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Archive for the ‘Healing’ Category

wake-up

I saw the phrase recently on a t-shirt:  Wake Up.  The t-shirt is part of a fundraising initiative to help bring the message of mindfulness to youth worldwide. Wake up. It’s a powerful phrase, isn’t it?  It can come in gentle, like a loving caregiver whispering their slumbering loved one awake. It can also come in like the bratty sibling who flings open the curtains, jumps on your bed and slams pot lids together until you open your eyes. Either way the phrase perks you up.  You become conscious, alert and engaged with your circumstance. And yet, so often, we live as if we are asleep. We engage in behaviours that numb us out. Not enjoying the sensations that course through us as we experience certain thoughts and feelings, we aim to banish them from our personal domain, only to discover that, over time, we feel less and less until, nothing at all.

I started to really work with the idea of waking up about a month ago when I decided to stop consuming alcohol. There was nothing particularly distressing about my enjoyment of the substance. I would come home at the end of the week, pour myself a drink, and sit down with my loved one to talk about the day.  The ritual was comforting and the taste of the drink was pleasant. But always, in the background, there was a certain disturbance. There was the fear of becoming an alcoholic like my father. There was the knowledge that alcohol contains no nutrients and, therefore, is useless to the body.  What’s more, it is poison to the body. Even more threatening to me was the fact that alcohol converts directly into sugar, a frightening prospect for someone who has diabetes running on both sides of the family.  How much of a risk was I willing to take? Apparently quite a risk.  Week after week I would continue with the behaviour, strengthening the habit.

It wasn’t until I started working with petitions before and after my practice – May I be happy…May I be healthy…May I awaken – that I started to feel deeply unsettled. May I awaken? How awake was I feeling? Practice after practice I would utter the words.  Week after week I would drink, and suddenly I noticed that I wasn’t feeling awake at all!  Alcohol, upon consumption, was dulling my mind.  Now I was getting concerned. Upon reflection, as I drank, I would feel more and more as I did when I was overtaken by depression.  My mental faculties were clouded.  I felt as if I existed in a bubble; I could see the world around me but I couldn’t directly connect.  I couldn’t connect with my environment and I couldn’t connect with my loved ones.  I wasn’t really there.  My capacity to corral the energies of thoughts and feelings diminished, so I found myself riding the tumultuous waves of mood swings, and uttering words I would never otherwise speak.  The monkeys had taken over the circus and I was nowhere to be found.

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This week, before class, two of my students were talking about a difficult situation.  One student said, “It’s enough to make you want to drink.  Just make it aaaaaaaall go away.”  I’m not sure what my face did, but it elicited a response, “What?  What are we supposed to do?  Just skip tra la la down the road all happy all the time?!”

No. Not in the least. But the invitation is to wake up. To wake up to the searing sharpness of life. To the pain and the ugliness. To the things that scare the shit out of us. To the things that confuse and distress us. To the things we’d much rather go blind to.  Why? Because, as Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma:

While numbing (or compensatory sensation seeking) may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being full, sensually alive.

We cannot pick and choose our numbness.  We cannot say, “Oh, hey, I can’t stand the sensation of anger so, you know, block that out but keep the rest.”  No.  If we make the decision to go to sleep, we go…to…sleep!  

A year ago, at this precise time, I was standing in the Critical Care Unit as my step mother-in-law lay dying. That time is burned in my mind as one of the most agonizing, profound and beautiful times of my life. Nothing will call you to awaken like death. We need that contrast, the complete extinguishment of vitality, movement, connection, uniqueness to show us what it means to be alive and to live. 

I don’t know about you but I want to live! And if living means I have to endure the sharp pains and the distressing bits, well, I will buy the whole package, because it’s all precious and beautiful in some way or other, even if we can’t see it right now.

I won’t be the sibling who tears back the curtains and scares you awake.  Life will deliver enough of those messengers to you and to all of us.  Instead, I will be the soft whisper:  Wake up, friend. Come.  See? Look at all that’s out there.  Isn’t it grand? As my dear friend reminded me once, “We’re a long time dead.”  Come.  Live with me.

*raising my jar of tea* May I awaken.  May you awaken.  May all living beings awaken.

