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Better than my meds

“I feel so relaxed. This is better than my meds and my medication is anti-psych meds. Honestly. Wouldn’t it be great to do this every night after a shower then go straight to bed?”

This was a quote from a beautiful indigenous woman after coming out of a trauma-sensitive yoga class, and smiling from ear to ear. The woman has deep trauma stored in her body and was suffering significant toothache, at the time of the class. It was her first yoga class, ever.

This woman’s surprise was an echo of many reactions I have witnessed during my nearly ten years teaching therapeutic yoga to people in crisis – the shock of feeling relaxed. It is the same shock I felt the first time I experienced peace.

Growing up feeling anxiety and fear, and an adult life of chronic illness and crisis, meant that I was constantly in a state of tension. When I finally experienced moments of peace it felt extraordinary and then when I relaxed during a guided relaxation, I remember thinking, “ahhh that’s what everyone’s been talking about.”

It was these experiences that inspired me to become a yoga teacher. I was still in my electric wheelchair and didn’t expect to walk again but I felt compelled to share the power of meditation with other people in crisis. We can transcend our circumstances, even if just for a moment.

Yet it wasn’t until this moment teaching trauma sensitive yoga in Sydney, that my experience and my students’/clients’ experiences all clicked into a deeper understanding of trauma. These women, other students and clients, and myself, we didn’t even know what if felt like to relax, let alone how to achieve relaxation.

We didn’t know it was possible to alleviate our suffering, in a wholesome way. I recognised the look in my students’ eyes that day in Sydney because I had felt the same incredulity – “I didn’t know it was possible to feel like this”.

I feel humbled by the power of this work and the courage of these women and men, who are trying so hard to transform their lives. Just turning up is an act of courage and we need to respond with compassion that includes practical empowerment.

Trauma, regardless of its cause, interferes with the development and function of our brains. Sustained trauma, particularly if experienced as a child, can leave permanent damage to cognitive skills and function.

As an adult, we may forget how to carry out basic functions of living, like budgeting, paying bills, self-organisation and nutrition. And as a child, we may never have learnt these pathways. And regardless of the age of onset, people who are surviving trauma may not know it is even possible to alleviate their own suffering without substances, violence or other addictions.

 

If somebody has been traumatised they need to learn how to experience happiness, safety and self-worth. These are not skills that come naturally to a victim of trauma and without them, there is the ongoing risk of self-harm.

Fear is the baseline for a person experiencing PTSD, and this creates a permanent state of crisis in their body, emotions and mind. Crisis reduces an individual’s capacity for strategic thought, concentration and perspective, as well contributing to anxiety and depression, feeding into a myriad of physical health problems.

Anecdotal evidence from the work I have been doing with survivors of trauma, suggests that derailing this state of crisis enables individuals to make better decisions about their own lives and their relationships with the people around them.

People who are transitioning into the community, whether it be from prison or trauma or both, need to be supported across a range of skills to prevent recidivism and/or sliding back into drug addiction and/or mental illness. What this means is guiding people through skills for life, which reduces their ongoing dependency on community services.

When we teach people organisational and budgeting skills we teach them how to manage the material aspects of life. When we teach nutritional and cooking skills we teach them how to feed themselves. And when we teach them how to relax through tools like yoga and mindfulness, we are teaching tools to manage their mental health.

Interventions such as budgeting, personal organisation, cooking and yoga empower people to live more functional lives.

And while I’m not naïve enough to suggest that one yoga class will heal the world, it is possible that an ongoing integrated holistic approach to rehabilitating people who have experienced trauma, might change their neurobiology from crisis to love.

Imagine a world where people who are survivors of trauma are taught how to live again, or in some cases for the first time   Imagine a world where they are taught how to feel safe, relaxed and loved. A world where they and we all have a place.

This is a world I want to be part of creating.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and Sydney, and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

 

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A Prayer for Peace

“May all beings be at peace.
May we all live in the true peace of our own hearts.”

I say these two lines at the end of every class yoga and meditation class I teach and every therapy session. It is an invitation to my students to find peace in their hearts and a wider invitation to humanity to live in the peace present in all our hearts.

It is a simple prayer but always engenders a sense of peace and connection within my own ecosystem. These two lines give me hope and remind me of my own power when I feel hopeless and powerless.

It also reminds me that we are all united in our search for meaning and our search for peace and happiness. I believe even those now on the path of terror began on a search for peace, a sense of belonging.

In the wake of the last few weeks of terror related violence in the UK and the ongoing violence around the world, I have felt despondent and powerless. And then I repeat these simple words and am reminded that my greatest power is in my own state of mind and how I relate to my community.

