Mindful movement is very healing for the body, mind, and soul.
Yoga has been in my life for about 2 decades. Although truth be told, for a large part of this time I wasn’t actively practicing it because I just didn’t ‘feel it’. In my more than two-year recovery process after my rock-climbing accident, I was doing quite a lot of ‘hot yoga’ and it was really helpful (besides all the other ankle exercises that I was doing) in getting back the flexibility and mobility of my ankle. Then we lost touch again.
But in the last 2 years, I found my way back to the mat and started connecting with my body differently. It gently guides me to be more mindful and more present, which is so important for any kind of healing.
Yoga is very often advised as a gentle form of exercise post-injury. But with all the different forms of yoga available to choose from, how do you know what will work best for your situation?
In this episode, I sit down with Carina Raisman, yoga therapist and the founder of Re:Source Yoga Therapy, who switched from health sciences to becoming a yoga teacher, and now approaches it in a therapeutic way.
We dove into this topic of healing with the help of yoga, using it for therapy based on each individual’s needs, but also so much more about our conditioned responses to stress, our ability to adapt, and how to support all the interconnected internal systems of the body with a holistic approach.
Tune in… ❤
Show notes & links
The show notes are written in chronological order.
- Carina Raisman’s website: http://resourceyoga.com
- Carina Raisman: Healing and the Mind – Powers Beyond the Placebo Effect [read it here]
- Candace Pert, PhD – Dr. Candace Pert (1946-2013) was an internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist who published over 250 research articles and was a significant contributor to the emergence of “mind-body” medicine as an area of legitimate scientific research in the 1980’s [discover more here]
- Blue Zones – “Blue Zone” is a non-scientific term given to geographic regions that are home to some of the world’s oldest people. It was first used by the author Dan Buettner [discover more here]
- Broadbent, Elizabeth; Koschwanez, Heidi E.. The psychology of wound healing. Current Opinion in Psychiatry 25(2):p 135-140, March 2012. [read it here]
- Zhou X, Zhou X, Zhang C. Long-term social isolation increases visceral pain in rats. Heliyon. 2022;8(11):e11663. Published 2022 Nov 18. [read it here]
0:00 – excerpt from the episode
1:44 – intro (listen to discover a little more about your host. Martin will tell you a new lesser-known fact about Dr. Maya)
Dr. Maya Novak:
I’ve been connected to yoga for about 2 decades now and there’s one thing that my first yoga teacher taught me that connects to yoga itself, as well as life in general. And that is: “Whenever you lose balance, this very next moment you got another opportunity to try again.” That’s yoga and that’s life. And this interview will be dedicated to all of this and way much more. Today I’m joined by Carina Raisman. She is the founder of Re:Source Yoga Therapy, where she combines her background in the health sciences with yoga philosophy. She helps people regain their health and balance using yoga as a therapeutic tool, and as a complementary technique in healing. With over 20 years of experience, passion, and curiosity she’s sharing the essentials of health and how to make it accessible, efficient, and sustainable. Carina, thank you for being here…
Thank you. It's an honor to be on your podcast and to share tips on health and healing.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Oh, the honor is all mine. I love starting these conversations, these talks with a bit of curiosity on my end because I know that so many listeners are curious as well. So can you share a bit about your story, your background. How did you get into your expertise and how did you get into yoga therapy?
I think since I've been a little girl and they asked me what I want to be when I grow up, I was always saying a doctor. So I studied and my academics was all related to the health sciences. And essentially my main intention was to go to med school for which I started the procedure when I went to university. My bachelor's was in microbiology and immunology and that's the prerequisite for the med school program. Yeah, you have to do a bachelor to get a master's here in Montreal. And so I did my entire studies in that and was fascinated about the human body and its potential, and partway through med school or pre-med school, I remember wondering where are these answers to the questions I went in with. The questions essentially being, what are the optimal conditions to establish and to maintain health. And I was thinking med school would give me some of those answers, and very interestingly we learn a lot, of course, about human physiology and science. One of the approaches of science is to separate, divide and measure - that's a scientific approach which has a lot of benefit. It just sad it forgets to bring it back together.
And so at the same time I was doing a lot of yoga, which is all about bringing things together - the union or the communion of things. And I realized a lot of the answers I was looking for at med school I was finding on the mat and in the yoga philosophy. And so bit by bit - I can give the whole story - essentially I remember at one moment I realized that med school maybe wasn't the right path for me. And so I went home and I said, "Mom, dad, I'm not going to be a doctor, I'm going to be a yoga teacher." [laughs] It took a while for them to, ah, swallow that one, I think. But they just saw how enriching it is, not only for me, and then how I started to teach it and guide it for other people. I'm really happy that I have the scientific background to understand the physiologic, anatomic and even the energetic effects, because we can understand energy through the mechanical physics also. And so to understand it through that lens as well, and to bring the practices together - this is what is my approach now. To understand what is happening inside of us while we're doing these practices and how to practice them in function to extract the most benefit from them.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes. Well, you know, the foundation - having a foundation is really important right? So it has to be what you said - that we understand how the body works, what is the anatomy, physiology and so on. But as we spoke last week when we chatted, you know, we both align and agree that it's way more than just physical and zooming in. There are so many things that we need to cover even when we are healing the physical body because we are way more. And I am not surprised about what you said, that you found a lot of answers on the mat through your own practice as well, and the experience of discovering who you were, but also some more. I mean, I don't want to put any words into your mouth, so please correct me if I'm wrong.
