  • Center yourself
  • 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

Amy

Universal Yogi

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

Photos credits: Photo by Maria Lindsey Content Creator on Pexels.com, Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com, Photo by Kevin Blanzy on Pexels.com

Honoring & Releasing

Hello, Yoga Friends, Happy today!

Here’s an offering of practices for you.

This class is Yoga for Body-Mind & Heart: Practices for Honoring & Releasing. It was inspired by my teacher, and begins with seated centering, followed by a meditation of honoring and releasing. And then gentle moving, stretching, and opening the front body using the floor as a yoga prop.

Gather some pillows, blankets, or towels and a yoga strap or scarf. These items are not necessary but might make things feel more supportive.

To the casual observers, it might look like we’re just rolling around on the ground, but we’ll know the good playwork taking place. Expect opportunities to stretch the shoulders, chest, hips, abdomen, back, & sides. When you feel like something’s missing. Just add it in!

May you be covered in the blessings you most need right now,

Amy

The Universal Yogi

The Power to Be: Trauma Sensitive Practice and the Capacity to Be Fully Alive

An Experiment

Notice if you’re feeling curious.  If you are, I invite you to try an experiment with me.  The experiment is to notice your embodied experience of language.  This means noticing your body’s response to words and phrases.  Another way to say this is noticing how words and phrases feel in your body, or, “how they land with you.”   To try this, read the short list below and repeat the words and phrases slowly, either silently in your mind or aloud, with your eyes closed or softly open, whichever feels comfortable.  Leave a small space of silence in between them so you have room to notice your experience.  As you do this, pay close attention to your body and observe any thoughts, feelings, reactions, responses, or sensations that might arise:

Do this now

You’re welcome to try this when you’re ready

Stop

Notice if you’d like to rest

Hurry up

In your own time

Thank you for trying this!  How was that for you?  Did you notice anything about this list intellectually?  Did your body notice anything about these words and phrases?  This was an experiment, so there’s no wrong or right answer.  Perhaps you observed that some phrases read like commands and some like invitations.  Maybe you felt that some words extend a sense of urgency and others a sense of open acceptance.  It’s possible you felt nothing in your body as you repeated the list, or only noticed a small response.  It’s also possible you felt quite a lot of sensation in your torso, around your chest, your ribcage, and your belly, or somewhere else altogether.  

I love that there’s no objectively right answer here, that there’s no “perfect” outside of your own experience.  Whatever your experience in this practice is, it’s the right one.  This is what trauma-sensitive practice means for me.  Observing and noticing, allowing and honoring are key aspects of this way of life, the “trauma aware” way of life. That’s what Mindfulness Based Emotional Resilience* training becomes — not a series of important looking letters after your name or a certification for you to work into your tagline — it becomes the way you move through the world.  

“Mindfulness Based Emotional Resilience 

becomes the way you move 

through the world.”

The phrases “You’re welcome to try this when you’re ready, Notice if you’d like to rest, and In your own time,” are considered trauma-sensitive because they allow for the person receiving the language to make choices, which is one of the hallmarks of trauma-sensitive work.  In this case, the choices include things like whether we will engage in the activity, as well as how we will or won’t engage in the activity.  In all forms of trauma-sensitive practice the locus of power shifts from objective to subjective, external to internal, from the institution to the person, from other people to you.  

Moving Through the World

The way I lived before my trauma training was “fairly accepting,” “sort of kind,” “pretty welcoming,” and “almost-but-not-quite non-judgmental.”   I’d been practicing yoga for about 18 years and really struggled with a lot of perfectionistic tendencies, a ton of unrealistic expectations, buckets of shame, and barrels of shoulds.  These kinds of characteristics manifest in a variety of spaces like the yoga studio, the church sanctuary, the athletic field, and the performance hall, to name a few.  And for me it’s possible they were very much nurtured by western society’s bent toward a white supremacist culture.   This almost invisible power structure doesn’t leave much room for personal nuance, subjective subtlety, or shades of brown.  People of every color are affected by it — including white people — whether we realize it or not.  But the EMBER training cuts through all of that.  Trauma-sensitivity literally carves out the room you need to flourish into who you are capable of being. And not only that, but it teaches you how to do this for others, too. 

“I am enough.  

And so are you.”

Acknowledgement, empathy, and compassion are now cornerstones of the way I move through the world.  Now I know how to make space, take space, and hold space for my own self, for the people I know and love, for those I find extraordinarily challenging, and for the people I’ve never met.  Perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, shame, and shoulds are bits of rubble I step over.  Now I notice, name, and embrace my experience in a way that is tender and welcoming instead of demanding and hostile.  Finally, I can be a yoga pose instead of “do” a yoga pose.   Finally I can set down the value-laden anvil of “being good” and  “doing it right,” and pick up the mantle of I am enough and so are you.

Being and Becoming

Trauma awareness allows us to approach ourselves and others from a place of wholeness.  This means we don’t see ourselves as incomplete, broken, or in need of fixing.  Instead we’re afforded space to view ourselves as fully functioning in relation to our circumstances both internal (our genetic makeup and nervous system function) and external (the amount of challenges we encounter in relation to our power, or access to resources and supports).  We do what works to make it through until we cultivate more skillful practices and/or create, gain, or otherwise access more power. These are the spaces in which we move from resilience to post-traumatic growth.  We can’t practice what we were never taught.  And we can’t learn what we were never given an opportunity to know.   So the philosophy of wholeness meets us where we are, with welcoming and befriending, and it allows each one of us to be who we are while supporting us to grow into who we are becoming.  

Practice:

If you’d like to take a small step toward feeling fully alive (even if only for a moment), or to experience the power of just being, try this experiment with me (with your eyes open or closed): 

If you’d like, place your hand (or hands) on something solid –  your leg, the seat of your chair, the floor, or the ground, and press down with any amount of pressure that feels right.

Notice any sensations that reveal your connection to this solid thing, or to the earth.

Breathe in.  And then, breathe out.  

Now, look around your space, and notice one color that stands out to you.

If you’d like, say the name of that color out loud or silently in your mind.

Last, notice how you feel.

Thank you for trying that with me!  Perhaps you’d like to let that experience settle then investigate how it was for you, or, come back to the practice again after you’ve finished reading.  Remember, you have the power to be a witness to your own being.  You have the power to be a witness to your own becoming.  Both of these actions are happening all the time and at the same time, and any choice you make around realizing your power and becoming fully alive…?  It’s the right one. 

May you know peace, joy, and hope, 

in any amount,

Amy

The Universal Yogi

I was trained in EMBER Yoga (Mindfulness-Based Emotional Resilience) by the amazing co-creators Michele Vinbury and Marybeth Hamilton at the equally amazing Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. The most life-changing, life-enhancing training I’ve ever experienced.