Monthly Archives: July 2016

Getting Out of Pain

13692541_1292076697471835_3385794111303948817_n by Susi Hately, BSc. Kinesiology

Last month, I was teaching an Therapeutic Yoga Training in Vancouver. The premise behind the training is to teach yoga teachers and other health professionals how to help others how to reduce and eliminate pain. As is typical of my trainings, all of the participants had long standing, chronic pain themselves; and they were at the training as much for themselves as they were to learn to help the others with whom they work. And, in the process of learning, they experienced their pain reducing and going away completely. The process was quite awe-inspiring or miraculous at times, since many believed that this pain, tension, tightness is normal – that their back, si joint, neck, wrist and knee pain is “just the way it is”.  The realized it wasn’t.

As the training went on each person experienced a change in their body. Their body provided them with a new feeling – something other than pain. As each person had the ah-ha! experience a look of dumbfoundedness was evident on their face.  The feeling of less or no pain was almost absurd to them. One person said in disbelief, “this pain has become my friend, it is weird not to have it, I almost want to go looking for it.”

I understand the dumfoundedness and disbelief. I understand the sheer weirdness of moving out of pain and into something more comfortable. It is bizarre…..because it is uncommon.

In Canada there is a commercial for a common pill used as an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant. The premise is – “do you think pain is going to stop me?” There is another ad for competitor product with the premise of “what you do when you don’t have pain is up to you”. What these products are selling is “pop this pill to get rid of your pain, and get on with your life.”

This blends well into our cultural psyche (at least in North America). “Pain can’t be really gotten rid of, so let’s mask it and carry on anyway.” Said another way, “Forget about listening to your body, it isn’t saying anything worthwhile, so suppress any sensation and carry on. This pill is your saviour”.

Not one to mask my emotion…this makes me feel really sad. Sad because there is a wealth of understanding within our body that is trying to make itself heard. Sad because there is a belief that we are pieces of Lego stuck together and if we can’t change out a piece of Lego, there is nothing more that can be done. It is sad, sad, sad. We don’t have to rust and wither away. In my over 20 years designing therapeutic programs, I have seen peoples’ bodies shift far too far too many times to discount.

“Well…now what?”

Here is what has worked for the thousands of people I have taught.

1.  Try to not fix yourself. There is nothing to fix. If you think or have been told that your sacrum is torsioned “this way” and your one hip bone is lifted “that way”, and your rib cage is moving “in this direction” and your neck in “that direction”, don’t try to make them go the opposite way. The way the body unwinds and unravels tension and awkward holding patterns isn’t often the way we think it will go.

2.  Move in as pure of movement as you can, and reduce the compensation that you are aware of. Each of your joints has an optimum range of motion. Whether you are due for a hip replacement, or you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis or you are simply darn tight, move the joints in the range that is available. Limit your full body motion to accommodate what your joints are saying to you. Time and time again, those folks who move in their pure range of motion improve alot faster than people who don’t. In fact, the people who don’t….simply don’t improve.

3.  Move in a range that doesn’t increase your pain. If you continue to move in pain, your body and particularly your nervous system will see this as an appropriate stimulus and will respond “in kind”. It will give you back tension and pain. If you move with less pain, no pain, or in a range that simply doesn’t increase your pain, your body will shift.

4.  And yes, pain doesn’t have to be part of your life. It can reduce, it can be managed, and it can be eliminated.13606784_1292076707471834_8347182743612104062_n

If you are feeling skeptical about what you read above, give it a go anyway and see what happens. Break these ideas into smaller pieces. Whether it is yoga that you practice, or a series of rehabilitative exercise that you work through, try this – move only as far or as hard that your pain symptoms don’t increase. Then, go about your day as normal. Keep repeating this cycle. Each time that you practice yoga, or you follow the rehabilitative exercises, move in a range that doesn’t increase your pain. Then, go about your day as usual. See what begins to happen. You may just surprise yourself.

