Hello darkness, my old friend

It’s a lesson I have been learning again and again for the last 15 years: Don’t take on too much. A new project here, a fun idea there, a bunch of travel, lots of family commitments… all these good things should amount to more good things… right?How do we say ‘no’ to new and exciting things, even if we can feel that maybe things are getting out of balance?

Like this: “Noooooooo.”

Some call it burn-out, which isn’t wrong, but I’ve decided to call it something else: Break-through. Burn-out implies losing something, failure. Although the symptoms might track with what we consider burn-out (deep exhaustion, recurring illness, relationship strain, etc.), a break-through is about allowing what needs to happen to finally rise to the top- via those symptoms. Break-through is reframing a difficult experience from a down-ward spiral to a new beginning. It’s when we stop making excuses for choices and start really listening. –> If you’re in a hurry and ready to skip-through, drop down to my top 5 burnout break-throughs.

Since first discovering yoga in my early 20’s, I have spiraled down into burn-out numerous times, only to pick back up again through yoga and some hard life lessons. Well, my old friend is back, and this time I’m sharing. Why? Because it’s real. Because even our teachers and mentors learn things the hard way sometimes. Because I want people to know that I’m not out doing things because I don’t want to; it’s probably because I’m busy parenting myself at the moment (see tip #2).

Yoga is about digging out of all the overlying garbage and dark feelings that pull us down and honing our ability to step into the light. Three yoga terms come to mind to help us understand this process of moving from burn-out to break-through: Ahimsa, Aparigraha, and Svadhyaya. These three of the ten Yamas and Niyamas represent part of a series of right living, or living true to ourselves, and they can help us move from burn-out to break-through.

Burnout to Break-through tips:

#1- Stop the bleeding. An emergency care provider wouldn’t tell someone who is broken and bleeding that they should really spend some time meditating and relaxing in order to heal. They stop the bleeding, set the bone, and then talk about how to heal and maybe even how to prevent future injury. In yoga, the term we can apply is Ahimsa, meaning non-violence or non-harming. Ahimsa, abstaining from violence, doesn’t just apply to harming others (think 10 Commandments). We can use this principle to stop harming ourselves, and start transforming from burn-out to break-through. We must immediately make decisions to stop the harm to ourselves, then start to apply soothing balm to the injury through beneficial, mindful practices. If being over- extended is the harm, *cough, cough* immediately identify areas to trim. Stop the bleeding of energy.

#2- Self care isn’t sexy; it’s more like parenting yourself. I stole this line recently because it perfectly explains the hard work of deep, meaningful self care. As much as I like getting massages, pedicures and taking yoga classes, the un-sexy self-care that I need more is MUCH harder to implement… at least at first. Things like sleep habits, food and liquid intake check-ins, and mental hygiene* are critical to beginning a new pattern in a positive and healthy direction. Parenting ourselves is about making decisions based on what we really need, not what we want or might be using to cope. And, just like parenting children, that’s hard work.

#3- Disappoint people that live OUTSIDE your home first. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how easy it is to put off the needs of the people closest to us in addition to our own. Perceived pressures from work, community and extra-curriculars can draw us out of connection with the ‘feed’ of our household and result is a feeling of disconnection. People will either understand the need to withdraw from activities and responsibilities or they won’t. Either way, we don’t have to share a bed or a life with those people.

The yoga principle that comes to light here is Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness. Are there activities, obligations or responsibilities that we see as ours, and ours alone? Is this reality, or are we grasping at these things that are actually non-essential to our deeper well-being? Whether it is people or things, invoking a spirit of non-possessiveness can help us to identify what is truly ours, and what isn’t.

#4- Take the lesson, but don’t take it too far. Stop the bleeding, but don’t immediately amputate the limb. I recently took a seminar on resiliency from Lorca Smetana, and I love the imagery she used: When you’re at the bottom of a hole, it’s hard to see much in the way of options. The lesson: Start climbing out of the hole, and continue to reassess. Stopping the bleeding of energy away doesn’t mean we have to permanently or exclusively cut certain things out. We need to incorporate svadhyaya, or self-study, to refine our awareness and allow things to better be illuminated. Things that don’t feel clear or in alignment might not be the best option.

#5- Be kind to yourself. Part of healthy parenting includes compassion. Yep, here we are again, learning the same lessons in a new way, at a different time. So what? Would we rather learn someone else’s lessons? If we can trust that we are in the place where we are supposed to be and that we are capable of uncovering our own health again, why do we judge ourselves for it? Remember to parent with compassion, not contempt. This is part of the ‘mental hygiene’* that is so important to a break-through versus a burn-out. Think about the last time that you made a mistake and someone responded graciously and with kindness. It’s amazing how different it feels, as if we are looking up from an illuminated, shallow hole rather than a deep, dark emotional pit. Invoking compassion for ourselves aids in healing and also helps us share this feeling with others, like a little glowing ember.

