Finding harmony in cancer recovery

Yoga is the practice of bringing the body, mind, and spirit into harmony.

I saw this quote attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh in one place on the internet, but I’m not certain that he said it, as I was not able to find it so referenced in other sources, and I usually think of him as talking much more about mindfulness, meditation, and loving kindness – not so much about yoga. In any case, I love the expression, whoever said it. And I love Thich Nhat Hanh for all of his gentle wisdom.

I use the word balance a lot, and of course in yoga this is sometimes referring to physically balancing on one leg, or balancing the body in some certain position in space… but I’m also usually alluding to a deeper balance within the systems of the body -particularly the nervous system, or to the balance between effort and ease, or to balance, or equanimity, in the mind. But this quote got me thinking about the word harmony as a related, though not identical, concept. To me, the word harmony suggests a coming together, or combining of things into a balanced unit, so it is a bit like balance… but harmony also carries additional qualities. That the parts that are coming together, or coming into balance, integrate synergistically, AND that the combined result has a pleasing quality to it. So it’s kinda like balance, but even better!

Some yoga poses, including the one in the image (sometimes called humble flamingo), require a lot of balance, or harmony, in the body and mind. Some muscles engage intensely, while others must relax and stretch. There might be an unusual shifting of body weight that requires a leap of faith in the body and mind, trusting that our bodies can hold us and our heavy backside won’t come crashing down. And often we must regulate our breathing to help the body and mind maintain this complex dance between strength and grace. So yoga is the perfect practice for training us to find that harmony, in which multiple moving parts collaborate to create something truly special. We navigate the sometimes uncomfortable edges, while staying anchored in to our calm breath, and we find that beautiful place where all of the parts unite to create a result that feels so pleasing to body and mind. And I want to emphasize that this harmony is irrespective of what the pose looks like to someone else. What matters is what it feels like to you. That it feels pleasing and harmonious, like the embodiment of the sound of the Eagles singing Peaceful Easy Feeling.

Maybe I’m drawn to these concepts because during the hardest parts of my cancer treatment, I longed so much for a peaceful easy feeling, for harmony in my body, mind, and spirit. While I felt instead like some kind of bombed out war-zone in an alternate universe. And I have heard many other cancer survivors describe a similar feeling – sortof the opposite of harmony. Feeling disconnected, dazed, scattered, frazzled, out of alignment, and out of control. And I think there are a lot of reasons for this – cancer diagnosis and treatment are true shocks to our system, throwing us into a literal fight or flight situation, hormones and other chemicals in the body go haywire, fear and stress hijack our mental clarity and our other normal body processes, our minds try to block out the pain or betrayal we feel toward our bodies, so much is unknown, and we truly question our vitality and our whole existence. In other words, so many of our systems are not functioning optimally, so it’s nearly impossible for them to work together in harmony.

Fortunately, it isn’t usually quite that challenging forever, and we can often begin to find some footing once we know what our treatment will look like, in general what to expect, and for how long. Of course, even then there are often curveballs and new obstacles along the way that can throw us out of balance once again. But with the help of practices like mindfulness and yoga, I believe it is so much easier to truly thrive. To be able to more easily find that balance, to bring the body, mind, and spirit into harmony. EVEN in the midst of the ever-changing cancer journey. And this is because these practices train our bodies to function harmoniously deep within. They train our nervous system to more quickly regain balance after a stressor. And this creates fertile ground for all of the other body systems to come back into harmony. Once our bodies, minds, and spirits come back into this place of harmony, not only do we FEEL better, but all of our systems, individually AND collectively, can function better!

So keep practicing! And if you are new to either yoga or mindfulness and you would like some guidance on how to bring these practices in to your own cancer journey, please reach out!

Have a peaceful, easy day!


Surfing the edges in cancer recovery

Have you ever heard the phrase “surfing the edges”? I just finished an incredible book called Yoga Beyond Belief, by Ganga White, and I learned about this phrase there. I was using it as a theme in my community vinyasa class yesterday morning, and then was thinking about how relevant it is to other aspects of our lives off the mat. And maybe even especially for those of us in cancer treatment or recovery.