May we be free!  🙂

All my love,

Tabitha

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There are two words in the English language that freak me right out.  At the top of the heap is “Death”.  Second only to that is “failure”. Last week, I received an email that contained this statement:

I do wish you all the best in this life Tabitha. May you succeed at almost everything you try ( you have to fail sometimes to keep it real)

It shocked the pants off me.  There it was, the other “F” word!  You can speak one hundred and fifty million words to me, but if you string “you” and “fail” together in a sentence, everything else becomes background noise.  I hear nothing but – YOU FAIL.  When I read those words in the email, my mind immediately raced to, “My god, someone in this world wants me to fail!”  Underneath that thought was a mound of steamy emotions and an urge to push away.  Not wanting to drown in it all, I decided to scoop it all up, walk it over to my meditation cushion, and use the heated word FAILURE as the object of my contemplation.  This is what I found:

The answer is not that important.  It’s where the question brings you that matters. – Adyashanti

I have always had a strained relationship with this concept of failure.  Hours of my life have been spent whining to therapists and friends about how I was afraid to do something because I was afraid to fail.  When I fleshed out the thinking, I would often hear myself say, “If I do this and I fail, I will die.”  So, in my psyche, for some reason, failure and Death are intricately linked.  On the day of the email, however, I asked, for the first time ever, 

What is this thing we call “failure”, anyway?

One of the meanings of the word, as defined in the Webster’s dictionary is “a lack of success“.  Success is defined as a “favorable or desired outcome“.

Where there’s desire, there’s suffering – A Yogic View

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Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra-s, goes to great lengths to explain the causes of suffering.  Like the roots of a tree, the very foundation of suffering is a deep misunderstanding about reality.  From these roots sprouts a sense of separation.  “I” become separate and different from “you”, and what “I” desire becomes of utmost importance to me.  In fact, I spend my days working to hook and reel in to me all of those things I desire, pushing away what I find to be most unsuitable, and fearing losing it all, including my own life.

If success means getting what we want, then failure means not attaining the object of our desire.  And when we don’t get what we want?  

SUFFERING!

Suffering in the form of painful thoughts – I’m a big, fat loser.  I’ll never amount to anything.  I’m completely unworthy of all that’s good in the world.  I’ll never be happy

Suffering in the form of stormy emotions – anger, depression, jealousy

Suffering in the body – acid stomach, pounding heart, exhaustion, lethargy, tension

Suffering in action – the urge to lash out, to retaliate; actually lashing out and retaliating; refusing to move forward and try new things

The Masters teach that where there’s even the tiniest seed of desire, there will be suffering.  It’s a guarantee!

Freedom

Patanjali never leaves us in this despairing place of recognizing suffering without offering a way out.  Indeed, he outlines very clearly what we can do for ourselves, and in relation to others, that can help us move towards freedom from suffering.  In this wonderful list he calls the yamas and niyamas are 2 “doorways” out and away from desire, failure, and the consequent suffering.  Patanjali calls these doorways samtosa (contentment) and isvarapranidhana (surrending the fruits of your efforts to something higher).  (These are very rudimentary definitions of the concepts that can be studied for a lifetime.)

Contentment is not an Eeyoresque type of resignation – “Oooooooh well.”  No.  Contentment comes when we know we have done all we can to attain a particular goal.  If the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we can rest easy knowing we did all we could to help the vision flourish.  When we surrender the fruits of our efforts, we can say, “Okay, well, this didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but, clearly, something else was meant to happen.”  It is here that we can find a deep reservoir of peace; all is well.

For example, last October I decided I would like to run a diabetes-focused Yoga therapy group on my own.  There was a space I had wanted to check out for many years and this gave me the best opportunity to do just that.  I discovered that the financial risk in attempting this series would be minimal, so I signed the rental agreement, put down the non-refundable deposit, and worked at getting the word out into the community.  What happened?  In simple terms, it failed. Not enough people signed up to run the group.  What happened instead?  Most unexpectedly, I was approached by a diabetes organization to run a group out of their location.  

So did I really fail?

NO!

I had a plan in mind.  I set to make that plan a reality.  I put in the required efforts.  I looked up to the sky (I really did) and said, “I’ll do all that I can. The rest is up to you.  If you want this to come to fruition, it will.  If you want something else to happen, show me the way and I will follow.”  And that’s exactly what happened, and what I did.  So, I may not have gained the object of my desire (running a group on my own), but there was so much more for me to harvest.  I had taken a risk and had grown from it.  I got to check out the location that had interested me for so long. I was invited in to teach what I wanted to teach, but didn’t have to do all of the annoying footwork of marketing, sign-up, etc.  

So.  Many.  Gains.

