Coping With Change

 

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
October 1, 2017

Changing of the seasons marks a time of transition.  Although the calendar tells us that Fall has arrived, we still experience remnants of the season just passed while not yet quite fully ensconced into the new season.  This uncertainty can create mixed emotions.  For example,  we might experience confusion (as in “How should I dress today?  Can I plan an outdoor activity?”) or sadness (e.g., “I love summer! I’m sorry to see it go.”) and maybe a bit of anxiety (“What will winter bring? Am I properly prepared? I don’t feel ready.”)  Or all of the above and more.

In addition to changes in the weather and the scenery, each new season marks the passage of time.  We get so involved in our daily lives that we rarely recognize that we are changing along with the seasons.  That is, until something happens to remind us of that.  It might be something dramatic like a fall or an accident, or something more subtle like last year’s winter clothes not quite fitting anymore.  Sometimes it’s an illness or other physical change that affects us in ways we’ve not previously experienced.  Whatever it is, even when it’s right in front of us, we can still manage to get lost in denial.  We want things to be like they were.  Yet change is all around us.  At this time of year all we have to do is look out the window to see its manifestations.  Yet still we can’t believe that change is occurring within as well as outside.

Actually it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s difficult to see and accept change in ourselves.  After all, we’ve never before been as old as we are now – whatever age that is.  Even though we’ve witnessed aging in people around us, we can rationalize that it happens to others but not to us.  It’s also easy to believe that what happens to others won’t happen to us because we’re different.  And – yes – it’s true!  Each of us IS different and we all age in different ways.  That’s why I get a kick out of every interview with a centenarian.  The interviewer asks “What is the secret of your longevity?” as if the answer will provide some magic path that everyone can follow to get to the same place.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As I’ve often said, we are all an experiment of one.  That applies here, too.  Just because one person can drink whiskey and smoke cigars daily and still live to be 100 doesn’t mean everyone can.  Everyone wants a magic bullet and a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.  Unfortunately, nothing seems to work that way.  It would be nice if our medical system would acknowledge that fact, but that’s another subject.

Since change is constant and inevitable, we each need to find our own individual way to cope with that change.  Those of us who are accustomed to regular activity often find this particularly difficult, but it’s difficult for anyone used to doing things a certain way.  Realizing that what used to be easy is now more difficult or even impossible can be a bitter pill to swallow.  But looking back at some mythical “better” time or wishing things hadn’t happened the way they did won’t change the way things are.  As difficult as it may seem, the best way to accommodate any new reality is to adapt.  This doesn’t mean giving up.  It simply means finding a way to accept the changes.  That’s not to say that this is easy.  But if you want to have any peace of mind, it is necessary.

So with the changing of the seasons, perhaps it’s a good time to take stock of how you’re handling the changes in your life.  And change is happening whether you realize it or not.  Further complicating matters, every change differs from any change that occurred before.  So perhaps an intervention that worked before no longer has the same effect.  You might have to try a different approach. This, too,  is reflected in the seasons. Fall comes every year, just like daylight comes every day.  Yet each Fall, like each day, is different from the one before.  And what you did last Fall or even yesterday might not work today, even when you’re addressing the same problem.  If you look back through the seasons of your life you will be hard pressed to find two seasons, or two days, that were exactly the same as the one before.  Think about it.  Memory is faulty but if you reflect honestly, you’ll see that’s true.

Ignoring change won’t make it stop and going back in time is not possible.  Moving forward with our lives from this point in time is the only option.  No matter how bleak things look, there is always something positive in this moment.  After all daylight came and you’re still breathing.  That’s something positive!  Maximize what’s positive right now and remember that change is constant.  Whatever you’re experiencing today will change tomorrow.

Taming Transitions

 

 

June 26, 2017
By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

Time is such a peculiar concept.  When you look at the universe, the stars, the planets, time doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot.  We measure all movements, distances and changes in terms of time, but it appears to be a human construct invented for the sole purpose of giving us a method for understanding and discussion.  Time matters to us as humans because of the finite span of our own lives.  We want to cram in as much as possible since, by cosmic standards, we really aren’t here for very long.  This makes us very conscious of time and, in fact, our lives seem to revolve around this theme.  We mark the passage of time with each sunrise and sunset.  Also with the seasons.  We watch things grow and know that time is passing with each change we witness.  Acknowledging the passage of time is a critical element in our understanding of changes in our world and our own bodies.

