practice

A sustainable practice, a sustainable life, a sustainable planet – how it’s all connected.  

During two of the most intense months we’ve had in YOMI; organizing a retreat, finishing and filming two new programs and offering a YOMI class and lecture at Yoga Games Malmö, we decided to spend some extra focus on the subject of sustainability.

Sustainability lies close both to my heart and my fears, as we live in the midst of a climate crisis that’s creeping closer upon us which each day that our greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing.

As I’ve for the past four years worked more and more with climate psychology it’s also become apparent how the issue of sustainability relates to all levels that we live and act on: from the practice on our mats to the entire planet.  

Let me explain:

Sustainability is about carrying out actions whose consequences won’t do us or others harm either now or in the future: on the mat having a safe practice, adapting to our own current conditions. In our lives meeting the needs we have, adapting to however they’re changing. On the planet ensuring that our lust for things now won’t do the planet harm later on.

Truth be told, we’re not there yet. Neither in regards to how we’re treating the earth, but in all honesty a lot of the times nor in regards to how we’re treating ourselves on and off our mats.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the core of the yoga practice, including the eight limbs of yoga where Yama (abstinence) is the first one. In this limb ahimsa, non-violence, is an important aspect. Putting this in relation to the current state of climate disaster it’s called upon us to reflect on how we as yoga practitioners treat this first limb of yoga. Is the current yogic lifestyle compatible with not doing the earth harm? With not doing ourselves harm?

As for our own lives, there seems to be something in the system we’re living in that’s creating an unsustainability in the way we live. We know that psychological distress is on the rise, as are the sick leave numbers. All of this in spite of economic growth increasing alongside emissions. It’s like we’re making ourselves sick at the same pace as we’re making the planet sick.

Is it then possible to create a sustainable world where we still are able to lead good lives? Trusting what we know about what people need to be healthy and happy the short answer is yes.

The tricky part about this is that we at this point don’t know the exact consequences of the climate threat, as we don’t know how the world will choose to act in the coming years. All we know is that the less we act now, perhaps in favor of our short-term pleasures, the graver the consequences will be for us long-term.

That said, we do know from years of research that what makes people happy, what makes people thrive and live well is not connected to living a fossil fuel intensive life. What seems most important for our happiness is good, social relationships. Physical activity, recreation, a meaningful job, helping others and being in nature are other things that seem important for our sense of happiness.  

In light of all of this, I would like to believe that by creating a practice for ourselves that is sustainable for our bodies and minds, we can expand that knowledge into creating actions that help ensure the sustainability of the entire earth.

/Frida 

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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. 

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.

 

​ Yoga won’t always make you feel good - and that’s exactly as it should be

In most yoga schools establishing and keeping a daily sadhana (daily practice), including both asana and meditation, is highly encouraged. Often this daily practice is talked about as the foundation for one’s yogic development and an essential part of getting closer to the 8th limb of yoga; Samadhi. The quote by famous yogi Sri Pattabhii Jois: “Everyday do your practice and the rest will come”, is something that yogis worldwide believe in and live by.

There is however, in a wide array of yoga circuits (not the least on facebook and instagram), a fairly well established culture of spreading the message that yoga will somehow automatically and every time you do it make you feel great (a quick search on the instagram #yogaeverydamnday offers captions where expressions such as “nothing in the world compares”, “you always have a choice” and “feeling grateful as hell” are amongst the first to pop up.) And while this of course at times is true, it certainly is a bit of a modified truth. Sometimes yoga doesn’t give you that incomparable feeling. Sometimes we don’t have a choice when it comes to the state that things around us are in. And gratitude usually takes quite a bit of hard work, and does not always naturally pop up at the end of our practice.

But – and this is an important but – there is sometimes (note: not always) an important difference between what feels good and what serves us well. There’s also often times an important difference between what feels good short term and what is beneficial for us in the long run. Sometimes yoga doesn’t feel good; not at the beginning of practice, not during and not even after. Sometimes it stirs up emotions, sometimes your body’s sore as hell, sometimes you haven’t slept all night and are exhausted, with your mind occupied by thoughts about the fight you had last night with your partner. In the short run, sometimes, yoga might even make you feel worse – sad, irritated, frustrated and disappointed. This doesn’t however necessarily mean that your practice hasn’t served you well, and that the benefits of it won’t come dripping down into your life later on.

One of the skills we need to develop, as yogis, but also in regular life, is to learn and get to know what it is that actually serves us well – even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it in the moment. And equally learn what doesn’t serve us well, even though it really feels good in the moment. As psychologists this is something we continuously work with our patients, particularly patients suffering from depression and anxiety: finding out which things are meaningful and beneficial for you, and finding a way of getting them into your daily routine. Sticking with them even when you feel like rolling back into bed and skipping life altogether. Learning to trust that sometimes it’s enough to know what’s good for you, adapt accordingly, and be patient as the benefits might not show up until a while later. Or in other words; Everyday do the practice that serves you well, and the benefits will eventually start pouring into your life, even if it sometimes feels like shit in the moment.