Breathe

A few months back, I bought a copy of an Astanga Yoga book written by my former mentor. When we were friends, I took Astanga classes from him, and he taught me a lot about the philosophies and the eight limbs that make up the practice. (Tip: The poses, or asana, are only one of the limbs…and not even the first one.)

To be clear, even though back in the day I studied to be an Astanga instructor and had, in fact, passed my final practical exam, I’m *not* an instructor, and not claiming to be. But since breathing is something many of us are thinking about right now, I wanted to talk about this a little.

One of the pieces of yoga that is sometimes overlooked is pranayama, or breathing exercises. When I was working with my mentor, he taught me some pranayama…which, being me, I promptly forgot about when I stopped practicing yoga. But now that I’ve resumed studying, I’m finding the pranayama, particularly one that involves very deep, even breathing, to be vital.

I have a tendency toward shallow breathing. Every once in a while, I take a deep breath that concerns whoever I’m with, or annoys them because they think I’m sighing. The actual issue is that I take such shallow breaths much of the time that I’m not getting enough oxygen, so then my body decides I’m going to take a really, really deep breath to correct that.

But for the past several weeks, every morning (okay, almost every), I do breathing called Sutri Pranayama, in which I breathe so deeply I can literally feel it all the way down through my torso. I take 20 breaths, which takes me over five minutes because I’m inhaling long and slowly, and exhaling equally long and slowly.

And after I do it, I feel better. I feel more focused. Calmer. (Deep breathing is one of the things recommended for people who experience anxiety, which for me is a frequent experience.) I’m in a more positive frame of mind, and my normal breathing has become less shallow.

Especially now, when our world is dealing with a virus that can heavily impact the lungs, I think breathing exercises can be beneficial. (I’m not a doctor, this isn’t medical advice.)

I’m not qualified (anymore) to teach Astanga or any form of yoga, so I’m not going to try to instruct you how to do Sutri Pranayama in case I get it wrong. But if you are looking for a way to help yourself feel calmer and less stressed, and to help your lungs function well, I would definitely recommend looking up how to do it and making it part of your daily routine. Not only for now, but ongoing.

It’s Okay to Feel

We’re taught that certain emotions are “bad” or wrong. We aren’t supposed to feel them. We’re supposed to suppress them and act like they don’t exist.

The top among these is anger. Especially if you’re a girl, or raised/socialized as one, you’re told to be quiet and “ladylike” and sweet. If you show anger, you’re bad.

This can be common in the spiritual practice world as well. If you’re truly spiritual, so the story goes, you don’t feel anger. You just accept and forgive everyone and everything and feel nothing negative at all ever, because if you do, you aren’t really spiritual.

Bullshit.

Anger, jealousy, fear…all the emotions that some people designate as “bad” are HUMAN emotions. If you’re a human being, odds are good that you feel emotions. Feeling anger is no more “bad” than feeling joy. Emotions are not good or bad; they just are. And trying to force yourself not to feel them often results in just stuffing the emotion down into a little box in your mind—a box that might burst somewhere down the line.

The key isn’t to stop *feeling* emotions. It’s to learn healthy and productive ways to *express* them.

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I was raised in a home where it was not safe for me to be angry. If I expressed anger, I was punished for it, sometimes in psychologically damaging ways. I was told I was a bad person for feeling angry. That “good little girls” don’t feel that way.

In my first marriage, expressing anger was even more dangerous to me, so I learned not to express it to my husband. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes it spilled out onto my children. But more often, I just stuffed it down into that little mental box and convinced myself I’d dealt with it and didn’t feel it anymore.

When I was finally in a place where it was safe for me to express anger, I had no clue how to do so. I had no tools for managing my emotions—any emotions, regardless of what they were—because I’d spent so much of my life trying not to allow myself to feel them. So when something small sparked anger in me, the anger became huge and harmful, with lots of ranting and swearing and punching of mattresses and pillows, because I didn’t know how else to handle an emotion I was terrified to feel.

Note that I am not making excuses. I handled my anger very poorly a number of times, and at times that caused emotional harm to others. I am working to repair relationships that were damaged because of this.

Despite the reasons, ultimately we are each responsible for our own emotions and how we display them, and although I didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tools to display my anger in less harmful ways, I still take responsibility for how I did display it and the consequences thereof. Part of my healing journey has been repairing those relationships, making amends where possible, and owning my stuff. Part has been accepting myself as a good *person* despite the things I said that I can’t take back, because while I *own* my emotions and my actions, I am not the things I feel and do. Emotions are neither good nor bad; actions can be, but taking a negative action does not automatically make someone a bad person.