The recent movie “Arrival” is all about the weirdness of time.  In the film beings from another world land on earth.  A linguist is recruited to translate the sounds they make.  In many ways this film highlights the vagaries of chronology, but one thing that I found particularly interesting occurred during this linguist’s initial attempt to communicate with the strangers.  She wrote something on a tablet and was immediately rewarded with visual symbols presented by these creatures.  The symbols were basically circular inspiring the linguist to note that this “language” was not dependent on time as ours is.  Each symbol appeared to have no particular beginning, middle or end.  Later in the film there was evidence that there were some ways in which time mattered to these beings, but perhaps that was because as humans making this film, it is difficult for us to divorce ourselves from time and its implications.  After all the movie itself had to have a beginning, middle and end even if they were kind of intertwined.  Still it was interesting to think about the ways in which our methods of communication are time-dependent.

So here we are, marching along with the unavoidable passage of time which is really just a way of describing change and yet somehow, in so many ways, we remain completely resistant to change itself.  From the time we are born, or even conceived, our lives are marked by change. When we’re young we change really quickly.  Yet many of us can’t wait to get older.  We rail against the slowness of time and the changes it brings.  As the years (another human concept!) progress, many changes govern our lives and there never seems to be enough time.  Then as we get older, physical changes again loom large.  Now they seem to be happening too fast.  Time seems to pass more quickly.  In our middle years we are often more likely to note the changes in others around us while somehow clinging to our own status quo.  So it can be quite a jolt to suddenly realize that our own bodies are changing right along with those of our children, grandchildren and parents.

Inevitably we reach a point where we have to acknowledge that we, too, have changed.  A friend and I were discussing today how difficult that can be to accept.  Sometimes changes in our physical capabilities can also mean the loss of a familiar community.  Years ago I used to belong to a running club.  Club members would all run together regularly.  Of course, there were many different speeds among the group, but there was always someone I could run with.  As time passed it became more and more difficult for me to run with others.  I wanted to keep running, so I did. But I needed to run at my own pace.  It was hard for me to keep up with anyone else, but I also did not expect anyone to slow their stride to stay with me.  So my attachment to this group began to unravel like fabric when a single thread starts to go it’s own way. Eventually, that became OK as I got more comfortable being with myself and enjoying my own movement.  But for a while it represented a loss.  In fact, multiple losses – physical capacity and also community.

As I continue to age, more examples of these losses present themselves.  Fortunately, I have since learned that loss of ability doesn’t always have to mean loss of community.  Sometimes there are other ways to participate with a group even if you can’t do everything they do. Especially in movement classes.  One of the themes I’ve repeated throughout this blog is that there is no requirement in any movement class that everybody has to do everything exactly as anyone else does, including the instructor.  Most of us worry that we will look funny or somehow be singled out if we don’t follow along precisely as prescribed.  In general, this could not be farther from the truth.  For one thing, most participants in a class are too focused on themselves to worry about or even notice what anyone else is doing.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, classes should be a judgment-free zone.  If the one you’re attending isn’t, then find another one.  There are so many out there.  Don’t let one bad experience keep you from finding a place where you can be yourself.  Just show up and move to whatever internal drummer motivates.  Ultimately you’ll find a place where you can feel comfortable.  Online classes are great in a pinch, but community is still an important benefit of classes.

However, sometimes we have to move on.  Accept the reality of the moment and find new paths to travel and new communities to join. When I could no longer run, I found other activities like hiking and walking that I could do alone or with a group – my choice.  When certain yoga poses become too difficult, there’s no rule that says I need to keep doing them.  There are so many others available to me.   Many aspects of my life will and have changed, but what I’ve achieved in the past will always be part of me.  No amount of change or passage of time can erase those accomplishments.  And the person I am today is the sum of all of the many experiences I’ve had during the time that has passed since the day I was born. Learning to be satisfied with who I am today is just another part of my practice.  Each day requires a new reminder of that since every day brings new changes.  Change can signal fear or excitement for experiencing something new.  It’s all a matter of how you perceive it.  And that is a choice each of us can make for ourselves.

