Being compassionate to myself

My chin, lower lips and inside bottom of the mouth have been very tight. I often hold tension there. In the last few days, I noticed it more. I massaged my jaw and face last night. I tried to open and close my jaw slowly. These only helped temporarily. 

I had a long therapy session with a trauma therapist three days ago. I’m feeling more space in my pelvic floor, lower belly, lower back and upper chest. I only acknowledged very recently that I had trauma. I had thought I have functioned well and it didn’t leave significant scars. My dad committed suicide when I was 13. Emotions from that time were coming up recently. I didn’t grieve at the time. I didn’t know how to grieve, nor did people around me know how to support me. I started to sense that things I haven’t allowed myself to feel have been all in my body. I knew I have to feel it eventually in order to heal. I finally feel safe to do so now. I spent a significant part of my yoga therapy training in the last two years slowly and steadily opening up to feeling emotions that I would have consciously or unconsciously avoided before, as if building up my feeling muscles.

I was doing some breathing this morning. Letting the body breathe has always been difficult. As soon as I start to pay attention to the breath, my mind wants tot control. I tighten the upper palette, blocking the flow of air through the nostrils, and tongue and throat tense up. Given that I have carried grief and sadness for so long, it makes sense I don’t feel safe to let go of control. This morning, I lay down on the floor with my lower leg on the couch. As I breathed, an instruction “have compassion to myself” came to mind. I kept repeating that. The upper palette relaxed and the nostrils opened. The lower belly started moving up and down, so did the pelvic floor. The area between the eyes and my entire face softened. The breath was easy, soft and connected from the pelvis, ribcage to the nostrils. It’s rare for me to experience a breath like this. 

I think of my inability to breathe easily as something I have to fix, to get rid of. I know that a particular way each person holds tension helps the person feel safe, and have witnessed that in clients. I still have difficulty seeing my own tension with curiosity as something that exists for a reason. The self judgement makes my breath even more rigid and tighter. I know my jaw tension is a sign that I don’t feel safe. Could that be I don’t feel safe with myself, with my own judgement? 

I know the power of positive feedback. In my yoga therapy live training in January, my fellow yoga therapists and I team-taught each other a movement through using only positive feedback. As a person being taught, I felt that positive feedback made me relax, breathe better and as a result, I did the movement I was taught with more ease. After two rounds of positive feedback from four of my ‘teachers,’ I even moved better. When I was teaching, I saw what I experienced in others who did the movement. We were all blown away by the impact of positive feedback. It makes sense that how we talk to ourselves could make us more rigid or free.  

I started practicing self-acceptance and love in the last year or so, and I’ve had moments where I really felt it in a way I’d never experienced it before. Michael Stone, my Buddhist teacher, said that once you experienced enlightenment doesn’t mean you are an enlightened being forever. Enlightenment happens in the moment when you are really present with what’s here and now, and you need to keep meeting the moment. I have checked off self love as done (even though I'm so new at this!). An experience like this makes me realize that self-love, like enlightenment, happens in the moment, and reminds me to keep coming back to being compassionate with and loving to myself each moment. Looking at my previous post in May, yes, I definitely see a pattern. ;-)

Am I OK with where I am?

I’m doing my movement practice. It’s Saturday morning, it’s raining outside and I’m all by myself. I’m noticing how my solar plexus, my usual spot of tension, is hard like a stone, and try to move without holding it so much. When I can do that, I feel the release throughout the body. I lie sideways and try to lift the upper leg with both knees bent. I brace in the ribcage, the bottom hip and shoulders, and the neck gets tense. I’ve been working on this movement in the last few months. Even before lifting the top leg, my body anticipates and the bottom ribcage presses into the floor. I tell my clients that it’s not about how far you moves. It’s more about accepting where you are now and move in the range that doesn't use other areas of the body that are used to helping the movement, even if that means moving in imagination. I feel my desire to just lift the leg. I breathe while letting the solar plexus and the side rib move with the breath. To me, this is about being OK to not able to do something that seems so easy. My body knows all sorts of ways to get around to lift the leg, because I want that result. Am I able to love and accept myself even though I can’t lift this leg today? This has been so hard for me to accept. The movement IS hard for me. I tell myself that continuing to move in the same way would only reinforce the old pattern. I’m fighting inside. Every time I notice myself using the ribcage, the bottom hip and shoulders, instead of going further, I return to the start and relax them. Every time, the ribcage, bottom hip and shoulders melt further into the ground. Perhaps, this is not about lifting the leg, but about relaxing the body and the mind. Then, I surrender. A big space opens up in my ribcage, and the breath flows more freely as tears flow out of my eyes. Wrinkles in the forehead between the eyes smooth. I have been striving to do more than my body is capable. Even today, I was already making a list of things I would do over this weekend. My body anticipates the busyness. I lie there for a while. The body has let go of holding itself up and released into gravity. It’s Saturday morning, it’s raining outside, and I’m on my own. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go right at this moment. 

