Inner Disarmament: Stepping Stones to Peace

In these tumultuous times filled with such vitriol, I find myself feeling absolutely powerless. The unending waves of hatred, armed conflict, violence and xenophobia wash over me. What is within my power? The grand scale of the challenges seems to make any action I take seem inconsequential.

By nature I am an irrepressible optimist, and I find some comfort in something the Dalai Lama said: If you desire world peace, practice inner disarmament. Inner disarmament is not a part of our language or culture. Over the years I have struggled with what it means and how to cultivate it. I have been contemplating and really noticing my own anger and narrow-mindedness when it shows up.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, I realized there was something afoot in my interior life when I dreamed I was having a friendly discussion with George W. Bush over dinner. A wild idea no doubt for me as a confirmed progressive who was dead set against the invasion. The dream stunned and surprised me and opened for me some new way of seeing. At the dinner table this man ("W"), whom I had categorized and put in a box walled off by my own judgment and criticism was, after all, just a human being, doing what he thought best. The mere fact of our differences of opinion did not change our shared humanity. I listened. He listened. I was shocked that he actually was re-thinking his policy. (Oh, if only I were this powerful!) There was a startling take-away for me.

I realize that when certain feelings arise in me (hate, anger, and -- what is all too easy -- turning people into "others" for any reason), I lose my ability to hear what is being said, to understand the emotions present in the discussion, and to even imagine common ground. So real change starts with me and with each of us.

The first step for me is to notice the feelings and identify them. If I am really paying attention, I can catch myself before the feelings are in control of my mind, my mouth, and my actions. If I find myself wrapped up in a self-righteous story or justification for why someone else is wrong, I know I have to stop. If and when I truly listen, I am often surprised and moved by what I hear.

Does inner disarmament interest you? Consider this first step: Pause when you move towards or are already in a state of anger or agitation towards another person. In this moment of pausing, notice what you are feeling. You do not need to change anything but as you listen, recognize that your thoughts are colored by this emotion and just see what happens.

You may be tempted to dismiss this idea as naive. I am not saying there are not hateful words and behavior. But that is not all that is there. And if act from our own anger or hatred, there is no chance we can change anything.





The Challenge and Miracle of Self-Care

I don't know about your mind, but mine is super-busy and it is easy for me to get distracted – and this has only increased as I get older and as technology has become such a part of my daily life. You probably have heard the expression "monkey-mind", our thoughts constantly jumping from one thing to another.

In addition to my active thinking, I am often distracted by various body sensations – pain, fatigue, and more as the result of my stem cell transplant almost 15 years ago. And even without that, I remember when the recurring sore back or strep throat would occupy center stage in my attention.

I have had a daily yoga practice for decades – at this point the practice involves minimal moving and more breathing, chanting, gesture, and meditation. I am repeatedly surprised to see how hard it is for me to settle into my practice at the times I need it the most. I have a few tricks to help myself with this, but I know it is a common phenomenon. (Those tricks and the options besides yoga for a daily practice are for another time.)

But when I can connect my body and mind to my breath or sound, amazing things begin to happen. I will spare you the science of what occurs, but here are my direct experiences:

  • My body relaxes and tension begins to lessen or even disappear.
  • My relationship to my pain begins to change and and my anxiety or fear decreases.
  • My breath slows down.
  • My entire being feels like it is having a massage from the inside out.
  • My sense of my place in the universe comes into perspective and the size of my distractions seems to shrink.
  • My attitude towards myself and the world is reset so that I feel calm(er), kind(er), and more compassionate.

So even though my body and mind may resist getting to my yoga practice, I am always glad that I did. There is no single method or practice that is right for everyone, but yoga has definitely been right for me. I would love to hear what works for you.




What is with my fascination with dying?

I seem to be compulsively drawn to an awareness of death and dying. Of course, there are the circumstances of my life: The death of my husband at 49 after only an 8-month journey with cancer, and my own direct experience with a life-threatening leukemia diagnosis just a few years later. Death wasn't much in my awareness before these two events. And afterwards, it seems to have dug into my awareness.