The Way Forward

Photo: Jill 111 – PIXABAY

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
May 28, 2017

In last week’s blog post I talked about acknowledging changes in our lives and finding the resilience necessary to accept the changes and adapt to the new reality whatever it might be.  Acceptance is the first step toward moving forward.  But what comes after that?  Depending on the type of setback, it’s length, your age and a host of other variables, the next steps will be different for each of us.

For some of us, the idea of returning to any kind of routine might seem impossible.  The change feels so great we may feel like the darkness is permanent and unyielding.  We can easily sabotage ourselves and become our own worst enemies.  For example, if you’ve fallen and suffered an injury you might develop a debilitating fear of a recurrence.  This might keep you from making even simple moves toward regaining your strength.  We’ve all heard the expression “get back on the horse that threw you”.  This can be a totally daunting prospect.  And, in fact, might not be appropriate in all cases.  Still, inertia can become a wall and finding a way through or around that wall can be overwhelming.  In previous blog posts I’ve often talked about the difficulty of resuming activity, especially exercise, after being away for a while for whatever reason.  Of course, it is important to take steps to avoid the circumstances caused the fall, but that shouldn’t become an excuse to stop you from all activities.

On the flip side of that coin, there are those of us who throw caution to the wind and get back on that horse way before we should.  Perhaps we have not fully recovered from the injury, illness or whatever precipitated a change in our lives.  Some of us might even have the hubris to believe that our case is special and the usual rules don’t apply.  This type of thinking might lead one into that “danger zone” referred to in an earlier post when your energy begins to feel restored and you start to feel like your former self again.  This is a place I know all too well.  The desire to return to the way things were overshadows the reality of the way things are.  Returning too quickly can lead to discouraging setbacks.  At best, the process of recovery will take that much longer or, at worst, may be jeopardized altogether.

Actually both cases call for the same prescription – courage, patience and above all the decision to go on with your life taking whatever baby steps are necessary to follow through on that choice.  Interestingly, in my opinion the same leap of faith is required wherever you’re at.  If you are the fearful type described above, the decision means taking that first dangerous step back into your life no matter how scary that might be.  If you want to start moving again, the first step is the hardest.

After my back surgery a physical therapist gave me some exercises to do right away.  They were pretty simple movements, but they were difficult at first.  Among them was the suggestion to walk for 5 minutes several times a day.  For a person who used to run ultramarathons that might sound easy, but just getting up and overcoming the initial stress of moving was itself a formidable task.  My doctor had given me the simple instruction, “If it hurts, stop; if you think it’s going to hurt, don’t do it.”  Sounds reasonable enough, right?  For the fearful person, that initial hurt might be enough to encourage stopping altogether.  In fact, I even found myself thinking I would never overcome that initial discomfort.  But what I discovered was that if I just got started, I would eventually start to feel better.  If I began to feel pain I stopped for a few minutes.  The pain would usually stop and I could resume the walk.  Or I could simply try again later.  I would set a timer for 5 minutes, stop it when I needed to wait for pain to subside and start it again when I started walking again.  It might take me half an hour to do 5 minutes worth of walking but I quickly learned that the more I walked, the easier it got.  I noticed too that once I got going and my body adjusted to the movement, the initial soreness would usually subside.

Our bodies are made for movement.  Fortunately, the medical profession has recognized that movement following a trauma like surgery is actually beneficial.  Anyone who has had surgery recently knows that patients are required to get up and move as soon as possible.  Although rest and sleep are important to the healing process, retraining your body to move as much as it can is also essential.  Still it’s not easy to overcome the many excuses that loom in front of the starting line.  That’s where the decision-making process comes in.  Making that decision to try to move even for a few minutes takes courage.  Beyond that is the resolve to follow through even if it the first few efforts are unsuccessful.  I knew the physical therapist would not have told me to walk if it wasn’t the right thing to do.  But I also knew I had to abide by my doc’s advice and stop if it hurt.  Even that was hard for me having been a person schooled in the old notion of “no pain, no gain.”  So both starting and stopping required decisions.  I had to consciously remind myself that extremes in either direction would not help my recovery.  That meant believing that I would, in fact, recover and that the directions given provided the road map to get there.