So surfing the edges has to do with navigating different levels, or “edges”, of intensity or engagement in yoga postures and practice. For example, working at our edge refers to our maximum edge, or that place of effort at which we could not go any further without exhaustion, pain, or potential injury. Our minimum edge, on the other hand, refers to that place on the continuum of effort at which we very first start to feel some resistance or exertion. And the intermediate edge is midway between those points, and there are all variations of edges in between.

In another level of complexity, White describes various types of edges that we might explore, including edges of strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, fear, and pain. I found this list particularly interesting for cancer survivors, as we face our own sorts of challenges in all of these realms on most days.

Back to the general idea, the point is that yoga is a practice in which we don’t always need to operate at our maximum edge, unlike some other forms of exercise or sport. In fact there is much growth and benefit to be had by operating somewhere between our minimum and maximum edges. While there are advantages to sometimes pushing ourselves to our max edge to see where we can go, there is also much to be discovered at an 80% edge or a 50% edge, where we can use more energy exploring alignment or endurance or focusing on the INNER EXPERIENCE of the practice. As White mentions, working at a lesser edge can also increase the level of enjoyment and ease we feel in our practice, which is another important type of edge.

I capitalized inner experience in the last paragraph, as I think this is a huge key to unlocking some of the gifts of yoga. Becoming aware of our inner experience on the mat is an amazing mindfulness practice that trains us to be more aware of our inner experience off the mat. And becoming aware of our inner experience is the first step in cultivating true balance in our bodies and our lives. If we don’t even realize we are off balance, how would we right ourselves? Once we learn to tune in, and we observe how our bodies and minds feel as we play with these various edges, we can learn so much and really feel our way into balance.

We live in such a fast paced, achievement-focused world, that it is easy to tend to operate at our max edge, or sometimes even beyond it, always trying to do more. AND we judge ourselves harshly if we can’t keep up this pace. Sadly this mindset often results in burnout and exhaustion. Learning to explore our other edges and really see, on each new day, what edge feels best and most nourishing is a deep practice in self-compassion. Some days we may feel energetic and amazing, and on those days maybe we do explore that max edge, to see if we can push ourselves to become stronger or more flexible. But on other days, we need to learn to be content with and committed to working near those other edges, not judging ourselves for not being at max capacity 24/7, and loving and respecting ourselves no matter what level we find ourselves in each day.

As I was thinking about this practice of surfing the edges, I realized that it translates beautifully into a new area of exercise I recently picked up, called hill walking. I have found myself really having to adjust my walks day to day depending on how I’m feeling. Some days I feel amazing and can push for a little more speed or a little longer distance. Some days my legs feel heavy or my breath less efficient, so I feel myself needing to back off. And honestly, I think I learn more on those challenging days, when I really have to cut myself some slack, slow down, and bring my focus back to my breath and to finding balance.

And we can bring this theory into so many aspects of our lives. This is especially important as we are going through cancer treatment or healing from treatment, which places so many new stressors on our bodies and our minds. We can surf the edges of productivity in our jobs. Some days we rock and get all sorts of things done, and some days we need to just look out the window. We can surf the edges of how we use our mental and emotional energy with others. Some days we feel social and engaged and want to do all the activities, and some days we need to just veg out by ourselves and not talk to anyone. You get the idea.

So, both on your mat, and off, I invite you to explore this idea of surfing the edges. Notice when you feel yourself pushing to the max, or when you’re not even feeling like the min, and consider that much of the time, there may be much to learn somewhere in between. If you just tune in and listen, your own body and mind will teach you how to most effectively ride the waves with balance and joy.

(Incredible paddleboarding pic of my friend Lori, a 3 time cancer thriver, at my very first yoga for breast cancer retreat in Puerto Vallarta almost 5 years ago! I love the strength and joy in her body language.)


Going within – a simple yet powerful practice for finding presence in cancer recovery

Just another brilliant piece of eloquence from Eckhart Tolle. This quote struck me recently as I’ve been focusing more on mindfulness in my teaching, both in my community yoga classes and in the context of the Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery Program I’m co-facilitating with my friend and colleague Ginny Stasinski.