It took a lot of work and therapy, but I did learn. I still sometimes get angrier than a situation warrants, but I am now able to recognize when I’m angry beyond what makes sense. I’m able to walk away from a situation that’s causing anger, and sometimes even to say to whomever else is involved, “I’m feeling very angry right now and need to step away.” I go someplace where I can be alone to work through what I’m feeling, and when I feel calm enough, I return to the other person and say, “I’m feeling angry about that thing you did, because it hurt me in this way. I’d like to stop feeling angry with you, so I’d like to talk about this and see what we can do.” It works a lot better.

Feeling emotions is NORMAL. Even emotions we’ve been taught are wrong or bad. Trying to suppress or ignore those emotions can be harmful to us and can lead to them coming up in less manageable ways down the road.

We also dishonor ourselves when we deny our emotions. Many of us who have experienced abuse and trauma have a child self living within our minds, a part of ourselves that became frozen at a time of trauma. In DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy, a technique often used in treating borderline personality disorder and PTSD among other things), that part of us is referred to as the “emotional mind.” In some forms of Witchcraft, it’s Younger Self. Whatever you call it, it’s a part of us, and it’s part of our healing journey to accept, nurture, and work with it. If we’re telling ourselves, “I can’t feel angry, it’s bad, I’m a bad person for feeling this way,” we’re continuing the abuse that damaged us in the first place. We’re taking the words and concepts forced on us by others and internalizing them, and that continues the damage.

Instead, I’ve found it’s far more productive to feel the emotion. To say, “I feel really angry, and that’s okay; how can I deal with this?” Even to express fear of feeling the anger, if that’s present for you. Some coping strategies for anxiety and PTSD can be used for anger as well.

Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and express them in *healthy* ways can help lessen them, and honors you as the awesome human you are.

You aren’t bad if you feel anger. You aren’t “not truly spiritual.” You are human, and you have the right to feel however you feel. You don’t have the right to express those feelings in harmful ways, but you one hundred percent have the right to feel them, and to express them in nonharmful ways. (And if you do express anger or another emotion in a way that’s harmful, that still doesn’t make you a bad person. It still just makes you human. Make apologies, make amends, and get help with learning more effective management strategies if it’s an ongoing problem… but accept yourself as a good *person* who just needs help to learn better *actions*.)

As a final note, if you’re a parent, please teach your children that emotions are always okay to feel, and teach them healthy, productive ways to express them. Show them that they, too, are good people, and that you love them no matter what emotions they feel. Show them how to love and accept themselves even when the anger seems big and scary, or the jealousy overwhelms them, or the fear seems to cover everything else. Let’s break the cycle of people who believe and preach that it’s bad and wrong to feel human emotions—and the people who, because of those beliefs and preaching, believe that *they* are bad and wrong.

You Can Reach Out

In my family of origin, asking for help was heavily frowned upon. I distinctly remember my father telling me, “Don’t ask anyone for help. You can’t count on anyone except yourself, so just don’t ask.” Since I’d already figured out that asking for help–or for things I needed–tended to anger my mother, I didn’t have any problem following my father’s advice.

Of course, that advice didn’t serve me. There have been many times in my life when I needed support or help and chose not to reach out, with the result that the situation worsened, or the choice of whether to get help was taken out of my hands, or I continued to struggle for years longer than I needed to. If I had just said, “I need help,” and had continued to say it on the occasions when my first attempt was brushed off, my life would have unquestionably been easier.

I’m still learning to ask for help and support when I need it, but I’ve at least learned to recognize that there isn’t anything wrong with asking. Human beings weren’t created to exist in isolation. There are reasons there are so many of us, and I believe one of those reasons is so we can support and care for each other. Unfortunately, many of us were taught not to ask for help, or even to outright deny the need.

When we’re on a healing journey, support can be crucial to making progress. Many times, professional help is also needed, and there is nothing wrong with that. In my own healing journey, the services I’ve received from professionals have at times been instrumental in helping me find my way, and I recommend that people who are working to heal from past trauma at least consider seeking that kind of help.

But support from loved ones and friends is also important, and sometimes that’s harder to ask for than professional help. We worry about burdening others, or that they’ll think less of us if they know how “messed up” we are. (We aren’t messed up, but that’s a thought that frequently wanders through my mind when I think about telling a friend I need their support.)

The thing is, a lot of us who hesitate to ask others for support don’t think twice about *giving* support to others. We don’t think less of them for asking. We don’t think they’re messed up. So what makes us different? If other people deserve support, and if there’s nothing wrong with them asking, why do we think there’s something wrong with us or that we don’t deserve it? 

You do deserve support and compassion when you’re struggling, whether it’s a short-term issue that seems small to you, or an ongoing healing journey, or anything else that you have difficulty with. There is nothing wrong with reaching out. And if you’re someone who is struggling, I hope you will reach out.

Welcome to 2020

2019 felt like a long year. I’ve talked with a number of people who have said they felt like 2019 put them through the wringer. A lot of pain, a lot of struggle. That was true for me as well.