Yes I think to pick up right where you started the conversation, the comment is that health is multifactorial, so going beyond the physical is essential and moving from the physical to beyond the physical is a really good approach, because everything that we experience is from within our body. Regardless if we've experienced pain or not. Right now I'm sitting here talking to you because I have a physical body and my mouth is operating, right? So any action that I do whether, it's in a daily activity, or an emotion that I feel as it moves through the body now is it limited to the body. That's where we can open up and see. I think where our approaches are very complementary is understanding, like I said earlier, the multifactorial. One way that I like to explain it when I'm doing the trainings is there's a body, there's a person living within that body, and there's a person living in their day to-day. And so if we just look right now, you and I have very similar biological structures. We can open an anatomy book and say, oh yes, I have a rotator cuff too. Oh yes, I have 2 kidneys underneath the diaphragm. And we can look at a lot of the similarities in the physical structure and in that way I kind of call it the hardware. And then there's the software. There's the person living inside that body that navigates what the body does, and then creates a relationship with the body, what the body does, and what the person does in that body, and how they affect each other. And then what happens in the day-to-day will have the cumulative effect - habits are from frequency and duration. And when we go into the pain conversation, we can see that pain can be classified as a conditioned response. So a conditioned response is analogous to a habit - things that we do the most often and for the longest period of time. Our day to day has a huge influence on the evolution of any sensation or any experience whether it's pain or a simple emotional response or mechanical habits of how I walk and how I sit and how I breathe, for example.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, absolutely. The day to day and also where you started this software, right? For hardware we have 2 legs, 2 arms… I mean okay, we are talking here about injury recovery. So perhaps someone lost their leg or their arm. But you know, in general we have that hardware and the software - the day to day but also the experiences that we had in our lives. So that's why it's so fascinating, in a way, to see that we can have two different people with the same injury and one is going to be healing very well and the other one is going to be struggling, and I think that's connected to that software and those experiences. So it's impossible. In theory, or on a piece of paper, or in a study or medical journal it's so easy to see just number 1 and number 2 and number 3, and everybody should be healing the same, but it doesn't work that way.
Yeah, I did my final research paper pre-thesis on the placebo effect and the power of belief, of course, and why I just thought of that now is because one of the main figures in immunology is Candace Pert. And she talks about the biology of disease versus the experience of the illness, and that I think is exactly what you're saying - that in the medical approach it'll often be, "Oh, if you have anxiety we'll just give you this prescription." Anxiety equals this prescription. Whereas in a lot of the other approaches, the more holistic and complementary approaches, it is to see how is this person experiencing the diagnosis. How is this person experiencing this emotion or sensation and how can we allow this person as a whole to move through it and evolve in a way that feels in line with how they want involved with it sustainably.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Oh, absolutely! It's one thing that we briefly chatted about before as well. For example, since you mentioned this anxiety and you know how the person responds to everything. Because when we are talking about injury recovery or any physical trauma, I'm sure that you have clients and people who reach out who are scared of either losing a job or they lost a job because of this injury or this pain. So it's not just the physical aspect of “Oh, I have pain in my leg or in my back or something else”, but this affects the whole life of that person.
Exactly. It goes back to what we were saying about. There's the, body the person living in that body, and the person living in that day-to-day. So for example, say there's pain in the lower back. We can call that the body. And then there's a person experiencing that pain. And how do they experience that pain? Do they welcome it? Do they fear it? Do they repress it? How do they welcome it? How do they address the pain? And then there's often, very often the fear of what happens if this pain doesn't go away. How will this pain affect my life? And often that fear has a huge influence on the healing effect and we can extrapolate on that a lot, you know.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, absolutely. Please, can we go a bit deeper into this, because I am sure that this insight is so important to so many listeners.
Of course. I think the simplest way to address it is kind of like with an umbrella statement. We often stress about the stress, and so we just add more stress to an already stressful situation. Or when I teach it sometimes is like if the soup is too salty and we add more salt. It's a very similar phenomenon just to keep it easy to understand. And so what we do know is that the body's collective response, its main function, is survival through adaptation. This is the main function of the nervous system - survival through adaptation. And so when there's a stressor or a stimulus that will affect the body's balance, there is a response to adapt to this new stressor. So if we keep the lower back example. One of the main functions of the lower back is to transfer the weight to the center gravity, and so while the body is trying to figure out now how to adapt to the fact that the center of gravity can do its function, the stress response is being activated. And the stress response, as we understand, affects the muscular and the mental and all the physiological functions because it's a collective response. Everyone has to figure out a new way to do it. A side note which will feed into this question is that I often teach the relationship between anatomy, physiology or the person living in the body as container and contents. So if I can imagine a bag of water or a balloon full of water. If I affect the shape of the balloon, the water inside will move along with it, and same thing if I add more water, the shape of the balloon will change, right? So if I add more water that's something like inflammation. It affects the shape of the physical container. And vice versa. So without going into too much detail, just to keep it kind of common knowledge, the lower back region, if you keep this example, it's a crossroads or an intersection of a lot of different systems communicating through there. You have not only the digestive, you have the reproductive, you have the urinary, you have all these different kind of cross-firing of neurons in between the two main diaphragms. And that's if we understand that the diaphragms are meant for breathing, that's the number one response for survival. So now all these different systems are trying to figure out “How do I respond to this change or to this stimulus?” While that's happening, the person living inside the body is undergoing the stress response, which of course has different hormone levels or balance than the relaxation response. So the way that is being lived is going to have an influence on the outcome, or the unfolding. To keep it concise, there's the body, the person living in the body. The body's undergoing the stress response and because of this container-content relationship, so is the person undergoing the stress response. Now if the person is stressing out, "How will this affect my life? How is this gonna unfold? Will I lose my job? Will I be able to do my favorite activities?" And so on - that in itself is gonna affect the hormonal balance, or what we call in French ‘la soupe aux hormones’ – the hormonal soup [laughs] - what's floating in that soup of hormones. And that itself is going to again influence the stress response. So two different examples - if I feel stressed about it, then it's going to have more stimulus in the stress response. If understand how to welcome it and adapt and evolve along with it, then it's going to have a different response, a different outcome in the stress response. Does that make sense?