This personal responsibility remains unchanged by acts of violence in the world. I have felt the temptation to become fearful, felt the lure of hate, and then I remember. We all have a choice to live in fear or love, to choose the kind of community we want to live in and be that community, ourselves.

this prayer for peace reminds me of my choice to navigate my choices by the love and peace in my heart. It reminds me that love and peace are an internal state, not given or dependent on the external world. It reminds me of my own journey from fear to love, that continues to enable the life I now live.

I offer you this prayer as an invitation to find the peace resting in your heart and continue your own journey from fear to love.

The practice

  • Make yourself comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to allow your breath to settle, noticing your breath in your nostrils and the rise and fall of your chest.
  • If you feel comfortable, allow your eyes to softly close, otherwise direct your eyes downward and soften your gaze, and your hands rest in your lap.
  • Repeat, “May all beings be at peace.
    May we all live in the true peace of our own hearts.”
  • Take a few moments to rest in the stillness that follows.
  • Gently return to your life and notice the difference.

Repeat this practice when you feel anxious or fearful, as many times a day as you need.

As one of the many great peacemakers of modern times, Gandhi, said,
“be the change you want to see in the world”.

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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A Prayer for Peace

“May all beings be at peace.
May we all live in the true peace of our own hearts.”

I say these two lines at the end of every class yoga and meditation class I teach and every therapy session. It is an invitation to my students to find peace in their hearts and a wider invitation to humanity to live in the peace present in all our hearts.

It is a simple prayer but always engenders a sense of peace and connection within my own ecosystem. These two lines give me hope and remind me of my own power when I feel hopeless and powerless.

It also reminds me that we are all united in our search for meaning and our search for peace and happiness. I believe even those now on the path of terror began on a search for peace, a sense of belonging.

In the wake of the last few weeks of terror related violence in the UK and the ongoing violence around the world, I have felt despondent and powerless. And then I repeat these simple words and am reminded that my greatest power is in my own state of mind and how I relate to my community.

This personal responsibility remains unchanged by acts of violence in the world. I have felt the temptation to become fearful, felt the lure of hate, and then I remember. We all have a choice to live in fear or love, to choose the kind of community we want to live in and be that community, ourselves.

this prayer for peace reminds me of my choice to navigate my choices by the love and peace in my heart. It reminds me that love and peace are an internal state, not given or dependent on the external world. It reminds me of my own journey from fear to love, that continues to enable the life I now live.

I offer you this prayer as an invitation to find the peace resting in your heart and continue your own journey from fear to love.

The practice

  • Make yourself comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to allow your breath to settle, noticing your breath in your nostrils and the rise and fall of your chest.
  • If you feel comfortable, allow your eyes to softly close, otherwise direct your eyes downward and soften your gaze, and your hands rest in your lap.
  • Repeat, “May all beings be at peace.
    May we all live in the true peace of our own hearts.”
  • Take a few moments to rest in the stillness that follows.
  • Gently return to your life and notice the difference.

Repeat this practice when you feel anxious or fearful, as many times a day as you need.

As one of the many great peacemakers of modern times, Gandhi, said,
“be the change you want to see in the world”.

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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On becoming a ‘finder’

I am about to write the most radical and dangerous blog I have ever written. It is so dangerous that I have paused, walked around the room, considered a sudden urge to go to the toilet, sat back down and paused again (twice), mid-sentence.

I am currently experiencing a period of unprecedented happiness and completeness. Not only am I happy but I feel worthy and wanted, and I am deeply satisfied with what I am doing in life. I have discovered I am genuinely good at something, maybe even more than one thing. And I am very proud of what I am doing with the thing I am good at. I am authentic and have integrity.

Even more radical, I have fallen in love with my face…my 51 year-old face, with wrinkles and chin hair and sparkly grey streaks in my hair. I have also become very fond of my body. I love the roundness of my belly and hips, and the slight sag in upper arms and breasts. I look at my body and I see a woman and I really like being a woman.

And spiritually, I no longer feel like a seeker. It is not that I consider myself enlightened or a guru, it is simply that I have a deep sense that that which I have been seeking is actually within myself. Furthermore, the tools required to realise this, I already have – my breath and my intention.

I feel whole and happy. I would never have said this before, despite having experienced moments of contentment or peace. Now there are some indicators that this is the real deal rather than a moment.

For example, when the habitual thought patterns of self-criticism  occur, as they did in a trauma-sensitive yoga class yesterday, I can hold them compassionately from a distance rather than disappearing down the rabbit hole and becoming them. The criticisms disappeared and didn’t return.