In 2019, I started off excited about my business, then called River Flow Healing…and then things started going downhill both business-wise and, more importantly, in my personal life. The personal life struggles impacted my ability to be effective as a healing practitioner and coach, and at times impacted my ability to do much of anything at all. Those difficulties led to my choice a couple of months ago to go on hiatus and focus on myself and my own healing journey for a while. But now it’s 2020, and it’s time to start fresh.

My journey isn’t over, of course. Life itself is a journey; there isn’t any point where someone can say, “There, I’ve made it, I’m healed and everything’s perfect now.” Life isn’t intended to be something to master. It’s something to experience, and to learn and grow from.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past couple of months, though. Things that lurked in the dark places in the back of my mind that I hadn’t really wanted to deal with because we’re taught that “dark” equals “bad,” and that we have to either eliminate the bad things or pretend they don’t exist.

The thing is, dark isn’t automatically bad. It’s just dark. Just as we have to have both night and day, we have to have a balance of darkness and light in our lives and ourselves. The key is to learn to accept the darkness within us and work with it to change the negative results of it being there. 

When a toddler misbehaves, we don’t try to eliminate the toddler; we accept them, love them, and try to teach them more productive and positive ways to act. It’s the same with the dark aspects of ourselves. The goal doesn’t need to be eliminating them. It’s much healthier for us, and more effective in our healing, to accept and acknowledge–and LOVE–those aspects of ourselves, and learn more positive ways of managing them.

As a child, I experienced neglect, emotional and verbal abuse, and bullying. Those things were a constant in my life, day to day, even into adulthood. Because of that, the “dark” aspects of myself manifest, in my mind, as young children. It isn’t my job to get rid of them, but to give them the love, attention, and respect I didn’t receive. That means when one of my child aspects starts throwing a tantrum about how everyone hates her and that’s why I don’t have clients for RiverEvolutions, instead of ignoring her or telling her to shut up, I’m learning to embrace her and say, “I know it feels that way, and it’s okay to feel that way right now, but that isn’t reality. Let’s take a break and come back to this later.”

Taking a break is another key. When emotions escalate, sometimes we feel like we have to “push through” and get the thing done no matter what. But forcing ourselves to keep pushing at something that is causing us pain doesn’t serve us. It is okay to take a few steps back. It’s okay to leave a task temporarily unfinished so you can take care of yourself and let yourself feel your emotions. And when you’ve allowed that, you can go back and finish the task.

There’s a lot I’ve been learning over the past couple of months, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you as I continue my work on myself as well as my work as a healing practitioner and coach.

A Container? What’s That?

Recently, Britt Bolnick, a business coach I’ve worked with, shared information about creating a container for one’s clients. I read the transcript of the video, which she sent out to her mailing list, and thought, “I have no idea what that means.”

And then I thought about it, because “I don’t know” or I don’t understand” sometimes becomes a defense mechanism for me. Sometimes, it becomes an excuse for not putting in the work to figure it out. This sounded like something important, so I chose to put in the work.

Basically, Britt’s point is that the service one provides as a practitioner (coach, healer, etc.) is only part of what one gives the client. It’s awesome that I’m able to provide Chios Energy Healing and that my clients find it effective and beneficial, but that isn’t as useful if I’m doing it in a way that doesn’t leave my clients feeling comfortable and confident in the process.

I tend to get nervous before sessions. Not nearly as much as I used to, but still, those “what if I’m a fraud” fears do crop up occasionally. Because of that, sometimes I don’t have the space adequately prepared when my client shows up, or I’m overly focused on remembering paperwork and the questions I want to ask, so I don’t give the client a chance to speak or I plunge right into the businessy stuff without taking the time to be human first.

I’ve been doing some inner searching to try to find what I could do differently in my business. One of the biggest difficulties I have is that even when someone comes to have a Chios session with me, they usually don’t come back. And since they don’t come back, and don’t answer my emails, I can’t find out *why* they don’t come back. It isn’t necessarily, or always, entirely about me. Some people aren’t ready to do the work of healing. For some, I’m not a fit personality-wise, or Chios isn’t a fit as an effective modality.

But since I’m involved, I have responsibility somewhere, and one of the things I’ve realized is that setting a “container” is something I haven’t really been doing. Partly due to not understanding what that meant, but also, it just isn’t a thing I think of.

I grew up with parents who shut me down–or told me to shut up, though usually not quite that bluntly–if I didn’t immediately get to a point when I talked to them. They didn’t give me time to lay groundwork. As the only child of an only child, with two parents who rarely socialized with anyone, I didn’t have a chance to learn the small talk, give-and-take preambles to business work. I learned to just jump in and say what I needed to say, and do what I needed to do, and I’ve continued that pattern my entire life.

