Tool Kit for Transitions
Written By Estelle Thomson
Inspired by my many teachers and you TOMMYTINKER.
Transition: To find ourselves at a crossroad.
Bulks of us are disembodied, depressed, riddled with fears and anxieties. We wake up feeling funky and out of place. In one lifetime we go through many identity crises, life transitions and special circumstances but our society seldom cares. Resiliency, how to cope with anxieties and stress, is no joke and yet it is not taught in schools! Within the cacophony of the world, we cannot find (never mind hear) our voice. We want to stand tall, proud and speak out and yet we don’t know how.
We find ourselves at a crossroad.
I did. Everyone often assumes that my descent into dark territory began when my son, Tommy, passed away. But looking back now, I know it was inaugurated by his early, shocking and unplanned entrance in the world. At that time, not only did I have to deal with my own shock trauma, but was engulfed with daily high-grade anxiety and sleepless nights. You can imagine this affecting my overall physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. We were just getting settled into our “new” normal, when Tommy unexpectedly suffered a deadly seizure. The first few months after I lost Tommy I felt I didn’t know myself anymore. I felt lost and terrible physically, but psychically was worse. The experience of losing him shook me to my core. This new territory was scary.
I remember thinking back then- back when my life fall apart - what would I have done if I didn’t have a couple decades of art, yoga and mindfulness behind me? When Tommy passed my body knew what to do : I bounced into artistic action, I rolled out my yoga mat, got out my paint brushes, I wrote and sat still. To be in my body at this time often felt unsafe and the sensation I was having unwelcome. Everywhere I went: triggers. But I kept at it- everyday- finding 5 o 10 minute to fit in what I love the most doing. I kept saying yes to to life. I did this work to heal. I was lucky to have had the tools in me to navigate this most uncertain time in my life. I’ve always felt grateful for that.
This Tool Kit for Transitions suggests ways in which you can prepare and teach your body how to cope with fears, anxieties and stress.
Since losing Tommy, I’ve had the privilege to hear countless stories of transitions from trauma survivors in its many forms. Many, many of you warriors have reached out to me via messenger, emails and some I’ve met personally through the art & yoga workshops and online soul connection classes I run in my community and around the world. Your message often urgently requested book recommendation, tips and tricks. What do I do NOW?
What Do I do Now?
First off, can I just say I feel blessed to be the first one to know about your mother’s terminal illness, your husband’s extra marital affair, your child’s autism. It didn’t take a long time for me to realize that The Grief Project resonated not only with bereaved mothers everywhere but with everyone that read it. Its reach was far and wide.
Grief comes from the root word ‘gravos’ which means heavy – a heaviness felt in our hearts.
This is because grieving is wider then we make it to be. It’s because everyone is affected by loss.
The stunning work of Dr. Frank Weller has enabled language to what I already knew - that there are many gateways to grief! As he states in his writings, many gates to grief ensue.
Everything we love, we will lose
The places that have not known love
Deep sorrows of the world
What we expected but didn’t receive
Excerpt from The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Ritual of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.
His book is on my list of Recommended Books for going through TRANSITIONS.
Your messages all echoed a shared truth, a collective longing and willingness to pull away from disconnection, dissociation, disembodiment and instead pull INTO connection, integration, embodiment. A cry out in wanting to manage overwhelming emotions. But how?
The way I understand it, going through ‘transition’ means leaving something old, and entering something new. We cannot transform into anything new if we refuse to look, listen and feel. The thing is - our modern lifestyle makes it hard to feel (!!) - readily at our disposition is food, drugs, alcohol, electronic inspiration, sex. We use “insert your own drug of choice” to consciously or unconsciously numb our emotions or completely dissociate from the present moment.
I’ve often referred to the changes that happen when working through grief as the inner struggles of the caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. The changes are not without inner struggle! It’s easy to by-pass, look away, numb at, tune out. It’s slow work, this soul work. We simply cannot transform if we refuse to feel.
It’s slow work, this soul work.
Welcoming what’s heavy is revealing. It’s a risk to show up to my feelings, to flirt daily with the unknown and uncertainty of where life leads me. But welcoming what’s heavy in my life is an invitation to unfold. Let go of what I think is me and move where life leads me.
Having resources and tools of self-regulation gives me a way into my sensations. Think of it as entering the cave of yourself. I love this quote by Joseph Campbell.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
What if the obstacle, or rocks that seem in your way were the way! If you have self-regulating tools, in the cave, stress can and will release. There lies the expansion and freedom you seek. Now, I can morph what’s heavy in me into something brilliant.