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, absolutely. So I am not surprised that potentially a lot of your work focuses on stress management. Am I correct?
Indeed. Yes, That's one of my specialties. Especially because regardless of the nature of the visit - someone's going to come to see me for a specific reason, and we can keep pain as our central example it - there's a change happening in their life. And even as healing starts to establish that is an ongoing and continuous change and adaptation. And in physiology, by the way, stress is defined as the failure to adapt. So the more that we can allow the person to adapt and evolve continuously, the less it's a stress on the system. Now what happens is the person living in the body is thinking, "Oh well, what if this and what if that?" and stays more focused on the known or the familiar for obvious reasons. And then because they can't imagine or doesn't want to imagine a different version of a reality, that will influence the rhythm and the rate of adaptation, which in turn will be a stress and then it will cause a vicious cycle.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So the more we can accompany the changes along the way, the more sustainable the healing process is. It’s not to say that we can't return to our favorite life and lifestyle, it's just that we might have to take a little detour and a little a little of a learning process along the way which might make the familiar just new and improved when we go back to it.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Oh yes, you know this really resonates with me because we've heard so many times the only constant in life is change, and we kind of understand it. But from my own personal experience, sometimes I just don't want to have that change, because it's like, why? Why again? It's almost like we constantly have to adapt, evolve and change, and sometimes you just want to be like, "Oh please, just give me some rest, I don't want to. I don't want to change today. I don't want to change this week." But what you just said, it's about adapting to that change that actually affects the stress levels, and this in a positive return really helps the physical body, right?
Well, essentially we're always evolving, whether we know it or not. Whether we like it or not, everything in nature is evolving. Every human organism, every living organism is always evolving. Now, do we evolve for the better and better, or do we get worse and worse so to speak. We get better with age, or not. And so we can think of each new cycle of change like jt could be a limiting cycle or a liberating cycle, and that in itself is within a certain sense of our own power. We have choices we can make, and actions we can do that can influence that we get more and more free within our body, within ourselves as time evolves. Mhm.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Maybe even just to make it less daunting for any of our listeners, it's not all or nothing. It doesn't mean that from one day to the next I have to remake my whole life. It's very gradual, the change. That's why most of us don't notice it and we think it's the same thing day to day. And as we say, time changes everything, unless we inhibit it, and so if we get stuck in our own patterns then it'll make the change less of a fluid transition and more of a jump from one state to the other.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you for saying that, because sometimes we really think in black and white, either 100% or zero, and we forget that this is a spectrum of everything. One thing that resonates with me is that change and life and growth in general is like breathing, you know, sometimes when you breathe in you expand, you go more outside, and then there are times when you need to exhale as well and you go more inside. So it's like going in and out, and in and out, and for me it really takes away that pressure. That I have to be inhaling all the time. I mean, life doesn't work that way, right?
Well, if you were to inhale all the time you probably wouldn't last as long. [laughs]
Dr. Maya Novak:
And just on that point, going back to the stress response… The stress response is activated by the inhale and the relaxation response. It is activated by the exhale, and you can't have one without the other. We can't have the inhale without the exhale, and if you go back to what you just finished saying, inhaling is like taking in and taking in, and we have continuous stimulus without the time to process it and digest it. And so if you think of the analogy of an all- you-can-eat salad bar or all-you-can-eat food bar. It could be the best food, all local organic and made with love, and if I just eat, eat, eat, eat, nonstop, then even the best food will get processed, digested and assimilated, and it might cause more indigestion than the energy I need. Which reminds me, because at the beginning of the talk you said “your first yoga teacher” and right away I thought of one of my first yoga teachers Dr. Bali, who said it's not what the food does to your body, it's what your body does to the food. And the more I contemplate that and the more I teach it, the more I realize it applies to everything. So it's not what the experience does to the body. It's what the body does to the experience, and then that goes back into the subjective experience of pain, for example, of any motion, any event that might have an impact on us. It's partly the multifactorial impact, and it's partly my choice of what I do with it. And in that way, it's very empowering.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Absolutely, absolutely. Now I mentioned that, and you talked about how you got into yoga therapy. Is there a difference - if we go a bit into this aspect - is there a difference between, let's call it regular yoga and then therapy yoga, or is it just a fancy name for yoga? You know, I don't want to be disrespectful. Please don't get me wrong, but in the last couple of decades so many different yogas popped up, so I think it's a good question, to know what is really the difference between regular yoga and therapy yoga.