Another example is that when I look in the mirror, I smile at myself, not because I am typically beautiful but because I am me and I like me. I see my smiling eyes not my flaws and there isn’t the slight anxiety about my appearance. This is so lovely.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, I declared to myself that I wanted to learn how to learn how to live in the peace I experienced in meditation and teach this to other people in crisis. Then I was in a wheelchair, being bathed and on antidepressants. Now I ski, bathe myself and occasionally take Panadol for migraine. Put quite simply my yoga practice saved my life and my family.

When I work with my 80-odd students and clients each week, I do so from a place of authenticity and integrity. I am speaking and living my truth, in the knowledge that I am serving the people I set out to serve, ten years ago, while I was still in a wheelchair.

Today I listened to recordings of relaxations and meditations I delivered to these classes, and for the first time I could listen to my voice and my work without cringing. Not only could I listen but the quality of these practices landed. I am good at this.

This is radical and dangerous because in our society we are not brought up to like ourselves. We are not brought up to believe in ourselves. We are not brought up to know our own minds or hearts or worth. We are strangely not brought up to feel content, satisfying or happy, within ourselves.

We are brought up to seek our sense of ourselves from outside of ourselves, counter intuitive. We are desperate to be completed by our loved ones, approved of by…well everyone. and most insidious of all, if we find ourselves good at something, let alone complete and happy, we must not tell anyone lest people think we are wankers or frauds. In fact, I feel guilty and nervous for declaring my happiness.

Our whole society, from cosmetics to real estate to education, health, religion, personal development industries and everything in between teaches us to be seekers of happiness not finders. And the paradox of seeking is that we are always looking out and to the future.

To quote Petrea King, “the, ‘I’ll be happy when…’ syndrome”. We are trained to be discontent and dissatisfied.

Here’s the thing. If enlightenment is a thing, if freedom and happiness are attainable, and I believe they are, then why not in this lifetime, why not now and why not you, within yourself? And If it is possible to be free and live in peace then throw out the rulebook and give yourself wholly to the task.

The world is not going fall off its axis if we like ourselves. We will always need the arts, food, shelter and clothing. We will probably also need help or coaching but if we start from the perspective of already being whole and happy then we become finders and not seekers.

So, I implore you to become a finder…NOW.

Stop.

Breathe in.

Pause.

Breathe out.

Pause.

Rinse and repeat.

Smile.

This is it. This is all you need – your breath, your Self and this moment.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

 

 

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From anxiety and insomnia to self-love, thank you menopause

In the early hours of the morning a couple of days ago I woke up in the grip of anxiety. It was a feeling I am very familiar having suffered insomnia as a child then for most of my adult life, until my yoga practice changed my sleeping patterns I thought forever…until menopause.

Menopause has brought so many ‘gifts’, including the return of my old friend 2am spirals of anxiety, sometimes descending into sheer panic. It may have begun with a surge of heat that even in the middle of winter in Canberra necessitates all bed coverings thrown off or perhaps a nightmare that I have jerked myself awake to leave. The predicted path of the next couple of hours would have been tossing and turning, more heat surges and little sleep, getting up close and personal with my deepest fears and descending into panic.

Over the last six months my friend’s visits have become increasingly frequent and all of the tools I had used previously were increasingly ineffective, breathing in particular seeming to make the anxiety worse, not better. I have been growing dark circles under my eyes, MS has been returning and people have started to remark on my tiredness.

Then at around 2am one morning in the grip of anxiety I started to use a Yoga Nidra format of rotating my consciousness around my body but this time using the detailed anatomy I had been learning for yoga therapy, starting with the deltoid muscle on my right arm and remembering as much detail as I could.

I made my way around my whole body, externally and internally, so I didn't gain much sleep but I was certainly more relaxed and didn't feel so tired the next day (and I felt slightly righteous for studying). Each night I woke after that I repeated the same format and sleep increased.

Again, this was not to last. about a week ago anxiety returned with a vengeance, bringing its two best friends, insomnia and menopause. I felt wretched.

Then a couple of nights ago I woke with both heat surge and nightmare, and each time I began to rotate my consciousness around my body, the anxiety and/or heat returned to distract my concentration. I prepared myself for another descent … until I thought about the opposite of anxiety.

Anxiety is the expression of fear, the opposite of fear is love ergo the opposite of anxiety is love. What is love? Unconditional acceptance. What if I held my anxiety in my arms like I would a baby, with acceptance instead of more fear?