In burn-out, the concurrent epidemic to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implication is that we’re going down. We’re letting our embers die. We’re losing.

When we reframe to a mind set and language that helps us see options and cultivates the ability to imagine a brighter future, we’re breaking out of that pattern. We’re moving through and out of the darkness. These things that we’re feeling are part of this process. We’re learning. We’re growing. It’s not burning out when we’re allowing a life that feels light-filled and true to emerge. It’s breaking through.

Please comment with your own thoughts or experiences!

*This is another term I borrow from a fellow teacher and all-around cool guy: Coach Drew.

Sign Your Fitness is Hurting You: Part 3

Many ambitious exercisers have been there: Launching into a new or devoted movement practice only to find ourselves injured and frustrated down the road. Injuries can be confusing, demoralizing, and well, painful. Movement-related injuries don’t tend to pop up out of nowhere, unless you’ve talking about an injury that can be pinpointed to a specific event, an acute injury. Chronic pain and injury that develops from overuse, improper alignment and posture is often more difficult to pinpoint. 

#3- You only feel good when you are working out.

When I first started teaching a Deep Stretch Yoga class, it was full of power lifters and serious fitness folks. I loved it. Motivated movers often spend so much time getting stronger, that they’re not doing routine maintenance. Making time for stretching or Yoga between working can prevent injury by preserving our range of motion, loosening fascia that is becoming bunched, and also training ourselves mentally. Sometimes “going harder” can be “going deeper” in a relaxed state like Yoga savasana, meditation or Yoga Nidra. 

Why take fitness advice from a Yoga teacher? I wasn’t always a Yoga teacher. Bull-dozing through pain and injury finally got me to seek a deeper mind-body connection, one I found through Yoga. As my skills grew, so did my realization that good Yoga form is simply good form, whether you’re bending down to tie your shoes or to pick up a 200-pound weighted bar. All movers can learn from each other: Good and bad. 

Seeking practices that build mind-body connection help us to examine blind spots in our vision and subtle cues that might be signaling troubles ahead. Mind-body practices like pilates, yoga and related tools can help build the connection to avoid injury while supporting general well-being.

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for more tips!

Signs Your Fitness is Hurting You: Part 2

Exercise and fitness is good for a body- except when it’s not.

Over-ambitious exercisers can find themselves injured and subsequently frustrated when all their hard work results in have to rest and rehabilitate an injury. Movement-related injuries don’t tend to pop up out of nowhere: overuse, improper alignment and posture can all contribute to injury over time.

Here are a few clues that might signal that trouble is ahead and help avoid injury, even if you’re feeling good and strong now:

#2- You’re wearing equipment to keep you in business. 

Putting on a knee brace just to work out? Wearing a weight belt? Although these pieces of equipment can offer support, rehabilitation or prevent further injury, there are also potential dangers. Destabilization in the knee can have origins elsewhere, like the hips. Getting at the root of why a brace is necessary might be in order. Of course, when these items are prescribed, always listen to your doctor (not the Yoga teacher’s blog). With a weight belt, there needs to be a clear reason why it is necessary. Weight belts are often compensating for poor form* and should be used judiciously. If you’re strapping on a weight belt before your deadlifts or home improvement project, be sure to have a trained eye analyze your form for weakness and address the root of the issue.

Why take fitness advice from a Yoga teacher? I wasn’t always a Yoga teacher. Bull-dozing through pain and injury finally got me to seek a deeper mind-body connection, one I found through Yoga. As my skills grew, so did my realization that good Yoga form is simply good form, whether you’re bending down to tie your shoes or to pick up a 200-pound weighted bar. All movers can learn from each other: Good and bad. 

Seeking practices that build mind-body connection help us to examine blind spots in our vision and subtle cues that might be signaling troubles ahead. Mind-body practices like pilates, yoga and related tools can help build the connection to avoid injury while supporting general well-being.

Check out Part 1 and Part 3 for more tips!

* There are important reasons why heavy weight lifters might be wearing a belt. This is an observation based on watching many bodies move in a gym setting.

Signs Your Fitness is Hurting You: Part 1

Many ambitious exercisers have been there: Launching into a new or devoted movement practice only to find ourselves injured and frustrated down the road. Injuries can be confusing, demoralizing, and well, painful. Movement-related injuries don’t tend to pop up out of nowhere, unless you’ve talking about an injury that can be pinpointed to a specific event, an acute injury. Chronic pain and injury that develops from overuse, improper alignment and posture is often more difficult to pinpoint. 

