Democracy, sustainability, gender equality and anti-racism.

With the upcoming election in Sweden, we decided to state our values that we not only try to live by, but also incorporate into all the work we do with YOMI: democracy, sustainability, gender equality and anti-racism. For this month’s blog text, one of YOMI’s partner shares a personal experience that sadly points to the fact that our society still isn’t equal for everyone. Thank you for sharing, Kousha!

 

(In Swedish)

Igår stötte jag på en farbror i 50-60års åldern. Vet inte exakt vad som gjorde honom så arg och provocerad men gissningsvis fångade min och min fars utländska utseende hans intresse. Farbrorn vankar fram och tillbaka på stranden med sin hund samtidigt som han betraktar oss och våra tillhörigheter. När han till slut väljer att tilltala oss är det för att inte för att säga hej eller ställa en fråga. Istället anbefaller han mig att genast att ta upp min ettårings blöja som ligger på marken vid våra tillhörigheter.

Det räckte inte för honom att jag försökte förklara att jodå den tillhör oss och att vi minsann ska plocka undan efter oss när vi är färdiga. Men han var inte där för att lyssna eller be snällt. Det skulle ske NU! ”Fattar vi ingenting?!” Vrålar han. Jag tror att farbrorn skulle bli rätt förvånad om han visste att det var min etniskt svenska sambo som hade tagit av den rena blöjan och lagt den där eftersom hon och dottern var iväg och badade ihop.
Här tappar jag konceptet och skriker tillbaka att han kan ge fan i vad vi gör och sticka härifrån. Därifrån eskalerade det snabbt och det hela utvecklades till en sensationell och primitiv skrikmatch. Det enda som saknades för att spektaklet skulle kunna bli en viral succé, i händelsen av att någon hade lyckats fånga det på film och ladda upp det, var lite handgemäng.

Tack och lov gick det inte så långt och historien hade kunna stanna här. Onödiga missförstånd individer emellan uppstår titt som tätt trots allt. Men den här gången var det annorlunda. Scenen utvecklades till en bisarr manifestation av rasism. I efterhand har jag svårt att minnas alla tragikomiska utfall och detaljer, men farbrorn hann bland annat fälla kommentarer om mitt utseende, hånade mitt fars uttal och ifrågasatte min läskunnighet och mitt förstånd. Själv agerade jag inte mycket bättre utan bekräftade snarare i mitt ursinne alla hans fördomar om ”blattar”.

Det som gör att just denna incident inte hamnar bland alla de andra gångerna rasismen visat sitt fula tryne, och den största anledningen till att jag delar den med er, är orden som farbrorn yttrar i samband han lämnar platsen. ”Vi får se vem som sticker härifrån efter hösten. Då blir det andra bullar.” Verkligheten bortom de orden går inte längre att avfärda.

SD är näst största partiet enligt dagens opinionsmätningar och det finns t.o.m. indikationer på att de kommer att bli störst i höstens val. SDs framgångar har nämligen gjort rasismen rumsren. Främlingsfientligheten är helt plötsligt legitim när en av Sveriges största partier i sitt program väljer att lyfta fram begrepp som ”nedärvd essens” för att ställa grupper mot varandra, göra skillnad på folk och vinna billiga poäng. Det är ett parti vars högsta företrädare pratar om vilka grupper och individer som kvalificerar sig som ”svenskar”.

Kanske är det därför för jag håller Zlatan extra varm om hjärtat. För han lyckas representera Sverige och svenskhet på sitt unika sätt och inte på ett sätt som definieras av ett parti som SD. Det kanske också är därför som Mattias Karlsson tycker att Zlatans sätt att tala och hans kroppsspråk inte är ”svenskt”. Det komiska i sammanhanget är att Zlatan har satt Sverige på världskartan på ett sätt som Karlsson aldrig kommer att göra. Många av oss andra som inte är etniskt svenska anpassar oss dock. I mer eller mindre grad. Jag har gjort det i hög grad.

Alla dessa anpassningar genom åren. Så många de hunnit bli nu. Jag känner mig alldeles matt när jag reflekterar över det. Vid det här laget kan det bäst beskrivas som en ständigt pågående process som i viss mån har blivit automatiserad. Något man till vardags inte reflekterar speciellt mycket över, men som man ändå gör. Hela tiden. Som att gå.

Men går man flera mil om dagen, varje dag, blir man slutligen väldigt trött. Ja, man blir faktiskt alldeles matt. Men mattheten är inte det som besvärar mig allra mest. Inte just nu. Det är föraktet. Föraktet inför den egna lyhördheten kring hur jag bör föra mig för att bli accepterad. Och det sorgliga är att anpassningarna har varit nödvändiga om inte helt avgörande för att ta sig fram. Som blatte i det svenska samhället.

Jag tror att man tvingas bli exceptionell bra på det som ensamkommande 8-åring 1991. Är du dessutom naiv, förutom att vara ett barn, så går du på ett par minor i början. Du har inte privilegiet av ett skydd som skönmålar eller ger alternativa, hanterbara förklaringar till den råa verkligheten. Som explicit och dold rasism.
Några exempel: Jag är noga med att uttrycka mig på korrekt svenska. Jag bryter inte. Jag ler och försöker se extra vänlig ut, speciellt i områden och platser där jag är ensam ”utlänning”. Jag har genomfört värnplikten. Jag är välutbildad. Jag kan och vidmakthåller svenska traditioner. Hyffsat åtminstone. Det spelar ingen roll hur många gånger jag försöker äta sill. Jag får inte ner det. Jag försöker spela svenska låtar på mina spinningklasser, även om urvalet av bra, peppiga svenska låtar är minst sagd begränsat.
I viss mån kan jag ha distans till det. Som när jag skämtar om det här. Speciellt mina nära har roligt åt den enorma diskrepansen mellan mitt ”offentliga jag” och ”mitt privata, babbiga jag”. Men nu är jag trött. Speciellt trött blir jag när jag tänker på några av de fantastiska personer bekantskapen, som i ivern att bli accepterade, bytt till svenska/västerländska namn. Men till vilken ände ska vansinnet fortsätta? För vissa kommer vi aldrig att räknas som svenskar.

