Proprio-what? Exploring ProprioCEPTION

This blog post is written by Elizabeth McFaul, graduate of our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program. Elizabeth was a long-time work-trade at the studio, and she continues to be an avid knitter, farmer’s market-goer, and Yoga enthusiast. Our trainees write blog posts as a part of their homework, and Elizabeth chose to dive deep into the movement education thread of our training.


What is proprioception? 

Close your eyes and move one of your hands around in front of you. Touch your ear, then the top of your head. You are able to do this (hopefully accurately!) because of your proprioceptive system.

Proprioception is your body sense, or your kinaesthetic awareness. It is your brain’s ability to sense the relative positions and movements of your different body parts. Because of proprioception, you can sense your hand in space as you move it around, even though your eyes are closed. It’s sometimes referred to as our sixth sense or a sensory map.  

Why is it important?

Your proprioceptive system allows you to make coordinated movements. It provides for body awareness, coordination, and motor skills. If we had to look at our limbs with every task, we wouldn’t be very effective. Imagine looking down every time we take a step, or looking at our arms when dribbling a ball, petting a cat, or putting things away. When we close our eyes, we still sense our body’s place in the world, relative to other items and relative to itself. 

Proprioception is important for everyday tasks, but it’s essential for sports and other activities where movements involve several body parts acting in a connected and coordinated fashion. It would be impossible for a gymnast to land a backflip if they didn’t have an elite level of body sense, aware of the position of each of their limbs at all times. 

What happens when your proprioception gets compromised?

Since all coordinated movement depends on your proprioceptive system, when it is compromised, simple activities like walking or standing can become challenging. 

Your proprioception can be compromised by neurological disease, impairment, or pain. Pain reduces the brain’s ability to process proprioceptive information from the joint(s), because it is busy listening to pain signals instead, and the high-priority pain signals crowd out the other signals. Pain also tends to lessen movement in the injured joint, leading to less detail in the sensory map. Pain reduces movement, which reduces coordination, which can reduce movement further, and so forth. 

Sensing your own proprioception

You can tune into and refine your own sense of proprioception with exploratory movements that are new, interesting, and rich in sensory input. Intention also plays a critical role, as does repetition. This is often why physiotherapy focuses on deliberate, repeated movements to help your body recreate maps for the injured area. 

Here are five fun ways you can explore your sense of proprioception:

  1. Explore balance, especially on an uneven surface (like a foam block). Balancing on an uneven surface forces your body to make continual adjustments to stay balanced, offering a lot of sensory input in the knees and ankles. This can help your speed and efficiency in making micro adjustments to movements like changing direction, kicking, and stepping, which can prevent twisted knees or ankles in sports. The more uneven the surface, the more challenging this motion can be. 
  1. Build awareness in an eyes-closed Sun Salutation. Start by completing a few rounds of Sun Salutation A. Try to keep yourself at a consistent pace. Then close your eyes and repeat. Are there changes to how you feel the movement? Do you approach the movements differently? What else might you notice? Closing your eyes removes that sensory input, focusing your efforts on proprioception and other senses.  
  1. Play some Hopscotch! Grab a piece of chalk and create your hopscotch. You can play hopscotch the traditional way, or for an additional challenge, pause between each hop (around 20 seconds), balancing on one foot. Reaching for the rock changes your relationship to gravity and the dynamic movement of hopping from one foot to another challenges your proprioceptive system with things that are novel & new. 
  1. Test your control with a Crossover Walk or a Grapevine. Try this exercise slowly, concentrating on the movements and focusing your awareness on your knees. Start with your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart, bend your knees, then cross one leg over another, taking a large step to the side. Step out so that your feet are returned to their original position, and then repeat, sidestepping like this 5-10 times in both directions. If you’d like to try a different version of this, try the grapevine. Cross one leg over another in front, then for the next step, cross behind. 
  1. Reach and replace in Warrior 3 Block Play. Grab a block (or something similar in shape). Stand on one leg, take the block in one hand, and bend forward to place the block on the ground. Come back upright, then bend forward again, picking up the block with the opposite hand. Come back upright, and repeat. You can make this as challenging as you’d like by placing the block in different locations. Placing the block very far away, behind you, or very close to your standing leg all can add difficulty. You can see proprioception in action if you look away while you explore this exercise. Your body remains aware of the location of the block even as you aren’t looking.  