I noticed exactly the same pattern yesterday. My yoga therapy colleagues & I are planning to make a t-shirt for our group. In a month, we are meeting in Calgary for the last live training of our 2-year certification training. I was going to work on the design. Then, I started feeling resentful and pushed to do it, because people know I’m an artist. I was stressed out that I don’t have enough time to work on things I need to do, etc. I messaged the group what I was feeling, because if anybody, this is the group of people I can say what I feel. We’ve gone through a process of becoming more of ourselves together. After I sent the message, I realized that I only have capacity to deal with essentials right now. My partner moved out 3 weeks ago, completing the process of separation we’ve discussed in the last 11 months. After that, every time I had an extra thing in my day - a meeting, a presentation or a visitor, my eyes got tight and I felt wired at the end of the day. I’m not as good as I want to be. While my mind says doing a t-shirt design for the group would be exiting and fun, feeling of resentment, stress and pressure is my body saying NO. Both in my life and in my movement practice, I’m pissed off that where I am isn’t where I want to be. As my awareness deepens, again and again, I’m reminded how hard I am on myself. Accepting where I am and being compassionate with myself are humbling.  

5 Empowering Reasons to Try Yoga Therapy

Not all yoga is created equally. Whether you ditched the ancient practice after a failed downward dog or never tried it in the first place, you might want to consider seeing a yoga therapist.

Most of us don’t think twice about enlisting the help of a personal trainer to work us through our fitness goals so why not take the same approach with a yoga therapist to work on your wellness goals? By helping you move better using breath, stillness and movement in all forms, not just yoga poses, the mentor/coach-style treatment aims to help combat symptoms like fatigue, pain, reduced mobility and anxiety. The goal? To take you from rehabilitation to wellness.

Yoga Therapy is not restorative yoga, nor is it about bending and twisting deeply. It’s for people of all levels of mobility and experiences. It’s also empowering, and here’s why:

1. Your therapy should be as unique as you.

The unique you-ness is expressed in how symptoms show up. The expertise of a yoga therapist is seeing your movement and breathing patterns, and meeting you where you are at by honouring your full context, including the kind of person you are, what’s important to you and how you are feeling that day. We typically start small and slow by focusing on one joint and one movement at a time, as small and slow movements are more open for awareness building, easier for the nervous system to learn, and progress occurs more quickly. You will be surprised how small movements can release tension. As we progress, we may increase the number of joints involved, number of reps and speed. We may also transition from sitting or lying down movements to more standing movements to build stability and strength.

2. It nurtures a sense of safety.

When the nervous system is in the stress response mode, breath gets shallow, muscles tighten, the digestive system and sleep get thrown off, and your ability to cope suffers. Anxiety and fear exacerbate the stress response. A feeling of safety is essential for healing, and it’s important to work with someone who nurtures and encourages a safe place both in sessions and in your life.

3. It helps you listen to your body.

Your body holds more information than you think. Stress, anxiety, and fear are as much physical symptoms as emotional ones and warning signs often show up before any symptoms become full blown. Imagine how powerful it would be to notice these cues, take care of yourself then, and avoid some symptoms all together. The more connected you are with your body, the more you will take control of your self-care and healing.