Recognizing that has been important, because I’ve realized I’m not serving my clients if all I’m doing is the service. If all I do is say, “Thanks for coming, I’m going to do this, this, and this, any questions, okay great lie down,” I’m not only not putting them at ease with the process, but I’m also not putting them at ease with *me*. I’m not giving them a means to connect with or a reason to trust me. More, I might actually be causing them to feel less comfortable than they would otherwise, because I’m coming across as rushed or abrupt.

I don’t know if that’s the reason some clients haven’t come back; as I said, I can’t ask them, because they don’t respond. But it is something I can control, and something I can work to change.

That’s where those of you reading this can help me. Just as I don’t think to set a container, I don’t always respond well when I’m having some kind of session and the practitioner spends what feels like forever doing small talk, or clearing the space, or whatever. I start feeling uncomfortable or impatient at those times. That’s also a result of how I was raised, but it means that as I try to change my process to better serve my clients, I don’t have a clear idea of what to do. I prefer the “get down to business” model as a client myself, so I’m not sure what to change or include as as practitioner.

So I would love to hear from you: If you’re having a healing session, coaching session, etc., what do you hope or expect in terms of how the practitioner greets you? What would you want to see (hear, smell, feel) in the space? What would set you at ease and give you confidence in the practitioner and the process? Feel free to comment here, or email me at kim @ riverflowhealing.com (no spaces). Thank you!

Happy 4th of July!

Regardless of where you are in the world, it’s probably July 4. (Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… the International Date Line confuses me sometimes, so by the time you’re reading this it might be July 5 where you are. But it *was* the 4th…)

Here in the US, of course, it’s Independence Day. A day of barbecues, fireworks, people who think it’s entertaining to set off firecrackers and scare the crap out of people, and so on.

I’m taking the day off to spend time with family and friends, so this is this week’s blog post. I hope you have a wonderful day!

Perception

One of the things mental illness can do is cause you to perceive things incorrectly. You might think someone has said something they haven’t actually said, or assign a meaning to someone’s actions that simply isn’t there.

That’s something I deal with a lot. Because of people I’ve dealt with in my past, and the resulting PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, sometimes my brain filters someone else’s actions or words through a distorted lens. I hear something in their words that they didn’t say and didn’t mean, or I believe their actions are for a reason that has nothing to do with why they’ve actually acted that way.

This makes communication extremely important for me. I am usually aware when my thoughts are getting away from me and when my perception is off. In those moments, I can choose to continue with the incorrect perception, and let my thoughts spiral into darkness, or I can choose to go to the other person and say, “I think I’m perceiving this wrong. Can we clarify what you meant?”

That isn’t always an easy choice to make. Sometimes my belief about what the other person has said or done is so strong that my emotions take over. I might be too angry to try talking to them, or might not be able to get the words together. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for clarification because I worry that the other person will be angry with me for having an incorrect perception. But under the emotions, I know that the only way to resolve the situation is to speak up.

Misperceptions are going to happen. To be honest, I think it’s part of being human, regardless of whether mental illness is a factor. Learning to recognize when you might be perceiving something incorrectly, and learning to communicate and clarify the situation, might not be easy, but it’s important.

Tomorrow…

Friday, February 23, I’ll be speaking at the Provincetown Public Library about acceptance and being true to oneself. I’m a little nervous about it; this will be the first public presentation I’ve done in over seven years! But I’m also looking forward to it.

If you’re in the Provincetown area, I hope you’ll stop by. My presentation begins at 3pm. I’m hoping to have it recorded, at least bits and pieces, so I can share it here, and I’ll blog next week about how it went.

No Small Parts

When I’m teaching theater to the elementary school kids I work with, sometimes they’re disappointed with the roles they get in the plays we do. They might only have one line, and for some of them, that’s disappointing.

I remind them of what an actor friend of mine told them when he came in to speak about acting. No matter how small your role is, it’s important to the play. Whether you have one line or a few hundred, your part helps make the play what it is.

The same applies in life. You might believe you haven’t been around someone enough to make an impact in their life, but you impact almost everyone you come in contact with, even if only once. The impact might be small, but it’s there, and it can be very important to that person. Something as simple as saying hello to someone you walk past on the street, or smiling at a cashier in a store, can change things for that person.

Everyone is important in various ways. If we view our lives as a play, everyone’s role matters. It can change the play entirely, even if it’s only one line. One word. Even if nothing is said.

So don’t discount your part in other people’s lives. You might never know how much of a difference you make, but big or small, your part helps make their life what it is.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is basically the belief that any success you have is a fluke, and that the people around you will figure out you’ve just faked your way to where you are. You downplay your accomplishments and find plenty of excuses why those accomplishments don’t really mean anything.

I found a great post about imposter syndrome recently, so rather than rehash it, I thought I would share: “Do You Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome? by Cindy J. Holbrook.