From the get-go I modified mindfulness practice to meet my needs. I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but now I see that I was/am focused on nervous system regulation. Simply put, this is a fancy way of saying ‘calming myself down’ if I am anxious or ‘bringing myself up’ if I am feeling down. When asked once what had me making modifications to practice when others either gave up or white-knuckled their way through, I realized there were two reasons:
- I’m kind of a rebel at heart, so I had no qualms about defying my teachers (perhaps being a teacher myself gave me some confidence in that regard)
- I had been practicing yoga for four years at the time, and my beautiful teachers at Unity Yoga (primarily Sue and Danielle) always gave us permission to listen to our bodies and to go with what served us in the moment. I had years of practice of letting go of the shame of not doing the poses the way others did them, or altering them as need be; I was an old hand at bucking the trend!
Still, the reality is that for a long time I felt like I was cheating somehow. That was ok, it was worth it to me as it met my need to quiet my mind, calm myself down, and clear the fog in my brain, but I still felt like others were doing it correctly. It was such a relief when I came across the concepts in David Trelevean’s work around Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness. I stopped using the word ‘cheating’ and started using the word ‘modification’ and I no longer felt like I was doing it incorrectly, but simply making wise choices to meet my needs because everybody and every body is different.
So, dear fellow survivor, please always remember that you are always in choice. You have the hand on the control button. You can learn to control where to place your attention and that need not be smack dab in the middle of the emotional and physical pain you are experiencing. The wise move today may be to place your attention on the scent of a rose, or the feeling of the sun on your face, or the sound of the waves crashing, or the taste of a treat, or the sweet sight of snow drifting down from the sky to create a blanket of white beauty.
Or maybe you do have capacity to let go of the (exhausting, and so often ineffective) resistance to your symptoms today. Maybe you can dip a toe in, or a foot to help you become ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’ (as beloved teacher Pema Chodron says). In the end, when we have capacity for it, letting go of our resistance to our difficult emotions and sensations is so much preferable to fighting a losing battle against our symptoms….
It’s a constant balancing act. Maybe you go a little too far into the amount of hard stuff you can handle today and you have to titrate back to something less sour, to something more sweet like the knowledge that as I write this my heart is with you in this struggle and you are not alone.
No matter what, if you are in a mediation class, a yoga class, listening to a mindfulness app, or on a walk with a friend who is going faster than is right for you, please remember, you are in choice. Listening to the wisdom of your body as best you can, you can choose what is best for you today. You can Pause, Pivot and Proceed with what you need. You can modify practice, stop practice, and even ask your friend to slow down a wee bit!