In the years that followed I have worked with people confronting life-threatening illness and at the side of those who are dying. In the past year or so I have become involved with The Wake Up to Dying Project and then helped launch a Death Cafe here in Montpelier which has been meeting monthly since last December of 2013.

This work has been – quite surprisingly – the most amazing gift. I relish the opportunity for the sense of full presence and intimacy that life-threatening illness so often offers. I always find it remarkable that I have sense of coming home every time I enter a Death Cafe. I feel relief that there is no pretending, no avoiding what is inevitable for each of us. As my yoga teacher says, "We are all compost." And each visit makes me feel and think about the question: Am I making the most I can of this precious life?

Am I awake to how I spend my time?  Do I notice what I feel? See? Smell? Touch?  Alive to now?


What do you think about discussing this often taboo subject? I would love to know your  thoughts.

Montpelier Death Cafe Interview on WGDR

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Can I Love Myself, Just As I Am?

I am not a large-bodied person at the moment but I have found myself drawn repeatedly to Anna Guest-Jelley and her Curvy Yoga. I admire her courage as she owns and inhabits who she is, including having a curvy body!

As I read her blogs and those of others whose body shape may lead to shame, embarrassment, and even self-hate, I resonate with the message. And I have been reflecting on this, and all the subtle – and not so subtle – ways I reject myself. Is it possible to be enough, just as I am?

I know that this "not enough" feeling is fairly common and comes in many varieties: I am not thin enough, not smart enough, not active enough, not working at my potential, not earning enough, and on and on.

I want to own all of who I am. A 65-year-old woman. A mother and partner and widow. A person whose life is lived with the uncertainties of chronic disease and intermittent pain and less physical ability than you might expect if you met me. I have what some might call an "invisible disability". And, although I am not overweight, shadows of that earlier time haunt me every day. I still spend too much time thinking about the impression I am going to create.

But amazingly, when I come fully into movement, breathing, or meditation, all of this disappears. Then I know I am enough just as I am. I know that I am part of a beautiful universe that is perfect and imperfect all at the same time. My challenge is to bring that "enough-ness" into all of who I am and all of what I do.

I know that my yoga practice helps me expand this sense of owning all of who I am, including the things I am not. And I also see how pervasive the thoughts and patterns are.

What parts of you are "not enough"?

What helps you to move from self-criticism to embracing who you are, right now?


The Metaphor of "Fighting" Cancer

This is a repost of something I wrote last year and it is still so much in my mind and heart.

I have started 5 new posts in the past few weeks but somehow haven't been ready to finish any of them. And then today a dear friend sent me Having Cancer is Not a Fight or a Battle written by Kate Granger for the Guardian. The use of fighting language for people with cancer has long been a pet peeve of mine so here I go – hopefully not too much of a rant.

He "lost his battle to cancer". She "put up a valiant fight". We know these words. But why do we use this language? Is it useful? I am sure it's not. I told my friends that these words best not appear in my obituary or I would come back to haunt them.

There is no doubt that living with cancer – or with any acute, chronic or life-threatening illness – asks a lot of us. We want to be able to dig down and find the courage to face some unbelievably sad, painful or simply awful circumstances. We want to push our feelings aside so we can do what needs to be done and keep going. We want to keep the people around us from being discouraged, weepy or anxious (even when we are). Unfortunately, the reality of our circumstances do not truly lend themselves to the mantras of "fight" or "be positive".

We live in a world that seems to divide life between good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. But this is a false dichotomy that just helps us feel better about the side we think we are on. We all too often forget that the other "side" is just a mirror of our own shortcomings, biases, etc. So, too, with unwanted illness: It is not an either/or proposition, but a nuanced and complex journey.

It cannot be useful for us to reject a part of ourselves – whether our own cancer cells or our own feelings. I am convinced that the true challenge is to embrace all of our experience. We need to accept the reality of our illness and to be open to what that means – even if it suggests death is near. We also need to accept that we can thrive now: We can take active steps for our physical, mental and emotional health. No outcome on a date certain can be guaranteed – no matter what anyone says.