Från och med idag har jag åtminstone lovat mig själv att inte spela trångsynthet och hatet i händerna. Jag skiter till exempel i att folk tar illa upp eller kollar snett för att jag talar farsi med mina barn på lekplatsen. Och till alla er som har lidit er genom denna långa text vill jag be er att beakta följande:

1. Gör inte som jag som i exemplet ovan. Försökt att möta människan bakom hatet istället. Ilskan är ofta sekundär till ensamhet, sorg, rädsla m.m. och grundar sig ofta i okunskap.
2. Sluta med onödiga anpassningar enkom för acceptans. Var mer som Zlatan.
3. Som en klok person en gång sa: var inte historielös. De människor som på 30-talet röstade fram Hitler benämns som nazister. De röstade nämligen på ett nazistiskt och rasistiskt parti oavsett om de röstade utifrån grundval av otrygghet, ekonomiska bekymmer, missunnsamhet, missnöje med det politiska etablissemanget eller p.g.a. opportunism eller ren och skär egoism. Och resten är historia. Lyckligtvis finns det finns andra, bättre alternativ. Speciellt om man även värnar om jämställdhet och miljön. Nedan har du en länk till ett exempel. 
4. Ta hand om varandra, må väl och tack för att du tagit dig tid!

 

Why YOMI is always led by psychologists

Regular practice of yoga is, as far as the still quite thin body of research as well as the very thick empirical knowledge show, beneficial to us, both on a psychological and physiological level. It has helped numerous people feel better, get stronger, overcome sadness and grief.  

And yet, we as yoga teachers should be careful with what we make claims about and what problems we address in the yoga room.

A very important thing about being a licensed psychologist is that your license comes with a responsibility: ethical guidelines and a promise to practice in line with empirical knowledge and evidence. This is important because when we’re dealing with people who are suffering in one way or another we need to ensure that they get proper treatment. Therefore, we cannot make claims about the effects of something without having something to fall back on; research, empirical practice, health care guidelines. Even if we have your own experience of being helped by a certain thing or practice, we need to keep in mind that this might not be the case for everyone. This is tedious at times, but it’s also what makes it possible to do a good job and help people who might come from other circumstances than yourself.

One reason we’re not calling YOMI psychological treatment is that we simply don’t have the research to back it up (at least not yet). We can, however, say that YOMI seems to be beneficial both psychologically and physiologically, especially for people dealing with stress and worry.

It has been important to us to build YOMI on a solid theoretical and practical foundation. In order to make sure that we really use the psychological knowledge correctly, ensuring the quality of the YOMI practice, we early on decided that YOMI should be led by psychologists who are also trained yoga teachers. The psychoeducation in YOMI might not seem too advanced at a first glance, but it’s built on principles and theories that people have been researching since the greater part of the last century.

 It might seem like small things, but to us as trained psychologists, there’s a big difference between saying “don’t think about the negative stuff” and “observe your negative thoughts before allowing yourself to let go of them” (In psychological terms: the first one encourages avoidance, the second encourages defusion). There’s also a big difference between saying that we’ve seen in studies that YOMI Yin can lower people’s perceived anxiety and saying that YOMI cures anxiety. And not the least: knowing what we can deal with in the yoga room, and what we should refer to health care facilities.

Yoga and mindfulness are powerful and beneficial tools, but we should be humble towards what we have the competency to deal with and in what context. And as yogis, we should encourage ourselves and each other to stay open minded, but also remain a little critical from time to time in the yoga room.  

 

 

Exercising being in all of your five senses.

Maria has been in charge of our Instagram this month, where the theme has been "Our five senses". Concluding this lovely journey through touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing she offers an exercise that anyone can try next time it's time for food: 

Our five senses

This is a very good exercise, both because it includes all of our five senses and because eating so easily becomes habitual and stressful for us, which is not a very good thing for neither our digestive system nor the mindfulness perspective. You can start by just reading it through and then trying it with something to eat. Enjoy!

 Begin by connecting to your breath and body, feel your feet on the ground and notice your experience in this moment. With your awareness in this moment, notice any thoughts, sensations or emotions you are experiencing. (Pause) 

Tune into the awareness or sensation that you have in your body of feeling hungry, thirsty or maybe even feeling full. If you were going to eat or drink something right now, what is your body hungry for? What is it thirsty for? Just pay attention and notice with awareness the sensations that give you this information. (Pause) 

Now, bring your attention to the item in your hand and imagine that you are seeing it for the first time. Observe with curiosity as you pay attention and notice the color, shape, texture, and size. Is there anything else that you notice, sense or feel? (Pause) 

Imagine what it took for this item to get to your hands: sunshine, water, time, processing, and shipping. You may choose to be aware of gratitude for everyone involved in the cultivation and preparation of this item of food. You may choose to bring in your own gratitude or spiritual blessing. (Pause) 

Now place the item between your fingers and feel the texture, temperature and ridges. You may notice smoothness or stickiness. Again, notice if you have any thoughts, sensations or emotions at this time. Continue to breathe and be fully present in this moment. (Pause) 

Take the piece of food and bring it toward your nose and smell with your full awareness. Notice if you have any memories, sensations or reactions in your body. Even before you eat it, you may notice that you begin to have a digestive response in your body just by noticing and smelling. (Pause) 