I'm very happy that you asked this question, actually. So yoga in and of itself is therapeutic, regardless of the type of yoga that we do. What we want to consider then is not what we do, it's how we do it and what's happening inside while we're doing it. So I'll give an example outside of the yoga practice. Some people have sciatica and when they walk it aggravates it, and other people when they walk it relieves it. It's not walking that's good or bad for sciatica. It's what's happening inside the body when they're walking. Same thing with bursitis in the shoulder. Some people swim. It's the best cure forever, and some people can't swim anymore because of their bursitis. So I can apply that to yoga. It's not so much is downward dog therapeutic? It's how are we doing it, and what's happening inside while we're doing it. So again, container-contents, and a whole list of factors that we can list. So I started off teaching group classes, and as I was teaching I realized that there's 20 people in front of me, and a lot of people aren't practicing in a way that feels aligned and safe. It feels like the postures are too advanced for them. And so they're not extracting the benefits inherent and potential in the practice that they're doing. So I was wondering - are they walking out with more tension than they arrived, and are they walking out with more compensation or just more habit? The way you do everything is the way you do anything - and so did they walk out with just as much tension as they walked in. Some people say, "Oh, I started yoga goal oriented and wanting to perform, and I was doing my yoga that way until I realized I was just bringing the office onto the mat." And so these realizations make the big difference. I think the intention, the attitude, the presence, the breathing - all these factors are going to affect it. You know, we can look at the same sequence, and some people are going to get more stress response, and some people are going to get more relaxation response. So that being said, I realize that each person is unique, the hardware and the software, and I don't feel that I can serve my best by teaching a group class not only the same actions, but just the same rhythm, the same instructions. What are they living in this moment? So now when I do the yoga therapeutics I extract from the yoga philosophy a lot more than the actual asana practice, because most of the people who come to see me aren't ready to the asana. So I break them down for a somatic awareness, to have a better understanding of their body and health education. I teach a lot of the people who come to see me to understand what's going on, so that again they feel educated and hence empowered, and can be more proactive in their own healing process. So to practice yoga is therapeutic. It's how we can practice it in a way that extracts the potential benefit for the need of this moment and this person.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, so it's really about mindfulness, right? It's about being mindful of what you're doing in that moment because, what I can see, is that I've had experiences with many different yoga teachers; some resonate with me, and some don't. I mean, thank goodness I don't resonate with everybody either, and I don't want to, and the same goes for you, right? However, what I'm seeing is that sometimes, especially in Western culture, we are treating yoga as training or acrobatics or something to make kids look good. But at the same time we are not actually aware what is happening within ourselves. So I think that it's a lot about this mindfulness, and mindfulness then brings the stress response down. Am I understanding this correctly, or am I seeing this wrong?
That's essentially yes, mindfulness and then knowing what to do with what you find, and this is why I really like to provide the education portion. So, if I find that my breath is shallow or my knee has tension or something like this, then how do I address it accordingly? Knowing is half the battle, and the other half is all the mindfulness and all the meditative qualities that we can cultivate from really listening in, fine-tuning, feeling the breath, and observing what is, being with what is, and so on.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So since you mentioned this tension in the knee. As an example, is this addressing it only in regards to what are you doing in that pulse, and how to help the body not to feel the tension or is it actually going beyond that? And it's also what the need might be saying, that it's not potentially just physical but it might be something else.
Um, yeah, it's a big question.
Dr. Maya Novak:
And the most sincere answer I think is that it's case by case.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Again, what we were saying earlier. It's not you know, copy paste from one person to the next. What we do want to understand is the body's collective response on all levels. And so in in the physical body there's a principle called tensegrity. Which is essentially that if you change anything you, change everything. So if I pull on my t-shirt and you can do this with me now, if I pull on my sweater right now, anywhere I pull the whole sweater knows about it. And so if this was one big body suit, then I pull anywhere and the whole body responds. So sometimes when we feel the effect in the knee, the knee is the result of another area. And it's often either the neighboring joint, or the other opposite end of the body. So the idea is to realign the whole body on a physical level. And then understanding this container-contents that inside my body… Before I talked about this bag of water. We are you know, mainly mostly water, and that water travels through the different systems of the body, whether it's circulatory or lymphatic, and so on. And so I'm moving all these circuits in my body when I'm changing the physical structure. I'm changing how the systems communicate and connect, which then changes their signals and what's happening. And the person living in there is also experiencing all these changes at any time. So we can go in many directions to answer this question, is the pain only in this pose and is the pain only in the knee. So we look at the ensemble, the collective response, and evolve accordingly, address it accordingly. And that being said, it could simply be that the knee is not aligned over the ankle and that's simple, and at the same time, it could be a phenomenon related to what I just mentioned.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Absolutely, I completely agree that it's case by case. And sometimes it really is as simple as, "You know what? Maybe you have to move that knee for one centimeter in the other direction and then the knee is going to be happy." So if in that moment we start thinking and really going to philosophy and thinking what is it saying - what kind of emotional stuff I have to resolve - it might not be very beneficial.
There's the two extremes. One we'd be repressing it, and the other one is overthinking it.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, absolutely. The only problem that I'm seeing in general with our culture is because of the way we were raised. When something happens physically with us, we have to go to the doctor. Sometimes, absolutely, it is necessary. Absolutely, but all the time, we first think about, you know, "Yes, it must be something physical," and then we are so focused on the physical that it's so easy to forget about other aspects as well. I don't know if you are finding this in your practice as well or not.