Our task is to embrace all that is here – wanting it to be different while recognizing what is present now. The feelings that arise (fear, anxiety, sadness) and the ones we may need to cultivate at the same time (gratitude, love, safety).

I know the size of this task first-hand. And perhaps, because I am an optimist by nature, what I have to say may not be of use to you. But even as I want to make lemonade from lemons, I have struggled not get lost in a pity party, feelings of despair, and such.

Breathe2Change is all about the how of helping you find your path to be present with what is now – even the unwanted stuff – and open to gratitude and possibility and fullness in this moment. And as I support you in your journey of discovery I keep myself connected to the vibrant power of shared connection and the power of the present.

Hope, Fear, & Possibility


I have been wanting to write this ever since I wrote an earlier post on The Metaphor of "Fighting" Cancer. I suspect my reluctance comes from anticipating some pretty negative comments, but here are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.

Hope: To want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true; to desire with expectation of obtainment; to cherish a desire with anticipation
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

When I hear people (especially those with chronic and life-threatening illness) use the word "hope", I frequently hear unspoken fear. What is hope truly? It is wanting things to be different from how they are now. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this: change is always happening. And when we find ourselves in a challenging or difficult situation, it is natural to want relief or improvement.

But at the same time, when we spend our psychic energy "hoping", we distract ourselves from the present and miss the richness that is already here now. And this takes not only mental and sometimes physical energy but it often brings with it a kind of denial. Can we have hope and truly see and accept things as they are now? I am not sure.

When I faced the death of my husband and then the possibility of my own death many years ago, I changed my framework for thinking about this. It became important for me to acknowledge and embrace the present and all that it contained – including the physical and psychological pain as well as the prognosis that the doctors offered. At the same time, I recognized that these were just numbers and statistics and that anything was possible. And it was this combination of welcoming what is here now and holding space for the entire range of possibility that has served me well.

I make space for both the known and the vast range of unknown. For me that known included the nausea, fatigue, and pain as well as the deep intimacy with family and friends, allowing myself to be dependent and accept an abundance of assistance. For me that unknown included both the possibility of death as well as the ability to survive and thrive. Hope has not been in my vocabulary. I refuse to attach my sense of well-being to something that is not here now and simply not knowable.

I understand this runs counter to so much of contemporary culture, especially in the cancer survivor world. I welcome your thoughts.

This One Precious Life


Lately I find myself musing about what calls me now as I approach my 66th birthday in April. At 50, I could not imagine I would survive a year and here it is, more than 15 years later.

The work I found my way into post cancer treatment was already calling (beneath the noise of my successful career in the prior years) but I hadn't been listening. And now, once again, I feel some rumblings beneath the surface.

I love my work. I am so grateful to be of service and also to receive so much from students, supervisees, and clients. The complete mutuality of this work is truly remarkable. I could never have imagined this – work where I am giving and simultaneously fed, rather than drained. I am so grateful to my yoga therapy and mind-body medicine teachers for this evolution in my understanding of my role. I am not here to fix anything, but rather to hold space with an open heart; to be a mirror for those I work with; to offer what I know from my toolbox if it is useful.

And yet, as I move forward something is stirring. I practice awareness about decreasing my ego-driven actions and letting go of attachment to outcome both on and off of my yoga mat. Next week I am off to spend time with my teacher and further deepen my own personal practice. I am curious and open to what may unfold.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!


If you are on an airplane in an emergency situation, you may not save yourself or help anyone else if you don't put your own oxygen mask on first. And the flight attendants remind us of this on every flight. But are we really listening? Do we know we have to take care of ourselves first or risk perishing?

This is true for us as teachers, healthcare professionals, therapists, and caregivers, even though most of us don't learn this in our training and educational programs. We are too often focused on having answers and solutions and on giving to and serving others. Just yesterday I was reminded by a friend the we can neglect self-care because of our work or involvement in almost any activity.