Several key practices in mindfulness involve using the body or the breath as a point of focused awareness (a doorway if you will), to help us drop into presence, instead of being off in the stratosphere of our swirling thoughts… or as we’ve been calling it, the thought tornado. You know the feeling, right? When you suddenly realize that you’ve been lost in some complicated story or series of worries, thoughts, or judgements that just take on a life of their own and sweep you away from yourself? You really have no idea how long you’ve been off in this daydream (or nightmare as it might be), and how all of this tension came to arise in your body (maybe in your shoulders, your jaw, your low back, or even as knots in your stomach). Sadly many people just exist like this all the time, never even really realizing that it isn’t our natural state of being. Or that it isn’t the healthiest way to walk around.

Those of us with cancer know this thought tornado, or maybe more aptly named – this fear tornado, all too well. It is so common, no matter where you are on the survivor continuum, even if you are many years from your cancer diagnosis. Our minds can fly off into an orbit of fear or other emotions for so many reasons. Sometimes it’s because we develop some new pain or symptom that we fear might be a sign of recurrence. Sometimes someone we know, or even a celebrity, has a recurrence of their cancer or passes away. Sometimes it’s the smell of a hospital environment, an insurance snafu, or any other little experience that reminds us of our cancer or cancer treatment.

But mindfulness can help us stay anchored and balanced, allowing all that mental noise to settle. Once we begin to be able to notice ourselves getting swept away, we can use our mindfulness tools to come back to ourselves, to our peaceful, calm, rational selves, “to that deeper sense of aliveness underneath the fluctuating emotions and underneath the thinking”. And the simple practice of tuning in and feeling the energy of our inner body is a fabulous tool. Whether you like to practice this while sitting in stillness, or you prefer to practice it while in some kind of mindful movement like yoga or walking, it is easy to do and it works wonders. The way Eckhart describes the tuning in, “feel it in your hands, your feet, your abdomen, your chest. Feel the life that you are”, it’s very much like the body scan that we practice in mindfulness (click HERE for a short sample body scan), or in savasana after the active part of a yoga practice. And the simplicity of the practice is part of its magic! Our bodies are always here, so at any time, we can just turn our awareness inward, and focus on that inner energy.

In yoga philosophy, this practice of turning our awareness inward is called pratyahara, and it is one of the 8 limbs of yoga, as described in the original written text by Patanjali. So it is clearly considered an important skill, and is an integral part of the true path of yoga. (If you want to read more about the 8 limbs, I did a series of blogs on all of them between September 2020 and December 2020, which you can find in the blog archive. HERE is the one on pratyahara).

So whether you call it body scan meditation, pratyahara, body awareness, or just going within, this simple practice of shifting our awareness inward can have profound benefits in helping us drop below the fluctuations of our minds, into our true center, where we are present, at ease, free from excessive worry, and most alive.

Keep practicing. Namaste.

Yoga and cancer: 2 unusual companion guides in my life’s learning

I’m so fascinated by the parallels I see all the time between the things I learn on my yoga mat and the things I learn through my cancer journey. There are so many things on this list, but a few that are prominent for me include patience, balance, equanimity, acceptance, and surrender. Both my yoga practice and my cancer experience have taught me deep lessons in these areas, which I think have really made me a happier, more joyful, more easy-going human. I think they’ve greatly helped me to “not sweat the small stuff”, to be more content in the present- whatever it holds, to be more compassionate with myself and others, and to find real joy in the simple pleasures of daily life instead of always striving for some more exciting or more perfect moment, or straining to try to control my environment and bend it to fit into my vision for how things should be. How interesting that two things as different as yoga and cancer could transmit similar types of wisdom and insight!

So this quote really struck me. Of course I totally agree that, as Ganga White says “Yoga is the art of transforming struggle into grace, challenge into growth, and fear into love”, and I love the beauty of this description. But then it occurred to me that this quote might just as easily read “Navigating a cancer journey is the art of transforming struggle into grace, challenge into growth, and fear into love”.

Don’t you think??

Don’t miss our new yoga for breast cancer content on Youtube!

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Don’t forget that we are now posting all of our new content on our Youtube channel instead of the YWL video library. So please click HERE to navigate to the youtube channel. And remember to subscribe so you’ll get a notification whenever new content drops!

Above is a link to a new video I recorded today of a short chair assisted practice. This is great if you are just getting started, or if you aren’t feeling super energetic, but want to get a little movement in. We spend part of the practice in a chair, and a few minutes standing but using the chair for support. We also use a strap to help with a few of the shoulder stretches.