Indeed, yes. I think it's just the way that we've understood how to address health and problems related to health or scenarios related to health. It's again neither good nor bad. It's one approach, and my personal favorite is something called integrative medicine or functional medicine where we understand that yoga is so amazing for healing and it has its limitations. Acupuncture is amazing for healing and it has its limitations, and naturopathy and conventional medicine and the long list of therapeutic approaches. They're all so rich, and they're all limited. So, how can we complement each other, and how can I say, "Well, if I have a team of therapists that all have their specialty and I'll understand one of the slices of the pie, for example, of all these aspects or all these factors of the person, then in that way, we can address the multifactorial collective response to health?" So, good or bad to go see this person. That's not the way to approach the question. It's more understanding, of course, go and, at the same time, look beyond. And I would say that even for someone who comes to see me, there's always beyond because the human mind is limited in knowledge. So there's always beyond what we know, and I think even as we evolve with scientific research, we're finding things that we didn't know just five ten years ago, or when I was at McGill. You know we had little microscopes that were laser at the time, and so we didn't know the things that were out there even though they were out there. We just couldn't measure them. So keeping that in mind always is staying open to possibilities, which is wonderful for the adaptive response. It's the opposite of, "I've tried everything, and nothing works," so just staying open to the possibilities, and also seeing different points of view and getting the benefits of different approaches in my opinion is so enriching and so in line with the support that we want to have during healing.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, well, I love that you mentioned a team because it really is, you know, a team effort to heal someone's body. It's not just about having that one "Oh, now I have one person, either that is my surgeon or physiotherapist, and they have to have all the answers for me." So it's really about having different, different people on your team that can help you heal on different levels. Because during this whole conversation, we are covering that it's not just the physical. And what you said, you know, "yes," and be curious beyond "yes," and go beyond "yes," and explore more. So it's really about expanding and giving sort of how I feel when you were explaining that was, in a way, "Oh, I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm deciding for this and then I'm curious about something else."
Exactly, exactly. I like that you used "yes and" because yoga is about Union. So, we often replace "or" with "and." It's not this or this, it's this and this. It's about seeing how things interrelate. I was looking through the placebo research, and they did a lot of studies on animals in isolation versus animals in groups. They found that animals in isolation don't heal from pain and overcome anxiety as much as those who are in a group. Therefore, understanding the importance of community and having a support team is crucial. Feeling that is something that happens with the vagus nerve and the healing, and all the endorphins or opioids that are signaled from it are a definite ingredient in this overall recipe for healing.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you for saying that because I think that we are in times where we realize that individuality is a thing of the past. It's not just about one person, but how can I be surrounded by the best people that can lift me up and help me? And how can I help them as well? I have to share one thing quickly. This morning, I read a message from one of the people in my community. They reached out as a response to one of my podcast episodes. She shared things about her and her healing journey, and she asked me some questions. What helped me in that way is that, in that moment when I was reading her message, it gave something to me. I realized some of the things in regards to me. So it was such a beautiful, I don't know, dance. She was asking for help, but I was receiving help from her as well. It's beautiful how community and support can heal us. We can heal each other.
Indeed, one of my favorite words is symbiosis. What helps me grow, helps you grow. I often make this analogy between community and an ecosystem. If we're in the right ecosystem, then it's fertile for our growth, for our nourishment, and we can have our own fruits and flowers. Sometimes it'll be the same person or the same idea or project that's just not in its right ecosystem. So it could be the same seed just in a different ecosystem, and it won't flourish. It's not because the seed is bad or imbalanced; it's just because it's not well surrounded by what it needs to grow. I think that is fundamental, even if we look at the World Health Organization. Our definition is mental, physical, and social as the three pillars of health. We often overlook the social aspect.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Social doesn't mean I have to go out and be on my phone in front of other people. Social means how do I interrelate with people.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Absolutely. It's not about social media and let me do one more selfie for Instagram or Facebook or wherever people spend time. It's really about that connection and community. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Blue Zones and how they affect different things like longevity. Yes, there are seven Blue Zones, and it's a book. But one of the things that they also look into is community and how important it is. In Japan, people are connected, and young people take care of the older ones. Older people are surrounded by like-minded people. It's about health, but so much more because it's also about longevity. When we are healing the physical body, we need that. It's not just that we can do things in isolation and thank you for sharing that example of animals in isolation and in community.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So, can we do a bit of hands-on work? Let's take this theory that we talked about and put it into practice. We discussed what we could do and you offered a meditation, but before we do that, can we talk a bit more? Last time we spoke, you were talking about different kinds of glasses that we put on and off. Can you explain a bit more about this?
Yes, so a bit of background is needed. One thing that really helps to know is that the experience of pain is independent of tissue damage. So the amount of pain we feel is not necessarily correlated to the damage of the tissue. Some examples are a paper cut sometimes hurting more than dropping a can onto your foot. The reason I bring this up is because our perspective or state of mind at the time of the stimulus is key. If I'm having a bad day and I'm frustrated, annoyed, and I just bash my elbow on the wall, then I'm going to have a different reaction than if I'm having a great conversation and suddenly bash my elbow on the wall. It could be the same impact, location, and force, but it will not only be perceived differently, it will be processed through the body differently. These are the pain hormones that we mentioned last time we talked. Sometimes they are oversimplified and called the pain hormones and the happy hormones, but there is a lot of overlap between them because the pain and pleasure centers are in the same part of the brain, and similar hormones are released for different reasons.