What I notice in myself is that it is all too easy to give and not to take the time I need to replenish myself. I find myself exploring how to choose the right amount of effort to expend and committing and then re-committing to make the time for self-care.

My colleague Jim Gordon, MD, the Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, always starts his lectures with the fact that the heart of good health starts with self-care. Contrary to popular opinions, self-care is not selfish. If we are depleted, we will eventually have nothing to offer anyone else. We are like the gas tank that is running on empty or the battery that is dead.

We must save the only life we can save*, our own! I write this blog first as a reminder to myself. Secondly I hope that those of you who know me will stop me if you see me charging ahead, full speed, heedless of my self-care. Please remind me to slow down, to take care of myself, and, perhaps, to do less. And, of course, to breathe!

Why Bother with a Personal Practice?

Any day is wonderful time to start or restart a personal daily practice or activity that helps us to connect and align body, mind, and spirit. A personal practice can take just a few minutes – it need not be long or elaborate. The practice might consist of focused breathing, yoga, guided imagery, prayer, or even dancing. The focus is being present with your attention directed toward the experience of this moment. In doing this, we can both explore and cultivate our intention(s) for both the near term and the future.

For me the technique of choice is yoga, which includes breath, movement, sound, and meditation – and not necessarily all of these elements in any practice. What technique might work for you?

And I remind myself, if I miss a practice on any particular day, be kind and forgiving.  It is okay. Today is a new day and we can begin again – that is why we call it a "practice".

Wanting What I Have?


I feel as if I've been hit over the head lately with this question: Can I want what I have? Yoga philosophy (as well as what I understand of Buddhist teachings) suggests that this moment is complete and that wanting and longing for more or different can cause suffering. I would like to think that I am here, welcoming what is present now.

But wanting is insidious. There is the obvious, that we live in a society where more equals better: more money, bigger house, better job status. In arrogance, I suppose, I like to think I have moved beyond that. I see how many of those ego-driven material wants have been left behind. And then, I pause and reflect.

I notice the more subtle wanting that remains. I do not want the physical pain I have – I wish it would go away. I do not want the limitations of a body once challenged by cancer and still carrying significant long-term complications. I want to be seen in a certain way rather than simply trusting the reality under the clothes, the haircut, the jewelry.

So I set my intention to invite the possibility that this life I live is exactly as it should be; that I can see the fullness of what is here (whether I want it or not); and that I can open to what is present now; and that I can see this moment as my teacher.

From this place it is possible to shift my orientation from scarcity to abundance. And as I do this, some exciting new possibilities are opening up.


The Uncertainty of Life with Advanced Cancer: Ondis' Story of Life and Yoga

How do we find our way when life is very uncertain and unpredictable? What would you do if you found out you had a life-threatening illness?

Ondis was diagnosed with breast cancer over 9 years before the video below was filmed and shesurvived and thrived although her prognosis was considered by many to be grim. She died peacefully at home with her beloved partner and daughters.

She participated in conventional cancer treatment and has lived a remarkably full life over the course of these years. Yoga was an active part of her own self-care and, after leaving her full-time work, she became an active volunteer in the cancer world: She provided transportation to people going to cancer treatment (through the ACS Road to Recovery program), talks to others with metastatic disease (as part of the Kindred Connections program), and facilitates a support group for people with advanced/metastatic disease.

Hear what Ondis has to stay about yoga and her own journey.

The Yoga Therapist & Cancer Care: Special Cautions

The health status of a person with cancer can change frequently, particularly for those in active treatment, so it is critical to assess and reassess at each visit. The cautions that follow are not intended to be an exhaustive list but a starting place for you. These are some critical issues faced by people with cancer that impact health and safety when doing yoga.