This time it was anxiety that was derailed rather than my attempts to alleviate the condition but I still wasn't asleep.

So I began to rotate my consciousness again but this time with the warmth of love and each time a fear arose I held it in acceptance and went on, and before I knew it I was asleep. The same a short time later and then again the same night. I woke in the morning feeling soft and rested.

The next night the same thing happened but I only woke once. Then again and again. And I am looking forward to sleep tonight.

You see, just before my anxiety returned I had realised I had been expecting the outside world to fill my need for love and it is my thought that menopause has brought me to the next layer of my recovery in this area; my fear of not being loved and my neediness in the face of that fear.

The thing is, self-love is not a prescription that can be filled by anyone else but until a few days ago I didn’t know how. Holding the 2am spiral in love, holding my deepest fears in love, holding my anatomy in love is dissolving the fear and filling me with love. Who would’ve thunk it?

And during the day I have noticed that my background reactivity has also dropped. This has given me the space to reflect on the content of my inner dialogue and a deeper understanding of acceptance – another circle. Allowing the reaction and pausing in the reaction gives me choice and a moment to understand the judgement or self-criticism. My life has become peaceful again and my sleep and health have again improved.

As a culture we have successfully stigmatised and/or medicalised menopause, anxiety and insomnia. Menopause is a thing, anxiety is a thing and insomnia is thing, and together become a very big, toxic thing, particularly if we ignore them or feel shame to the point of silence. Let’s open the conversation to include all the possibilities of experience and therapy, without shame or exclusion.

So, I have been reminded that menopause can be a current, albeit a bloody uncomfortably strong one. It can carry us to a place we can transform fear into love. And most importantly for me, I have been reminded of the tools I have that can help me navigate the current, and the power and my obligation to share those tools.

 

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

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Why we need yoga to treat trauma



Trauma is endemic in our society and is a major source of chronic mental and physical health problems, that are not being addressed by our current health policies. We need to look at this growing problem holistically or risk being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of suffering.

Whether from chronic or acute illness, childhood sexual assault, domestic violence, an active career in Defence, Policing or the emergency services, bullying, an accident, violence or a witness to violence, or any sudden change, trauma leaves an individual bereft and disempowered, often incapable of living a functional life.

When a person experiences physical and/or mental trauma, their whole being is impacted, therefore their whole being needs to be rehabilitated. Frequently survivors of trauma experience mental and emotional turmoil, social isolation and inability to integrate into community, as well as any physical consequences of their trauma; severely impacting Their relationships with partners, children, workplaces and the broader community.

In addition, the parasympathetic nervous systems of survivors of trauma are trapped in fight, flight or freeze mode. The consequence is a body that is physiologically always in crisis, ready to respond in a fraction of a second.

Always in fear, the individual becomes hypervigilant and hypersensitive, leading to anger, anxiety and depression. Physiologically, chronically high levels of adrenalin and cortisol increase the risk of diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and chronic pain.

This is beyond the scope of Western clinical practice, alone. Medication and cognitive behaviour therapy, while useful, cannot on their own manage the whole being disruption that trauma creates. Therefore, we must address this problem with a range of techniques, including tools that relax the autonomic nervous system.

Every week I work with survivors of trauma, including: childhood sexual abuse, transitioning from prison, chronic illness, grief, acute illness, drug addiction, post & antenatal depression, domestic violence and active duty. The focus of my teaching, therapy and coaching is to gently release the tension held in the tissues of their body, while switching the autonomic nervous system from alert to relax.

The tool I use is trauma-sensitive Dru yoga, which includes gentle stretching sequences, breathing, progressive relaxation, and sometimes mindfulness and meditation. My classes are not aerobic or pretzel yoga but designed to be inclusive and light-hearted, therapeutic tools of healing. Yoga therapy programmes are designed to give clients at least one tool they can use in their everyday lives, to manage their own condition.

Classes are monitored with questionaries at the beginning and end of courses, and yoga therapy clients provide feedback on their progress in each session. What I have seen consistently, across both classes and yoga therapy, is the immediate experience of relief in feeling so relaxed. This is usually followed by a few days of making better choices, being less reactive and feeling less pain or other physical symptoms.

Overtime, students, clients and carers report cumulative effects of recovery and healing. For example, one of my students began with chronic depression related to trauma and severe ankylosing spondylitis. The same student is now regularly exhibiting her artwork, has taken up sailing, been re-employed and gradually reduced all her medication for pain and depression, to zero. For this student, yoga has been the most effective treatment and she is fine if she maintains her yoga practice.