With full awareness of your hand moving toward your mouth, place the object (fruit or chocolate) into your mouth without chewing or swallowing it. Just allow it to be in your mouth, roll it around to different parts of your mouth and tongue. Notice the flavor and texture. Notice the physical sensations within your body, especially your mouth and your gut. Continue to breathe as you explore the sensation of having this item in your mouth. (Pause) 

Next take just one bite and notice the flavor, notice the change of texture. Then very slowly begin to chew this piece of food, and notice the parts of your mouth that are involved in chewing. Notice the sound and movement of chewing, as you continue to notice the sensations and flavor. (Pause) 

When you are ready, swallow this item and notice the path that it follows from your mouth and throat into your stomach. Notice the sensation and taste that may linger in your mouth. Connect again to your body and your breath and notice your experience in this moment. (Pause) 

Next, I invite you to pick up another food item, and choose to eat it however you wish. Noticing your choice and your experience. Notice how it is similar or different. (Pause for 30-60 seconds, and then return to large group discussion about the experience).

Managing stress: how to identify it and how to know what to let go of.

If you've been following us for a while you know that stress - or rather how to handle stress - is something that we deal with quite a bit. Both in our personal lives and in our YOMI work. 

We've written about how the sympathetic as well as the parasympathetic nervous systems work, and how these are related to stress. We've also written about how we work with emotions in our program YOMI Yin, which focuses on managing stress and worry, as well as a few posts about the practice of acceptance and gratefulness, two important tools in stress management.  

Yet it seems that there are more (endless?) perspectives, questions, tips and tricks when it comes to dealing with stress. On our instagram this month we've dug into a few questions regarding stress: 

What are three early signs of stress for you?
To manage our stress we first need to identify when we start to become stressed. How does it feel in our bodies? How do we act when we start to get stressed? What thoughts and feelings arise when we start to get stressed? Learning to notice these early signs and how they play out in our bodies is a good first step to manage stress in a functional way. For me early signs are usually feeling "messy" in my mind, shorter breath and a general tension in all of my body. These are clear signs that I need to make a few adjustments. 

What's the first thing you let go of when you're stressed? 
We usually get stressed when the demands of life are bigger than our available resources (may they be resources of time, energy, practical help or other). So it's completely in order to prioritise and leave some things for later. It's not uncommon, however, that we in times of stress start letting go of things that would actually serve us well in taking care of ourselves. Physical exercise for example, time on the yoga mat, time with our loved ones. 
In order to know how to prioritise well during stressed times we're helped by knowing which things that usually serve us well (we've written about identifying the function of our actions here ) so that we can remind ourselves what to really hold on to even when we feel like we don't have time - and what is completely fine to let go of when we prioritise. For me, in times of stress, I'm usually better of holding on to my yoga practice than holding on to having a perfectly clean home.  But even knowing this, it takes quite a bit of reminding to hold on to.  

It's a continuous practice as it is a continuous life. Let us practice and be kind and adjust according to what we need right now. 

Wishing you all a happy summer! 
Frida
 

Acting in line with your values, even on the rough days.

This month's text on values, by Maria: 

It’s a rainy Wednesday morning, the weather suited for my current mood. I am on my way to work to meet a handful of patients and I do not feel the slightest bit motivated.
The morning has started in the worst possible way: Before 8 am I have managed to come in conflict with both my partner and my two children. There's been yelling, blaming, nagging, endless discussions that don’t seem to lead anywhere. I have bitter thoughts in my head, and for a while it all seems hopeless. When landing in my seat on the bus, I wish the ride would never end -- but in 20 minutes I need to take on my professional glasses and show my patient, a person in a great deal of suffering, my engagement and empathic concern.

Something in the back of my head keeps nagging me. It says “Maria, this won’t lead to any good, the mistake is already made, settle with how you can repair what is broken and forgive yourself. Do something to distract you, use your time wisely!” I want to tell that annoying voice to shut up, put on sad music and pout. Instead I sigh, resign. By now,I know the voice is right. I pick up my phone, tell my partner I am sorry for acting out my stress on him. Ask him for forgiveness and to kiss the kids for me until I’m home again. I put on my compassion-app and listen to a guided meditation. It brings me calm, remind me of what loving-kindness and compassion can give me.

I come to think about the first patient of the day. A woman my age who is so hard on herself, never gives herself a break. I feel for her, want to help her see the benefit from being compassionate towards herself. I wish she could see what it has done for me. I put my hands up to my chest, try to get in contact with my compassionate voice in my head and tell myself  “What you did this morning was not great, but it was human. You were under a lot of stress and you have a hard time handling stress in the mornings. Choose to forgive yourself and let it not take over the whole day. Let yourself be of great use to your patients and colleagues and take care of yourself so that you can come home feeling content and with a lot of hugs in your back-pack.”

I start to wonder how I just a few moments ago could think about my work as horrible when really it is chosen with great care and is deeply meaningful to me. I wonder how my head could twist into thinking why I have chosen to have a family when there is nothing better in the world than to look into my children's eyes and feel their hands all over my face. I choose to not blame myself for these thoughts, they are merely thoughts, and they are human. This afternoon I will make up for the morning, I promise myself that.