• Cancer affects the immune status of patients, making them more vulnerable to illness and infection. It is important that the space you use as well as mats and props are clean before anyone with a compromised immune status uses them. I encourage clients in this situation to bring a clean sheet or blanket from home to put under them so they do not have direct body contact with the floor. Encourage students in a therapeutic class who have any symptoms of cold, fever, flu, or any other active infectious condition either not to come to class or to create as much physical distance as possible between them and anyone with low immunity. Remember, cancer patients’ immune status can fluctuate wildly from week to week.

• Along with compromised immunity, people undergoing treatment can have low blood platelet counts (which can lead to bruising and bleeding). Avoid props and ties that apply direct pressure to the skin because they can cause bleeding depending on how they are used.

• People undergoing treatment (and sometimes people with more advanced disease who are not having treatment) will often have a port or central line. These are devices placed in the chest so that drugs can be delivered directly into a vein. This is done to reduce insertion of needles into the hands and arms and to reduce inflammation that certain drugs can cause in the peripheral veins of the extremities. These devices can remain in for months. Some doctors advise their patients that there are limitations on certain physical movement if you have one of these central lines or ports. The typical limitation that is related to yoga is to avoid placing the head beneath the heart—no inversions, standing forward bends, and so on, including downward-facing dog pose. On the other hand, some physicians say there are no restrictions. It is important that your client/student understand their doctor’s directions. If the client doesn’t know, always err on the side of caution.

• Cancer can often spread, or metastasize, from its original site to other organs (including the bones). A client may or may not know if they have cancer in their bones or if their disease has spread to another site (metastatic, or Stage IV, cancer). If they do have metastatic disease, check with them about whether their type of cancer can spread to the bones (they may not know). If they have any tumors in their bones, you’ll want to know where. Also, bones may be radiated as part of treatment. If so, the client may be vulnerable to fractures—typically in the spine, pelvis, or ribs—because the bone is weakened and no longer has structural integrity. So avoid anything that stresses the bones: bound or closed poses, anything that uses leverage or torque (e.g., seated twist, bound triangle, bound side angle, and most hand-to-bigtoe variations). There can be situations where the bones are so weakened that anything that stresses the spine in extension or flexion can be risky. As above, this is dependent on the individual. When in doubt, I make the practice extraordinarily gentle until there is some medical guidance.

• If your client/student has a known tumor present, he/she should avoid putting direct pressure on the tumor. Clients often have discomfort in the area of the tumor, and that can be self-limiting. For instance, prone poses such as cobra can be a problem for people with pelvic or abdominal tumors.

• Some clients will be taking steroids. Steroids can cause mood shifts (often depression), weight gain, and physical and/or mental agitation so that it is hard to stay focused on anything and/or to keep the body still. Sleep is often disrupted or very difficult. In addition, steroids use can result in being immune compromised, so use the same precautions described above.

Lymphedema is a condition that arises from removal of lymph nodes, resulting in fluid accumulation (typically in the arms or legs) because the lymph drainage system is no longer working correctly. Most often this condition is seen in breast cancer patients, but it is not limited to them. This condition can vary greatly from patient to patient, but generally, avoid long holds of poses that extend the impacted limb overhead. It is best to move in and out of such a pose briefly and avoid stays. Also avoid direct weight bearing on the affected limb. Because of the variability of this condition, it is best to consult with the client’s physical therapist. One last point on this condition, sometimes you the teacher or therapist may notice that a part of a limb looks swollen. If so, ask the client/student about this and make sure they are getting appropriate medical treatment. Lymphedema left untreated can be quite serious and is sometimes unnoticed by the client. This condition can also occur a long time after treatment has ended.

Working with people with cancer can appear overwhelming, and as I write this I am reminded of the remarkable complexity involved. But that said, begin with yourself: are you interested in this work? Do you have the training and support you need? If the answer to these questions is affirmative, then an amazing world may open up for you. People with cancer are often ready and available for work at each level of the panca mayas (koshas), and profound change is possible. I love this work. Perhaps surprisingly, it is not draining and in fact feels mutually nourishing. If you want to know more, you can contact me directly.

This article was first published in Yoga Therapy Today (a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists).

