Updated: Sep 24, 2020
“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,