My intention for this Tool Kit for Transitions is to share with you some of my most easy, tried, tested and true resources to begin the work of healing. Take the hurricane force of grief and use that to breath, move, write and paint. It is important for me that the exercise be easy so in turn you can teach others these powerful tools! I really wanted for you to not think it’s out of your reach.
Disclaimer: These tools are by NO means replacement for your immediate and physical support system - your secure and safe people: a supportive partner, a therapist, a best friend or parent. In extreme cases, these exercises are not be used without the help of an experience Yoga Teacher, Therapist or your Family Doctor. If there is any doubt please ask any of the above. Also, 1 to 2 minutes for each is plenty to start! Lastly, these exercises are by no means a way to ‘fix’ your situation. The tools are meant for you to connect, empathize, look and listen to the feelings behind the experience.
Your Tool Kit for Transition includes:
Breathing in My Feet
Hand Variation for Anxiety
Hand Variation for Freedom
Shavasana - with a blanket
Breathe ~ Relax ~ Feel ~ Watch ~ Allow
Be Here Now
Doodle Yourself Free
As a yoga and mindful art teacher, I have seen first-hand the effect how yoga and art can heighten our tolerance to discomfort - in myself but also in my students. I wouldn’t share this if I didn’t know it worked for many people (including kids)! This is my chance to teach what I know so that you are resourced in the cave.
The grouping of these exercises are mindful ways you can use to ground, orientate and centre yourself in times of uncertainty. In mindfulness, we use the breath as an anchor. It’s genius, really, since your breath is 1) always with you, 2) easy to access and feel, and 3) neutral (99.9% of the time you don’t think you are good or bad at breathing!).
1) Breathing in my feet
Sit on a chair, uncross your legs. Make sure your feet are touching the ground. Sit tall - long neck, proud chest. Have your hands face down, resting on your thighs. Pay attention to your feet. Where awareness and attention are, your breath goes automatically. The breaths do not need to be forced or deep - just hearing the flow in and out or watching it is enough. Keep the attention on your legs and feet.
In yoga philosophy, your feet are the roots on the tree - keeping it’s truck steady and solid.
You can do this exercise standing tall, like in this mountain pose pictured here:
2) Release Breath
This breath was taught to me by my teacher, Kia Miller. This breath is my go-to with my 7-year-old son. We say: find your resource! He releases the anger he feels in his hand. Please watch this short demonstration here. The Exhale is a great healing balm for the soul.
I teach a lot of Breathing Exercise in SHE QUEST SUMMER SCHOOL - a soul connection class for women which I lead every summer.
1) Hand Variation for Anxiety
When you were in your mother’s womb, from your heart grew your hands. Therefore, when you do little gesture with your hands you instantly heal the heart on an energetic and subtle level.
This hand variation was taught to me by teacher, Ashley Turner. Please look at these picture, re-enact and connect to a conscious passing breath. Be all in.
2) Hand Variation for Freedom
I have loved this mudra for such a long time that I don’t even remember who taught me it! Essentially, embodying with your body the essence of a bird taking flight - symbolic of freedom!
Has your yoga teacher ever taught you mudras? They are a big part of my Yoga Mentorship which I lead every September. Learn more HERE.
1) Rooting Exercise
Here, I made sure that the yoga was accessible to all. They are a mix of teaching from my teacher, Hala Khouri, and my own personal practice. Please sit crossed legged on the floor or a chair. Look around the room that you are in. Try not to look at the little (or big!) messes, instead focus on orienting yourself in the here and the now. Close your eyes, and re-enact the same focus of looking around but inside (for me, it’s easier if I close my eyes - if closing your eyes might be daunting, perhaps you could half-close them!). Hand to your thighs to sweep the hand down the thighs a few times (please watch video for demonstration). Take the side of your arms, and gently press your skin.
2) Shavasana with a blanket
To connect with the earth and the denser parts of you, there is this restorative yoga exercise. Lay down on your yoga mat (this could be done on a bed as well). Take a heavy blanket and cover yourself with it. I sometimes add books and put them on my palms or hips to give further embodiment of ‘gravos’ or heaviness. Close your eyes and let yourself sink down from the toes, shins, thighs, hips, belly, chest (in and around your heart is important), throat and crown of head. Get the tongue off the roof of your mouth. Breathe in to your feet. Big belly breaths as it rises and fall.
