Grumpy ’bout Gratitude

I used to despise the word gratitude.

So it’s funny that it has become one of my favourite words. After watching this TED Talk with Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, I have converted to the practice of gratefulness, gratitude and thanksgiving.

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I used to feel like a grumpy Scrooge about the word gratitude, along with other yoga-y words like balance, love, bliss and peace. It’s easy for those words to become overused, and cliche. They also seem to come with a “should” attached to them. If I heard a yoga teacher talk about gratitude, it often felt like they were telling me that I “should” be grateful. 

I don’t want anyone coming to Queen Street Yoga to feel like there are any “shoulds” about Yoga. There are no “shoulds” about the physical practice, no “shoulds” about what to wear, how to be, what to believe. You are welcome to the practice exactly as you are. 

And that is what our 30 Days of Gratitude (Nov 1-30) is all about: coming to your mat or meditation cushion exactly as you are, and then noticing what is already there that you could feel grateful for. David Steindl-Rast admits, “Can we be grateful for everything in our lives? Of course not. But we can be grateful in any moment.” 

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This practice of noticing, of arriving into the moment pairs so well with yoga and meditation. In our movement and sitting practices we pay attention to the sensations of our breath and body and the fluctuation of our minds. When we start to pay attention, we realize how much is there. How much is there to notice, and how much of an opportunity for gratitude any given moment can be. We have the opportunity to fill ourselves up with gratitude, and that’s when the sense of thanksgiving comes in – when we are brimming over with the felt sense of feeling grateful, we can’t help but give thanks.

In another interview David Steindl-Rast talks about feeling joy and gratefulness even amidst grief or sadness, and defines joy as “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” In our grief we can also hold great joy and celebration for the existence of the person or circumstance we are missing. 

Whatever this season is bringing you, whether it feels abundant or includes loss, we welcome you to try out a practice of gratitude – to slow down enough to notice what fullness you can feel and acknowledge in your life. 

In the month of November we’ll have a 30 Days of Gratitude board at the studio, and we’d love for you to share your thoughts of gratitude each time you come to class. We’ll have prizes for those who participate, and a take-home calendar for you to keep the gratitude practice when you’re not at the studio. 

We look forward to centring our practice on gratitude together as a community.

With care, Emma

WTF is TRE?

This post is by QSY lead teacher Leslie Stokman. 

Four years ago, I discovered something that has profoundly changed my life and my yoga practice. This is not an exaggeration. Since I’ve been practicing TRE, I have noticed a clear decrease in uncomfortable body tension, making my yoga practice a lot less of a struggle – I no longer feel like I’m fighting my body for range of motion. I’ve also seen an increase in psychological resilience, allowing for an easier time relating well to others personally and professionally. 

As a Certified TRE Provider, part of my mission is to spread TRE to anyone who could benefit from reducing the impact of stress in their lives. I’ll be offering it as a part of our Building Fires Retreat later this Fall. It is also my aim to educate people about what it is! There will be a little bit of theory in this blog post  about the nervous system, and it can get complex, but also fascinating. So if you’re curious about what’s made such a big difference in my body and life, read on. 

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TRE stands for Tension/Trauma Release Exercise and was developed by Dr. David Berceli. TRE is a body-based stress-reduction and healing practice, and more literally it’s a process for eliciting and regulating automatic, therapeutic tremors in your body. In short, you perform seven activating movements that gently fatigue or stress certain muscles including the psoas, then relax into a position where neurogenic tremors can arise. (They’re called neurogenic tremors to distinguish them from pathological (disease-related) tremors found in situations like Parkinson’s or epilepsy.)

The tremor mechanism is something completely natural to all mammals. You might have noticed your dog trembling after getting spooked or nervous. Maybe you’ve seen this video of a polar bear shaking himself back from being tranquilized. In a bomb-shelter with a community caught in a civil war, Dr. David Berceli noticed that children would shake once the danger has passed. Some adults also recall times when they themselves have felt like their body was shaking uncontrollably during or after a stressful, emotional or traumatic experience, or even just when feeling really excited or nervous.

What’s really going on when the body tremors like this? To understand TRE, we have to back up and explore the nervous system from the lens of the polyvagal theory a little bit. When faced with a real or perceived threat or danger, our nervous system picks a response: fight, flight, or freeze.* If our nervous system chooses the freeze response, or if our efforts to fight or flee are thwarted, either because of social norms (like, “Don’t punch your coworker,”) or physical restraint (like being trapped in a car with your seatbelt on while going through an accident), that means our bodies have marshalled a whole bunch of energy and neurotransmitters/hormones (including the ones that get a bad rep like cortisol), but didn’t get to do anything with them. 

Activation without action, or energizing without release, is where stress adds up and where symptoms of a traumatic reaction can originate. Our bodies just hold onto this pent-up energy, remnants of the stress response. The newest work from the field of traumatology and the relationship between emotion, stress and disease tends to produce book titles with this theme: The Body Keeps the Score, The Body Remembers, and When the Body Says No are a few examples. Imagining all the interpersonal conflicts, stressful days at work and life-changing losses we’ve endured, it can be a little alarming to think of what our bodies are holding onto. 

If you freeze, or are unable to fight or run away, the way to move through this pent-up stress is to tremor! This is a completely healthy and purposeful reaction: the shaking, vibration or tremoring completes the cycle of activation and allows your body and nervous system to return to, or get closer to its baseline. The only sad part is that most modern societies have either forgotten about it, or dismissed it as a sign of weakness. When you learn to engage with this process in a safe, controlled way, you can give your body and nervous system the gift of release and healing

Once I established a consistent practice and began to see the increase in my flexibility and emotional resilience, I decided to become a Certified TRE Provider. Through my training I learned that in other countries, TRE is recognized by the healthcare and insurance systems in the same way that massage therapy is here in Canada. In some places, TRE is practiced in classrooms, students and teachers alike! I believe TRE is on the same level as, and has the potential to become a practice as popular and useful as yoga and meditation. 