I began yoga teacher training in 2007 because meditation was the only activity that relieved the madness I experienced every day, due to many years of living in a state of crisis. Within three months of daily yoga practice, I had eased myself off the antidepressants that enable my attendance at a meditation weekend in an electric wheelchair and within twelve months I returned the electric wheelchair. Now I teach and write and speak and ski – I am in healthy relationship with the world.

And it is not just my anecdotal evidence. My Dru teacher and his colleagues were funded by the United Nations to teach yoga in war zones in Africa and Europe in the 1980s and 90s, and produced remarkable results. Additionally, an increasing body of academic research suggests modalities such as yoga, massage and tai chi delivered by experienced and qualified therapists, are effective tools in the treatment of PTSD.

We need to invite experienced and qualified professionals from complimentary, clinical and community sectors to the table, so that we can develop effective funding and management strategies and improve therapeutic outcomes. And we must scope our strategies from cradle to grave, across all social, racial and financial divides.

Our society is in crisis, and the increasing rates of chronic mental and physical illness are indicators that our traditional methods and current policies are not working. We desperately need to look beyond our own discipline, beyond what we have always done and collaborate.

Lynnette Dickinson has been delivering therapeutic yoga and meditation since 2009, and is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga. If you are interested in therapeutic yoga, yoga therapy, yoga for teens or trauma sensitive yoga, please contact Lynnette at www.splendouryoga.com or lynnette@splendouryoga.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Yoga of Skiing


Two years ago i was crying like a baby, gripped by fear, two months ago i skied my first black run with freedom and love. In this excerpt from the second edition of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, I describe using meditation to overcome fear.

I think the best way to illustrate not only the distance I have travelled in the last five years but also the impact of sharing my story, is to once again share – this time about sliding down the side of a mountain on two sticks of fibreglass with Nicola, still by my side, no longer on my lap.

Nicola and I arrived on the ski fields of Nagano, Japan, courtesy of a Christmas present from my partner, who had also booked us group lessons; kids for Nicola and growed up for me, both beginners. We were both feeling a shirt load of fear as we put on our ski boots for the first lesson.

A quick kiss and cuddle and off we went to our different classes. I have never been so bad at anything in my whole life! Each time I moved I fell and each time I fell, I had to be helped up – I just didn’t have the strength to get up, sooo disempowering.

I started down the slippery slope of comparison and identification with being crippled. “I am the worst in the class.” “Why did I think somebody like me could ski?” “How could I been so stupid?” And over and over again, “I have MS. Why did I think I could ski?” An hour and a half into my lesson, I baled and when I saw Nicola at lunch, discovered so had she. we both cried like babies.

My partner exchanged our groups lessons for a fewer number of private lessons that we would have together (thank you!), and we could start in the afternoon of the next day. Nicola and I played in the snow all afternoon but my mind was filled with the undercurrent of every negative comparison I had ever held in my life – essentially I was less-than everyone at everything.

So in the early hours of the following morning I meditated: meditated on being strong enough to get myself up when I fell, meditated on holding fear and courage in the same hand and meditated on joy.

And the next morning woke up, yoga-ed, dressed and meditated again, this time I realised that just being there was an extraordinary achievement and privilege, and I focused on gratitude for each moment. I set an intention to engage with each moment and learn as much as I could, rather than on how I was compared to other people, acknowledge my fear and ask any question that came into my mind, no matter how silly it seemed.

It’s funny how much this intention eased the pressure and fear. I felt light and very committed. This lightness and fear enabled me to support Nicola on the shuttle to the ski fields.

The lesson went well and the ski instructor was excellent (thank you, Henry). Nicola got it almost straight away and I was able to get myself up, lasted the whole two hours, found it difficult to coordinate the two sides of my body and discovered that I really was determined to learn as much as I could.

I was also bolstered by another instructor who, when I apologised for being in his way, said “never apologise for being a beginner”, and I didn’t after that. Another lesson and I was further along the way, and Nicola and I went down the beginners’ slope.

I loved watching her graceful turns but I was still feeling the lack of control that
came from not being able to coordinate the two sides of my body. And somewhere along the line I made a vow to share this journey so that it wasn’t just for me.

After more yoga and more meditation, this time focus on postures and visualisations to stimulate communication between the two sides of my brain, I went back to the Magic Carpet. This time I would just keep going down the magic carpet until I got it, no matter how many times it took.

First time I fell. Well at least now I could get up. Second time and I turned right. Third time it clicked, both sides of my body working together, turning right and left. A few more times to make sure, visualising both sides of my brain working together, looking up and feeling it in my body.

