Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Feet.....Uh not so much

I admit it.  I love shoes.  I want more shoes.  My favorite kinds of shoes to wear are high heels. The higher the heel the better.  I mostly love sexy strappy shoes, but platform shoes, colorful shoes or any kind of shoes, as long as they're stylish will do.  I am really attached to high heeled shoes.  They are stylish and cute.  But my feet don't like them.  I've tried; I go to shoe stores and look for "sensible" flats, but to me they're all kind of ugly.  I haven't seen one pair recently that made me just have to buy them.  I actually recently joked that I liked a pair of shoes because they were very comfortable but they looked too dikey (kind of ironic coming from a lesbian)!

What on earth does this have to do with yoga you say?  For one my attachment to shoes is probably not what Patanjali had in mind when he laid out the yamas and niyamas of the Yoga Sutras, namely Aparigraha or noncovetousness.  Second and more pressing for me right now is.... my feet hurt like hell after wearing high heeled shoes!  I notice it when in tadasana for any period of time and mostly in balancing poses. So what's a yogini to do? Do I let go of my attachment to the feeling of pain while on the mat, or my attachment to shoes?  Well, pain is a signal to the body that something is wrong and since yoga is about awareness then something else has to give. I try to rationalize that everyone has to have a vice, (I'm sure this isn't my only one), and everyone needs to wear shoes.  But no one wants to wear ugly shoes.  I'm trying to wrap my mind around wearing shoes that are comfortable, but with that great comfort there is no style, no flair, no panache!
I started to think that maybe I should become a shoe designer so that women don't have to sacrifice style for comfort.  But that's not very practical.

Just yesterday in yoga class we were doing several balancing asanas and with each one my feet screamed in agony.  I kept falling out of the asana.  Mostly because the soles of my feet were in so much pain from walking around like barbie!  My feet still hurt and I can't find shoes that I actually like.   What's a yogini to do?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

PTSD and Yoga

I have to admit that every time I've begun to write this blog I got stuck.  I was mentally hitting the pause button.  I have PTSD.  I can usually talk about it openly but there is something about writing the words that feel so raw, real and exposed that I just kept getting a brain freeze.  I initially had fear about the a stigma of "mental disorder".  But PTSD is the mind's way of reacting to unusual trauma.  It begun at an early age and it took many years to get diagnosed, but with  a diagnoses came the use of tools to help me better cope with all that living with PTSD has wrought.  PTSD doesn't go away.  I've used cognitive therapy, yoga, and meditation as tools to help me manage the symptoms.  

Yesterday in a yoga class a teacher gave a pretty good definition of what happens to me when I am triggered by something.  She said "the story that's on rerun in your head...." When something triggers my fight or flight response that situations become my story on rerun (or broken record).  Or rather how that situation made me feel becomes my constant rerun.  Whatever my emotions were at the time are a response to the trigger but it doesn't mean that my actual emotions/feelings about the situation are based on reality.  A wise woman once told me "feelings don't make it fact".  Just to give an example, let's say my best friend called me to cancel our plans to go up north for the weekend, that could illicit a trigger in me to feel abandoned.  My best friend didn't do anything wrong.  She just had to change our plans based on something else happening in her life.  Well in my head the story on rerun would be abandonment and feeling alone because when she called that's where I went to emotionally.  Now through the practice of observing my own mind (through years of meditation and introspection) I have become much better at seeing these triggers.  I know now from whence they come and now it is easier to talk myself down from that fight or flight ledge.  This example is a very simple, one that I'm sure has be experienced by people without PTSD.  However, it illicits a pretty over the top emotional response of anger (that the person could do this), fear (that they are truly abandoning me), and hurt (that I am all alone), which in turn makes me isolate and "run away" from that person.  Which in its own way is self sabotage because running away only ensures the self fulfilling prophecy of being alone.  And it is this that causes the thing that I fear the most to actually happen, being alone. 

Usually one who has PTSD already feels isolated and alone, as if no one truly understands what they are feeling.  It's pretty hard to put it in words, but until you learn how to shut that rerunning story off, there is no way to see through the emotional tornado that PTSD brings up.

Stilling the mental waves
I learned to meditate many years ago.  And while there are many different meditation techniques, just sitting still trying to quite the mind has never worked for me.  I needed a technique that would lead me there. I needed something to focus my mind on until it would begin to calm the storm of restless thoughts.   I learned some very useful meditation techniques through Self-Realization Fellowships teachings, they offer a home study course in meditation and pranayama unlike anything I had heretofore practiced. Not only did the meditation give me room to calm the mind, the use of daily introspection helped me to go back and review what was actually going on in my mind that caused me to react the way that I did.  The mind is very reactionary and someone with PTSD is even more reactionary than someone with out it, so tools like this are invaluable.  While practicing these things are helping, it is no easy feat.  You have to be willing to look at your own thought processes, see how they are negatively impacting your life and be willing to acknowledge them and do something about them.  Positive change comes with much time, practice and patience.  It takes dedication to your own healing and growth to keep at it.  PTSD doesn't go away.  But with vigilant observance  you will be able to see the triggers with clarity and stop them in their tracks before they send you into fight or flight.  Meditation has certainly be very useful to me on this front.

How does yoga help?
Survivors of sexual abuse who suffer from PTSD may find that they have disassociated from their bodies physically and emotionally. In my own experience the way that I was able to cope with the trauma as it was happening was to "leave my body", by going into a catatonic like state.   When I was in the midst of having a flash back, I felt like I had absolutely no control over my body, breath, or emotions.  I was reliving that trauma all over again 20+ years later as if it were happening at that very moment.

Yoga asanas taught me awareness of the body and mind.  It has helped me to be fully aware of my body of  being in the room and using  my breath to create awareness.  What that means for me is that there is a pause between the moments that I feel something and the time it takes me to react to it.  This is the exact opposite from how PTSD would trigger a response from me. 

Through the practice of yoga I am allowing myself to observe how my body feels in each posture. 
 Is there a tightness in my lower back?  Am I tensing muscles that I could relax in that particular posture?  Is my jaw clinched?  Is  my face relaxed?  While all of these things seem simple, most of us go through out our day not noticing all of these "little things" that are going on in our bodies.  By practicing yoga you initially become aware of what your body is feeling, and in time with practice you become aware of the emotions that can come along with these bodily feelings.  

A few weeks ago I was in kapotanasa (pigeon) and found myself feeling angry.  I noticed that not only were my hips tight, but so was my jaw.  My jaw was actually clinched shut.  With this new found awareness I was able to release my clinched jaw.  I acknowledge the anger I was feeling and where it was coming from. In that moment I observed that my emotions had a direct effect on my body.   I learned to be still, and truly observe what was happening in the body and mind and honored those feelings, in that way I  allowed myself to move through it.  It is common for us to push through pain or just "get over it" but with yoga the awareness gets carried over into all aspects of your life.  Yoga, when truly practiced, is a science of the mind and so much more than just physical exercises.  

Now when I feel an emotion while I am practicing (on or off the mat), I observe it (more often than not), to see where it arises from.  I acknowledge it's existence, allow myself to relax the tension it has brought up and allow it to pass of it's own accord without mental force.  I let it be until it dissipates on it's own.  I am living proof that with time and persistent practice, yoga can be a useful tool for one who suffers from PTSD. 

This is yoga on and off the mat.