At this Autumn’s Building Fires Retreat, I’ll be offering TRE as one of several self-healing tools to ground and regulate our nervous systems. If you are curious to learn TRE sooner than the end of October, you can book a private session (just like booking a private yoga session) by emailing leslie@queenstreetyoga.com. There is great value in seeking guidance from a provider, and in practicing as a group. Please reach out to me if you’d like to connect about this powerful practice. 

Warmly,Leslie

*Note: sometimes people also include the fawn response, which can be considered a type of freeze response. There is also the “befriend” response, but for the purposes of understanding TRE, we’re working with times when befriending has failed or was not an option.

Links to keep learning: 

Let’s make community care the new buzzword

Self-care is a buzzword, and we use it liberally at Queen Street Yoga. It can be an important practice of slowing down, taking time for yourself, and caring for your heart, body and mind. However, self-care and yoga practice can be inaccessible to many people. What we need to complement self-care and enhance overall wellness is community care, where people “are committed to leveraging their privilege to benefit others. ¹

Community care takes the onus off of the individual to take care of themselves, all by themselves, and places the responsibility for care within the community, in friend networks, or through structured groups or organizations. For true wellness, “people should receive community care from both their government and their friend networks.” Of course, we know that that doesn’t always happen. And recently, with drastic cuts to provincial healthcare, education, and the arts, more and more community care is being taken away from those who need it most. 

We want community care to become as strong a buzzword as self-care. We also want it to mean something, and to actively practice and embody it. Two ways that we are amplifying the principle of community care at Queen Street Yoga are:

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Yoga as Refuge and Resistance

A few weeks ago, Leena and I went to a climate change support group. The event alternated between conversations in pairs and as a whole group. We talked about our love and appreciation of nature and our pain and worry at seeing the climate crisis evolve. We ended by envisioning new actions we could take, as individuals and as communities. 

I thought I would leave the group feeling sad and overwhelmed, but instead I left energized and upbeat. I felt relieved to be sitting in a room of people talking about the crisis, rather than avoiding it. 

And it brought Leena and I back to wondering what the practice of yoga can be at this time. If there can be a place for yoga to be a part of the change we want to see, rather than carrying on like it’s business as usual. 

Yoga is a business, and Queen Street Yoga exists within capitalism. Yoga can be viewed as a tool of capitalism, a way to keep the cogs in the machine going. Yoga can help reduce stress in the workforce so everyone can keep consuming and the machine of big business can continue, unchecked. 

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Explore Resilience in Your Body & Mind  with an Interactive Yoga Sequence

This post is by one of our wellness practitioners, Natasha Allain. 

As complex beings we process information through multiple lenses: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. So, what happens when we use multiple lenses to process at the same time, for example when we practice yoga and meditation? Here we can apply what we learn through action, such as yoga, and kinesthetically condition our muscles and our mental thought roads to spaces of resilience.

Below I have paired resilient building lessons with 5 familiar Hatha Yoga postures. Now, this isn’t just any yoga practice. With each pose you can contemplate and explore an aspect of resilience. Through intentional postures, breath, and contemplation, resilience researchers state that it is possible to rewire our brains and guide our bodies towards more resilient responses and behaviours.

Your Yoga for Resilience Sequence

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Help! I’m nervous to do a YTT because I worry it might be too physically demanding

Leslie is a lead teacher at Queen Street Yoga, and this year she will be acting as an assistant for our 200-hour Teacher Training Program starting in October 2019. Leslie has lots to say about the program, as she completed it in 2016. Something Leslie is passionate about is encouraging people to both meet their bodies where they are at, and be curious about their bodies’ capacities for change.

At our first YTT info session back in April, someone asked how much physical practice we’d be doing over the training weekends, and whether it would be advanced or athletic practice. On a separate occasion, another regular student who is considering our program asked if we’d get into more complex poses, like eight angle pose during the training.

Some folks might feel a little intimidated by the prospect of intense group practice being a part of the teacher training process. Others are chomping at the bit to learn how to do more complex, demanding shapes. Looking at the list of applicants we’ve already received, I know some of them love to hulk out and feel the burn – they’re the type to sweat it out in Strength & Flow. At the same time, we’ve got other participants who are more into Yoga for Dynamic Aging, and are passionate about the benefits of restorative yoga.

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How Can We Acknowledge Cultural Appropriation in Yoga?

In acknowledging the various cultural objects and practices that are part of QSY, we are hoping to begin to address elements that may be alienating for some people in accessing our space, or start a discussion with those who might not have considered this topic before. We welcome feedback and critique about our efforts.

At Queen Street Yoga, we are actively working to make our space more inclusive, more accessible, and anti-oppressive. As part of this work, we would like to acknowledge the cultural objects and practices that are present in our studio. Cultural appropriation is a reality in our world; cultures constantly borrow (or take) designs, images, clothing, and practices from one another. However, when a dominant culture, such as North America, does this to less politically, economically or socially powerful culture such as India, and those aspects are used outside of their original cultural context, this can have the effect of reducing or commodifying those aspects of culture in ways that can be disrespectful.

Here are some questions that we try to keep in mind as we consider the presence of cultural objects and practices at QSY. We invite you to try them on for yourself as well.

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