4. All parts of you are a catalyst for healing.

Symptoms can be a result of multiple factors, including your expectations, beliefs, past experiences, and movement and breath holding patterns. Pain isn’t always where the problem is. It’s important to work with someone who includes all parts of you, and supports you in taking baby steps towards shifting how you move and how you live your life so you can experience a greater sense of freedom and decreased symptoms, stuckness and disconnection.

5. Any movement is therapy when done with ease.

Yoga therapy often considers components of yoga poses or other activities you do or want to do, such as tennis, running, typing at the computer, kneading bread and even walking. It can also help deepen the awareness of how you move. Think ease vs. force, easy vs. tight breathing, and feeling the body vs. thinking through the movement. Awareness is key to shifting the movement and breathing habits that contribute to symptoms. With awareness, symptoms can change.

*Note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

I wrote this article for Rethink Breast Cancer blog post. The original article, published on January 18, 2018, can be found at:




Why we should do less, not more

Times in our 30s and 40s can be busy and stressful for women. I’ve experienced it myself, and I see it in my friends. While life pulls us in all directions and puts heavy demand on us, there is good reason to do less. Two talks I recently heard about the effects of stress on women are such an eye-opener that I decided to share them here with my women friends.

Imagine here two buckets, one filled with stress hormones and another filled with female sex hormones. When we are under stress, cortisol, a primary stress hormone, kicks in to prepare us to fight or flight the stress. A prolonged period of stress depletes our limited reserve from the stress hormone bucket by draining it faster than it can be replenished. When the stress hormone reserve gets depleted, the body converts progesterone, one of the female sex hormones, into cortisol. The body’s survival mechanism prioritizes survival (i.e. dealing with stress) over reproduction (i.e. producing sex hormones) and allocates resources accordingly. This is where things get tricky for women. Our bucket of sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen, is also limited, and as we reach around age 35, the first natural big dip of progesterone occurs. Another big dip, this time of both estrogen and progesterone, happens around age 50, leading to menopause. When we have enough estrogen and progesterone in our bucket, we can ride these hormonal dips without major issues. When our sex hormones have been constantly borrowed to fill the stress bucket, we experience imbalances somewhere along the way, including irregular menstrual cycle, challenging menopause, fatigue, thyroid issues, fertility issues and weight gain in the middle of the body.

Many of us may not realize that we have been depleting sex hormones to deal with stress until we experience severe symptoms. In the process, we have likely missed subtler signs of depletion. It’s never too late to make a shift and start nurturing our body. If your life feels so busy and you find yourself pushing through tiredness, let’s take a small step towards doing less. I suggest finding one thing you can drop. In part 2 of this thread, I will provide tips on how we can get to doing less.


*The content of this post is based on talks by Mona Warner, Ayurvedic Health Consultant and Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher and Dr. Claudia Welch, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, an Ayurvedic practitioner and educator.




Movement therapy empowers!

Movement therapy is an empowering practice. I entered it to help my mother who has had chronic lower back pain for several years from pressure fracture of two of her lumbar vertebrae. She's in her 80's and lives in Japan. The painkiller was no longer working for her, and her mobility was decreasing. In my search to find a safe yoga practice for myself, I came across the work of Susi Hately, a kinesiologist and yoga therapist. Her approach is rooted in nurturing stillness and in helping people become aware of their compensatory and breath holding patterns and unravel these patterns. I was drawn to her message that you can reduce pain at any age no matter what your condition is.

A few months after I had my first therapeutic yoga training, I visited my mother and got to witness the power of this approach. We did a short session immediately after I arrived. I carefully chose the movements that were safe and supportive for her rounded and protruded lumbar spine. The next morning, her pain was gone. Prior to my arrival, she had to shift her hands from railing to railing on the wall to walk to the washroom in the morning. That morning, she walked smoothly on her own with her spine more upright. She couldn't believe her reflection in the mirror. We were both emotional. The effect waned as the day went by, as her body didn't yet have a stamina to maintain the new more functional movement pattern. Continuing to practice makes it possible to maintain the pain-free state and move her towards increased stability and mobility.

Having a taste of freedom from pain gave her hope. She had resigned that her condition would never improve. For me, I witnessed that I can make a difference in the life of somebody I love and many others like her.