Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What have you been practicing for?

What have you been practicing for?

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

This is the question of the week, 

“If you wonder what you would have done to help the Underground Railroad, the tireless mission of the suffragettes, during the early years of the civil rights movement, or during the rise of the Nazi rĂ©gime— 

know this- 

you are doing it now."

Consider, that you have been practicing for today.

Consider, that yoga practice is not a practice of getting really good at being really good on your mat.  I guess it can be. Not for me. I am practicing to be the person I hope for myself. To be silent now is to condone what is happening. To be in inaction now, is to yield to those who are in action. 

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. As a military child, I lived all over this beautiful United States of America.

From coast-to-coast, I was raised to love and respect each of my neighbors as fellow Americans worthy of every human right.

The daughter of an English teacher, I was raised to admire scholars and poets for their ability to make art of their unmatchable paths in life- never wanting any one of us to be too like another as it would dull the magic, the beauty, the surprise inherent in our art and risk the vibrancy, the source-threads that make up the glorious tapestry that is the narrative of the United States of America.

I was raised to believe that the United States of America is the safe place for people who weren’t safe other places. That we are that great father and mother that hold out our arms for those who might be hurt or go hungry somewhere else.

I was raised to see the wonder that comes from this kind of open-hearted, open-armed love and acceptance that makes us all so much richer.

What I saw and heard yesterday was not the United States of America that I was raised to know and love. And I knew, in my heart, THIS is what I have been practicing for.

I am practicing to support my commitment to our work in Yogis in Service that connects all of us, from across this beautiful city of Buffalo and over oceans from the Middle East to Africa- in service of something bigger than anyone of us-- our love of and service in support of each other.  

I practice to be the change I want to see in this world and so that I will be strong enough to do it with grace.

I practice so that I don’t get tired, because I have a feeling this is going to take some time.

I practice because you can’t give what you don’t have. Only inner peace can support world peace.

I practice so that I am aware. So I can feel and see each and every thing that is happening.

I practice so that I have the courage to say, “No, this is not okay. This can’t happen. Not here. Not now.”

I practice because I believe in me and us.

Why do I practice?

So I can keep working on love no matter what. 

What are you practicing for? 

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tools for Preventing Vicarious Trauma

In the past few weeks of my travel, I have met some very wonderful people who are doing critical humanitarian work. Specifically, they work with refugees coming from the worst of conditions (i.e., war, terrorism, and more). They feel the pain of so many, everyday, all day.

We have been discussing the impact of vicarious trauma. This type of work exposes you to the trauma of others routinely. Often, you can only do your job, what your role entails-- when in truth so much more is needed. When you care, when you have a strong sense of mission- the gap between what you wish you could do to help and what is appropriate and required by your role is so big that you sometimes feel as if you might fall into it and not be able to come out. The feelings you take in everyday, you sometimes take them home, and sometimes- you feel as if they will live inside you forever. This experience can lead to burnout, yes; however it can also lead to vicarious trauma in which you begin to feel the same symptoms as those with whom you work (e.g., stress, overwhelm, hopelessness, and PTSD).

These amazing humanitarian workers (world changers by the way) often feel like there are few tools provided for, or taught to them to help them do two things:

·      Prevent the impact of vicarious trauma in the moment, and
·      Cope with vicarious trauma once it has landed in their bodies, hearts, and minds.

To help, I have created this list of tools for them (and for all of us). Please feel free to use this and share it. If you quote these tools please cite, Tools for Preventing Vicarious Trauma by Catherine Cook-Cottone (2017), The Yoga Bag,

