Lessons from lower back pain, again

Last week, my old friend lower back pain payed me a visit. It was an unexpected visit since we haven’t met each other for a while. The first time was shortly after my younger daughter was born. Since then, we met every once in a while, until I started practicing yoga ‘for real’.

What do I mean by that? Well, to begin with, when I finally took the time to practice regularly. During the last seven years, I practice almost daily, at least ten to twenty minutes a day, sometimes, if I have more time, up to an hour.

Consistency is not enough in itself though. It is good only when it allows for me to get to know my body better and do what I know is good for it. Practicing yoga asana daily could be harmful if I don’t practice mindfully.

So when I say that I started practicing yoga ‘for real’, I mean yoga in the extended sense of the word. Not just yoga as a physical practice, but as a way of living. I have had to accept my body as it is and not want to push it to what I want it to be or do. I know that lower back pain has been an issue for me during the last twelve years, so I take this into consideration during my daily practice. I focus on strengthening exercises and poses several times a week, I try to be mindful of not over doing certain poses like forward bends, and vary the poses I practice in a period of time to avoid injuries.

I believe in the power of simplicity, so I keep my practice to the basic poses, and have let go of the need to do poses that I feel unsure about. If I had the guidance of my yoga teacher on a regular basis, and he would consider it beneficial for my practice to introduce such poses, I would, but to push my body into them just because they look cool, or because that’s what is ‘expected’ from a yoga teacher, is not good enough reason for me.

But back to the lower back pain. Why did it come back? Well, because I ‘forgot’ to listen to my body. Some weeks ago, Isigned up for a series of yoga classes with a teacher that I enjoy, and got carried away by the ‘fun’ of doing poses I usually don’t do. And why do I write about it? Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. I know quite a few people that have gotten injured while practicing yoga asana, and then we tend to believe that yoga is not for everyone, or that yoga can be harmful. What is harmful is the need we have to push our body to do things it is not ready for, or that it doesn’t really need. Yoga asana is a very nice way to keep the body healthy, work with the breath and calm the mind, but it needs to be done mindfully and with respect for our body and its limitations. I honestly believe that one can practice yoga asana every day without getting injured as long as one doesn’t get carried away by ego.
  2. It is so important to learn to know our own body and work with it instead of against it. There is a very fine line between pushing it a bit to get stronger or gain better stamina and pushing it to the point of injury. I believe the practice of yoga is at its best when we create our own practice because we can then listen to our body at all times and create a practice that is suitable for that specific moment. It is of course, important to have a good teacher that can guide us from time to time, someone who we can trust, but most of the work needs to be done by us.

Luckily, I know more or less what I need to do when this good old lower back pain pays me a visit, and I’m already starting to feel better – with a little help from my chiropractor. My reflections about this experience can also be applied everyday life. It is so important to find our own way! Learn to know who we are, accept our shortcomings and know our strengths, identify our values and priorities and live accordingly. There is nothing wrong in observing what other people do, listen to opinions and even learn from others, but avoid doubting ourselves every time someone says or does something differently.

Lessons from this week

  1. Sometimes, good intentions are not enough. Discussing a mistake I made this week with a friend, he told me “I always give important decisions a night sleep.” In line with the teachings of Karma Yoga, I strive to create clarity in my mind. This means that I try to always be clear about the intention behind my action. I try not to act impulsively. However, this week, I made a choice with good intentions but after I gained perspective, I realised it wasn’t the best choice for everyone. Which leads to lesson 2:
  2. Running against the clock will often mean trouble. Had I taken the time to reflect on the options, I might have chosen differently, but during the last three weeks, I feel I have been in a constant race against the clock. My mum always says : move slower when you are in a hurry. My friend kindly told me: ‘the choice is made, you cannot change it. You have to put it behind you, but I disagree with your choice this time.’ I agree with him. No point spending time and energy in regretting, but I should learn from this mistake. Which leads me to lesson number 3:
  3. There is a difference between acknowledging our mistakes and shortcomings and torturing ourselves with regret and self-loathe. If we are to grow in this life, if we are to cultivate more peace inside and around ourselves, we need to see the difference between these two. Someone in my sangha wrote a very inspiring experience this week where he describes how, he has come to accept his shortcomings in his interactions with the people he loves, he has seen his part in situations where things haven’t gone the direction he wishes them to go, and he is willing to make adjustments in his attitude and behaviour. He sees it will require practice, patience and time, and he is willing to do so. He is not stuck in regret nor he is running away from the consequences of his actions. I think that what often happens in our relationships is that when we realise where we have been acting unskilfully, we struggle to see that it is just a matter of accepting and adapting. Which leads to point number 4:
  4. I should do my best to live in clarity and with pure intentions, the rest is out of my hands. If I notice I can make a change to improve a situation, I should, but I can’t expect anything in return. We all live inside our heads, and I cannot control how other people react to my actions.
  5. Finally, I should continue simplifying my communication with others. Keep it clear, keep it short and avoid getting tangled in explanations. Sometimes, the best I can do is not to say anything.

