Why Pain is Good

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I’m not a masochist, but I want to challenge the idea that pain is something to be avoided.

In this world, we are told that feeling pain is bad and feeling happy is good. And when I’m teaching yoga, I often tell students to avoid pain in their bodies, as this is our body’s way of telling us that something is going wrong. And I do think, as much as possible, that physical pain should be avoided. Emotional pain, on the other hand, is something to dive into head first; avoiding emotional pain leads to all sorts of discontent and dishonesty (mostly with ourselves).

Emotional pain is an essential part of life. It allows us to see the light and shade of life, and cliched as it sounds, pain is where the growth happens. By avoiding it, we miss out on the realisation of our strength and the understanding of our power.

That’s not to say it’s easy – allowing ourselves to feel pain is one of the hardest things we can do. And we are bombarded by a plethora of ways to avoid it; advertisers have made an art of offering solutions to avoid pain, and technological advances have allowed us to have on-demand distractions which again, take us away from being in that difficult place.

Sometimes these distractions are useful, but not in the long term. When the pain is fresh it can be too much to handle, and sometimes the distraction allows us to keep going, to do the daily things we need to do to survive without breaking and shattering completely. But eventually we need to find some space away from the consumption (shopping, scrolling, over-scheduling) and find a way to feel our feelings.

Allowing ourselves to sit with our pain (much like allowing ourselves to sit with our fear), can have a deep and profound impact on how we go through life, how we show up for other people, how we feel about ourselves and how we approach certain situations (like risk). The first time is the hardest, but it gets easier each time. And while I don’t think any of us would voluntarily put ourselves in a position where life is painful, when these situations occur, here’s what I do:

 

Step 1 – distraction. I binge on Netflix, trashy books, social media, and eat food/drink that I might usually avoid, until I get to a place of acceptance with what’s going on.

Step 2 – stillness/quiet time/meditation. I try to allow the feelings to surface and allow space for tears, rage and/or whatever else comes up.

Step 3 – talking or writing. Both help me to get to the root of the issue, and to understand what’s happening. Sometimes having a sounding board (whether a friend or a blank page) can put things into perspective.

Step 4 – getting into my body. Exercise, massage, reiki, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, etc. I move my body and get outside help (via trusted practitioners). My body and heart know what I need, way more than my mind. Keeping in touch with the physical signals they send helps me to avoid spiralling into negative thought patterns.

Step 5 – reflection/more quiet time. Once again, I try to allow the feelings to be there. More tears/anger/etc.

Step 6 – action. I start to make changes based on what I’ve learned, whether that’s quitting a job, changing friendships, changing personal habits. This step is difficult, but important to me because it shifts me from feeling like a victim to giving me a sense of autonomy over my life. The changes may be small to start, but over time they can make a big impact.

 

This isn’t always a fast or easy process (in fact it’s usually quite slow), and sometimes the steps are not linear (one step forward, two steps back and then a sashay to the side). But this process of listening, feeling and action has been useful to help me feel empowered in my life, even when the pain comes from an external source (like loss or tragedy). It’s also helped me to understand that pain doesn’t need to be avoided; looking back, I always realise that it is times of pain that have made the biggest positive impacts on where I am today. Those times have taught me about my strength, my resilience, my ability to get to the other side unscathed (but not unchanged), and have really made me who I am today. I no longer fear pain. Although I can’t say that I enjoy it, I appreciate what it can do and where it can lead.

For more on dealing with pain in life, I recommend reading Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart”. She explains these concepts clearly and eloquently and offers simplicity to some of life’s complicated stuff.

We don’t always choose what happens in life, but we can always choose how to react.

What are your strategies for dealing with pain? I’d love to hear more – leave me a message in the comments below.

Photo by Ali Schilling Photography.

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Yoga for Creativity

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to get inspired and to reconnect with ourselves. And of course yoga can help!

Below are a few videos to help connect in with our centre and lower bellies, the areas of the body linked to our creativity and sense of self. These are lovely movements at any time, but especially useful if you’re feeling creatively blocked, uninspired, unmotivated or not quite at ease with who you are. You can do just one video, or all four, and take as long or as short as you like with any of them – all together they are just under 10 minutes, but feel free to take more time if you have it. I like these movements most just after I wake up (to bring movement into the spine), or if I’ve been working all day and need a little boost in the afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what impact the videos have for you! Leave me a comment or find me on instagram: @laurenewilkie

 

Are You Good at Yoga?

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New students often introduce themselves to me with the caveat that they are “bad at yoga” and it always gets me thinking – what is their idea of yoga that they think they can be good or bad at it?