Over the years, I have received daily emails from yoga teachers I have trained, who have read my books and who are applying these principles not only in their own practices, but with their students, and ….they are seeing their bodies change and their students’ bodies change as well. I receive emails from friends of clients, people I have never actually met telling me that their pain levels are down by following the principles and actions above.  There is a way to get out of pain and/or to significantly reduce the pain you are experiencing. Just give it a try. Let go of cultural psyche, trust in your body. Your body is talking to you. Get quiet. Listen to the whispers. Be curious.

If you do, I guarantee that you won’t have to continue to deal with or suppress the screams..

And as always, happy exploring,


Myths About Illness/Injury/Pain, Truths About Healing

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology, Registered Kinesiologist


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First myth: Pain is part of getting older.
First truth: Tissue can change and function can improve at any age. It all depends on the stimulus you give it. (Most of my clients are between 50-65, some in their 70’s and they all get better much faster than those in their 20’s and 30’s)

Second myth: Nothing has worked.
Second truth: Nothing has worked, yet.

Third myth: Feeling pain means being overwhelmed by pain.
Third truth: By learning to move in a range that doesn’t increase pain, your pain will decrease.

Fourth myth: It took 40 plus years to create this problem, it will take a long time to resolve it.
Fourth truth: If a client’s reason for resolving their issue is compelling enough, the speed of healing can be quite mind blowing.

Fifth myth: True change is impossible.
Fifth myth: True change is entirely possible. The first and second steps are awareness and self-care.

Calm.Steady.Strong: Cancer Recovery

dvdBy Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology,

How to Answer the Question “Now What? . .  Where Do I Go From Here?”

You or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, or are finished treatment. Whichever is the stage, an undeniable line in the sand has been drawn. What was before, is no longer what is, and everything going forward is unmistakably different. The veil of life, the veil of illusion,  has been pulled away.  Now what? Where do you go from here?

The answer to Now What? is different depending on the stage you are at. At the start of treatment there are options and advice to navigate, decisions to be made. The question Now What? guides you to creating the plan going forward.

During each treatment or after surgery if you are feeling fatigue, nauseous, or in some cases feeling so stiff that you can barely move, the Now What? question leads to very simply, “how can I feel better and mitigate the experience I am having as a result of the treatment”.

At the end of treatment, after the last chemotherapy or radiation treatment, or when you are walking out of the doctor’s office, when there was a vague thought of maybe there would be some sort of acknowledgement that you were complete, and there wasn’t, the Now What? question, leads you to the rest of your life and how to now pick up the pieces and carry on . . . calm, steady strong.

Then again, you may be the loved one, the friend, spouse, child, parent, who is supporting someone going through this recovery process. While your specific challenges are different, there is still a physical, mental and emotional toll. The Now What? question leads to how do you manage going forward. How best do you take care of yourself while also carrying for someone you love?

Whichever is your role, and wherever you are on the spectrum of recovery, you can regain, you can reset the foundation from which you can maintain, attain or retain as active and as balanced a lifestyle as possible. Because no matter where you are at on the spectrum of recovery with as many decisions that have to be made, you still need to move . . .Whether it is the small movements which may feel so challenging like being able to turn your head in bed, to rolling out of bed, to walking to the bathroom and to sitting on a toilet; or the more complex movements necessary for standard day-to-day errands which, at this time can feel exhausting – tasks like like grocery shopping, making meals, picking up/dropping off kids, and other day-to-day errands. Movement is a necessary component in each one and the more able you are to move, the easier it will be.

How Yoga Fits In

Yoga as a practice has evolved from something quite esoteric to a mainstream and alternative fitness program to a growing and very practical healing modality. Yoga Therapy, as I teach it, is a combination of yoga movements that have been adapted and modified according to principles of kinesiology, anatomy and physiology specific to a person who is going through a disease or other condition.  There is a recognition that the pain, the tightness, the tension, the disease, injury or illness that you are experiencing is getting in the way of living the life you want to live. Yoga and Yoga therapy can help you build the mobility, build the stability, the strength and stamina so you can return to what you know best. Yes, for some people there will be limitations. You may have had surgery, you may be experiencing latent effects of chemotherapy and radiation, your physical structure may have been altered, and you may have resulting strength or flexibility imbalances. You may also have neurological issues, lymphatic issues, and parts or whole organs may have been removed. What is important to know is that progress is still possible, no matter what the limitations.  The key is to improve your function within your current context, so the impact of the limitation is lessened leading you toward being able to do what you want to do with less pain, tightness and tension.