Prevent Vicarious Trauma in the Moment

·      Stay aware that it is present. Know when it is happening, “What this person is saying to me right now is emotionally substantial. They are in pain. I see that. I feel that.”
·      Notice any drive to rescue them. Do you wish they were not feeling the way they feel? Now, remind yourself that feeling deeply is important and it is not up to you to decide what and when another person feels. In fact, you rescuing them from their feelings would not help them in the long run. Rather, you sitting powerfully and steady, validating their feelings, staying present and compassionate is powerful and enough.
·      Ground your feet on the floor and your hand(s) on the table or chair.
·      Imagine the emotional content moving through you and into the your notes from your pen, through your hands into the chair, or through your feet into the floor. Do not hold it in your body.
·      Breathe in a 1:2, inhale to exhale ratio. Know that the breath will help the emotions and trauma continue to move through you and ground.
·      See the bigger space, visualize all of the space around the person allowing the emotional content of the room to have a grand space to diffuse the intensity into (from Kelly Boys at
·      Ride the wave of the emotion. Instead of getting lost in it, imagine you are riding on the wave as it intensifies and grounds (Cook-Cottone, 2015).
·      Take short reliefs or distractions from the intensity of the experience, briefly look away or down. Allow yourself to move in and out of the depth of the moment.
·      As you speak to the person, think, “I wish this person in front of me to be free from pain and suffering.” (for some it is helpful to say a prayer).
·      Have a reminder on your desk or on your person of your “Why?”- a reminder of the reason you do what you do (a photograph, a word, etc.).
·      Take time between each client to clear your space. You might create a ritual of walking to a green/peaceful space, saying a blessing, washing your hands and putting on lotion- something to clear the space for you and the next person.  (see next step).
·      As you place your clients’ files away, imagine that you are also holding the traumas and worries in the files and storing them safely and confidentially in the file storage area (and not in your body, heart or mind). I sometimes tell my clients that is exactly what I do. “I hold these concerns and traumas in my office for you, so that you can let them go too.”

Before and After Care
·      At the end of the day ground the feelings you are struggling to allow to move through you, into a journal, a box, or something else that is a concrete, tangible holding place. Add artifacts, stories, drawings to your journal or box for safe-keeping. Close this box or journal when you are done and tie it up with a string and put it someplace contained (a closet). Allow this box or journal to hold your worries and concerns for you.
·      Balance work and rest. Balance means they have equal weight. Be honest with yourself.
·      Take your vacations and sick days. Seriously, do it!
·      Allow humor and positive emotions to be part of your life. In fact, if they are not there, seek them out for balance. Keep reminding yourself of the joy!
·      Engage in a routine of self-care Practices (see Mindful Self-Care Scale; Cook-Cottone & Guyker here- scroll for short and long-form of the scale).
·      Do self-compassion meditations often (see Kristin Neff at
·      Connect with people who lift you up and help you relax you while doing things not associated with work- seriously- not one bit associated with work.
·      Make sure your activities and play outside of work preserve your sense of identity outside of work. Who are you when you are not at work?  (Do you do yoga? Are you into painting? Do you have a favorite band? Do you love world music? What are your hobbies?…).
·      Use supervision (peer and hierarchical) to process your experiences.
·      Add nurturing and caring features to your workspace (paintings, comforts in the restroom [lotions], fresh water cooler, a well stocked tea break area, plants, soft music, etc.).
·      Connect with management and your team for an ongoing assessment of workload. Confront this gently, but with honesty for each other.
·      Include time to share success stories and moments when you felt your mission was lived in meetings and staff community time.
·      Provide/offer opportunities for non-counseling work (workers give workshops to others, teach yoga to clientele, do web development, keep a workplace garden, etc.).

Try all of this and I promise you will begin to feel better. Share the stuff that works. You are doing import work and we don't want to lose you to burnout, stress, or vicarious trauma. 

For more see Cook-Cottone (2015) Mindfulness and Yoga for Self-Regulation. Springer, NY.

Take good care of your self, so you can take care of others- You can’t give what you do not have.

Much love,

The Yoga Bag

If you quote these tools please cite, Tools for Preventing Vicarious Trauma by Catherine Cook-Cottone (2017), The Yoga Bag,

Monday, January 2, 2017

108 Sun Salutations Prep for 2017 Yogis in Service

Preparing for Your 108 Sun Salutations
Written by Steve Procknal & Catherine Cook-Cottone

Yogis in Service, 2017

What to expect:

  • A room full of happy yogis
  • Between 2 and 2 and 1/2 hours of Sun Salutations
  • The suns will start slow, expand to a challenging set of salutations, and then slow down at the end. 
  • A lot of fun. 
  • A raffle
  • T-shirt sales
  • Finishing card!

What to bring:

  • Water bottle- bring between 20 and 40 ounces of water. You can refill at the 1/2 break
  • Electrolyte drink
  • Yoga mat
  • Hand towel
  • Mat towel
  • Cash, credit card, or checks for raffle/t-shirts
  • Your love of yoga!