Oh, good, I almost missed my stop sitting here with my head up in the clouds. During those steps to the office in the cold rain my mind has taken a new turn. I look forward to seeing that patient of mine and hopefully give her a way to let go of that self-criticism. I look forward to the meeting where we will plan for the future and I look forward to coming home to my family. The day might be hard, but being in contact with who I want to be and what I find meaningful makes it easier to get through the day even with draining energy. In the meeting with my first patient, I get to talk about compassion. When we do an exercise I remind myself about that this is something I need as well as the patient. In the meeting with my second patient, I get to talk about values and ACT and I get a reminder about who I want to be. After work, the kids are cranky and my partner and I are tired. I manage to remind myself about this morning; that is not who I want to be. After the circus of an everyday evening with two children, I lie next to my son. My mind starts to drift away to work and things that stress me. My son brings me back with his questions and needs. I remember to be thankful for it instead of annoyed like a was yesterday; that is not who I want to be. He gives me a big hug and snuggles into my arms and I just have to wait for him to fall asleep. Another day with disappointments, challenges, compassion and gratefulness has passed. 

Headstuck! A first step to reflect upon your values.

If you're following us on instagram (@yomi_psychology) you know that this month's theme is Values, which we'll dive deeper into as the month progresses. But to give you a first taste, do watch the video below, and reflect on where your own head might be stuck?

 

In every yin there’s a bit of yang, in every yang there’s a bit of yin.

In our program YOMI Yin, we use yin yoga to help people cope with stress and worry. The hypothesis is that when we’re stressed and worried we have too much yang in our lives. Or in other words; too much fast paced activity, too many demands, too much change, too much to do. Hence, we need to increase our yin, or in other words; we need to increase the slow, stable, recovering, unchanging aspects of our lives. This is where the slow, but many times challenging, practice of yin yoga comes in.

In yin yoga we stay put on the ground, in seated or lying positions, holding them for 3-5 minutes, while relaxing all muscles we don’t need for the specific posture we’re in. Once in the position we practice letting go and be still. Which can be a challenge, both physically and mentally.

But even though yin yoga aims to increase the yin aspects, we need to remember that there’s still always a yang element present. To be completely yin is to be dead. And here’s where one of the tricky parts come into play: how can we find the yin in an otherwise yang dominated situation and how can we use that little bit of yang that we need in an otherwise yin dominated practice? Finding a little bit more of the grey nuances instead of being completely black or white, getting help from activation to find relaxation, as well as getting help from relaxation to stay active in a sustainable way.

More specifically in the yin practice this can mean activating your arm muscles to keep yourself lifted in the lying backbend “sfinx”, but doing so while still relaxing the rest of your body; your legs, bum, shoulders and neck. Outside of the mat this can mean finding a relaxed focus while doing a tedious task, such as reading a hard text. Being relaxed enough to follow through, but active enough to grasp what you’re reading.

The more we learn to regulate ourselves, making use of the yin in the yang, and the yang in the yin, the better we can steer our way through life, coping with the stresses and worries that might come our way.

 The posture "sfinx", where we need to activate the muscles in our arms to keep ourselves lifted, but still aim to relax the rest of the body. 

The posture "sfinx", where we need to activate the muscles in our arms to keep ourselves lifted, but still aim to relax the rest of the body. 

Feminism from a mindful perspective

We haven't figured out how to change the author of the blog posts yet, so suffice to say that this post is written by Maria, not Frida as it says above. Enjoy!

My interest for feminism started early in life and I have never had a problem with calling myself a feminist or to fight for equality. But as for many of us, the teenage version of me saw everything from a more black or white perspective than I do nowadays. Life makes you humble and wise. Unfortunately, it also tends to make us more lazy, less engaged and more hopeless with time. Going through my university education, trying out partner relationships and having children made me for years feel ashamed of not being as hardcore in my everyday life as I in my values had stated to be. It made my question if I could really call myself a feminist at all. I have never lost my interest for feminism, but one might say that the problems seemed so big I partly lost my hope.

Having my son 5 years ago made me relate to this issue in a new way. After his birth I soon realized that what I had been told was true. The expectations on a little boy was different from those on a little girl, and many mistook my son for a girl when I chose to dress him in pink and keep his long, dark beautiful hair. I didn’t mind that people mistook him for a girl, but I did mind that they didn’t question their own prejudices. 10 months ago I had a daughter and experienced the same thing, but the other way around. It was starting to make me more irritated than anything else. My fighting spirit was given fire again and I started reading more inspiring literature and listening to feminist podcasts. I started being more hardcore again in my everyday life; being bolder with my statements, being less humble and more demanding. Once again, as in my teenage years, it seemed to make me frustrated and tired, which reduced my motivation once again.

One night, I chose to sit down with my partner and talk to him. I talked about the two perspectives in me and how they made me feel fragmented. One side of me wants to be this tough, sharp and fearless woman. One side of me wants to be this mindful, humble and compassionate person. Slowly, during our discussion, I started to see a vision where these two sides could meet. I could make certain demands of my environment, but still be humble and patient about the fact that change takes time. I could bring the discussion up, make feminism an interesting and important subject in my home, at my workplace and in my relationships, but do it from an inspiring, strengthening perspective.

I know this might be debated. Men should do this, we shouldn’t have to motivate them and so on. I think so too. But to rage on every man in my life will not make me feel more equal, will not make me happier and will not make them see the benefits of walking in the direction of creating a better world for my children to live in - so I really think we have to be smarter than that.

Of course this is still something that I think about every single day of my life and I am nowhere near satisfied but I have a plan that I follow where I both have a path that I am motivated to walk on, but still an acceptance that every piece is not in it’s right place quite yet.
So, may the compassionate fight continue!

 

Exposing yourself to your emotions – how we do it in YOMI  

Unpleasant things are, as the word indicates, mainly unpleasant and unpleasantness is usually something we like to avoid. Which is fine enough, except when we can’t. For example when it comes to our emotions.

There are things in life we have much control over and then there are things we’d like to think that we control, but that we in all honesty don’t. Our emotions fall into the latter category. Or to be more specific; our emotions are something we can regulate and approach in different way, but that they’re hard to avoid altogether.