Remember, yoga doesn’t have to be super complicated or vigorous. Much of the benefit of this practice comes from just being mindful of our body and our breath. It is a moving meditation! As we move and breathe, our bodies and our breath are amazing tools to help us practice being present, getting out of our heads, observing whatever is happening, and letting go of our tendency to judge the situation (aka ourselves) or wish it were different than it is. This helps us connect to our bodies with love and kindness, letting go of that anger and resentment that many of us feel toward our bodies after cancer diagnosis or treatment. Who wants to hold on to that tension and inner turmoil anyway? Let’s let it go and commit to our healing. I hope this practice helps you take another small step in that direction.


Why do we practice mindfulness in cancer recovery?

Ginny and I recently received the below testimonials from participants in our Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery program (formerly referred to by the program’s original name – Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery, MBCR, but we altered the name slightly because a number of people were confusing MBCR with the metastatic breast cancer abbreviation, MBC).

Ginny and I know this program is amazing and can be life-changing because we both experienced profound benefits ourselves when we learned to incorporate mindfulness into our own lives and our cancer recoveries. But hearing reviews like these quite literally had us both in tears, as we were reminded… again… of the true depth and meaning of these benefits.

THIS is what it is about. It’s not about whether you can meditate for 30 minutes a day, or whether you master tricky yoga postures. It’s about learning to LIVE our lives in mindfulness so that we can feel better, be more present, and enjoy each day we are given. So we can let go of being gripped by fear, being overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, and missing out on all of the beauty that we have in our lives – regardless of what is happening with our cancer. And as this testimonial points out, this program skillfully teaches many different techniques that anyone can incorporate into daily life.

We are beyond grateful to the original developers of Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery, and to the deep wisdom and power of the program. We are grateful that we have the opportunity to share this program with others so that they can realize all of these tremendous benefits in their own lives. And we are infinitely grateful for each individual who decides to work with us to learn these simple yet transformative practices. And of course to Vickie and Maralin, for sharing so eloquently how the program has impacted their journeys and their lives.

With deep, deep gratitude,

“I had recently been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when I had the good fortune to be able to enroll in the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery course with Leona and Ginny. On the first night of the class, we were asked to identify our goals for taking the class. My goal was to be able to shut my eyes at night and not envision my death bed or funeral.This program quickly allowed me to realize this goal.

By learning strategies and techniques, I was able to understand how cancer treatment often forces us into a position that is the opposite of mindfulness. It is very easy to adopt a mindset of “What if…” and “What’s next…” Life is often put on hold as we wait for the next scan, the next blood test results, the end of radiation or chemotherapy, the results of a biopsy or the recovery from surgery. This program helped me to learn the strategies I needed to live my life every day, to be in the moment and to appreciate the gifts of the present without spending energy on what might be coming in the future.

I am not a person who is ever going to be successful at meditating for 20 minutes every day or going to yoga class 3 times a week. Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery taught me ways to integrate the benefits of meditation and yoga into my life in a way that works for me. I learned about short guided meditations, walking meditations, sun salutations and simple yoga stretches- all things that can easily be incorporated into my daily activities.

Do I still worry about my future and what it will mean for me and my family when my disease progresses? Of course. But the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery program has given me the strategies and techniques I need to live each day with purpose and gratitude.

I highly recommend this course for anyone who has been recently diagnosed, is in treatment or recovering from treatment and/or diagnosis. Leona and Ginny were literally life savers for me- they were critical to my ability to process my diagnosis and move forward positively. I know, without doubt, that others will benefit as well”.
V. Y.C.

After my cancer diagnosis I was completely lost with no direction and no idea where/what to do. This feeling did not disappear when I went into remission, instead, it amplified. So many things had changed on every level (mental, physical, emotional) that I was floundering on how to regain control.

 MBCR was a true game changer, helping me to find solid footing while at the same time finding myself. Through a series of discussions, activities and brainstorming, each week built upon the week before to open a new way to experience, appreciate and accept the post cancer me. It has helped take away the feeling of helplessness and fear of recurrence, I have gained strength in the wisdom that I am far stronger then I ever imagined and am ready to face the future, whatever it may hold.