Following lesson nr5. I finish this blogpost here hoping you had an enriching week. ❤️

A fight with my husband and a burnt bread

Each Summer, I spend quite a lot of time reflecting about the school year. I reflect about my role as a teacher, but also about my general mental and emotional state because there is a connection. If I am mentally and emotionally in balance, I am able to make better decisions both at work and at home.

This summer, I decided I needed to create better routines for myself when it comes to work and home. I realised that since I became a contact teacher, I felt a big responsibility to deal with student related issues and spent often what I see as family time answering emails, writing reports, worrying about my students or catching up with lesson planning. It wasn’t until about a week after the summer break started that I noticed how stressed and tired I had been.

I want my students to thrive, and I would love to be able to help each and every one of them to develop to their own potential, but I need to remember that I am not a superhero, and that nobody is expecting me to be one. Being a good teacher is to act within the framework that I am given with clear intentions, and with support and in collaboration with parents, the school and support systems when necessary. Not all the responsibility lies on my shoulders.

With these reflections in mind, I decided I was going to find a better balance between work and home. I had made myself a mental schedule for school work.

Then, the school year started. I don’t know how I manage, but every year is the same. Every year, I seem to forget how crazy the first weeks of school are. No matter what I do when I finish the school year, I will always end up feeling that I am drowning in ‘to-do’ lists the first weeks of school.

This year was no exception, and you might have already guessed, as the tasks started to pile up and my days gathered momentum, I forgot my resolutions from the summer to balance work and family better, to avoid stressing, to prioritise better.

Half way through my first week at work, one day, I managed to squeeze too many things into my schedule. After a busy day at school, I came home to a busy evening at home. I had promised my youngest to take her somewhere, at the same time as I wanted to bake bread, wash clothes and tidy up the house. With the extra energy saved during the summer, I felt I could manage. And I did… partly. The problem is that the more I multitask, the more hyper I become, the less patient I am, the more things can go wrong. That day culminated with me losing my patience with my husband and (surprisingly) my husband losing patient with me and we had a huge fight. It was a big shock for me, our kids and for my husband as we almost never yell at each other.

Reflecting about it, I came to the conclusion that the reason why I lost my patience was that I had turned into a human tornado that day. I started the day doing one thing at a time, but as my day advanced, I kept seeing things that needed to be done ‘immediately’. So I kept doing, and doing, and doing, and at some point I was tired but I just couldn’t stop. When this happens, I start resenting my husband because he seems oblivious of what ‘needs to be done’, and I keep hoarding things to do until one little thing goes ‘wrong’ and the whole situation explodes in our faces.

The solution: do less. Leave some work for tomorrow. Sit down. Take a breath. Why do I keep forgetting this simple solutions?

I finished my week with these reflections. All good. Until yesterday.

New week, new pile of things to do. New possibilities for me to create chaos (he he). Yesterday, I forgot again my resolution to not work during ‘family hours’, lost track of time, and managed to forget a loaf of bread I had carefully prepared the day before for almost two hours in the oven. I was so disappointed and frustrated! Baking with sourdough is a long process, and I ruined it because I was multitasking again and even worse, I had not stick to my promise to take a break from work during the evening. But I had to laugh too. Such a good reminder.

My husband has forgiven me for yelling and thinks a bread with a ‘well done’ crust is delicious. I am lucky. I have gained some perspective. I know that stress is a choice. It seems like it’s not, but it really is. I will work on not choosing stress in the future.

We all do as good as we can

-and if not, can we understand and forgive each other?

Some days ago, my youngest daughter who is almost twelve was very upset. She felt she had messed up with some of her friends and wanted some advice. She is friends with especially two girls in our neighbourhood. One of them had just gotten a kitten, and the other one was still on vacation with her family. The latter had sent my daughter a message asking her how the new kitten was, and she replied by talking about the kitten but also added her opinion on how the youngest children in the family are behaving around the cat. It wasn’t a nasty message, but seen from the outside, it was an unnecessary comment.