The Success of Yoga: How Movement, Breath and Stillness Enable Healing Come Together

In my over 20 years working with people moving through the healing process I have witnessed three interweaving layers of results, each one impacting and being impacted the by the other. The big picture results are those like better sleep, improved mood, less fatigue and a better outlook on life. The middle picture results (which lead to big picture results) include improved flexibility, reduced tension, improved strength and endurance. This is fed by the more subtle and foundational results which are improved awareness, improved breathing, and ability to move well and to sit in stillness.

Each layer of results impacts the other. The foundational/subtle layer will illicit gains in the bigger picture, and the bigger picture will feed and inform how you progress through the smaller process. All layers need to be kept in mind as you continue to take steps forward.

Maximizing Your Efforts

This is only the beginning.

My clients have told me that during the treatment phase, when the medical clinic is prescribing and outlining the appointment times and treatment regimes, practicing their yoga is the one (or one of a few) time(s) they make the choice – they choose their yoga appointment time, whether it is at my studio, or on their own for their home practice. This is a subtle and very important distinction because healing requires a certain clarity of knowing that you have control to make your own choices, to be able to chart a course for your future. By stepping onto your yoga mat, a powerful inner statement is being made that this is your choice.

My clients have also found that how they practice is as important as doing the actual practice. Yoga consists of a combination of breathing, movement and stillness practices. Each practice includes an allotment of each component, and the decision on any specific allotment depends on how you are feeling, what you are feeling, and what you need to do to care for yourself, and if you are ready, to move yourself forward.

I can’t stress enough this component of feeling. Surgery and treatment process can hammer away the inner knowing that is an inherent foundation to wellbeing. Returning or re-acquainting yourself to that inner knowing is a vital piece to healing. I know this can be challenging, particularly in the realm of mental and emotional states. Some clients have told me that the diagnosis of cancer made them feel completely abandoned by their body, upset for letting them down, they had done everything right in their life, and now this. They ask me rhetorically, “How could my body do this to me?” They tell me that the last thing they want to do is get in touch with the various sensations in their physical body, often saying something like “honestly, I’d rather ignore it and move on.”

On the other hand, others have shared how amazed they were with how their body was healing and in awe of that process. They are thankful for what their body is doing for them.

I have worked with people who have expressed both of these states of being. Both are completely valid, neither is better than the other, neither suggests or has shown better healing outcomes than the other. The key is to recognize where you are at. This is the place from which you will begin.

In addition to becoming aware of the mental and emotional feeling states to assess a starting point, there is also the physical sensations of stiffness, tightness, tension, nausea, fatigue. These can be pre-existing to your diagnosis, be a result of treatment, or stemming from a reduction in activity or related to mental and emotional experiences (stress is often accompanied by tightness somewhere in the body whether the superficial muscles or deeper, as in the stomach or intestines).

The important key is to first becoming aware that “something” is there, and then recognizing what it is and using that awareness and recognition to guide you in deciding how much and for how long to practice.

To help you navigate this process healing as it relates to breath, movement and stillness, consider the following 5 principles of healing that have helped people recover quickly and develop their capacity to live the life they want to live.

Principles For Making Progress

1. Recognize how you are feeling prior your yoga session. What is driving you, what is motivating you to practice?
As you move, move in a range of motion that doesn’t increase your pain, create tension or induce strain. A clear way to recognized this is if when you move you clench your jaw, harden your eyes, or grip/brace anywhere in your body that isn’t involved in the movement.

2. Move as purely and precisely as you can. This builds on point 2, and focuses on reducing the compensation in your body. If you reduce the amount you compensate with your movement, you will get improve your function, your mobility, flexibility, stability, strength and power much faster.

3. Don’t force. If you force or try to push through you will find that the amount you grip and brace will increase. While it is often believed that we must push to improve, I have found that with less force there are faster results.