Here are a few clues that might signal that trouble is ahead and help avoid injury, even if you’re feeling good and strong now: 

#1- You’re getting stronger but losing range of motion and mobility

After spending a few years working in a health club and fitness center, I’ve seen a lot of different bodies and a lot of different ways of exercising. Losing mobility while still “making gains” on the weight floor or in your movement routine is a major red flag. Loss of range of motion and mobility is often accompanied by muscle imbalance, where people are adapting their form and equipment to accommodate. I see this most commonly in shoulders with hand weight exercises, but also in yoga with postures like chaturanga and side-plank (vasithasana).

Simply: This is not good. Long term, the imbalance will likely result in injury and poor posture. 

Why take fitness advice from a Yoga teacher? I wasn’t always a Yoga teacher. Bull-dozing through pain and injury finally got me to seek a deeper mind-body connection, one I found through Yoga. As my skills grew, so did my realization that good Yoga form is simply good form, whether you’re bending down to tie your shoes or to pick up a 200-pound weighted bar. All movers can learn from each other: Good and bad. 

Seeking practices that build mind-body connection help us to examine blind spots in our vision and subtle cues that might be signaling troubles ahead. Mind-body practices like pilates, yoga and related tools can help build the connection to avoid injury while supporting general well-being.

Check out Part 2 and Part 3 for more signs!

I can’t believe..

..It’s been a year since i taught a group class! 


Starting Monday, May 18, Precision Pilates & Yoga in Great Falls will have group classes, workshops and more. Leslie Steensrud is the owner, and we have a great group. I feel very fortunate to be able to teach out of this beautiful space, and have since summer of 2020.(Check out class deal going on through Sunday!)

I am so excited to get back into the swing of things! Plus, check out the Yoga Festival happening in Choteau in June. There are still a few tickets!


I hope you are well, and I hope to being seeing you soon!*
Best, Audra

The Journey out of Carpel Tunnel Pain

Whether you have struggled with carpel tunnel syndrome or neck/shoulder tension, you know: It can be a major barrier to day-to-day life.

From lack of quality sleep to pain, numbness and plain ol’ misery, the effects of imbalance in the neck, shoulders and arms can be frustrating at best and debilitating at worst.

Child’s pose can be great for entire arms (and minds), and there are many modifications.

Right now, some pain and minor debilitation is creeping back into my life. I want to share my process for relieving my carpool tunnel symptoms through yoga and what I’ve come to call movement restoration.

Hopefully, at the least, my story will give you some tools for managing your own symptoms and maybe help you on your path of long term management.

As always, make sure to listen to your body and the advice or recommendations of your Physical Therapist or other specialist.

So, here we go!

1. Stop the bleeding. Not literally of course, I mean stop doing the activity that is causing a flare up. If it’s your job that’s causing, seek options. Take a couple of long weekends in a row to have a longer rest time, or take more stretching/movement breaks at work. If symptoms are brought on by repetitive tasks, then we need to break the cycle.

In my case, it’s a combination of job and play. I will plan to back off of play activities and practice better self-care at work.

2. Open up. Stretching the palm, lower arm and front of the shoulder start “opens up” constricted fascia and promotes better blood flow and prana.

Postures I like for this are: Cat-cow, child’s pose (with open palms, pictured), star (try working your way to “spider man” wrists), and restorative bound angle.

Important: weight-bearing on the hands should feel good. If you are experiencing loss of sensation or pain in the wrists with palms on the floor, the issue may be with your alignment. Try performing at a wall until you can seek guidance on correct alignment.

Some pre-COVID touch to help one student arrange her shoulder into a more open, passive position.

3. Breathe. Practices that focus attention, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and open up construction have been key to my recoveries time and time again. Living with Carpel tunnel is not a one-and-done thing; it’s a lifetime of management and learning. To start, sit in a quiet place and begin to count your in-breath and out-breath. See if you can gradually get them equal to the count of four. Gradually, try to lengthen the short pause between those breaths, and maybe also make the pauses equal to that count of four. This is called the 4-Square breath, or in yoga: Sama vritti. Do this for a few minutes, and don’t struggle. There is no wrong way, so don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right.”

As you breath, create an image in your mind of untangling a complex web or smoothing a sheet. Each breath untangles or smoothes the rough areas in your body.