What happened next was that the receiver of the message shared my daughter’s message with the kitten owner, and not surprisingly, she was upset. She then wrote an upset message to my daughter asking her why she was criticising her siblings.

My daughter understood what she had done, and didn’t know how to fix it, so she came to me. Beside repeating to her two golden rules I once read to keep away from drama: 1) Talk with people and not about people and 2) Avoid having a conflict by mail/messaging, I asked my daughter, what the intention of her message was. Was it to gossip? Was it to criticise her friend? She wasn’t sure about her intention, but she acknowledged that it wasn’t kind. So, I told her the easiest thing to do was to then go to our neighbour’s house and apologise directly. She was afraid of meeting her friend’s mum. I told her I understood her fear, and that all she could do was to say ‘I’m sorry’, to take responsibility of what she did and accept that the people involved might be annoyed.

It all turned out well. Her friend accepted her apology, and the next day they were out playing as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t a big ‘crime’ my daughter had committed. However, this episode kept me thinking about two things that I find very important in my interactions with other people:

  1. The importance of being clear about my intention behind my actions
  2. Having the courage to face the consequences of my actions.

The first one, is one of the main principles of Karma Yoga, and I find it so helpful. When I am clear about the intention behind my action, I can be at peace with myself even if the result of the action is unexpected or even unpleasant because ideally, the intention behind my action was thought through. When I however act from impulse, emotion or anger, I can also go back to my intention, acknowledge it and accept the consequences. This can be scary because I don’t like conflict, but if I show up with an attitude of humbleness, I feel I am doing what I can do to straighten things up. All I can do, is learn from the experience and move on.

I know it is not that simple because it requires that the other part has the ability and willingness to show understanding and sometimes even forgive. I know from own experience that it is not always that easy. I have been on the other side too. Feeling frustrated, confused, hurt or even insulted but it is easier if I manage to take a step back and tell to myself that we are all doing as good as we can.

They key is to be a good communicator. I think it is often important to let others know how their actions affect us so we give them the opportunity to reflect. After that, what they choose to do is out of our hands and ideally should be out of our head for our own peace of mind.

We planned to meet my husband’s parents this summer close to a national park called Rondane. We know they are fond of hiking and so are we. I checked possible places to stay, and I chose a place that had good reviews. The description of the cabin I booked seemed just quite right for seven people, and the place had a quality certificate given nationwide for good food. To our big surprise, the cabin was much shabbier than expected and since the place is run by one man alone, things are not always perfect. He does everything! No other staff whatsoever. From day one, we had the impression that something is not quite as it should be. He seems forgetful and a bit lost in space to be honest. In my opinion, something unforeseen must have happened this year or in the last couple of years. When I read his website, it seems like it was a pretty well run and successful place.

Even though the cabin did not meet my expectations, especially thinking about what I had thought would be comfortable for my in-laws, it was still possible to live there and have a good time together. Seeing that my in-laws didn’t really mind the place and seemed more or less comfortable, we decided not to spend time and energy complaining or even trying to find another place to stay in. Since we made that choice, I then decided to show some understanding towards the man. There is no point on staying and be irritated all the time. During our stay, we heard many people complain, a family even left the place before they had planed to and refused to pay for the time they spent there. I totally understand them too. Summer vacation is important for all of us. There is a lot of expectations connected to it. It is a time where we want to relax, have a good time with our family. We save for it, spend money on it, and time to travel where we want to be.

I decided that even if I think the man that runs the place is doing as good as he can, he needs to know how his actions affect others. I decided to not make our stay unpleasant by complaining, but I will write a letter to explain how the place wasn’t as it should be and suggesting he improves. I know that if we come back to this area, we won’t be staying here, and I unfortunately won’t recommend the place either. This is not good for him and the place he runs.

So what is my point here? My point is that it is important to constantly be aware of what the intentions behind our actions are, and to be willing to be held accountable for them. Constantly reflecting on what we do and how we do it gives us the opportunity to also acknowledge that we are all doing as good as we can. This allows us to be less judgemental towards others. But this does not mean that we don’t speak up when other people’s actions affect us in a negative way. To continue cultivating a peaceful state of mind, we can then find a way to express ourselves that invite to reflection and dialogue instead of conflict which brings us back to the principle of intention. When we speak up, what is the intention behind it?