Thanks to Olga Kabel at SequenceWiz and @SequenceWiz for republishing sections of this article on her guest blog.

Dancing with Life (and Death)

This post was written in November, 2013 when a beloved friend was gravely ill.

In the past few weeks I have been yet again reminded of the precariousness of this business of living.

I took this picture recently on the beach in Florida while I was visiting a dear friend who is in hospice care. Each morning his partner and I would rise early and walk along the ocean.

The image reminds me of essential truths of nature: the sun illuminates the sky and water even on a stormy day; the turbulence of the water changes the terrain of the sand beneath; nothing stays the same.

Each morning in my yoga practice I create space and time:

  • To be present and tuned into life and nature right on my mat
  • To notice what illuminates me from within and without in that moment
  • To see the turbulence in living and to welcome both the disturbance and the inevitability of change
  • To remember to step lightly and breathe and move with these rhythms that are surely beyond my control

This week marks 12 years since my stem cell transplant. I have moved from living with the near certainty that death was around the corner to the simple knowledge that death is yet to come and may well arrive when least expected.

As I recall the churning ocean and see the diminishing light as we move towards winter, I feel the inexorable pattern of the ebb and flow of all existence – whether a wave or a leaf or a life. Each single piece is a precious part of something vast coming and going.

No, I am NOT my diagnosis

As many of you know I was treated for acute leukemia in 2001. Miraculously, I am still alive! But treatment left behind a secondary condition, called Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD). I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say I have had the persistent experience of living with a chronic and sometimes debilitating disease . Most of the time, I am able to see this condition as a teacher – reminding me to be in the present, to engage in self-care and to take an active role in every aspect of my life.

I have been remarkably healthy – rarely a cold or flu, just normal aging of joints, etc. But this winter I've had two bouts of the flu, followed by a case of bronchitis that wouldn't leave. I was painfully reminded how difficult it can be to see beyond the exhaustion, the coughing, and the inability to exercise or work.

As I navigated my way through this, I was reminded of four points that work for me.

  1. Be in the experience of the present moment. Notice sensations and thoughts. When my mind wanders to how bad I feel or what I wish I were doing, I come back to now. And I have a host of tools for helping me with this.
  2. Find something to appreciate that is true now. I remember once asking myself what that could be as I sat on a bathroom floor staring at the inside of a toilet bowl during chemo. It's not easy, but it is possible.
  3. Listen to something that soothes and engages. This can be a guided imagery CD, an inspirational speaker, or music.
  4. Want what I have and stop spending mental energy wanting things to be different.


What works for you? I

Living with Uncertainty

For a good portion of my life, I blithely went along thinking I could plan my day, my week, my next summer vacation, with certainty. And in the course of one hour, that assumption was blown away when my husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

At some level, we all know that substantive disruptions in our lives are possible in every moment, but I was certainly unprepared for mine. During the 8 months my husband was alive after that diagnosis, my planning horizon and my certainty about what the next moment might bring got really short. Sometimes I could plan the next hour; sometimes not. It felt like a wild and slightly crazy dance where I could rarely get my balance.

Barely three years later I faced my own life-threatening illness, and the crazy unbalanced dance began again. My life today is more stable than when I was diagnosed and going through treatment, but I still find myself wanting to recapture that old feeling – that my life can be orderly and predictable.

I have spent a good portion of the past 16 years learning to do the dance of uncertainty with light feet and with a regular warning to myself – sometimes successful, sometimes not – that the dance floor could tilt at any moment. I have found the techniques of mind-body medicine and yoga incredibly useful at reminding me to embrace what is here now, rather than wanting something else for tomorrow. Anything that connects me with my breath usually helps. Still, I notice how easy it is for me to forget and to assume that my life is stable and change is somewhere in the future.

In the past few weeks I have been reminded a number of times that change is more the norm than I would like to think. Why is this lesson so hard to learn? I feel the seduction of wanting stability, of deluding myself during times when my health seems predictable. I would not have chosen the circumstances of my husband's illness nor my own. But I often think that these challenges have been – and continue to be – my greatest teacher.