One of the basis in YOMI is the assumption that we can’t avoid suffering, but we can find ways of dealing with emotional as well as physical pain, and we can gird ourselves with tools to approach the unpleasantness that life offers – potentially reducing the length of our suffering. In behavioral therapy the concept of exposure is one of the most powerful methods we use to help people deal with things they are afraid of. If you're scared of spiders, we expose you to spiders, it you're scared of riding in an elevator we expose you to riding in an elevator. And in the YOMI practice we use the same principle of exposure, but apply it primarily on our inner states, practicing to stay with whatever inner sensations, may it be thoughts, emotions or physical reactions, arise during our practice.

Say for example that I’m in a YOMI class, in a challenging yoga posture (perhaps “Saddle”, which you can see below) and I know that I will be in this posture for at least a few minutes. My first impulses might be to get out, to change the posture or to give up. Thoughts that arise might be “this is so uncomfortable”, “how long will we stay here for?” and “I hate this, I hate myself”. Emotions that show up might be fear (of what’s going on in the body in the position) and anger (at being in the class at all, or at myself for not being as advanced in my practice as I would’ve liked to be).

In our everyday life we often act on our initial impulses in order to avoid the unpleasant emotions and thoughts. “If I get out of the position I won’t have to feel scared or upset”. This will give us a temporary relief, but in the long run it might make us more afraid of feeling unpleasant feelings. Which might make us avoid even more situations where unpleasantness might arise. Which might make our lives more limited. And so on and so on.

And since emotions arise within us they’re hard to avoid, no matter how much we may try.

Life sometimes offer unpleasantness, pain and sadness, we may as well prepare ourselves the best we can. One way of doing this is by practicing exposure to our own emotions. Staying with them, breathing through them and observing them without reacting to them. In this example staying put in the position, letting whatever arises arise, allowing for it to be there, giving it space, reminding ourselves that all emotional states are temporary, that they all change eventually even without our meddling. On the contrary, they usually change quicker if we don’t meddle in too much. This non-meddling, non-reactive, non-judging approach to our emotions is something that intellectually might make sense, but that practically requires continuous practice and courage. And that is exactly why we’re here - to help you practice through it.  

Sadeln_Fotor.jpg

Why we will never tell you to “just be positive”.

IMG_6405 copy3.jpg

 Not to ruin the mood for anyone, but we have to be honest about one thing when it comes to YOMI: we’re not preachers of a happy-go-lucky attitude, and certainly not of a ”just think positive” one. To be honest, there is an abundance of various life coaches, mindfulness entrepreneurs and health profiles that try to sell the message that it’s up to you to change your thoughts, and that your life will be amazing once you do.

Here’s why that won’t be the recipe for a large number of people, and why saying that we can control our own thoughts can be both guilt-inducing and counterproductive:

  • Ignoring thoughts don’t make them go away
  • People have spent centuries trying to get rid of unwanted thoughts and emotions, usually with the result of more suffering in the long run.
  • Worrying does in certain cases serve a purpose for us: experienced security, even if this security is imagined more than anything
  • If you’re a worrier thinking positive probably won’t make you feel good, it will probably make you feel terrified

So, do we think that everyone should just let the negativity, catastrophic thoughts flow freely? Not quite, but we do think that we should make space for whatever arises in us, both good and bad stuff – and practice how to take care of ourselves even in hard times.

Shortly here’s what we propose:

  • Accept that your brain will continue to produce thoughts for as long as you live. This is what our brain does and likes doing the most.
  • Just because thoughts are produced doesn’t mean that we need to place any value or emphasis on them.
  • There’s a difference between avoiding thoughts and acknowledging that they are there, but without reacting to them. Doing the latter is usually more beneficial for us.  
  • Sometimes life sucks, a lot of the times life is hard. It would be stranger if this didn’t affect us than if it does. This is perfectly fine – hurtful, but in order. When we allow ourselves to be with what is, even pain, it usually subsides after a while. All emotional states eventually pass and shift.  

When we in hard times intentionally shift our gaze to what’s still working, beautiful, desired, lovely in our lives we help our brains detect the small stuff that usually get hidden when disaster strikes. By helping our brains do just that we also help our minds widen their perspective by allowing positive and negative thoughts and emotions exist side by side. We help our minds become more flexible in seeing that things seldom are black and white, but that there’s always at least a ray of light in the darkest of times, as well as a streak of darkness in the lightest of times. And that this is perfectly well.

 

Acknowledging what you have, even if you’re lacking - on the practice of gratefulness

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That gratefulness is a skill that can be learnt, rather than an inhabitant personality trait, is by now fairly well established in the research literature. More so,

When things get tough, when we’re feeling depressed or highly anxious we have a tendency to view the world more in black and white, than we usually do. This is simply how our brains work when we’re under stress or pressure; it temporarily loses the ability to be flexible. Adding on to this is the tendency our brains are pre wired with to be more susceptible for negative stimuli than neutral or positive.

With that reduced ability to stay flexible we tend to err on the negative side of things, getting so caught up in what’s not working or what we’re doing or have done wrong that we no longer see that there might also be things that are working for us.

Keyword here is also. If things are rough they are rough, and sometimes there’s not much we can do about that. Sometimes sad things happen, sometimes life sucks, as do several aspects of this world. But that doesn’t mean that all is black, lost and meaningless. It does however mean that we need to help ourselves and our brains out a little bit.