The value of contributing

This week, my youngest daughter and I decided to finally renovate her bedroom. She had inherited furniture leftovers from the house throughout the years, and her room wasn’t very functional nor adapted to her taste and needs.

It has been a relatively long and enriching process, I think. First, we had to think of what we had to sell and which pieces of furniture we could keep but use slightly differently. She had to sort all her stuff in three piles: what she wanted to keep, what could be given away/sold, and rubbish. Only this was a good exercise for her. Things that could be given away/sold had to be sorted properly and cleaned for the next owner. She had to reflect about what she has and what she needs as opposed to what she wants. She has a small room, and I think it is important that she keeps things that make her room feel pleasant to be in, not stuff that take space and gather dust. We didn’t always agree on this one so it was also a good exercise for me to let her make her own choices for some of the thing she wanted to keep.

I dismantled her bed, advertised what could be sold further, and followed up with people contacting me to come and pick up furniture and toys. This was good for my daughter to see that we don’t only throw away what we don’t want/need, it can be useful for someone else. It was also good for our project because we ‘earned’ some money to buy the furniture she needed for her room.

Next was to clean the room thoroughly, walls included. Over the years, she had chosen not to listen to our request not to tape things on the wall, and the walls were in quite a bad state. After cleaning them, we painted them. I was very impressed by her perseverance. It took us a couple of days to finish painting, and although I could see she was tired, she didn’t give up. She experienced how, we needed to do the job with care and patience. Mask off the areas we weren’t painting, cover the floors, not spill painting around. Once we were done, she acknowledge the hard work it required and decided that it is a good idea to take care of the new painted walls and hang up things properly.

We looked at furniture online, and she was surprised by how fast we reached a significant amount of money if we bought everything new. So we started looking at second hand furniture ads, and we ended up buying some new and some second hand. When we were at the shop, she chose away some objects because she was concerned about the final amount. This made me feel very proud of our little project as I feel it also taught her that things cost money and therefore we need to take good care of them. It also made her reflect on what we can refrain from buying as it is not really necessary.

After a whole week of hard work from morning to evening, the room is ready. All she needs to do now is to empty the boxes we filled with the things she wanted to keep. She is dreading this task, and I will help her a bit, but I think it is good to for her to reevaluate if she really needs everything she put in those boxes.

This whole experience made me think how important it is that we include our children in everyday chores. Small chores and bigger chores. This not only teaches them the value of work, material objects and time, but also gives them the opportunity to feel useful, the pleasure to start and complete a project.

While we were working on my daughter’s room, a good friend of mine came to visit, and were discussing how, we often chose not to ask our children to help because 1) It takes more time and effort to teach them to do things 2) We feel ‘sorry’ for them because they should be allowed to enjoy their spare time. I think maybe we need to rethink this and find a good balance. I have observed some of my students struggling with motivation and self-esteem because they don’t find school interesting, they don’t have any particular hobbies, and at home they don’t do much other than stay on their electric devices. I believe that even if kids and teenagers find helping at home annoying to begin with, they end up with a good feeling about themselves knowing that they are useful and capable of contributing to their family environment. My kids have had the task to clean their bedrooms for some years now, but I think it is about time that they do a bit more on a daily/weekly basis and contribute to bigger projects.

We have of course, tried to get them to do the minimum like tidying up their things, clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But I must confess that I often also do these small things because I don’t feel like nagging. I can find ways to reinforce without getting angry, but I will definitely reinforce.

I think this is good for society too. I am not sure if there is a connection here, but lately, wherever I see young people enjoying some free time, I see a mess left behind. Yesterday, I was very surprised to go into our local shop where there is a small area to sit down, to find empty soda boxes, chocolate wraps and pizza boxes spread all over the floor. This shop is close to a park that is quite popular on sunny summer days for young people to hang out. I see this more and more often. Rubbish left behind after a fun day outdoors. My theory is that youth are not used anymore to help around, to experience the consequences of what they do. We parents tidy up after them both material rubbish and challenges they might face. All this with good intentions. We want to protect them, we want them to enjoy life, we want them to be happy. But I think, we might have misunderstood a bit. I believe we feel happier when we feel we contribute in some way to our surroundings. When we know how to do things, when we feel useful.

I have decided I will give more responsibilities to our kids from now on. Especially the oldest one. He spends way too much time on the computer and his phone, and his explanation is that he has nothing else to do. I have lots of things he can do… 😀