Bottom line – moving forward is not rocket science.  Have patience and be kind to yourself.  Do what is recommended and stick to it until you’ve healed.  After that be mindful in all your activities and avoid being careless, head strong or just plain stupid.  If it hurts, stop; if you think it’s going to hurt don’t do it.  That’s not an invitation to do nothing.  It just means pay attention.  Simple, right?  But not easy.

Making the decision and taking that first step is the hardest part.  Especially if you’re not used to moving in the first place.  If you keep at it, no matter what you are doing will get easier.  Although we often think of stress as a negative, your body needs a certain amount of stress to adapt to a change.  The trick is to know when to back off.  As acknowledged in last week’s post, life may be different after a set-back.  Those differences need to be honored.  But that shouldn’t be a license to drop out.  No matter what has changed, there will still be things you can do.  Give those positives a chance to shine and they will lead you forward.

Focus on De-Stressing

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
March 6, 2017

Everyone seems to be stressed out these days.  Of course, there are many valid reasons for this.  Each of us experiences potential sources of stress every day.  Perhaps it’s the weather or traffic that’s making us tense.  Or maybe it’s a health concern, either one’s own or that of someone close to us.  We might feel overloaded at work or be faced with looming deadlines that seem impossible to meet.  There might be people in our lives that are difficult to deal with.  Loving your job, or those difficult people, doesn’t make you immune to the stress they might cause you. Sometimes just facing the reality that there are situations or changes occurring that are beyond our control is enough to make life stressful.  And if all of that is not enough, there is the climate, the planet, politics, war, intolerance, fear, etc.  Yikes! It’s a wonder that we all aren’t curled up and babbling in a fetal position.

Some stress is beneficial.  In discussing stress management, the Mayo Clinic reminds us that the “brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response.”  Once the threat is gone, though, we’re supposed to return to a “normal relaxed state”.  However, our 24/7 lives don’t always permit this. We can be our own worst enemies, not allowing ourselves downtime when we most need it.  Sometimes we don’t even realize how much stress has gripped us.  It becomes increasingly difficult to know when or even how to dial it down.  When stress becomes chronic it can have serious negative effects on one’s health.  According to a recent Harvard Health newsletter chronic stress “contributes to everything from high blood pressure and heart disease to anxiety, digestive disorders, and slow wound healing.”

The good new is that “managing stress helps control many chronic conditions or reduce your risk for developing them.”  And here’s even more good news:  exercise in general, and mind-body practices like yoga and Pilates in particular, are among the top recommendations for reducing stress.  Among the reasons for this is that both of these disciplines encourage coordinating breath with movement.  Breathing techniques have long been known to encourage a relaxation response which can actually produce “changes in genes that influence health”. This can encourage reductions in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, digestion problems and even inflammation which has been shown to be associated with numerous health conditions.

Yoga and Pilates also encourage tuning into your body to learn how it behaves.  We spend so much time listening to the endless noise in our heads that we can forget that we even have a body.  Worse yet, our bodies can themselves become a source of frustration when they don’t look or feel the way we would like them to.  This also creates stress.  Discovering how your body works as it moves is actually fascinating if you let yourself look at it that way.  You will also begin to recognize when you are holding tension in your muscles.  The first step toward relaxing both mind and body is recognizing tension.  Many of us don’t even realize how tense we are until we start to feel what it’s like to let that tension go.  Holding tension in the body makes stressful situations that much more difficult to deal with.  Learning to release tension takes practice.  Regularly practicing mind-body disciplines like yoga and Pilates is a good place to start.

There are many ways to manage stress. No single intervention can be the total answer for everyone.  Each of us needs to find what works for them.  And different situations may require different responses. All of this takes practice.  But instead of finding this discouraging, it might help to see it as an interesting challenge.  The benefit of any practice is that it allows you to keep trying.  If one attempt doesn’t seem to work you can try again or try something else.  Remember the goal:  better mental and physical health.  Keeping that in mind can make even the most difficult practice worthwhile.

