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.
I hope you’re able to answer that you’re basically okay. And even in the midst of some really hard stuff, you might be uncovering some joys.
I’m basically okay. And when people ask me how I’m doing I say, “Okay.” And then when they stare at me, or when they remain silent on the phone, I follow up with, “You know, I’m just taking it hour by hour.”
You, too, right?
One friend tells me, “I’m taking it minute by minute!” And I think, Yes, this is also “okay” and right!
Karma Yoga or Seva Yoga is the yoga of service, and it’s a beautiful path to walk in the world. I consider myself ridiculously lucky to have had an opportunity to serve fall straight into my lap four years ago. Managing editor of the Christians Practicing Yoga Blog, Molly Metzger, recently interviewed me for a post on Seva, and it was published on their website earlier this week. You can find it here and learn the story of how I came to teach yoga for veterans in my local community, and now to all the corners of the internet.
Christians Practicing Yoga (CPY) is “an organization that studies the intersections of yoga philosophy and Christian theology—and the practices of both—in order to provide support, education, and community for an interdenominational Christian audience. ”
You can find out more about the history of CPY here, and you can read the awesome story of the naming of Christians Practicing Yoga here. (The level of intentionality in their naming is the reason I reached out and wiggled my way into this powerful, gentle, passionate community.)
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 andrepeat 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
Notice if you’d like to rest
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.
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,
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.