This applies to anyone, including myself, regardless of the subject of pain. I like to teach it this way in my training. Let's say I suddenly decide to put on blue glasses, and then I look around the room. Things that aren't usually blue start to appear blue, and things that were already blue become more pronounced. I can do this with a different color, and every time I will see things that aren't necessarily that color. If we understand this concept, I can put on impatient or irritable glasses, and things that aren't usually irritable start to feel irritable. Things that are already irritating then become more irritating, and all the things that I'm experiencing in this moment become the lens through which I perceive this experience. This is true for all of us, regardless of the subject of pain. In yoga, it's called samsara, the lens or filter through which we perceive, and they talk a lot about perspective, as I mentioned earlier.
The perspective we have has a huge impact on how we receive the impulse of the stimulus and how it's going to be processed. Earlier in our conversation today, we talked about someone who fears the impact pain will have on their job or day-to-day life, and the stress about something will only create more stress in the system. The lens through which we perceive will affect everything. What tends to happen with people with pain is that it tends to take their attention fully, and people who have chronic pain focus only on the pain. The result is that they're seeing everything through painful glasses, and what tends to happen is that they overlook or don't consider all the other things in their life or body that aren't in pain and are actually going well. There is a recent study about elderly people who have one bad knee, and those who believed that the one bad knee would then create two bad knees. The other group thought, "Well, I have one bad knee and one good knee. Maybe the good knee can enhance the bad knee." Lo and behold, the bad knee repaired and healed itself. Understanding that the fit players of the team can help the tired players of the team, and just because one player on the team is taking a break doesn't mean the whole team is out of commission. I often talk about our systems as different team members, so understanding that has a huge effect on how it's going to unfold.
Which glasses are we wearing today as we're having this conversation is one way to apply it. The other way I want to apply this is just to start noticing different sensations in the body. Generally, we tend to notice everything that's uncomfortable or disagreeable. So, often I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but most people, when I ask them how they're feeling, they immediately say, "Oh, this one hurts," and when I ask where else they feel something, they may say, "Nothing." "Nothing" as in, "Does it feel comfortable?" "Yeah." "Does it feel at ease?" "Yeah." We tend to associate enjoyable sensations with nothingness, right? Then, on the bigger picture, we believe that sitting by the lake is doing nothing because we're not working. And this would be another conversation for another time. So again, we tend to associate the enjoyable adjectives as nothing, and so what happens is that the only relationship we have with our body is negative. And so we're wearing negative glasses throughout our body, and can we start to develop a spectrum of sensations and adjectives to describe, like you said before, the whole spectrum of sensations between black and white? Can we actually start to refine a vocabulary between tension and pain, two different things, between acute, and I won't go into the whole list, but how can we refine not only our perception but our way to connect and define it with ourselves? So then it's in our personal dictionary. That's the meditation I want to guide us through.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, absolutely. It makes so much sense, and you know, these glasses and what you were saying regarding whenever you are irritated and you put those glasses on, everything around you is even more irritable. I so agree with that because sometimes it happens to me as well, and probably it happens to you as well. If you're having a bad day, then everything around you is bad, and when you're having a good day, everything is perfect. So it's really the perception of what is happening internally with us, how we perceive what's around us. One thing that you also said is how we perceive pain and that we then look only through pain. I had chronic pain, and it's horrible because sometimes you suffer so much that it's impossible to see anything else than just suffering and that pain in your body. Especially if you have pain on a scale from 1 to 10, and 10 being the worst, if it's like 9 and 10, it's really hard to be like, "Oh, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and life is good." So it is challenging, but I love that you're going to guide us through this meditation and help us really dissolve this or see the whole spectrum and where we can find ourselves there. So before you do the meditation, I think it would be best if we do the meditation at the end, and I ask you just a couple more questions, and then you guide us through. Would that be okay?
Of course, yes.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So I have two questions that I ask every single guest. It's so interesting because every time, I get so many different answers. So, let me ask you this, from everything that we spoke about right now, it might be something completely different. What would be your number one advice for someone who is healing from any kind of physical trauma? What would you say is one thing that would be really good for them to do, to think about, to explore, or to go beyond?
The first thing that comes to mind and hopefully is logical enough to apply is to listen to that body part and let it guide you in what it needs and how to be a team member in the healing process. So we can be an ally in the healing process versus it being an antagonist or an enemy. It's actually there to protect us and it's performing a function for a reason. How can we assist the healing process versus antagonize it?
Dr. Maya Novak:
That's beautiful. It's really about communication. Our body is our friend, and that injured body part is being a friend and not an enemy that we have to fight because only if we fight we're going to win. It doesn't work that way, right?
Oh yeah, the fact that our body is our friend is a given. It's been with us through thick and thin, like any best friend. It takes care of us even when we don't take care of it, right? So the reason I hesitated is because, you know, I do a lot of yoga and meditation, and for me, it makes sense to listen to that body part. To someone who might not understand what that means on a very pragmatic level, is again, that the sensorial spectrum is one way to enter it. If it makes sense and if it's accessible, just close your eyes and bring your attention to that body part and literally ask a question, and see what answers come. It might feel like our imagination if we've never tried it before, and the more we trust that the body is communicating as our ally, and the more that we can respond accordingly, the more then we're in this together. And this feeling of, you know, we're not in this alone, we're in this together. And it goes back to the studies we spoke about earlier.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, thank you for explaining this in a really practical way. Also, for those listeners that perhaps, you know, just talking about, "Well, ask your body part, what's the answer?" It's like, "What do you mean?" So thank you for explaining this. Now the last question that I have is a really fun question, and that is, if you were stuck on a desert island with an injury, and you could bring only 1 thing with you that would help you heal extremely well from. whatever injury you have, what would that be and why?