4. Breathe Naturally.  There is often a thought that we must breathe deeply, or in a certain way for it to be effective. As we we move through the healing process, your body will become more supple allowing for a greater breathing capacity. You don’t have to force this process, and if you allow it to happen organically, by following the principles above, your breathing ability and capacity will improve very quickly.

Healing is possible, regaining movement, stability and strength is possible. Begin small and begin with awareness. You will find that as your capacity for movement grows, your pain will reduce, your sleep will improve and your feelings of confidence and steadiness will build.

If you would like more direction in your process of recovery and healing, please contact us – through this link –

Poor, Poor Piriformis

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiologypiriformis

Each time I am in a gross anatomy lab, I find myself looking at the piriformis muscle and feeling a little sad. It is a muscle that is blamed for so much pain and strain in the body, yet much of the blame is sorrily misplaced and sometimes unfounded. My hope with this post is to bring a new awareness to this small muscle and what it is really trying to say.

Most people who have an issue with the piriformis will have a sense of where it is – and many are searching for the ultimate pose, position or stretch that will bring the ultimate piriformis release. Their aim is to create release and openness in the pelvis. They believe that if they release their piriformis they will overcome sciatic symptoms, piriformis syndrome, or other general and profuse “butt pain.” Basically, when “butt pain” is a topic of conversation, the piriformis muscle is right there with it. And it is anything but good.

Hence my sadness. . . .

I want everyone to know that the piriformis is a victim of the neighbourhood it resides in. Its position (deep within the pelvis) and its size (very small) lends it to being compressed and unable to “breathe” (so to speak). If it had a voice, it would say to the other hip muscles, “Would ya start working, already???” It’s doing its best to control the movement of the femur in the acetabulum, playing its part in enabling a smooth flow of energy from the upper body to the lower body and back up to the upper body. But – and it’s a big but, pun intended – it can only do so much when the other muscles are not firing or simply not working together.

Yes, it is a sad, sad soap opera. The rest of the body isn’t working as well as it should, the pain arrives in the butt, and voila, we have the supposed culprit. Add to this its proximity to the sciatic nerve, and the whole blame game intensifies.

The piriformis is not at fault. Say it again. The piriformis is not at fault.

The rest of the body needs more functional synergy.

So now what?

Oftentimes, the tendency is to chase after the symptom and try to resolve the problem by going after the pain. We like to avoid pain, and if we can just stretch the darn piriformis, isn’t that good enough?

Maybe. But most often not.

If you have issues that have been labelled as being related to the piriformis muscle, the issue is more widespread. Stretch the piriformis all you want, but long term the communication between the piriformis, hip flexors, abductors, adductors, and spinal muscles along with the breath needs to improve. When that happens, you shift your biomechanics, you shift your tendencies and habits, and the piriformis gets new life.

So what to do?

1. If you practice yoga, scale your yoga practice back a bit so that it becomes that much less about doing the pose and more about feeling the movement of your leg bones in the pelvis. Where do you compensate when you move into Triangle, Warrior 2, or Tree pose? Have someone with a keen eye analyze your movement. Do your best to not change your alignment – rather, have the person notice what is happening in the pelvis relative to the rib cage; in the pelvis relative to the spine, and in the femurs relative to the pelvis. Take a moment to truly feel.

2. The concept in point 1 above applies to most activities. The key is to build your awareness of what your movement really is, and to notice where and how you are compensating. If you can clean that up, and move more purely, no matter the activity or sport you participate in, your hips will move so much more freely, and so will you.

3. Remember that you haven’t done anything wrong; you have a coagulation of tendencies and habits that have led to dysfunctional movement. You CAN become more functional. Let your issue be the guide to improvement.

In the end, the squawking of the piriformis is just your symptom for change. It is telling you that something – other than it – isn’t working. Remember it is doing its best despite the conditions surrounding it. The “neighbourhood” is full of poor communication, and when you can get the neighborhood of tissue working more effectively together, the piriformis will feel more at ease, and so will you.

Happy exploring,


PS. Don’t forget to breathe.