1) Breathe ~ Relax ~ Feel ~ Watch ~ Allow
This is the first mantra I have EVER learned! I like to repeat it quietly to myself. Perhaps even as I perform one of the above exercise. I can also breathe to the word “Breathe” (inhale, exhale), Relax (inhale, exhale), Feel (inhale, exhale), Watch (inhale, exhale), Watch (inhale, exhale), Allow (inhale, exhale). DO NOT FORCEFULLY inhale/exhale as the nervous system could be tricked into thinking you are overwhelmed. Instead, soft and slow. Don’t even try to ‘deepen’ the breath. Try to let it be.
2) Be Here Now
This mantra can be used for a mindful sitting practice such as the breathing in your feet exercise for the Pranayama section. Or by singing it . I know sometimes when I’ve been in a panic that breathing seemed to make no sense! That’s when we can start humming or signing: Be Here Now. Watch some other mantra’s i like here:
1) Doodle yourself free
We often do not think of reaching for art supplies when it comes to developing resilience – but I do! Use a napkin, a corner of a newspaper or watercolour paper and make Marks & Doodles!!
Anything, spirals, circles, lines. Do it, in an uninterrupted flow - meaning do it without stopping to check your phone or put food in the oven. This gesture wakes up your right brain and makes new creative connections. Accessing a part of you that feels whole and calm and energized. (These are the same brain areas that are awoken when you practice yoga)
2) Dots/Lines Exercise
This is another go-to exercise for my mindful art practice. I do it most often when I feel stuck in all areas, physically and emotionally. I take a piece of paper and fill it with dots! I take another piece of paper and I fill it with lines.
Here is my (FREE) 5 days Guide to Creative Liberation to initiate a daily art practice. ( PLEASE NOTE MY FREE CLASS WILL BE AVAILABLE NOV. 06th! Please come back to this page to not miss it!)
I also offer many Online Mindful Classes – challenging yourself to paint 21 days in a row HERE.
1) Grief dump
Its not everyone who has kept a diary since the age of seven, but I have. I do understand it is not natural for everybody to write down what is going on but I intuitively knew it was making me feel better. It’s not until I went to Theatre School, and was assigned to read “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron, that I understood its fundamental role in my life. Just like you have doodled in an uninterrupted way, try writing 2 or 3 pages without stopping. I like to do mine right before I have my morning coffee (although most often than not, it is WITH it!). What you write doesn’t need to be deep. Think of it as ‘dumping’ - the chiti britti, which is a fancy yoga word for fluctuation of your mind.
2) Gratitude Journal
Gratitude has often been said to be the highest form of yoga. I love circling my student and asking them what’s good! Just like courage is a muscle, gratitude is as well. A practice in looking and loving your life with bright eyes. Gratitude makes the world a magic place.
I use journals so much that I’ve designed my own! View them HERE.
Self-Kindness is necessary
Symptoms of grief work are very real and touch all aspects of our lives - Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social and Spiritual. Please honour what is going on as you go through these exercises! Drink loads of water, have, healthy filling meals, rest, and move in a way that makes sense to you today and for the years to come. Self-Kindness is necessary. Noticing what's happening without any judgment is essential
For some, when we are in an acute phase of a transition, doing a lot of breathing exercises, yoga or even journalling can be too much. Kuddos to you for the willingness to want to unearthing things that you perhaps don’t speak of on the daily ( or ever!). This is why I recommended doing 1-5 minutes of it to START the shift. Perhaps just sitting on the side of your bed, breathing in your feet ( see first exercise) right before anything happens in the morning. If this is too much perhaps one minute is enough. To be exposed over and over again to the heaviness of your heart at a pace that is right for you, is what matters and what causes the ‘lift/softening" and maybe even the release.
If the tools presented seems completely out of reach and you are left feeling helpless, I recommend you connect with a Mental Health Professional. In some transitions, individuals develop complicated grief and support is available. Please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of professionals such as yoga therapist I know and trust.
Pick and choose your tools here
In the end - Grief work is hard and slow work. Pick and choose your tools here. And remember to be gentle and prioritize self-care. What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? There are no right and wrong ways for your journey into the cave - only your way. I also invite you to do these everyday- on the good days and on the bad days too. That way when the next wake-up call hits- your body will know what to do.
I am a self-titled grief ambassador. I can now see the many gifts Tommy left me. For one, I get to be close to death everyday. This intimacy keeps my heart open, bouncy, flexible and durable. Art & Yoga has given me the self-regulating tools I need to heal. I teach my body/mind/soul to go to the tools instead of my drug of choice. The more I do these myself, the more I want to share them with others- my close family and friends. In this matter, everyone affected is involve- building resilient families & communities.
Looking at grief straight on is the best kept secret to amplifying your magic - in living full and free.
A privilege to witness your unfolding, always.