There are so many images of yoga on social media, with people bending themselves every which way, we would be forgiven in thinking that that’s all it is. Creating an incredible shape with your body CAN be yoga, but yoga is so much more than just the shapes.

When people say they are good or bad, I think they mean that they have a hard time touching their toes or can’t do a handstand – that they are “bad” at the physical aspect of yoga. But I would argue that because yoga is a practice and not an accomplishment, you can’t actually be good or bad at yoga, you can only either practice it or not. Taking time to practice (in whatever form, physical yoga or not) means that you are good at yoga, because you are practicing, and practicing is what it’s all about.

For me, yoga is more about my state of mind and the small actions I take every day in accordance with my value system (developed with the help of yoga, of course), rather than what shapes I can accomplish with my body. The shapes are important, don’t get me wrong – the quest to achieve those shapes often allows us to understand and observe what’s going on in our minds and with our emotions. The struggle and slow progress of going from “basic” to “advanced” poses allows us to see our reactions, our thoughts and our feelings along that path. It allows us to have the space and time to notice what comes up when we are faced with challenges and adversity, and hopefully gives us tools for perseverance and resilience (i.e. breathing, letting go of limiting thought patterns that we weren’t previously aware of, connecting with our sense of self). It makes us step out of our comfort zones and helps us to grow and expand.

But yoga can also be practiced in other ways, and outside of the time spent “pretzel-ing” in class. In addition to the physical practice, we can practice yoga by staying present, by observing our reactions and emotions, by listening (to others, to our bodies and to our intuition), by noticing nuance and small joys in everyday life, and by being kind to ourselves and others.

So to anyone who has gone to class thinking that they are “bad at yoga” …. please let that idea go. You are at a class and whether it’s your first or 50th, the fact that you showed up and took time to practice, means that you are good at yoga. Keep it up 😊

I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a message in the comments, or find me on instagram – @laurenewilkie

Photo by Ali Schilling Photography

Yoga for Open Shoulders

I’ve had a lot of requests lately for some tips on how to open shoulders and/or how to deal with frozen shoulder. Below are a few of my favourite movements to increase mobility and flexibility in the shoulders, and many of these movements helped me heal from a bad case of tendonitis in that joint.

You’ll need a block/stack of books or pillow for underneath your head. Thanks to Holly Warren Yoga (hollywarrenyoga.com) for the big arm circles which is one of my favourites 🙂

If you have any pain in the shoulder (or anywhere in your body), I recommend consulting your doctor or a professional (physiotherapist, osteopath, muscle activation technique practitioner, etc) before engaging in physical activity. And always, listen to your body above all else.

Enjoy!

Open Arm Twist

Big Circles

Elbow Circles

Open Arms

Did you find these helpful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

 

Breaking the Bubble aka What I learned by Stepping Out of my Comfort Zone

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I recently went on a yoga course, and it was WAAAAAAAY outside my realm of comfort. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t like the experience while I was in it (it really challenged me), but looking back I wouldn’t change it one bit.

While it’s much easier to stay where we feel safe, we need to step outside these easy places in order to experience growth and a better understanding of self.

Let me first say that the course I took was amazing; it was taught by an incredible teacher and what I learned has really shaped my yoga teaching and my personal yoga practice. It was nothing short of transformative, both personally and professionally. The environment however, was, for me, extremely challenging. I knew it would be (as a partial introvert, communal living has never been my thing), but I didn’t realise to what extent.

It was set in nature at an eco-retreat in Portugal – a really beautiful spot, which, under different weather conditions might not have been so difficult. Like many eco-retreats, the showers were heated by the sun, so when it’s sunny you can have a hot shower, but no sun = cold water. You’ve probably guessed that when I was there, there was no sun (for most of the week, anyway), so I got to have quick cold showers, never feeling particularly clean as I was just trying to get through it fast.

Second, there was only one toilet for 40 people, which, in terms of timing wasn’t such an issue as the toilet was a compost toilet, meaning no pee (generally, this also meant no queues for the loo). When we needed to pee, we went wherever we wanted, connecting back in with nature. I don’t mind this once in a while, but I realised that when in communal living (we were 4 to a tee-pee) I really value those moments of being completely alone and private. Peeing outside did not afford me this solitude and I noticed the impact of that as the week wore on.

