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Posts Tagged ‘ahimsa’

Back to Basics

I was reminded recently of the importance of stepping back and doing a little self-reflection.  Having reaped many physical and emotional benefits from the practice of yoga, I was feeling stuck in regard to one particular challenge I’ve experienced for years:  chronic tension/pain in my right shoulder.  Fluctuating from mildly bothersome to headache-inducing, this shoulder pain situation has  frustrated me for probably the past decade.  In one of my early yoga therapy courses, I was excited to learn about various ways we can use a combination of movement and stillness to help the body heal itself.  Armed with my enthusiasm for studying anatomy and biomechanics, I started trying to figure out ways to make my shoulder feel better.  Over the next few years, I found that proper posture was generally helpful to my entire upper body and I started trying all kinds of different stretches to release the tension in the complex network of muscles inside the shoulder joint.  I would find relief anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but it would never leave completely.  I was in so much pain at one point a little over a year ago,  that one of my physical therapist friends gave me an excruciating massage to help liberate the bad juju hiding under my shoulder blade.  I won’t lie, there were tears!  Despite attempts to keep my shoulder at ease, the pain still came back.  Stress made it worse and the pain led to more stress, so it was a vicious downward cycle. 

At any rate, I really was perplexed as to why whatever I was doing was NOT working.  Over the holidays, I took a complete vacation from my asana practice.   This wasn’t specifically because of the shoulder, but because I’d had a pretty stressful year and figured that some complete relaxation was in order.  Between resting, meditating, and occasionally using the back of a chair to massage under my shoulder blade, my right shoulder started to feel better.  Then I returned to regular life and wouldn’t you know it…  There was my old friend the shoulder pain :)  So I decided to take a restorative yoga class at a local studio as a means of re-starting my asana practice.  It was wonderful and gentle and got me thinking that maybe what was unhelpful about all the stuff I had tried before was the way I had approached my yoga.  I have a rather driven personality and enjoy being active.  Being still isn’t easy for me!  But that’s why I’ve loved yoga…  I can move, move, move, and then enjoy the peaceful inner and outer stillness that comes from that.

My experience in that restorative class prompted me to get back to basics.  I figured if what I had been doing wasn’t working, I needed to start over again.  I needed to stop pushing myself so hard and getting frustrated over my own limitations.  In other words, I needed to take the recommendations I regularly give my clients and apply them to myself.  That whole thing about walking your talk isn’t always easy!  So I pulled out my yoga therapy books and created a basic series that addresses shoulder pain.  Then I actually practiced it.  And let me tell you…  My shoulder has never felt better!  For two weeks now, I’ve been focusing on a few specific movements for shoulder issues, focusing on strengthening & lengthening the right combo of muscles to create a healthier me.  I notice how my right shoulder is very reactive to stress; it tries to jump into my ear at the slightest hint of stress!  But what’s different now is that I can breathe and move and keep the tight ball of badness from coming back.

If you’re feeling stuck, take a step back.  Do a little self-inventory and see what you find.  What are you doing that isn’t working or isn’t helpful?  What are you doing that is helpful?  How can you decrease the unhelpful and increase the helpful?  Find your way back to your Self and let that put you back on your best path.  As one of my favorite authors, Dr. Clarissa P. Estes writes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves, ‎”If you feel you have lost your mission, your oomph, if you feel confused, slightly off, then look for … the ambusher of the soul in your own psyche.”  Mine was an imbalanced approach to my life and yoga practice.  What’s yours?



I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for a couple of weeks now.  It seems fitting that life has had plans for me other than writing over these last few weeks, since this topic delves into being “hard on yourself”.  Like so many, I find it challenging to balance all the things that I want to do with the things I must do.  And sometimes the word “should” becomes an ever-present part of my inner monologue.  So my last blog post was nearly two weeks ago and I got the opportunity to practice being okay with not writing during that time.

Being “hard on yourself” seems to be at epidemic proportions these days.  I talk to so many people every day who have mostly negative things to say about themselves.  This includes clients, colleagues, friends, and family.  We encounter numerous “shoulds” and “shouldn’t haves” throughout every day.  It’s a wonder any of us can function at all!  The funny thing about self-blame, even when you have truly made a mistake, is that it tends to paralyze us.  Or worse, make us more likely to do the things we are trying to avoid.  Adding to our already hefty stockpile of negative self-statements only serves to keep us stuck in the same old unhealthy patterns.  While mental health therapy often explores & seeks to correct these patterns, yoga does as well.

There are two branches of yoga that speak to the ways we treat ourselves and others:  the  yamas and niyamas.  In fact, these moral and ethical concepts are intended to be studied before one ever practices their first yoga pose.  Yamas are universal guidelines for interacting with others and are sometimes referred to as the “Don’ts” of yoga, while the niyamas govern how we interact with ourselves and are seen as the “Do’s”.  There are five of each, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and they remind us to think, speak, and behave in ways consistent with our Highest Self.  One yama that prompts us to be kind to ourselves and others is ahimsa, or non-violence.  You might initially think of non-violence in terms of behavior, but like so many aspects of yoga, it is a concept that also extends to our more subtle sides.  We can be violent (or non-violent) in our thoughts and words, as well.  Self-blame is one such form of subtle violence toward the Self.

Self-blame is a common contributor to feelings of excessive worry and sadness, two emotions that walk hand-in-hand…  Worry may make us put more pressure on ourselves, then when that pressure can’t be sustained, we may feel overwhelmed and begin to isolate ourselves, leading to sadness & loneliness.  I see the opposite of self-blame as self-acceptance.  Opening your arms wide to embrace all your fears and foibles.  What have you said or done this week that you are “beating yourself up” for?  Try taking a more compassionate approach to your Self.  Identify whether your negative judgment of your Self is accurate or inaccurate.  If accurate, think about how you might correct the mistake or do things differently in the future.  If inaccurate, identify a self-honoring statement to replace the negative.  And remember, just because a thought is accurate does not mean it is helpful to you.  In the case of an accurate, but unhelpful judgment, consider adjusting your thoughts to ones that promote self-compassion.  This will undoubtedly advance your self-growth far more than any self-blame ever could.

Stay mindful and be well!