In addition to the mental/emotional aspects of the class, the physical component (yoga/meditation) of the program was stellar. Initially I entered this part of the program with a skeptical approach as I never imagined myself doing such things. I was quite surprised to find that not only was I able to participate but actually enjoyed and looked forward to it.

MBCR is highly recommended for it’s open, accepting, gentle transformational skills. It truly saved me from the dark rabbit hole of negativity, from looking at things with doom, to a fresh approach with skills to greet each new day and face whatever the world throws my way. I hope my cancer never recurs but if it does I know I can face it with new found strength and skills taught to me by MBCR and for that I am eternally grateful“.

Yoga for Breast Cancer on Youtube!

Did you know we are now on Youtube? We have moved the majority of our content over to our Youtube channel for you to enjoy for FREE!

Click here to check it out:

YWL on Youtube

And please let me know if you have any requests, and I’ll do my best to get them to you. Would you like more full length practices? More short practices? More vigorous or less vigorous practices? More tutorials? Are there certain movements that remain challenging to you? Let me know. I would love to help!

Let yoga teach you to love and respect your body JUST AS IT IS

In yoga we often talk about connecting with our bodies or our breath, or even connecting body to breath, through mindful movement. In fact, as you probably know, the root of the word YOGA means to yoke, or unite, or tie together. Most humans walk around sortof disconnected from their bodies, stuck swirling off in the stratosphere of thought somewhere, just because we believe our thoughts (and the crazy tangents they lead down) are more important than what is going on right here and now. It’s no wonder, then, that we tend to be completely unaware of what is happening deep inside our bodies, and we don’t find out until symptoms arise that are severe enough to slap us across the face and out of our slumber. Having cancer can make this situation even more complex and challenging. Not only is it common to feel even deeper disconnect because we are angry that the cancer arose in the first place, or we feel in some way that our bodies betrayed us by growing this monster that threatens our very existence. But beyond that, cancer treatments, surgery, chemo, and radiation can all cause changes and scars and side effects that are new and different and make us feel even more like strangers in the strange land of our bodies.

But wait… there’s more! On a whole another level, in modern culture, most of us feel some degree of disconnect from our bodies because we reject, or dislike, or maybe even hate… some aspect of our bodies. Our butts are too big, or too small. Our skin is too light or too dark, we have too much cellulite or we are too bony or too muscular. Our hair is too straight or too curly, or maybe we have no hair at all at the moment. We have old injuries or joint problems that cause pain or limit our activity. We have scars that we feel are deforming, or we lack body parts that made us feel “normal”. We have weird teeth or “ugly” fingernails. I could go on all day about all of the crazy things we can dislike about our own beautiful majestic bodies. I won’t bemoan the root of all of this body-hatred, but suffice it to say that the media’s portrayal of fake-perfect airbrushed bodies along with corporations’ taking advantage of our feelings of inferiority to sell more products that they tell us will make us better or prettier or enough – are more than adequate to mind-f@ck most of us. And as you can imagine, this type of body-hatred, or this mindset of being “less than”, creates an unhealthy and unsettled environment in our bodies and our minds.

Here is the amazing news. And a word of caution. Yoga IS a mind-body intervention, and therefore an exercise in embodied awareness. Yoga can really, really help us reconnect with our bodies. But it only really works if we practice mindfully. And we remind ourselves to practice with love, respect, and reverence for our bodies. If we approach the practice as a celebration of our strength, beauty, and resilience. If, as we move mindfully, we really sense our bodies and find that perfect balance between effort and ease. We challenge ourselves at our healthy limits when we feel up to it, but we also slow down and soften when that is what is needed. We must be cautious not to approach the practice like a flogging, or a penance for eating that ice cream, or with the main goal of trying to get our bodies to look better. We must be cautious not to criticize or judge our bodes as we practice, thinking “well I used to be more flexible” or “I hate that I can’t do this posture very well because of x,y,z”, or “if my back was just more flexible, then…”. This creates a cloud of negativity, rejection, or even hostility that hangs over and permeates our relationship with our body, and can be counterproductive to our efforts.