And the tee-pees! Beautiful and luxurious … as long as the sun was shining. In the rain and cold, much less so. It rained a few nights (and let me point out that tee-pees have a hole in the roof where the canvas and the frame meet- fine when dry, but ineffective in the rain), and we ended up with big puddles of water on the beds and floor, and damp bedding. On one night, there was so much rain dripping from the aged canvas that we had to seek alternative sleeping arrangements (luckily there was a relatively dry yurt near-by).

The week was cold, damp, communal and very out-doorsy. And while I really hated these things, I loved the overall experience because of what I learned:-

 

  • I (and we, as a society) take much for granted. Hot showers, shelter from rain and the elements, plumbing, the ability to feel clean, and have food whenever we want …. These are things not available to many, but we have come to expect them as basic. Removing them for a while makes us appreciate the value and luxury that some of us have. I like being in nature, but I like coming home to a warm bed, free of bugs (or toads, as one of my fellow tee-pee dwellers found), I like having hot showers and value the simple luxuries afforded in my life (these of course, are privilege for much of the world, but I appreciate and enjoy them).

 

  • Removing the “easy buttons” forces you to feel your emotions. We don’t realise how many quick fixes and distractions we have day-to-day that allow us to tune out from how we are feeling, especially if those feelings are uncomfortable. The eco-retreat had no wifi, no television, no (as far as I was concerned) basic comforts, which meant that I had no way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable. How often do we start scrolling, reach for something delicious/comforting/intoxicating, or tune out on Netflix when things get a little tough? I had nothing that I could use to turn off or avoid the feelings that came up, so I had no choice but to acknowledge them. And although it’s not easy, learning to sit with sadness, discomfort and anger is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn. It teaches us resilience, and the understanding that nothing is permanent – happiness, sadness or anything else. We learn that chasing happiness is futile because happiness is fleeting, as is everything. Appreciating where we are now, and recognizing the impermanence of everything (and accepting that fact) creates contentment because we are focused on the only moment we have – the present.

 

  • Hard times breed deep connections – with self and others. Some of my best friends have come from the connection that happens during a shared difficult experience. Bonding over leaky tee-pees, lack of toilets and an understanding of being out of your realm can bring deep bonds of sisterhood, both with yourself and with others. You are forced to get real, real quick. And connection comes from being real. I met beautiful women, witnessed and felt true vulnerability, and saw incredible moments of honest bare souls. First by allowing ourselves to feel and then opening up about those feelings, we realise that we are not alone, the human experience is shared, and vulnerability and honesty breeds connection. Seeing this openness in ourselves and in others helps us connect to what we truly need, and allows us to better understand ourselves. Being honest, and also available to receive honesty, allows for more connection, more understanding, more love; that’s really what life’s all about – giving and sharing love, with ourselves and those around us.

 

Although it’s much easier to stay inside our bubbles of safety, stepping outside can be the best and most incredible experience. Although I won’t be signing up for another eco-retreat anytime soon, I wouldn’t change a thing – I have a deeper appreciation for the life I live, a greater awareness for the distractions I use to avoid discomfort, a deeper resilience for feelings of discomfort, and a renewed sense of connection with myself and others. So break the bubble, get dirty and see what happens … I daresay you won’t regret it.

Have you stepped outside of your comfort zone? What was the experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Photo Credit: Paula Sanderson @paula_sandersonphotos

DIY Yoga Mat Spray

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Keeping your yoga mat fresh in between classes is easy with just a few supplies. The following essential oil cleaning spray is a healthy and natural way to clean and care for your mat.

Melaluca (tea tree) Essential Oil has antibacterial, anti-parasitic, antiseptic and antifungal properties, helping to keep bacteria at bay.

Lavender Essential Oil not only smells good, it too has antifungal and antiseptic properties. It can be used to help balance moods and promote feelings of health, love and general well-being.

Peppermint Essential Oil, in addition to having antibacterial and antiseptic properties is purifying and stimulating to the conscious mind. It has a clean, fresh scent and is good for clearing the air – energetically or actually.

Supplies and Directions

1 spray bottle

Few drops each Tea Tree/Melaluca, Lavender and Peppermint essential oil

Distilled water

Add the essential oils and distilled water to the spray bottle and shake well. Voila! A safe and healthy spray to keep your mat clean.

You can use any essential oils for this spray, but I love doTERRA’s oils because of their purity and potency. If you’d like more info on how you can buy doTERRA essential oils at 25% off, click here.

*Essential oils are not suitable for all mats (i.e. Lululemon ‘The Mat’ and Liforme); depending on the type of material, it is possible that oils can damage the mat instead of cleaning it. If unsure, test a small part of the mat first.