Widening our perspectives
By practicing gratefulness; intentionally acknowledging and focus on things, however small, that we are grateful for, we help our brains out. Even if we still have that tendency to automatically detect negative thoughts, emotions or situations, with practice we can help strengthen the parts of our brains that notices what we still have, what we still love, what we still are grateful for. Allowing for glimpses of light and warmth into even the toughest of moments.

How to start practicing gratefulness
Each day set aside 5-10 minutes – preferably at a time when you have time to sit down without interruptions – to remind yourself of three things that you are grateful for. Things that are working for you, things that you have done well, kind things someone has said to you, or that you have said to someone else. May it be that it switched to green just as you came to the intersection or that you got to drink an especially nice cup of coffee this morning. That a friend asked you how you were or that your children gave you a hug.

When you have reminded yourself of these three things allow yourself a moment to sit with the feelings that arise while reengaging with these small memories, breathing in gratefulness, breathing out tension. Slowly strengthening your own gratefulness practice.

 

Inspirational tip: Brené Brown

One of our biggest sources of inspiration is the American researcher Brené Brown, who's spent many years studying what constitutes a meaningful life for people. Which led her to closer examine shame and vulnerability. 

Apart from having written several books that are worthy of reading, she has a few Ted talks that really shifts your perspective. Give yourself a treat and 20 minutes of getting inspired: 

On being good enough

You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
— Brené Brown

When I went on parental leave I struggled for the first few months with the demands I had on myself to make the most of my time off from work and achieve as much as possible. Behold, seven months of not working! What a glorious opportunity to do all those things I never have time to do: sort through papers, organize the computer, read through all those scientific papers piled up, develop a new YOMI program, hell, develop two new YOMI programs, get back into shape, meditate, read all those books on the reading list, maybe even write a book. Because when will I ever again get the chance to have this many months off work ever again?

You know how plans can seem quite reasonable as long as they are just that: plans for a future you yet haven’t experienced. Enter: reality, everyday life and endless interruptions to the plan. External as well as internal interruptions; baby crying, mind wandering, facebook tempting, news feed upsetting. Sometimes it seems life is nothing more than a long line of interruptions to the plan. Annoying, irritating interruptions we wish to get rid of.

But perhaps the real issue here isn’t how to get rid of the interruptions, but rather how we deal with them. How we act towards ourselves when things don’t go as we had laid them out. And this is where the self observation can get both interesting and painful. How do I react when things don’t go as planned? How do I talk to myself when I lack focus or motivation? How do I talk to others who, perhaps unintentionally, interrupt?

It seems we often tend to blame ourselves, others or even life itself for the things that come in the way of our planned achievements. Like it’s some sort of failure that the plan that is life needs constant revision, rather than the plan being flexible to start with. Like we are failures when we don’t achieve all that we set out to do. Like we are insufficient if we’re not perfect. And with that the struggle goes on.

But if we shift the perspectives and acknowledge that we are imperfect to start with, but that this imperfection doesn’t make us any less worthy, doesn’t make us anything short of being good enough, maybe that’ll make it possible to start viewing the interruptions as a part of the plan, rather than obstacles to it. Perhaps it even enables us to make room for interruptions in the original plan. That it – the plan that is – and we ourselves are good enough without achievements, are good enough whilst just being. That the level of good enough should lie wherever we find ourselves every day. That just where we are, just where life is, is good enough. Wired for struggle but worthy of love and belonging.

The power of fear – the importance of trust.

A few days ago our country was hit by what presumably was a terrorist attack, killing four people, injuring 15, but scaring a whole nation. At least initially.

The aim of terrorism is to induce fear in order to make a political statement or achieve a political goal. Fear is essential for terrorism to work; even if the actual attack only affects a smaller group of people it will trigger fear like ripples on the water.

Fear is one of our basic affects; a direct, physical and congenital sensation that functions as an alarm to warn us about real and potential danger. Fear has evolutionary been truly important for our survival, probably more so than positive affects such as joy. Fear is what has protected us from getting eaten by lions, and it is what protects us from getting run over by trucks that suddenly drive out in front of us. Our fear system is extremely quick and potent, affecting our whole being in an instant.

We know that fear is a prominent emotion in many anxiety disorders, from specific phobias to panic attacks. In CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy – we learn the difference between functional fear (being scared of things that are actually dangerous) and dysfunctional fear (being scared of things that our minds believe to be dangerous, but actually aren’t). The thing with our minds is that they fairly easily start to make up scary things and scenarios. Fear has a tendency to spread, especially if we avoid the things we are afraid of. To help people learn that what they are afraid of won’t harm them, CBT uses exposure. Slowly moving closer, rather than avoiding, that which scare them. Slowly learning that things are okay, even if they seemed scary at first.

It’s sometimes said that the opposite of fear is love, or courage. While this is true to some extent, I would say that the opposite of fear, more than anything, is trust. Trusting that we will be safe even if we encounter what potentially could scare us.
The aim of terrorism is to spread fear in order to limit our experienced freedom, to start distrusting our society, its inhabitants and institutions. To challenge this fear and to counter we need trust. Trusting each other and trusting our society.

More than anything, this is what happened hours after the attack on Friday; people all over Stockholm generously – and with trust – opened their homes to others, inviting them for coffee and company while waiting to calm down or find a way to get back home. Inviting what with fear could be perceived as strangers, but that with trust became fellow humans, part of the city’s extended family. Like ripples on the water that trusting openness spread through the city, inspiring people to move closer together instead of isolating themselves from one another. That is how you counter fear: with love, courage and trust.

Practicing acceptance – what my post partum body taught me

For the better part of my recent pregnancy I continued a regular yoga practice. Modified of course; a growing belly doesn’t allow for deep twists or backbends, prone positions or core engaging asanas. But continuously going into the well known postures, flowing through sun salutations and resting in a deep squat helped my body feel surprisingly strong and flexible, even with the extra weight and bump that naturally comes with carrying an extra person inside of you. That said, the longing for my regular, non-pregnancy, practice grew stronger as the pregnancy approached its final stages. Oh, to be able to lie on ones belly again! To do a proper head stand and wringe out in a deep twist.