In order to create the healthiest possible environment in our bodies and minds, the ideal environment for healing to occur, we must practice connecting to our bodies and to our breath with love and kindness. And also with some honesty. I mean, I DO have ugly fingernails 😉 (along with cellulite and scars and plenty of other things that have caused me grief over the years). But that is ok. Because what I am learning is that my body is worthy of love and reverence JUST AS IT IS. Fingernails, scars, cellulite, stiffness, and all! My body has carried me through tremendous periods of stress and illness in my life (not to mention almost 47 trips around the sun), and has done its very best to heal and protect me through it all. The scars and cellulite and other weirdnesses are just a part of the story. Yoga is teaching me to really feel my body and to listen to and embrace her inner wisdom. Instead of judging this magnificent body, I will choose to feel gratitude and respect for her. I will make my practice a celebration of my strength and resilience, an honoring of what I CAN do today. I will let go of any tendency to criticize myself, or to wish my body were in any way different than it is. And I believe THIS is where the real connection will arise. Where the true yoga will happen. Where the heaviness of all of that judgement and bitterness will be lifted, leaving space for peace and joy and wellness to flourish. And this is especially important in those times when your body is in the midst of some really heavy stuff and needs a healing environment even more than usual.

I’ve been focusing on this intention during my yoga practice the last few days, and I really like it:

May I love and respect my body JUST AS IT IS

May I see clearly my own strength, beauty, and resilience

May I awaken to the light of my own true self

Give it a try. And remember, this is a practice! None of us will be perfect, and those self-criticisms will probably still creep in and come and go. But if they come just a little less than last month, and then a little less, and a little less…. it will be worth it!

Namaste yogis. The light in me honors the light in you ✨✨✨

This post was inspired by a chapter in Kino MacGregor’s new book Act of Love. Check it out!

Find your glimmers to bring light to cancer recovery

Have you heard of “glimmers”? This is a term I just learned a few weeks ago, and have been reading about and thinking about ever since. As I understand it, the term was coined by Deb Dana, LCSW, a clinician, teacher, and expert in complex trauma. It comes from the Polyvagal Theory, as originally described by Dr Stephen Porges. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Everyone knows the term “triggers”, and it has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and honestly I think is a bit overused, which takes away some from its true meaning in psychology. Triggers are events, experiences, or other stimuli that initiate a traumatic memory or response in the body or mind, via the nervous system. So triggers literally trigger our nervous system to fly into fight or flight mode (or even freeze/fawn, which I’ll mention later) in an attempt to protect us from some subconscious/imagined trauma or threat. Often, however, there is no real threat in the present, only the memory of some past threat. But our bodies and our minds can’t tell the difference, and respond with the same cascade of stress hormones and other reactions as it would if we were in the middle of that same threat all over again. Think, for example, of feeling a sensation of nausea just walking into and smelling the oncology clinic, even though you’ve been finished with chemo for months. Or feeling the sensation of fear or dread as you wait for results from follow up testing, just like you were taken back to your original diagnosis all over again. Or the sensation of tension arise in your jaw or shoulders or the pit of your stomach just seeing some emotionally abusive co-worker or family member come up on you caller ID. We’ve all felt it. And those who have been through a truly traumatic experience tend to feel these even more strongly. Sometimes they can be literally crippling. And as I’ve mentioned, having cancer is officially considered a traumatic experience by the medical/psychiatric community. It may not be the same as traumas like childhood abuse, natural disaster, or violent assault, but it is a trauma nonetheless, and can result in similar types of responses in the body.

The good news is that there are also stimuli that can initiate a response from the balancing side, the rest and digest, or social connection, part of our nervous system. These are the Glimmers. So these are sortof the opposite of triggers. These are experiences, events, or other stimuli that “trigger”-but in a good way- our nervous system to respond with a cascade of the feel good chemicals and reactions, that leave us feeling safe, connected, at ease, relaxed, comforted, connected, and nourished. Think of your glimmers, be they internal or external. They could be things like the warm sun on your skin, the comforting voice of a loved one, the sound of birds chirping in the morning, the feeling of your own breath gently rising and falling, the smell of warm cookies just out of the oven, the feeling of freedom when you float in the ocean, your favorite old music, or the feeling of connection you have with your best friend or your yoga community. These stimuli cue safety and ease, opening us up to experience peace and joy in our daily lives. And the really great news is, they are all around us, if we just learn to tune them in.