To prepare for a 2+hour  practice/exercise (e.g., 108 Sun Sals): 

   Just eat normally leading up to that day, maybe increase your calories a bit but nothing major. 
   You do not need to eat some massive carb meal the night before, that will only hurt you the next day because your body will still be breaking that down and trying to eliminate it. 
   Trying to drink excessive water leading up to that day to hydrate won't be additionally beneficial. 
   Add a bit more fluids each day, a bit more than normal and a bit more calories/carbs and you will be fine. 

What to do the day of the Suns:

   The day of: I would eat a nice balanced full breakfast, get fats, carbs and protein. Examples. Oatmeal and fruit. Nut butter and toast with a banana. A green smoothie. Eggs, toast and fruit. Something along the lines of that. Keep it on the lighter side. 
   Start increasing your water a bit early on in the day. Something like 2 water bottles before noon. Have another done before 3pm.
   Have a snack late morning. Greek Yogurt, some almonds or brasil nuts or dried fruit, or fruit. 
   Then, the key is to eat your next meal before 1:30, whatever you normally eat for lunch that works for you.  
   Have a small snack about an 60-90 min before 4:30 PM. Dates are great. A handful of granola. 1/2 an Avocado with a little bit of salt. Celery is a great natural electrolyte (e.g., maybe celery and a touch of hummus). 

During the Suns: 

   During practice make sure you have a water bottle to hold enough water, either choose an electrolyte drink you always use or grab another brand, Vega products are  good. Coconut water. Water is fine for at least an hour, your body doesn't really need to get any extra calories until after an hour of strenuous exercise. So even if you brought a Date or two, an energy gel, half a banana and took that half way through you will be fine. Depending on how long you have been doing yoga you may not need anything. Our bodies become efficient when we do the same exercises and we don't need as much. 

After the Suns:

   Post work out your most important thing is to replenish the carbs you lost, not protein. About 4 Grams carbs to every 1 Gram of protein. Or you can grab whatever makes you feel good. Get some carbs first and then add some protein. 
   Drink plenty of fluids later and you will be fine. You can add a touch more salt to your food to replenish your salts lost. (I know this sounds serious, I am just giving you the broad facts so you can take what you need for you). 

Mostly, HAVE FUN and eat and drink enough. You can always take a break in child's pose and grab a drink at the water fountain. We will be pausing at 1/2 for drink, and bathrooms. Raffle results posted at end! 

Can't wait to see you there!

The Sun Salutation Team, 

Catherine, Kathleen, and Leslie
Yogis in Service

Saturday, December 31, 2016

From Yoga, I Reach

From Yoga, I Reach

My feet.
My feet pressing firmly into my mat,
I know the smooth, the sticky, and the grit.
I know the Earth beneath me.
Pressing firmly into my past,
I know the heartache, the soul-ache, the life-ache.
From my feet, I reach. 

My legs.
I hug in from my skin, to my muscle, to my bones.
The same bones I have, in past, forgotten.
The same bones, from which I have asked too much.
The same bones I have stressed to break.
From my bones, I reach.

My belly.  
With feet grounded and legs strong,
I find the very core of me.
I pull in and up.
I lift my place of first connection to my heart.
From the place where I know things,
when I really know.
From my belly, I reach. 

My lungs.
With my lungs, I breathe 
The breath of life.
I breathe the outside in and inside out.
I am my breath.
Big belly breaths from my feet to my fingers.
From my breath, I reach.

My heart.
Dhakdak, beat. Dhakdhak, beat.
My heart carries the world through my veins
And takes me to the world.
I reach into my heart,
My place of second, and third, and fourth,
And all connections.
From my heart, I reach.

My throat.
I speak here.
I feel words both spoken and unspoken.
I feel the words that strangle me with their urgency.
I feel the words that close off my breath with regret.
Here, now, from yoga, I reach.
My voice feels free and true
Anchored to my feet, bones, belly, and heart.
From my voice. I reach.

My thoughts.
For so long, I thought they were me.
Each one, me.
This me of thoughts floated, struggled.
 Was deeply sculpted and cut by
All of the words.
From yoga, I see thoughts are not mine.
I choose the ones I want to hold.
I free the rest.
From my thoughts, I reach.

My feet.
My bones.
My belly.
My heart.
My lungs.
My voice.
My thoughts.

From yoga, I reach.

My arms extend from my core.
My eyes look upward.

Knowing what is me and what is not me.
Embracing my pains and joy, past and present.
Digging into the beauty and truth of this moment.

From yoga, I reach.

The Yoga Bag
Catherine Cook-Cottone