Burn the Negatives; Make Room for the Positives

 

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Burn the Negatives; Make Room for the Positives. Photo: Herb Ryan: http://www.custerfreepress.com

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
January 22, 2017

CUSTER, SD – Winter can feel overwhelming at times.  For example, weather can interfere with the best laid plans.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to walk more.  You start off really well and suddenly the temperatures dive, the sidewalks shine with ice and the trails in the woods are clogged with snow. Even winter sports enthusiasts can be disappointed when there is just enough snow and ice to be a hazard, but not enough to support the fun stuff.  If you decide to go elsewhere to ski or swim, you can find yourself stymied by airline delays or cancellations. Then there is the busyness that comes in January after the long stretch of holiday breaks that characterize November and December.  So much to catch up on – so little time!  Despite solstice the days are still short.  Time seems compressed and suddenly everyone seems to want a piece of yours.  There just never seems to be enough to go around.

Combine all this with Seasonal Affected Disorder and (dare I say it . . .) post-election anxiety and we have the ingredients for a deep dive into depression.  Take heart, though.  Just when you think hope is pointless and the light at the end of the tunnel appears dim or even non-existent, along comes the Burning Beetle Blues Festival in Custer SD.  What a great example of turning negatives into positives.

For the past couple of decades, the forests in western states from Canada to the southwest U.S. have been ravaged by an onslaught of voracious bark beetles.  The plague has had an enormous impact on the Black Hills in general, and Custer in particular.  About 5 years ago, some Custer residents decided to turn the hand-wringing and lamentation into action.  Thus began the Bark Beetle Blues festival.  The first year of the event saw residents drowning their sorrows in music and art.  Sculptures and picture frames were created with the “blue wood” of the dead trees remaining after the beetles had their fill.  The talented musicians of the Black Hills wrote songs and performed them for a delighted audience.  School children danced and sang.  The festival became a much needed and appreciated antidote for cabin fever in the middle of January when most South Dakotans are house-bound and already longing for Spring.  The following year launched what has become a tradition of burning a huge effigy of a beetle.  Since then the festival has grown to include a variety show and fireworks display. Last year a crew from National Geographic turned up to film the event.  (Unfortunately, I could not find an on-line link to the article, but you can probably find a paper copy in a local library.)   Some years have featured bitter cold January weather, but that has not stopped a huge crowd from turning out for these events.

Witnessing this year’s event made me think of the ritual of the fire puja.  Fire is one of the five basic elements including earth, water, air and ether (empty space) that provide the energies of our known universe.  Using the ritual of fire helps us to let go of things that are no longer useful to make room for new ideas and intentions.  Of course we always want to honor the power of fire and treat it appropriately, but with safety taken into consideration, we can all create our own fire ritual.  If you’re feeling stuck, it can be very satisfying to think about the obstacles in your path, write them on paper and cast them in the fire.  Taking some time to recognize the factors in your way can be the first step to finding ways around them.

Many of us can find examples in our own lives where unexpected positives have emerged from even the most dire or sorrowful situations. This is certainly true for me.  Many of the plans I made in my life have not panned out, but other things have happened that I never could have imagined.  This has become a good reminder when I become disappointed over something not going my way.  And – yes – I need to remind myself.  It is a daily practice to remember to take each day as it comes and accept things as they are, proceeding from there instead of wishing things were different and letting negativity cloud my day.

In recent weeks I’ve seen friends of mine turn their fear into activism.  They have been joined by others who share their concerns.  Perhaps they’ve been surprised to learn that so many others felt the same way they did.  It is a confidence-builder to find out you’re not alone.  Taking that first dangerous step into the unknown can feel so solitary and isolating.  But once that leap is made, the results can be surprising.  In the fire ritual, mourning can be a necessary process leading up to the decision to let go.  But at some point it is necessary to let the mourning pass and rejoin the world.  It’s not always easy and it can be a rocky process, but all it really takes is putting one foot in front of the other and being open to the opportunities around you.  That, too, is an opportunity for practice.

So, to borrow from Shakespeare, if now is the winter of your discontent, try moving out of your own way.  Throw those obstacles into the fire and take a chance on something new.  Renew your resolve to do whatever you decided to accomplish in 2017.  And remember – if your New Year’s resolutions are already getting lost in the undertow or if weather has gotten in the way of your movement plans, there is no better time than now to find a new activity.  An exercise class is a great way to start.  Movement will lift your mood and boost your energy.  Also just like my activist friends, you may be surprised to find friendly like-minded souls who will happily help you along on your journey without judgment of any kind.  We are all looking forward to having you to join us.  Our welcome mat is always out!