In the End, Failure is an Illusion

What I found deep inside my contemplation of the concept of “failure” is that it doesn’t actually exist.  Failure is simply a word we use to say, “I didn’t get what I wanted.”  The buck stops right there.  How can you argue with that?  You can’t.  Sure, you can choose to have what amounts to a complete tantrum over it, stomping around like a 3 year old and screaming, “BUT I WANT IT!  I WAAAAAAAANT IT.” But why?  Where does it get you? It gets you sick.  It gets you tired.  It gets you alone.  But if it ain’t happenin’, it just ain’t happenin’. Yes, have your feelings (quietly and in a contained sort of way).  Feel disappointed.  Feel scared. Feel it all!  And then, try compassionately shifting your focus from what you’ve lost, and take stock of all that you’ve gained.  Because you’ve gained something along the way.  You can trust that.  

There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

What started off as a spiral of harmful emotions, triggered by one sentence in one email, turned into the knowing that failure is nothing to be feared. You can’t fear something that doesn’t exist!  So the next time you hear yourself say, “I’m afraid to try because I’m afraid to fail,” stop, breathe, and think about this.  What you’re really saying is, “I’m afraid I won’t get what I want.”  But know, deep down inside, that you will get something. Desikachar would teach, “If you put in the efforts, something will happen.”  And if that something isn’t what you had hoped for, trust that you have the tools to manage the disappointment and keep walking.  Besides

You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes/You might find/You get what you need. – The Rolling Stones

Now, go and be fearless!  🙂

With much love,

Tabitha

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finger-pointing

We hear this question a lot, don’t we?  I think all generations have asked this question about those who are coming up the ranks.  Now it’s the “Millenials” who are catching the flak. Please watch this video.  It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time.  While the focus is on the Millenials, I would like to stretch the message a bit further to touch all of us.  The message of this video is about all of us.  What the speaker talks about is for all of us.  Just watch……..and absorb.  And then, find the courage to contemplate:  How is this about me?

All love and blessings,

Tabitha

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Let’s face it, sometimes people express your thoughts in such a perfect way that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  We’re on the cusp of the new year and I know that words like “healthy”, “diet”, and “weight loss” are bouncing around in people’s minds.  As a Yoga therapist, I see it every year and it breaks my heart every…..year.  We approach our bodies as if they were demons to be fought off when, really, they are the wonder-filled envelopes that hold our souls.  We don’t often approach them that way, though, do we?

I noticed this Facebook post on a friend’s wall.  I offer it to you because it is sheer perfection.

May you have the most passionate and loving relationship with your soul-envelope ever! May the new year be loaded with blessings and lessons that help you awaken to your highest Self.  May you be well.  May you be at peace.

Peace, friends!

Tabitha

From Anne Lamott:

We need to have the little talk we have every year at this time:

I know you are planning to start a diet on Sunday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, ” Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

I got rid of her sorry ass. No one talks to ME that way.

Well, okay, maybe it was ten years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I’d avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing, and so on

Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: “Great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?” Here is what’s true: diets make you fat. 95% of the time. We gain it back, plus 5 lbs.

I may have mentioned several hundred times that I have had the tiniest, tiniest struggle with food and body image for the last–well, life time. Hardly worth mentioning. It is a long story, having to do with childhood injuries to my sense of self, terrible anxiety, and the inability of my parents to nurture my soul: so starving and chastising myself cannot possibly heal this. I hate to say it, but only profound self-love will work, union with that scared breath-holding self, and not a diet that forbids apples, or avocado. Horribly, but as usual, only kindness and grace–spiritual WD-40–can save us.

Can you put the scale away for a week? Okay, then how about 4 days? I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being. Can you put away your tight pants, that do ‘t actually hurt you? Wear forgiving pants! The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.

By the same token, it feels great to be healthy. Some of you need to be under a doctor’s care. None of you need to join Jenny Craig. It won’t work. You will lose tons of weight quickly, and gain it all back, plus five. Some of you need to get outside and walk for half an hour a day. I do love walking, so that is not a problem for me, but I have a serious problem with sugar: if I start eating it, I sometimes can’t stop. I don’t have an off switch, any more than I do with alcohol.

Given a choice, I will eat Raisinets until the cows come home–and then those cows will be tense, and bitter, because I will have gotten lipstick on the straps of their feed bags.

But you crave what you eat, so if I go for 3 or 4 days with very little sugar, the craving is gone. That is not dieting. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat peanuts. Have an apple! Have some avocado.

It’s really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.
Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit less, and walk a bit more, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our thighs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to all problems. Doing a three minute meditation every day will change your life. Naps are nice.

I’ll leave you with this: I’ve helped some of the sturdier women at my church get healthy, by suggesting they prepare each meal as if they had asked our beloved pastor to lunch or dinner. They wouldn’t say, “Here Pastor–let’s eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of barbecue Pringles is all for you. i have my own.” And then stand there gobbling from their own tubular container. No, they’d get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before Veronica at the table, a plate filled with love, pride and connection. That’s what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create, now, or on the 1st. Wow!