4. Just move. I’m pretty sure the saying comes from physical therapy, but it’s oh so true: Motion is lotion for our joints. Move around, especially if you tend to be locked into a certain position most of the day. (I’m looking at you fellow desk jockeys.) Dance, do tai chi or some really ‘flowy’ yoga, swim, or find some other gentle, body weight fluid movement that works for you. Move each joint in all its natural directions, from the tips of your fingers to your toes. The body is connected by amazing, interconnected webs of facia. Loosening one thread may well relax the whole web.

Mobility: Use it or lose it.

Somatic exercises and somatic yoga are my go-to for this. I’ve had amazing results, and so have my clients. I also like tai chi for this! I went to a few classes a while back, but now I just make up my own stuff. It’s probably not really Tai chi, but it feels great!

Drop a comment and tell me what works for you!

Cheers,

Audra

Big Changes

If you’ve known me for a while, you may have suspected that I thrive on change. In the last 18 months, I have said goodbye to a marriage and a best fur-friend, moved twice, and started 2 new jobs. In the past, I’ve been a farmer, a caterer, and a bookkeeper. I’ve milked cows, packed horses, raised all manner of livestock, driven semi-trucks, and I know how to make mozzarella from fresh milk.

This past year, I’ve welcomed new love, new clients, gone back to school TWICE (for 2 different studies), and started new ventures with Dropstone Outfitting and Sun River Yoga. I have begun spending regular time in wild places again, a practice that I’m calling my rewilding.

Well friends, there’s more.

Effective today, I am no longer teaching Yoga at The Peak. While I’m sad that it will mean more good byes, I am excited for the opportunity to welcome in new and wonderful things. I don’t know the exactly what’s in store, but I hope you’ll stay in touch.

There are a lot of unknowns going forward, but here’s what I KNOW:

  • I will continue to take Private Yoga clients in Great Falls. I rented out my Choteau house and moved to Great Falls!
  • I am actively looking for a space in which to continue a small, part-time clientele in Great Falls.
  • I will continue monthly Sunday Yoga classes in Choteau (once I can that is), and will probably add in a potluck after- just to stay in touch 🙂
  • I will of course continue offering/make good on any session purchases through Sun River Yoga.

Here’s what I’m HOPING/PLANNING for:

  • 2021 Wilderness and Yoga with Dropstone Outfitting (https://dropstoneoutfitting.com)
  • Monthly “Big Practice” 1 1/2 hour class/mini-workshop in Great Falls?
  • International Yoga Retreats? Iceland 2022? (This might be a stretch at this point!)

When people ask me, “How did you learn all this?” I usually say that I came by these life lessons honestly: Through pain and struggle. Yoga has given me the tools to be resilient in the midst of pain and change, to embrace it, and to grow. I want to keep sharing this magic that is Yoga.

Thanks for including me on your life adventure. I can’t wait to see when/where we come together again…

Love to all, Audra

Yoga- Unlimited

Everyone experiences times when they don’t have much to give: Time, money, or maybe attention. Some of the most profound experiences of my life have been at the very moments when I thought I had nothing left.

The-Rise-Of-The-Experience-Economy-Q

Whether it’s pushing through physical challenge, or a digging out of a deep emotional well, we humans have capabilities that surpasses even our own belief at times.

For many, yoga is a way to access that place. Of course, we tend to focus on the postures- even me. As a teacher, my brain sees bodies and their complex spirals and nuances, and I’ve chosen a role that helps bring awareness to that. I gravitate toward the physical postures and breath, asana and pranayama, with students, but it’s the internal work that holds the power of my attention in my personal practice.

Yoga helps us see the relationship between and among our various layers, and to navigate their complexity with awareness, if not ease.

To address this challenge, or any other, with a sense that our deepest abilities are limitless, is to begin trust our own innate power. We are infinite. We only need to believe.

Hard Choices

Last week, several of us met at the Community Center to discuss how to keep yoga classes going here in Fort Shaw, while still make the necessary changes in light of my working full-time in GFalls. However, after more time to consider, I feel that to truly be fair to my family life, I must CONCLUDE CLASSES IN FORT SHAW FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.

Changing the ‘program’ is necessary for me to prioritize work-life balance. During my short time teaching, I have been fortunate enough to witness people make real, meaningful shift in their bodies and personal lives. I feel deep gratification in seeing realization spread over someone’s face, hearing phrases like “yoga is the best part of my week”, or seeing injuries healed and confidence lifted.

As much as I hate to end classes at the Community Center, I hope that people will continue to seek out opportunities. This has been a VERY difficult choice for me. My classes at The Peak will continue, as will periodic yoga workshops.

Truly, I have learned as much from teaching as any of my class participants may have during the past year, and look forward to contributing to the wellbeing of our community.
Namaste. Audra