My capacity to accept welcome and listen.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So something that you already have with you all the time.
Um, yeah, and just cultivate it despite the challenge.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, and why would that be? Why exactly that?
The listening, as I mentioned in the previous question, the acceptance and welcome is, for different reasons, one, when I accept, it inherently implies trust that I trust my body's defense mechanisms. It's built for that. It has different methods to do that, and I trust that it chose the best one for this reason. So if I accept it, then I'm not antagonizing it and I'm more learning from it than despising it, for example. And then the acceptance is this nuance of the same reason is that accepting is gratitude, which opens the heart and has a different biochemical response than lack of gratitude or lack of acceptance. One closes when one opens, and then again, the biochemical cascade from there, knowing that the biochemical cascade of gratitude is the hormonal soup we need to heal with the endorphins and the opioids and all those things. So, it makes the process, even if it's the same duration of time, a lot more expansive and enjoyable, versus adding more suffering to the pain.
Dr. Maya Novak:
That's beautiful. Thank you. Now, before we go into the meditation, can you please share for those people who would love to contact you or discover more about you and your work, where can people find that information?
Yeah, with pleasure. I live in Montreal and I often travel for different conferences, events, and retreats. I teach private classes and training. Private classes are by appointment only and are meant to cater to the needs of that person at that moment and explore whatever might be useful in their life at that moment. I can also teach on Zoom. I am fluent in English, French, and Spanish. It's my pleasure to adapt to that. The trainings I offer are in yoga therapeutics. They are meant for yoga teachers who want to better understand how to make their yoga classes as therapeutic as possible, as I mentioned earlier, and other therapists who want to include some of the yoga philosophy into their tool belt. It tends to happen in scientific modalities that the physiotherapist doesn't know the effect on the mind, and the psychotherapist doesn't know the effect on the body. So that's an example. In more holistic approaches, someone who does reiki or hypnotherapy intuitively understands but not embodied what happens inside the body while they're doing that. So it can help to cater to all those people who want to have a more global understanding of health as a whole.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Okay, and your website is Resource Yoga…
resourceyoga.com and if there's a way to include it in the chat or have the listeners find my Facebook page and the rest.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Absolutely, absolutely. So on my website mayanovak.com/podcast, under your episode, there will also be show links and the link to your website and everything. So yes, it's available and it's going to be very easy to find you. Now can you guide us through the meditation?
With pleasure. So I suggest maybe somewhere between five and ten minutes. Does that feel right?
Dr. Maya Novak:
Okay, so then I'm going to invite you to find a comfortable seat. You can also choose to lie down. So I'll invite the time it takes to settle into a comfortable position. And before starting officially just take a tour of the body from head to toe and do any minor adjustments that might make you feel that much more comfortable. And once we feel the body can settle in its place, then we allow the mind to settle into the body, and start to feel different sensations in the body. And at first, invite any sensation that comes to your awareness in any order, in any intensity. Whatever comes to your attention, whatever wants your attention just give it attention. And it's possible that one sensation is slowly evolving if you stay in one spot. It's also possible that the mind is hopping from one spot to another and noticing different sensations throughout the body. And either way start to notice the different sensations available whether it's 1 sensation slowly changing, the micromovements of sensation. Whether you're hopping from one sensation to another and you feel so many different possibilities coexisting at once. It's possible one part of the body feels comfortable, one part of the body feels tense. And it's possible that comfort and tension exist at the same time. Just really become aware that different sensations exist at the same time. It's also possible that the movement of the breath right now is creating sensations as well. With the breath moving in and the breath moving out the different body parts respond with different sensations. Become aware now of where the breath is moving naturally and notice if certain price of the body receive the breath very easily, and if other parts of the body resist to the breath. In other words does it move more easily in one region than another. And everything you find is perfect. We're just starting to get to know the body without having to change the body. Just know it's present right now. You're doing a little check-in.
Now for the entire time we're practicing together just double-check that the breath for you feels relatively comfortable even if some areas are resisting the breath or are there some tension around the breathing area that's okay. Just allow the natural rhythm of the breath, the depth of the breath, and the technique of the breath to be as comfortable as possible. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow, how deep or how shallow as long as for you it's comfortable.
That's the key as we continue to explore through the body now. And we'll find one area that we'll call either uncomfortable, tense, or painful. More constricted than open. So just travel through the body and if there is more than one area that feels that way just choose one. So I'll repeat something that's more constricted than open and that could be discomfort, tension, pain. And just hang out there for a bit as if you're watching it with a flashlight. An inner light and you're just curious about it. Openness and curiosity as you investigate this area and you want to get to know it “Hmmm what's there now?” And just notice how that might be different than reacting to it, tensing around it, fearing it, disliking it - just notice it as a fact. It is possible that by just your presence there you'll start to notice how the tension or the sensation is changing bit by bit. Possibly yes, possibly no - just notice.