Join me in not staring a diet January 1st. And God bless you all real good, as my pastor always says.

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One can never command the mind.  There is only one way to reach the mind.  It is through the breath. – Dr. Chandrasekaran

The holidays are upon us and I can see it in my students’ bodies – rapid, shallow breathing; tense bellies, upper backs, jaws and shoulders; digestive issues galore.  Recently I received a message from someone asking if I could share some pointers on how to “manage my moods and anxiety”.  *exhale*  Phew!  That’s a tall order.  Anxiety is an amorphous entity; that is, anxiety is an ever-changing constellation of symptoms that arise and impact each individual sufferer in a unique way.  As a result, it is best dealt with one-on-one with a Yoga therapist or skilled Yoga teacher who can create for you a practice that addresses you and your symptoms alone.  The Western “one size fits all” mentality is not the Yogic way.

That being said, there is one thing that is safe, accessible, and has helped many.  I bring to you my favourite breathing technique.


 * Settle yourself in to a comfortable lying position.  Allow the body to feel completely supported in a way where tension can drop away and you can focus on your breath.

 

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Begin to observe the easy rise and fall of the belly as you breathe in and out.  Let the breath be natural and simply observe.  Tune in to your breath.

* Now begin to extend the length of the inhale.  Perhaps begin with a 4 second count.  Slowly start to breathe in and count 1…2…3…4.  Let it be a slow count.  Then pause for 1 or 2 seconds and exhale a long, slow, smooth exhale.  Pause briefly again.

* Return to the inhale and this time see if you can inhale to a count of 5.  Pause.  Exhale.  Pause again.

Continue increasing the inhale by 1 second with each round until you discover your maximum inhale.  This maximum should be easy to manage and feel comfortable in the body.  You will know there is strain if tension begins to develop in the body and mind, and/or if you strain for the next breath.  If this happens, reduce the inhale by 1 second and stay at that level.  Remember:  There is no failing.  A higher number does not mean you’re “better” at this.  The number is there for concentration purposes.  It is not a gauge of your success.  If you’re breathing, you’re successful.  Be kind and leave it at that.  🙂

Once you’ve found your maximum inhale, stay there for a number of breaths; that is, continue breathing to that level for 6 or 8 breaths, whichever feels most accessible to you.

* Imagine that each time you come to that brief pause after inhale and exhale, you enter an oasis of complete stillness and quiet.  The body, mind and breath can remain safely suspended in space for a brief moment, and then can continue on.  Do your best to relax in the pause.  Be empty.  Be quiet.

* When you’ve completed your  6 or 8 breaths, drop the technique.  Release the mind from counting and simply return to the natural breath.  Enjoy breathing in and out for a few moments and then move on with your day (or, hopefully, drift into sleep if you’re visiting this in the middle of the night).


I have given this technique to every student who has seen me for help with their anxiety.  They have turned to it again and again whenever their symptoms of anxiety arise.  While it might not be the elimination cure we all hope for, it has the capacity to settle the system to an extent where symptoms begin to dissipate, sleep improves, and stress levels decrease.  Even when the situation is dire (as in the case of grief and loss), this breath technique has allowed students to cope in ways they never thought possible.  Heck, I use it and it works!

I invite you to challenge yourself to suspend disbelief for a moment and give this a whirl.  I’d love to hear your feedback.

Regardless, have a wonderful holiday season.  May you be surrounded by joy and love.  As I said to my students, “DREAM BIG!”  Love hard.  KEEP BREATHING!  And see you soon.

All my love,

Tabitha

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falling_through_the_sky_by_aeylita_9-d4qgxqb

 

I first noticed it a short time ago while on retreat – I don’t like feeling empty.  This plays out in a number of interesting ways.  For instance, on this day, I realized that I never fully swallow my food before I reach for the next morsel, or place food in my mouth.  There is always something that remains in the space; it is never completely empty.  It’s been months since I made that discovery and still, every day, I catch myself doing this same thing over and over again.  Never empty.

I also do this in my daily practice.  I find myself not fully releasing the breath.  I begin to move towards the next pose or sequence before I’ve finished my full exhale.  I’m contemplating what comes next instead of being with what is in the moment.  Never empty.