On the ski lift with my partner, something I could never even have dreamt about, and then skiing down the slope with my daughter and my partner, actually skiing, not just snowploughing to the bottom – triumph! Again, after lunch.

More meditation and yoga, much more gratitude and the next day the ski instructor couldn’t believe how much I had improved in a day. I told him, I meditated and visualised but he decided my partner and friends were good teachers - which might also be true.

The next day, our last day in the ski fields we skied again but my legs and knees were getting tired and decided to have a short day on my skis, not wanting to push my luck. I felt such an extraordinary feeling of achievement for myself and pride for Nicola's achievement.

I had learnt so much about myself and my capacity to learn, and Nicola learnt the confidence that comes from facing down fear. Now I am honouring my vow to share my story. If I can accept being a beginner, ask questions, fall over and try
again, completely accept where I am in any given moment and be completely present, the possibilities for my life are endless.

And if I can accept myself, truly befriend myself then I can accept and befriend my circumstances, and then I can accept and befriend each person who crosses my path. I can welcome the full catastrophe of life with a clear mind and an open heart – I think this is peace.

I am still on the journey but I can I can look back and recognise that in this 24/7 workshop we call life, my spiral is ascending. A spark of the splendour that’s possible…

Order your copy of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, at www.splendouryoga.com, or go to Amazon to purchase your eBook. 

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Pain - Drugs are not the only way

Public health policy desperately needs to re-frame its recommendations regarding the management of chronic pain or we will drown under escalating healthcare costs and effects of the increased consumption of prescription pain pharmaceuticals.

Add to this the treatment of associated depression and anxiety with antidepressants/anti-anxiety medications and people with chronic pain end up taking a cocktail of very powerful psychoactive chemicals, all funded by our public and private health system.

But there is another way…

Two weeks ago, on the slopes of Naeba Snow Resort in Yuzawa, Japan, I began developing a migraine. It was not a normal headache, with pain in the temples and ache across the forehead but a change in the pressure of my skull, altered balance and vision, sensitivity sound and light, breath becoming laboured and the deep ache that begins at the base of my skull.

At the time, I was on a ski lift, on the way to the top of an intermediate ski slope and there was only one way down from there, or at least one preferred way of going down. So, I began to consciously relax my body and breath, taking my awareness inside my body. Meditation was the Ace up my sleeve.

I found the muscles that were holding tension and released the tension with my out-breath. instantly felt my mind become more spacious and the migraine begin to soften, as I focussed my attention on the back of my skull.

Now the more difficult stage of skiing down the slope.

Skiing is still relatively new to me, not yet in automatic body memory. I only learnt to ski two years ago, as a 49-year-old person with MS, so every run still contains a certain amount of wonder and trepidation. The normal unknowns of skiing combined with the extra ingredient of not knowing if any of my limbs or faculties would spontaneously fail.

So, standing at the top of the slope, I once again slowed my breath and awakened all my senses. I centred, pointed my skis down the slope and skied. I stopped thinking about getting to the bottom and simply focussed on the present moment, this turn and the next.

When I got to the bottom I felt elated. Not only the best skiing I had done up to that point but for the whole run I hadn’t been aware of the burgeoning disturbance in my Central Nervous System (CNS).

I retired to the nearest café and within half an hour my symptoms slowly returned. I decided to withdraw into meditation for the afternoon to see if I could kick this migraine while my daughter and partner returned to the slopes.

Adjusting my posture again, my breath slowed as I relaxed through my body and withdrew my focus from the outside world. I brought my attention to my brain and consciously created space with my inhalation and softened my attention with my exhalation. Then went inside the pain, focussing on dissolving the inflammation with my breath.

This is how the next hour and a half passed – sitting in a busy café in stillness, dissolving the pain and inflammation in my head with my breath. People came and went, I was aware of their conversation but my choice was to focus my attention inward. One of the terms we use to describe the state of meditation is relaxed alertness and this perfectly describes my mind state during this hour and a half.

By the time my daughter and partner returned my symptoms had diminished considerably. I felt relaxed and at peace. I was still very conscious of keeping myself centred with my breath and my posture but contrary to the predictable path of a migraine, my symptoms further reduced through the evening. I woke the next morning with a crystal clear central nervous system. 

During the whole afternoon and evening, I had taken two paracetamol tablets. I took them after the worst symptoms had passed, more as a prophylactic against further symptoms occurring while I was walking around in the snow trying to find food.

