“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl
I was surprised to find the above quote on the chalkboard in my kitchen. You know times are tough when your husband begins replacing 86ed pantry items with inspirational quotes. Anyway, it got me thinking…
Challenge is a word that gets used often in the wellness world. Peruse the offerings on any group class schedule and I’ll bet you it’s used at least once. If you actually take me up on this you will probably notice that these classes are now being held virtually. These days challenge surrounds us, and the challenges we face extend far beyond muscular endurance. And yet, could there be a connection?
There is a concept in fitness known as the S.A.I.D. principle. S.A.I.D. stands for specific adaptation to imposed demand. When our organism is stressed it will adapt. As anyone who has ever performed vigorous physical activity can tell you, this adaptation does not occur overnight. The ability to adapt is contingent upon the ability to tolerate temporary discomfort. We become stronger incrementally. Great challenges are commonly accompanied by great transformation.
As the seriousness of Covid-19 was gradually realized I was in the midst of wrapping up 7 months training to become a trauma sensitive yoga facilitator. After spending the past 7 months steeped in trauma theory I was ready to take a break. Having just finished a research paper on yoga as an intervention for recovery from stillbirth, levity was calling my name. However, during much of the graduation ceremony last Saturday (virtual, of course) the general consensus was that we need practices such as TCTSY right now more than ever. I was once again reminded that life never rarely lines up with my plans. And yet, in a world where Covid-19 reigns, could levity have its place?
I often use the concept of interval training with those I work with (or worked with back when we could be face to face..). Alternately pushing hard and then resting. As important as it is to cultivate the ability to push through, it is equally important cultivate the ability to release. Not doing is no less significant than doing, and just as (maybe even more so…) challenging a skill to obtain.
The ability to feel what is going on within one’s body is called interoception. This ability can be lost when one experiences trauma. Knowing what we need is a crucial to being able to care for ourselves and be in relationship with others. Connection raises oxytocin. Oxytocin seems to be cardio protective. The ability to maintain deep connections is good for the heart in the physical sense, not just metaphorically. The basis of what I learned in TCTSY training is that life’s hardest things cannot be processed through the brain alone. Addressing the body is essential to healing.
This knowledge has in no way stopped me from googling my every concern until crosseyed over the past month. Instead of neglecting my intellectual compulsions curiosity full tilt, I’ve made an effort to be aware of how much information I am taking in. When I notice I’ve been spending too much time searching (or, more accurately, looping…) for answers, I make a point to regain physical awareness. Sometimes it’s as simple as feeling my feet on the floor or taking a deep breath. Sometimes it’s running, walking, yoga, or dance. Strength training has also been in the mix but mostly of the bodyweight sort. Since I usually spend a fair amount of time in gyms, my home setup leaves much to be desired (side note, strength training equipment is at a premium right now, apparently free weights are worth almost as much as toilet paper….).
It’s a time of extreme uncertainty. A global pandemic is not really something most of us were prepared for. Our bodies are designed to fight or flee, not sit and wait like most of us have been asked to do. Judith Herman, psychiatrist and trauma researcher, has said ““Recovery can take place only within then context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.” And yet, when isolation is essential for the world’s wellbeing, how can we be whole?
While instructing a practice, one of my TCTSY supervisors spoke to the concept of allowing for “moments of not trauma”. With this practice, the goal is not to coerce anyone into feeling a certain way. Taking some time to become aware of the body can allow for “moments of not trauma”. Though the process is far from complex, recognizing there is a possibility to feel something other than trauma can be huge.
Maybe the goal isn’t to master life in quarantine. Maybe it’s more about paying greater attention when moments of levity arrive. Psychologist Rick Hanson has said, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.” We are biologically preconditioned to be scanning our environment for the next threat. Looking for what is wrong is more natural than looking for what is right. This can make contentment challenging under the most benign of circumstances, and even more so during a global pandemic.
Recognizing the good may seem trite at the moment, but with bars, restaurants, and movie theaters closed maybe it could be something interesting to do? In terms of movement this might be taking a walk surrounded by spring blooms. Or relating to (perhaps awkwardly) those walking around you from six feet away. Or diving deep into yoga, boxing, Irish step dancing, meditation, or whatever solo activity your time, space, interest, and body allows.
It should be said that working with trauma and the body doesn’t need to be accomplished through yoga alone. As I write this there is a study being done on weightlifting as an adjunct therapy for PTSD. It should also be said that movement is helpful for immunity, sleep, and digestion, which can all be challenged during times of extreme stress (if you need more inspiration click here).
If the past several weeks have taught me anything it’s that no one really knows how to navigate a global pandemic (and also that I should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to pursue a degree in early childhood education…). But, to use a phrase that’s been completely worn out recently, we are all in this together. My training tells me that movement might be helpful on several levels, so I think I am going to stick with that.
Following a night of little sleep last week, I sat on my yoga mat after a run. T, who also had a rough night, wandered in and sat next to me. Dee and J came in to join us. T petted Dee while I snuggled T and J rubbed my back. T, with an innocence that only a 4 year old can render, declared “It’s like a love factory”.
For a moment all of the suck of the last few weeks lifted. It was challenging, but I mentally repeated that phrase until it stuck. It’s been my battle cry (or maybe my shelter in place cry?). I want to remember that as much as the possibility for random moments of struggle exist so does the possibility for random moments of ease. I want to remember that inside this pause in forward momentum exists the potential to end up in a love factory.
Dee, contemplating the current situation (or probably just ogling a chipmunk to mess with….)