Last week I handed in my final paper for my Yoga therapy training.  I waited on tenderhooks to hear back from my teacher, fully expecting to do revisions, almost hoping for them.  Nope.  Instead, I was congratulated on accomplishing the task and that was that.  There was nothing left to do.  No more reading assignments.  No more case studies.  No more exams or presentations or written reports.  Nothing other than the pure joy of going in to the studio to attend class, but that’s not work.  All my work is done.  What does that mean?  That means S  P  A  C  E.  Emptiness.  Great blocks of time with nothing in them.  It means the freedom to do as I wish.  It means…………panic.

Panic comes after the grand question, “So, what now?”  Sneaky beggar, that one.  It takes me away from my experience, away from how I’m feeling, and it provides me with the illusion of taking up space.  Instead of floating in the pause, as I often encourage my students to do, my mind goes straight into planning mode.  According to Overactive Mind, if we do not plan and pursue and strategize, why, we’ll end up being a Masters student working at Harvey’s.  *sigh*  And my Wiser Self says, “Oh dear.  This again?”  It’s not like we haven’t been here a bazillion times before.

Reaching into the future instead of easing into the uncomfortable sensation of floating into space.  Reaching for that morsel of soul food to fill the gap. Creating a new project so I don’t feel the deep sadness that comes with this ending, the loss, the fear, the loneliness, and the sudden sense of isolation. My heart is broken.  The future is full of possibilities that I have yet to realize.  There is no ground beneath me and I am aching to fill up space.

I caught myself in the midst of this yesterday, pacing around my room, unable to settle into any one task, and I had to smile.  I was at it again – creating illusions in order to avoid my fear.  For the first time ever, I found myself softening to the experience.  I heard myself say, “It’s okay.  I’ve got this.  I’ll take care of you.  I’m not abandoning you this time.  Let’s just breathe together.”  All the things I would say to a beloved student, I finally said to myself. I committed to caring for my own fear….and anger….and bitterness….and any other emotion or sensation that I dislike and wish to banish. Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:

To stay with that shakiness – to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge – that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.

I’m not certain I would ever call myself a “warrior” but I am getting the knack of catching myself, and staying with myself, when things feel tough. It’s still an awkward and uncomfortable experience but how can I not do this?  If not for me, then for my students and for my loved ones.  How could I ever sit with them through their grief and fear and discomfort if I continue to abandon my own?  We’re all in this thing together.

May we catch ourselves running away, and invite ourselves to stay.  May we catch ourselves when we cling, and invite ourselves to loosen the grip. May we cease trying to fix a situation that is not broken.  May we stay with ourselves in all situations.  May we float gently on the current of “being”. May we be free.

All the best, friends!

Tabitha

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i-need-to-pee

I recently wrote an email to my students talking about female incontinence.  It was requested that I share what I wrote with a wider audience, so here I am doing just that.  I hope it helps!  (There seems to be a formatting issue that I cannot resolve.  Please excuse the “clump” of information.)

Tabitha


It’s delicate territory I’m about to enter – the territory of female incontinence – but it’s important territory.  If discussions such as these make you uncomfortable, be kind to yourself and hit “delete” now.  For those who are interested, read on.
If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know I push back against societal messages such as, “Oh well, it’s an age thing.”  Commercials of women bouncing around and giggling as they leak into their pants (or hygiene product) sets me on fire.  There are many things that happen as the body ages, yes, but things like incontinence are not inevitable.  For sure, there are medical conditions that create this circumstance in the body, and sometimes surgical intervention is the only way to go, but, outside of a medical issue, if you think you have to pee when you sneeze, think again.  Yoga addresses this issue with great success.
It’s all about the pelvic floor.  Most of us have heard about this area of the body, but it’s a difficult space to access.  Here’s a very concrete exercise I have used that, when practiced consistently, works at helping women to find and strengthen this area.   I call it the “mid pee hold”, and it goes like this:
When seated on the toilet, lean all the way forward so that your belly is resting on your thighs, or fold forward as far as you can.  Keep your seat engaged with the toilet so your thighs are at rest, and you can really get a sense of the area in which the work is happening.  Begin to release urine, then squeeze all the muscles involved to get the stream to stop.  Hold for 5 seconds.  Release urine again.  Squeeze again.  Hold for 5 seconds.  Continue until the bladder is completely empty.  Then, move on with your day.  Repeat this process throughout the day, every day.  For those who like schedules, I recommend every other bathroom visit.
You may find, in the beginning, that you are struggling to stop the urine.  All I can say is, stick with it.  Change comes.  This is, by far, the most effective way to access and strengthen the pelvic floor I have seen to date.
Best of luck to those who give this a whirl.  May you no longer be afraid to laugh, cough or sneeze.  😉
All the best,
Tabitha

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