Chronic pain conditions, including migraine, are costing our health systems millions of dollars a year – increasing prescription of powerful pharmaceuticals, lost productivity, increased mental health issues related to the experience of pain and the side-effects of pain medication.

Prescription pain medications are becoming an increasing cause of addiction and death across the US and Australia as doctors use stronger drugs and off-label prescriptions in a desperate attempt to manage escalating rates of chronic pain in our communities. Added to this is the increased risk of liver and gastrointestinal damage, cognitive damage and autoimmune conditions.

Patients want a life without pain and doctors want to provide a solution but as my story demonstrates, drugs are not the only solution.

I have arthritis, three prolapsed discs in my spine and Multiple Sclerosis and I occasionally take a couple of paracetamol when the pain is at its worse and I know I will need to function in the world – three health conditions involving chronic pain and a net cost to the public health system of…well…zero. And my practice not only helps my pain management but also manages my mental health, which directly benefits my family, further reducing cost to the communoty.

Mine is not an isolated story. My clients also report that the meditation and relaxation I teach is a much better pain management tool than conventional pharmaceuticals alone. Some clients combine meditation with pharmaceuticals, often reducing their dependence on pain meds and some have been able to stop their prescription medications altogether, keeping them around just in case.

Added to this anecdotal evidence is an increasing body of independent evidence from respected academic institutions to support an integrated medical approach to chronic pain management. Therapeutic Yoga, meditation, relaxation, tai chi, hypnotherapy, massage and acupuncture have all been shown to have an equal or better impact on patients’ experience of pain as pharmaceuticals.

Pain clinics are emerging in capital cities, offering a range of treatments for pain management (including mindfulness, massage and hypnotherapy) but too often these clinics are private and expensive, out of the reach of the average person. When the services are available through public health, they are usually funded for short courses which simply doesn’t support individuals developing a sustainable personal practice.

Imagine a trip to your local GP for pain and you leave with a prescription for mild pain meds and a referral to multidisciplinary clinic, offering meditation, relaxation, gentle yoga, tai chi, hypnotherapy, therapeutic massage and acupuncture. Everything designed to support the development of your own long term pain management practice.

This approach would not only help to manage your pain but would also support your whole wellbeing, mentally and physically. My story shows this is can be a reality if we personally and publicly take the leap.

Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.

 

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An Impossible Day

Yesterday I had one of the most physically and emotionally satisfying days of my life. A day that would have been impossible even last year. I skied all day, from 8am to after 4pm, skied black runs, explored new runs on my own and exploded in a fall that resulted in skies flying and me tumbling and spinning down the slope some distance from my skis…and laughed. And I did it all in the company of friends.

In short, for a whole day I was a normal advanced, intermediate skier enjoying a beautiful day on the slopes with friends, on a beautiful winter’s day in Japan.

Except I’m not. I am someone with a degenerative chronic illness that attacks the central nervous system and has left me in a wheelchair on more than one occasion. I am also someone who has lived in fear for most of her life, fear that has precluded exploring the unknown and being in easy company with friends.

But on the walk back to our hotel I started to feel the familiar leg collapse that can herald the onset of MS. ‘no, it is just the snow crunching underneath my boot.’ Then the unmistakable ache from the right side of my sacrum down my right leg.

I focussed my whole attention on walking, perfectly balancing my skies on my shoulder to require the least amount of effort. Picking up my pace to get there and sit down…and save face (still saving face). I made it to the steps, got down the steps, unloaded my skis, sat down and went into a full-blown MS moment.

The pain, spasticity and dysfunction reminding me that MS is also a part of my story. For a moment, I felt defeated but then as I started the climb up Staircase Mountain, I realised, “I just skied a black run, I can climb stairs”. And I did, one twisted and painful step at a time.

I felt embarrassed to have been so disabled in front of friends who had never seen me like that but they were nothing but supportive, seeming to think no less of me for my disability. I felt emotional, grief for the illusion of greatness I had lost.

And then the tension in my body and mind was unwound with the warm waters of the hotel onsen and the soft presence of my partner. I began to understand that far from taking away any of the greatness of the day, this MS episode brought the remarkableness (it’s a word) of the day into crystal clarity.

MS revisiting took nothing away from what I had achieved it just put the achievements into context of the whole of me, making them...well…remarkable.  I began to remember every turn, every run, every explore with awe – “Wow, I really did this”. Gratitude like warm golden honey flowed through my awareness.

And then an even more remarkable thing happened, I began to look at my life from an internal perspective, without external reference points, no comparisons.  I began to feel my life from the inside.