Let’s come back to Polyvagal theory just for a moment. It isn’t super important to understand this background, but it is interesting and may help shed some clarity on how to identify more glimmers. It highlights the safety and community aspect of this story, which is particularly important for trauma survivors. The traditional understanding of the autonomic nervous system, and the way I generally think about it, divides the system into 2 parts: the sympathetic, or “fight or flight”, and the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest”. These 2 sides of the nervous system act in concert to keep us balanced, with the sympathetic becoming activated in response to a stressor preparing our bodies to respond as needed, and then the parasympathetic engaging once the threat/stressor is neutralized to bring us back to balance and rest. Polyvagal theory posits that the parasympathetic side of the system can be further divided into 2 parts, the ventral vagal and the dorsal vagal branches. The ventral vagal branch is activated when we feel safety and social engagement, along with that traditional idea of rest and digest. So we are relaxed and at ease, but also feel safe and connected, and are able to be active and engaged without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Some might call this the flow state. Activation of the dorsal vagal branch, on the other hand, which is considered a more primitive part of the system, results in the extreme opposite end of rest and digest, in which we suffer depression or dissociation, complete shutdown or immobilization, perhaps like a possum playing dead. This state is sometimes called freeze or fawn. So in Polyvagal theory, we can operate and move through these 3 main states: 1. Ventral vagal, our ideal state of joyful engagement, 2. the traditional fight or flight where we are stressed, anxious, irritated or angry, or 3. the dorsal vagal, where we completely collapse and can’t function adequately. Phew, that was more than a moment! 😉 I explain this theory because I think that the safety and social connection aspect of Polyvagal theory is an important key in recovering from traumatic experiences and in learning to heal our nervous systems and return to wellness and joyful living.

That brings me to the next piece of good news! Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon of the human brain and nervous system adapting and changing, both functionally and structurally, in response to our experiences and our actions. In short, sortof like a muscle, neurons that get used frequently develop stronger connections and become even more active. Sadly, this can work against us in trauma response, in that these triggered emotions and reactions can become stronger the longer they continue to be stimulated. HOWEVER, the glimmers can too! Soooo, the point of all of this is that focusing on our glimmers, on moments and memories and experiences that make us feel safe and joyful, at ease and connected, can actually help our nervous systems heal from our traumas. These glimmers cue safety and remind our nervous systems that things are ok now, that the threat is in the past, that it is ok to let down our guard, to enjoy that sunset, or that quiet cup of tea. These glimmers can help us build resilience so that when we are triggered and fall into fear or anxiety, we have some tools to more quickly pull ourselves back out. If we know what our glimmers are, we know what to do. We do some relaxing breathing, or listen to our favorite old music, or maybe we make a few of those cookies, get out in nature, or go for a swim. We call up a loved one and are soothed by the glimmer of their voice, or we go to a yoga class or a support group and feel at ease in the company of our friends. And every time we focus on a glimmer, we strengthen that part of our nervous system that feels safe and at ease. And we train our brains to see and feel the hundreds of glimmers that are available to us in every day.

Glimmer on, my beautiful friends.

Allowing each moment in breast cancer recovery

Don’t get me wrong, I love growth, and working on becoming a healthier, happier, more balanced human. BUT, I also think one of the most important things we can learn to do is just to stop. To let go of the need to always be grinding, and striving, and pushing for better, because that mindset carries with it the undertone that what we are in this moment is not good enough.
🪷 I think it is just as important to allow, to accept, and to love ourselves exactly as we are in this moment. To drop the unnecessary turmoil and tension that come with thinking we should be some other way, or that the next moment (or day, or week, or year) will be better than this one. And this is true, even -and maybe especially- in those moments when we are a hot freakin mess.
🪷 This is one of the gifts of mindfulness. To get comfortable being at ease, no matter what the moment brings. To give ourselves grace, to allow and accept the “full catastrophe” (as JKZ calls it in the title of his famous book) that is human existence. It’s messy, and crazy, and challenging… and beautiful. We just need to allow ourselves to stop and feel it all. 💕
🪷Wishing you all a nourishing and joyous weekend!