What I have is now.


This breath.

This moment.


More about yoga for chronic pain

My last blog post generated questions about the chronic pain video that was attached. What kind of yoga did Linda do? How much did she practice? Here is some context for her remarkable story.

Linda has been a yoga student in one of my weekly classes for quite a number of years. As she describes in the video, she arrived in pain and usually felt better when she left – the pain was eased physically and she was also more relaxed. The benefit, however, was not sustained, and she was plagued by chronic pain in multiple joints as well as neck and spine pain. This led her to be concerned about her condition as well as fatigued from managing her life with pain as a constant companion.

In the summer of 2012, I challenged the students in one of my classes to start a brief (and I really mean brief) daily home practice. I created what we affectionately called the "10-Minute Practice" because I assured them they could do it in 10 minutes or less. I created a stick-figure diagram with breathing instructions so they would have a guide to practice with at home and we reviewed it in class. It has 3 postures! A video version is below.

A number of students began to practice it daily and Linda was among them. She noticed that it helped diminish her morning stiffness and it also helped her feel centered to start her day. Interestingly, within a couple of months Linda decided to go on a diet, something she had not been considering previously. Over the next 20 weeks, she lost 25 pounds and she has kept them off ever since! The combination of daily yoga practice and weight loss seems to have markedly changed Linda's pain.

As Linda and I were talking about this blog, we both wondered if it was her daily yoga practice that created the right environment for her to embark on her diet. Her successful discipline in doing this 10-Minute Practice helped build her will and remind her that she could take on and follow through with new activities for self-care!

Living with Pain: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Pain has been my regular companion for most of the past 12 years and for the past few days it has been pretty noisy. It continues to require both my energy and focus to establish and re-establish a sense of well-being as pain makes me tired and worn out and distracts both my thoughts and emotions. Perhaps you know the feeling.

There are a number of things that I know to be true for me:
-- First, there is the source of pain (the particulars in my body).
-- Second, there is my reaction to the pain.

The source of the pain might be known -- an injury, a surgical incision, a mouth sore (my current issue) -- or it might not be. As part of the normal physical response to pain, other parts of the body are activated -- muscles tense to guard and protect against further aggravation, complex nerve signals are triggered from the brain.

Sometimes I am able to change the pain -- either diminishing it or completely eliminating it. At other times, I cannot do anything about the pain. I should add that there is definitely a role for drugs in pain management. The worse the pain gets, the harder it is to manage it. So I have learned when it is time for me to haul out the pharmaceuticals. I know where that threshold is for me. Do you know where yours is?

Even if I cannot change the pain itself, I can almost always change my reaction to it. That reaction is characterized by fear (How long is this going to last? What does it mean?), anxiety (Will I be able to sleep? Can I work today? Is it time for drugs?), self-pity (This is not going away. Poor me!), and a deep sense of denial/rejection -- not wanting this pain in my body, wanting things to be different. When I change how I respond, I can often relieve the secondary physical symptoms and almost always ease both my emotional and mental state.

There are many techniques for managing your reaction to your pain. My impulse is mostly to reject it, ignore it, or want the pain to be different. For me, the place to start is to look straight at what is happening now -- the physical sensation, the emotions, and the things I am saying to myself. What helps me most is practicing -- really practicing! -- wanting what is present in any moment. That trains me not to direct my energy at rejecting the current reality, and it also prepares me to face the more challenging difficulties in my life. This kind of practice can and should occur even when there is no pain present, and we can all benefit. There is no way to avoid pain in this life.

Below is one woman's story of how yoga helped her with chronic, debilitating pain.

In addition to yoga, I have also found mindfulness-based meditation, systematic body scans, and guided imagery extremely helpful. If the pain is severe and compelling, I have a small library of MP3 files I can call upon: When it is just too hard to wade up thru the haze of pain and to focus, another voice can really help.

What techniques have you tried? What didn't work? What does? What have you learned?