I had grown up being the youngest and feeling the weakest, dumbest, maddest etc., comparing myself to everyone to find out where I ranked, always seeking external acknowledgement of worth, rather than feeling it for myself. So much so that for the most part it was invisible. That is, invisible until it wasn’t. Sadly, even friends, family and partners became competitors rather than fellow travellers on the journey of life.

Even over the last ten years of healing, writing and teaching I have not felt the worth of my journey, yet here I was in the bath, feeling my life. This MS moment was a gift, putting everything into place. I could feel the magnitude of my journey. I felt worth and love. And in doing so I felt worth and love in others’ lives.

So today I am feeling my life. Feeling grief and sadness, and so much love and gratitude for the people and events that have carried me to this place, particularly the ancient practices of yoga and my teachers that have facilitated my healing.

I am writing this in a café while my friends have gone skiing in another beautiful winter day in Japan. I have felt emotional while writing, sometimes to the point of tears, but no resentment of my friends, no comparison of their fate with mine. I have felt only appreciation and gratitude for their presence in my life.

It was an impossible day where pleasure and pain were transformed into healing by the alchemy of presence. The possibility available now is greater peace in my mind and my relationship with the world.

Imagine this possibility in your life. What would that look like for you? What would it look like for the world if we lived with the possibility of self-worth derived from inner knowing rather than external indicators of value and status? If we didn’t need to prove our worth by better than others we would be capable of true compassion

I may or may not ski again but if I do it won't be to prove something, it will be for the sheer thrill of sliding down a mountain on sticks of fibreglass, in a beautiful environment alongside fellow travellers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Recovery is not a place you land and unpack


“Peace is not a place you land and unpack.”
Petrea King, Quest for Life 2016.
… and neither is Recovery.
In stages, the impossible becomes possible.” T.V.K. Desikachar
Recovery from any adversity, whether illness, drug addiction, trauma, mental health disturbance, grief, disaster or major life change, is a process that is ongoing. We don't wake up one day cured rather we continually make progress along the path of recovery.
In my own recovery process, I have often felt like I have been ascending a spiral, often returning to the similar issues but at a higher or deeper level of resolution. This appears across all the layers of my experiences and I often don't notice until I am moving out of an experience and may need to reflect on the last rung on the spiral to get perspective and prevent being disheartened.
Yet over and over my students and clients ask why it is taking them so long, wondering if there is something wrong with them or they are doing something wrong. Our society seems to think that recovery from trauma, illness, grief or any kind of life-change happens in distinct stages within a distinct time-frame (usually within 12months), and then we move on.
There have been many occasions when people, having read my book, heard my story or even been taught by me during a particularly ‘well’ phase, will have expected me to be cured and if I fall off this perch they will be distressed and disappointed on my behalf…and perhaps theirs.
I am always moved by people’s concern for my wellbeing and reassure people that I have chronic illnesses that I manage not cure. I manage with the tools I teach and that even if I don't come out of this exacerbation, I will continue to live in peace which for me is what it’s all about and if I do come out, it will be at a higher place than I was before.
You see, this the reality for those of us who have suffered some form of trauma or major life change is that recovery is ongoing and comes in waves. For many of us the greatest recovery comes from the inner peace gained from the acceptance of our present situation and this too is ongoing.
So, if we accept this to be true, if we accept that recovery is ongoing, how do we support ourselves and each other through this process?
Firstly, find a practice that improves your wellness and maintain a regular practice, even after the initial flush of recovery. It seems to be common nature for us to find a practice that makes us feel better only to let it go when we start to feel better. The best way to stay out of the hole is to keep doing whatever it was that got you out of the hole.
And if you fall off the wagon and find yourself in a hole again, give yourself a break releasing as much guilt as you can because you're human. go back to the Same ladder and start climbing again.   
Find a support team and give them permission to keep you accountable. This might be a coach or a counsellor, a yoga teacher, therapist or trusted friend. Choose wisely, not because they will take you out and get you pissed but because you know they will respectfully keep you honest.
It is a friend, colleague, partner or family member the first step is to listen. Stop what you're doing, make a cup of tea and listen. Ask questions – what has helped before, how would like me to support you, would you like me to come with you? Questions that invite the person to consider and find their own wisdom and path. Set an example in your own behaviour. Things not to do: nag and remind them they've been here before - They know, already!!!
The most important things I have learned about recovery is that it is not a place you land and unpack. It happens in stages and requires resilience, acceptance and forgiveness. Whether it is yourself in recovery or someone you care for, it takes time, is ongoing and is often more about finding peace where you are right now than finding a cure.
Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story Part 1 and Part 2, and be inspired.

 

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