What other ways can you explore your body’s sixth sense?


Loving this content? To learn more about our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program, click here.

Let’s Talk About Yoga Spaces

This post is written by Cassidy McCabe (pictured right), graduate of our 2020 Yoga Teacher Training cohort, and features a conversation with her friend and fellow Yoga practitioner, Adwoa Toku (pictured left).

I knew that enrolling in the yoga teacher-training program through Queen St. Yoga would transform the way I thought about yoga forever. Initially, I learned how to sequence a great class, how to give anatomical cues, and how to adapt poses for different skill levels.  It was very important to me to be prepared to teach students from their mats; and as I continued to study, my understanding of yoga was drastically altered. The changes in my concept of yoga began when the program introduced some preliminary anti-oppression education. I started to contemplate some of the personal challenges that can inhibit individuals from even taking their first step onto a yoga mat. I began to wonder if yoga is accessible to all people.

Spoiler alert: it’s generally not.

Can race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, age, body size or ability be a barrier which stops people from even beginning a personal yoga journey? These questions started to percolate with me, serendipitously, at the same time I was being exposed to the Black Lives Matter social movement in my community and around the world. To further explore my questions, I reached out to one of my close friends, Adwoa Toku. 

Adwoa, wearing black shorts and a t-shirt, practices Dancer's pose outside among flowers and shrubs.

 “Creating these transformative practices to address things that we know we’re all dealing with… the anxiety we feel in our bodies; the fear, the guilt, the shame, these are things that a lot of the time, even if we talk about, it still exist within our bodies. So how do we move these things that our body holds outside of it; and how do we then give ourselves space to move forwards and to move together?” –Adwoa Toku

Learning In Relationship

Adwoa and I have been friends since we met in residence at Wilfrid Laurier University, in 2012. We discovered yoga separately, but would communicate elements of our journey with each other, and share our love for the practice. Given our friendship, I felt comfortable asking Adwoa for her perspective. As a Black yogi, I hoped Adwoa would be able to provide me with some insight to the questions I had a desire to explore.  When I approached her about the concept of how yoga spaces can be inhibitive for individuals, Adwoa was enthusiastic about being part of the conversation.

Adwoa’s Lived Experiences

We recorded ourselves on a Zoom call and the results were informative and transformative for me personally. Adwoa’s charisma and honesty shines through, as she speaks from the heart about her yoga journey. Here is the link to our conversation:

Adwoa had a few final words to summarize the key points of our discussion:

“At the end of the day, my experience as a Black yogi is equal to my experience moving through the world; navigating spaces that don’t necessarily see me in their landscape, but knowing I deserve to shape my life in a way that fills me up. It’s up to those who hold privilege to show up and have the hard conversations with their peers, who hold privilege as well. It’s the ways of complacency and comfort that have led us here; those of us who experience it’s shadow know that marginalization is nothing new. Moving from a heart-centred place sometimes feels like jumping into the fire, of all the hard realities we don’t want to see, but is necessary for change.” -Adwoa Toku

Big News!

 

Dear QSY Community,

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Thanks for all the ways you have supported us over the course of the pandemic: from sending encouraging words, to joining our virtual memberships, to coming to outdoor yoga this summer, to supporting us with your holiday shopping, you have shown up for us. While we aren’t out of the storm yet, it is truly thanks to you that this email is not a closure announcement. 

Instead, I want to share a very big decision we’ve made, one that affirms our deep commitment to continuing the work we’re doing:

We will be moving to a new location! 

Our current space on Queen Street has been home to our community since the beginning, in 2005. Because of all that history, this is not a decision we made lightly. I know this space carries deep meaning for so many of you, just as it does for me. But, we aren’t in a position to stay at 44 Queen and stay financially viable for the foreseeable future. 

I want to acknowledge that this year has already brought so many challenging transitions, so if another change feels hard for you too, I get it. But over the course of this pandemic, it became crystal clear to me that the magic of QSY isn’t the space. It’s the people who come to move, breathe, rest and laugh together that makes it so special. 