Somewhat naively I thought that once the baby was on the outside, my body – and with that my practice – would go back to its normal ways, shape and strength.

Skip forward to two months post partum: where there was once abdominal muscles there’s now something vaguely resembling a core. What once was flexible now stiff from hours of breastfeeding in awkward positions. Post natal practice is something different than a pre pregnancy practice. A post partum body acts differently than a pre pregnancy body.

Discrepancy between expectations and reality offers a great, but often painful, opportunity to observe one’s reactions to obstacles, to not getting what you want. How we react to obstacles and setbacks varies, between individuals, but also between different situations. Some have a tendency to react with anger and irritation (“stupid body, why don’t you do as I tell you to?”), where others tend to react with worry (“what if I never will be able to go back to my old practice”), yet others with shame (“how embarrassing that I can’t perform even these simple asanas”).

While all of these reactions are common, normal and mostly automatic, they seldom serve us well. Serve us well in the sense that they help us continue on our desired path or foster our well-being.

When reality presents us with challenges, one of our most helpful tools is acceptance. Reminding ourselves that it is what it is, even though it may not be what we wished for. Acceptance to help us continue, starting where we actually are, rather than trying to work from where we wish we were.

In my case: accepting that my post partum body is exactly what it is; strong in some areas and weak in others. Changed by having carried and given birth to a child. Affected by not having practiced certain asanas for almost a year. This is what reality looks like right now, whether it seems fair, good or desired.

Because once we reach that acceptance and let go of our perceptions of how we wish things were, we have a better opportunity to start reacting to whatever we encounter with less anger, worry or shame and instead with more curiosity and even appreciation. Curios about the fact that we don’t quite know what awaits us on our path and appreciation for getting to experience what may come.

YOMI research published – on the art of perseverance

 

2017 started off not only with the birth of a child, but also with the news that our article on the first study on the effects of YOMI Yin got accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping and is now available online: Yin yoga and mindfulness: a five week randomized controlled study evaluating the effects of the YOMI program on stress and worry. Not only is this the first article on YOMI, it is also the first scientific study that has evaluated effects of Yin Yoga, which we're both surprised by and proud of.  

It has been a long process pulling this all together over several years, with plenty of little bumps in the road on our way. Many times it has forced us to remind us about our valued direction; what is important to us when it comes to our work with YOMI and why. To keep putting one foot in front of the other, or rather one reference after the other to slowly reach acknowledgment in a peer-reviewed journal. To persevere in order to reach a goal that has importance. To remind ourselves that the satisfaction after a thorough work process is blissful.

Without getting into a rant about how the scientific publishing world works, sufficient to say that the article won’t be available open access (we are very pro open access, firm believers that the results of research should be available for everyone), simply because we don’t have thousands of dollars to pay the fee. For anyone with access through a university or other academic institution, the article is available here.

We also have a few copies available for those who are very interested in our research, in YOMI and in future studies. If so, please contact us on kontakt@yomi.nu

Our mission for YOMI has always been to have it be a method that has some scientific ground, not relying merely on our own personal experiences of the practice, but also on the more objective evaluation of western science. With that in mind, this article is surely something to celebrate!

Practicing acceptance – life with a newborn

One of the pillars of mindfulness is ”beginner’s mind”; looking at things as if it were the first time we saw or experienced them. Not seldom is the comparison to how a child views the world made. We’re encouraged to learn from children and how they take on each day with a blissful beginner’s mind, simply because they are beginners at life.

Now, I do believe that we have a lot to learn from children and their ways about life, but I’ve more recently learned how being with a child is a full on acceptance boot camp.

Seven weeks ago I gave birth to my first child. Already when my water broke, three weeks early, I once again came face to face with the reality of not being able to plan life’s course of actions. I still had almost two weeks left at work, we hadn’t bought all the necessary stuff, hadn’t packed the hospital bag. And I was four days short of carrying the pregnancy to a full term, something I really had wished for and had my mind set on. But, for some reason that my brain failed to acknowledge, but my body – and baby! – seemed to understand, it was time to give birth and have life change tremendously. Lesson to be learned: don’t always trust your brain to know it all. There are so many things we cannot control, there are so many things that happen that we wish were different or that we wish we could plan for, but simply can’t.   

So this little person decided to come out, healthy and incredibly cute. Taking the acceptance boot camp to new levels in terms of not being able to control one’s every day life. Even writing this post has had to be postponed several times, due to him suddenly deciding not to sleep for that extra half hour after we’ve been on our daily walk. Or vomiting for the fourth time after a feeding, having me spend the afternoon wiping up sour milk and changing his (however adorable) clothes. Becoming a parent seems to be the grandest exposure exercise of letting go of control there is.   

Now, I could spend these first months of my newborn’s life fighting against the clock and my own arbitrary ideas on what I should accomplish, getting disappointed every time my daily plan fails since my baby’s needs still are so unpredictable. Well, not so much could spend, rather have spent. But after enough outbursts of irritation on my part I fortunately remembered to return to the pillars of mindfulness, especially those concerning acceptance and letting go.

Acceptance, as we often describe it within the field of psychology, is to be present with and endure one’s internal and external situation, without judgment or valuation. In short: to be with what is, whether you like it or not. And make your decisions based on what reality really looks like, rather than what you wish it would look like. Which in my case right now means that my days are and will continue to be somewhat unpredictable, filled with body fluids of various kinds, interrupted sleep and merely shorter periods of time to sit down by the computer to write. I can try to fight this, or I can practice acceptance, letting go of the idea that this will be something other than it is. And with that hopefully get a chance to also go into my beginner’s mind as I watch my baby exploring the world with what is nothing short of a true beginner’s mind.  