Now leave that place for a moment and again scan through the body and find an area that now feels comfortable, at ease, relaxed, free - any of those adjectives that relate to comfort more than discomfort. And again if there's more than one area just choose one of them and do the same thing - you're curious about it. You want to get to know this region in the state as if you're walking around with an inner flashlight. And you could feel sense, see comfort in the body in this region right now. Again, maybe that sensation is moving slowly, maybe not. You're just really curious about it. You want to get to know it and you want to especially get to know what comfort feels like.
So now we have two areas. One we'll call ‘Comfortable’ and one ‘Uncomfortable’, for comfort and discomfort. So leave the comfort now, jump to discomfort that same area you were just in a few moments ago and watch it now. And just notice you're getting to know it better and better like visiting a friend more than once. The more you get to visit them the more you get to know them. It's possible that they change in character, you learn something more about them. The second time you meet them, just see what kind of information, awareness, and connection you can have from this second visit to the same zone. We're in the discomfort zone now. And you might notice a change in quantity and a changing quality. Quantity would mean it went from more tension to less tension or vice versa. And quality could just be a nuance in the way that you describe this tension. Find new adjectives and because it's only for you, you might even make up a word that only you understand. How would you describe that? Some people like to make onomatopoeia like a sound that describes this sensation and feel free to do that, if it feels right for you. And again, you're checking in with your breath regularly. You're double-checking the breath is comfortable and while you're aware of the breath you're also aware of this discomfort. Now leave the Discomfort, come to your breath again, and from your breath move to Comfort. So we make a transition through the breath. Come to Comfort that same place you were just in earlier and same idea - you're visiting this friend again and you get to know it a bit more. New descriptions, new sensations, changes in quantity and in quality.
And pass through the breath, move to Discomfort. Pass through the breath and move through Comfort. Good. One more time pass through the breath with your awareness land in that Discomfort zone. And again pass through the breath with your awareness and land in the Comfort zone. Now as we bring our awareness to the breath now, can we have a broader perspective as if we take a step back and we could feel the breath, and at the same time feel that Discomfort zone. So we feel the Discomfort and we feel the breath at the same time - they coexist. And while we feel that Discomfort area and we feel the breath, can we also include the Comfort area? It’s as we've taken a step back and we have a panoramic view with our flashlight. And our inner sense, our inner awareness helps us to feel and see Comfort and Discomfort simultaneously, with the breath of the intermediary. The breath is the light of consciousness, it helps us to see better of what's happening inside the body. Comfort and Discomfort coexist. Now use your imagination if you have to and create a passage between the zone of Comfort and the zone of Discomfort. Create an airway, a channel, hallway where the movement of energy in the movement of breath can travel easily between the area of Comfort and the area of Discomfort. And again, use your imagination if you need to. Sometimes I like to imagine osmosis or like when you put a tint of color in a glass of water and you just see it start to diffuse. And start to see now the discomfort diffuses into this space we've created. So it's not stuck in one spot, it's not stuck in one state. It's moving and breathing and evolving breath by breath. So the place of Comfort is moving, well-being, spaciousness, breath of life into the area of Discomfort. And it's starting to diffuse throughout this hallway, this canal, this pathway for energy, for life force, for fluids. And it's also starting to diffuse almost like rivers through Earth in any direction and in every direction. The sensation is starting to move easily. To diffuse and dilute itself so that the body can manage it, address it, and relieve it easily and continuously.
Now take another step back with your awareness have a bigger panorama to feel the rest of the body - feel both feet, both legs, both hips, the buttocks probably sitting on a chair if you're not lying down. Feel the back, the shoulders, both arms, both hands. Feel the neck, the face, the head, the contour of the head, the contents of the head. Feel the chest, the belly. And feel the whole body together. Feel the whole body together. Feel the whole body together breathing in this moment. The body as a spectrum of sensations, breathing and evolving breath by breath. Resolving, evolving towards more liberating expansive, balanced, and resilient states to respond, to welcome, and to move through life as a series of positive opportunity for change. To welcome the change as an opportunity for growth. To refine and to make a continuously better version of ourselves breath by breath.
Allow the next breath in to move in anywhere and everywhere through the body, with the whole body receive. And with the exhale the whole body releases. And if it feels right, whenever it feels right, you can gently open your eyes. Take some time to welcome these inner states even when the eyes are open.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you, Carina. That was so beautiful. And I really love this communication between Comfort and Discomfort and building the breach, and you know, how you describe it. It's a really interesting and nice practice to dissolve that discomfort and see that it's really a spectrum of everything, right?
Were you able to feel it in your body as well?
Dr. Maya Novak:
Great. I'm curious… from our listeners. So if any comments want to come my way I'm always curious to hear your experience too.
Dr. Maya Novak:
Beautiful. Carina, thank you so much for being here, for this incredible conversation, and for this amazing meditation that I know is going to help so many people. So thank you.
Thank you. Thank you for providing this to our listeners and may it contribute to their well-being.
Dr. Maya Novak:
So this was Carina Raisman on The Mindful Injury Recovery Talks. If you enjoyed this conversation, know that there are new episodes released every week, so make sure you hit that subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using to tune in. And I’m thanking you in advance – with a cherry on top - for leave a review. Your review will help us reach even more people who should be hearing these lessons.
To access show notes, links, transcript, and video of today’s conversation go to mayanovak.com/podcast and click on episode 14.
Until next time – keep evolving, blooming, and healing.