We can create that magic together wherever we go.

We are working our butts off to make our new dream location a reality. Running the studio and teaching is not a side gig. The studio provides full-time employment to three of us, and part-time work for a dozen other teachers. With the help of government subsidies and your support, we’ve been able to continue our work, and this has meant the world to us. 

We can’t give you all the details yet, but in the meantime, here’s what you can count on: 

  • We will be in Downtown Kitchener, and continue in-person classes
  • All of our amazing teachers and staff will come with us
  • We’ll stay online too, offering virtual classes, courses, and retreats
  • We’ll still offer high-caliber training for yoga teachers
  • We’ll have full continuity of our virtual offerings, and hopefully only a short pause of in-person classes while we move
  • Later this winter, we will share details of our moving plans and host an event to say farewell and honour our time at 44 Queen 

With your continued support, and alongside this plan to move locations, I’m hopeful that our yoga community will continue to be here long after this pandemic is a distant memory. Wishing you and yours a safe and cozy holiday season!

In Community, 

Leena Miller Cressman, QSY Director 

Big Body Yoga: Reflections on The “Weight” of Words

This blog post is written by Carol Kennedy, who is joining our staff to teach Yoga for Round Bodies for the Fall 2020 season.

Big, Body, and Yoga are three words that exist as distinct spaces for judgment. A whole gamut of adjectives are ascribed to Yoga, much like our bodies, and the construct of being “big.” This blog is a challenging one to write for me, as these three words, especially in conjunction with one another, conjure up so many emotions and images. 

Yoga has been described as exercise, movement, cult, appropriation, commodity, ritual, sacred, Eastern, and Western, just to name a few – and these descriptions are quite often shifting and morphing at the same time. Yet these descriptions of Yoga, and debates surrounding its definition remain external to us as individuals, allowing space for objectivity. This threshold of objectivity is crossed when the word “body” is connected to Yoga. Our bodies move us; hold our thoughts, our emotions. They nurture us, and can do the most miraculous of things, and they are what contain ‘us’ as embodied whole beings. 

The body is what makes Yoga subjective, and this seems almost redundant when put together. I mean, we all have bodies, and each of us have a dynamic relationship with it, and through it. So, what is Yoga without the embodied human? Is Yoga a tool for the body? Or is the body a tool for Yoga? Continue reading “Big Body Yoga: Reflections on The “Weight” of Words”

Old Habits Die Hard, So Kill Them with Kindness

This post is by QSY lead teacher Leslie Stokman. 

Changing my habits has been a life-long struggle.

Do I lack willpower and self-discipline, giving in too easily to procrastination? Is my struggle to blame on the symptoms of ADHD? Or is my difficulty maintaining a routine actually an issue of nervous system dysregulation? The answer might not matter too much in the end. 

If you’ve struggled like me to keep up with the new habits, even the ones you identify with great intention and enthusiasm, this post is for you.

We’re a week into the new year – it’s a loaded time. Whether you’ve been heeding messages that promote wellness-focused New Year’s resolutions, or voices that dismiss them in favour of maxims like “New Year, Same Awesome You,” the topic is definitely on our collective mind for better or worse. I admit that there is nothing magical about the year changing. 2020 is an arbitrary measure according to a calendar that was created in the 16th century by a Pope. That said, the coming of the New Year is one of the only times when our whole society acknowledges one pure moment of transition. And times of transition can be powerful opportunities for personal reflection and transformation.

Continue reading “Old Habits Die Hard, So Kill Them with Kindness”

Grumpy ’bout Gratitude

I used to despise the word gratitude.

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

_leena emma side angle smiling 2018

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

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

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

buzzword2

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

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

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

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

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

With care, Emma

WTF is TRE?

This post is by QSY lead teacher Leslie Stokman. 

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

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

namestofaces-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,Leslie

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

Links to keep learning: 

Let’s make community care the new buzzword

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

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

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

Continue reading “Let’s make community care the new buzzword”

Yoga as Refuge and Resistance

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Yoga as Refuge and Resistance”

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

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

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

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

Your Yoga for Resilience Sequence

Continue reading “Explore Resilience in Your Body & Mind  with an Interactive Yoga Sequence”