Getting to know your autonomic nervous system: how the body rests and digests.

Some time ago we introduced a fairly essential part of our bodies and brains, namely our autonomic nervous system. Which simply put is a part of the peripheral nervous system and can be divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. It works automatically – which means that we don’t really control it – and takes care of a lot of bodily functions such as our breath and heart rate. In the last post we focused on the sympathetic part, the fight or flight-system, as it’s sometimes called. Today we’ll instead focus on that soothing part of it all, the one that helps us relax and recover. Our parasympathetic nervous system.

Reminder: we need both parts. At a lot of times it’s absolutely essential to be able to switch into fight-or-flight-mode. We need sympathetic activation to be able to perform, to focus, and yes, sometimes even to escape real danger.

Second reminder: the body usually takes care of the switch between activation and relaxation all by itself. It’s pretty fantastic that way, saving us a lot of trouble of having to be constantly aware of what bodily functions to switch on in order to recover or to run.

Things can however get a little out of hand. If we, for example, find ourselves in a life situation where we’re constantly going on full speed, with a highly demanding work and our free time packed with activities (may they be social, physical, cognitive or otherwise). If we don’t allow any time to relax and unwind, chances are your sympathetic nervous system will be going into overdrive. So this is what most researchers think: evolutionary we’re designed to go into bursts of sympathetic activation, These bursts do however need to be weighed up by periods of recovery. When the danger has passed and we’ve been highly focused and activated, we need to find a quiet bush and chill out. As long as we get these periods of rest we can deal with quite a bit. One problem for a lot of people these days, though, is that we don’t really plan for these periods of rest, sometimes up until the point where we – if we were to give ourselves proper recovery – don’t even remember how to do it. The body goes into a habit of always being a little tense and our minds into a habit of always being in ”on”-mode. Some long-term risks of this being less resources to take care of our digestive system, immune system and memory encoding. Not to mention evolving pain from having had tense muscles for an extended period of time.

So how do we tap into our parasympathetic nervous systems then? Even though the autonomic nervous system is just that: autonomic, there are ways we can voluntarily encourage parasympathetic activation.

1.     One of the few bodily functions that are both automatic and voluntary is our breath (the other two are blinking and swallowing). The breath is usually operated by the autonomic nervous system, however, when we become aware of our breath and start breathing consciously, other parts of the brain takes over. To put it simply, a slow, steady breath signals to the body and brain that all is calm, that danger has passed and that it’s time to recover. Time to recover = parasympathetic activation.

2.     Once you have the breathing thing down, you might as well incorporate the whole body into your relaxation mission. While muscles tense up as long as there’s perceived danger nearby (making us ready to fight or flee), consciously relaxing our muscles signals that we’re safe, that it’s okay to relax. This is exactly what we do in yin yoga practice; we go into the deep poses, stay there and consciously work on relaxing the muscles, letting go of tension, telling the body that we’re safe.

3.     As long as the body and brain think that there’s something dodgy going on it will try to prepare itself, which makes absolute sense. It would be evolutionary plain stupid to chill out if there was a potential threat lurking around nearby. Tricky thing about this though is that our brain cannot always tell the difference between real danger and imagined danger. Which means that just the mere thought about something bad happening can trigger sympathetic activation, however safe and calm our actual surrounding is at that given moment. Therefor the practice of not reacting to our thoughts, even when they seem scary, is an important aspect of allowing our body to switch into relaxation and recovery mode. But more on how to actually do this in a later blog post. Suffice to say that we need to work both with our body and mind to help increase our parasympathetic activation.

 

Mindfulness 101: what is mindfulness, anyway?

Welcome to the first of a series of blog posts that step by step will introduce you to the most basic aspects of mindfulness and creating a personal mindfulness practice. 

And although mindfulness is first and foremost a practice, something that needs to be experienced, it doesn't hurt to have a basic theoretical understanding of what it is. 

As with all practices that have evolved over multiple generations you won't be able to find one coherent answer to the question of what mindfulness is, so in the following paragraphs we will introduce how we understand and look at mindfulness from a YOMI perspective:

Mindfulness stems from buddhism and is an ancient meditation practice, but also a sort of guidance through life that emphasises the now, the moment that exists in the present. Or as we might better understand it in our everyday lives: that which we're constantly missing as we're busy planning or worrying about the future, or ruminating over the past. 

There are various definitions of mindfulness, what it is and what it entails. Rather than trying to find consensus amongst these, we have in YOMI chosen to define mindfulness as the following: "the state of being present in each given moment; adapting a non-judging, exploring, trusting and patient approach; and being aware of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations - altogether making it possible to cultivate compassion and acceptance towards oneself and others". 

What this somewhat lengthy and academic definition means can be broken down into two main parts: 

1. Being consciously present, aware of one's thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. In other words, being in the present moment. 

2. Adapting a non-judging, accepting and compassionate approach towards oneself as well as others. In other words, being open-minded and kind. 

Simple as that. Or rather, simple in theory, but most times way harder to apply in real life. But really, that's it, that's what you now can start exploring and practicing everyday for the rest of your life. Sometimes embodying that mindful, accepting presence, but pretty likely just as often finding yourself on the verge of a breakdown after having had your thoughts wander of for the zillionth time during your meditation session. 

In the next Mindfulness 101 we will start looking into some simple (but again, oh, yet sometimes so hard) tools and exercises to get you started on your mindful path.