The long haul

Screaming it out

I was hunting around today for a post I apparently never wrote, trolling through the first couple of years of blogging.  Looking back always seems to be a big reminder of how incredibly long the muscle problems and the crazy unwinding face/head muscles thing has been going on.  I feel a bit ridiculous because I see myself always expressing the hope that the healing is just about complete.   And incredulous I could have spent this many years, so much money, so many hours of my time on healing my muscles — and it still isn’t over.  So, spoiler alert, I’m whiny…

I’ve mainly only “talked” about the unwinding head portion here.  To those who’ve followed for years even that story probably seems long …  and the unwinding actually started about 7 years before the blog.  The head piece was just the final puzzle to solve in a much longer quest for healthy muscles that started in the mid-80s.  The tightness and pain, etc. that led to the quest had been present for years before I started realizing I had to do something.  By the time someone noticed the muscles in my face and head were blocking the final stage of healing the muscles in my body, most of the major muscles in my body were actually in pretty good shape; you know, except the ones being held in twisted patterns by my head.

For the last several years I have felt more debilitated by all this than at any point before — even when far less healthy I was better able to function.  Something about this head thing — and maybe the weariness of how very many years it has taken — has just been too much.

Today I postponed yet another outing I’d looked forward to because I was awake all night with my face being yanked.  [See here for a little video displaying what you can see of the process from the outside.]  Because I haven’t been able to contribute (compounded by stockmarket issues and bad management), my mother and I are facing some very tough decisions about our future.  I don’t get how I landed here…  And it just feels like too much.

Thanks for listening.  I’m sure I’ll meditate and do yoga and restore balance yet again…

 

Intuition and me.

I wrote the first draft of this Saturday and the title included “Happy Canada Day” but allergies sidetracked me from getting back to it.  Still wanted to say a belated happy happy to my Canadian friends!

I mentioned recently that I’d be doing a post on intuition — I’m realizing that it’s more a meandering on intuition as I am in a process more than at a place of wrapping it up, but this unfolding has been intriguing to me.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve been working on issues related to an ancestral shut-down of my maternal lineage as “seers”.  So I tend to think of myself as not having much third eye activity–or at least what most experts around me say is a block to receiving the info.

While I have a notion I will be coming to yet-to-be-determined “extra sensing” ability when the muscles finish, I’ve been realizing lately that some degree of good intuitive “knowing” has been there all along.  Beyond that I have no way of knowing what talent or talents the line of seers in my family had since that got shut down long ago so have no idea whether I’ll be leading cops to murders or reading people’s thoughts or “seeing” visions of the future or just expanding the “knowing” I already have…

Since early in the journey I’ve been very good at having a strong sense of which spiritual teachers, books, activities and which alternative healing modalities are right for me and which are not.  In the beginning I wasn’t always good at following my avoid instinct and I wound up unhappily working with a practitioner/teacher or two whom I wound up finding creepy or uncomfortable or just not good at their practice.

But over the years I’ve come to trust it and it has served me well as I’ve moved along the healing process in great strides by heading for this practitioner or that teaching when it called to me as the next step.  For a long time I’ve said no to any healer or teacher or class if it feels off or wrong.  No way to know if I missed something great on the “no’s” but I sure have had some fabulous experiences with amazing therapists and healers whose work has drawn me to say YES.

Lately I’m noticing as things clear and my head opens, if I tune in (a big “if” 🙂 ) my intuition guides me very well on many more things, from which practices to do each day to which errands to run, to types of food I need to eat for a period of time and more.  I see intuition and “the sight” as coming from the same place but esp as having a wider or deeper connection to info outside the normal senses.  But I’m aware the type of “knowing” I experience is also considered to be one of the forms of ESP, so I find myself wondering if this expanding intuitive ability means the muscles blocking my third eye are finally opening.

Can you tell I’m getting antsy to get to the end of the muscle-healing thing and on to whatever is next?  I keep trying to stay in the moment and find the joy, etc.  But when it comes to unwinding and not sleeping and headaches, etc.  I have to admit my basic feeling re: those things and joy is…  not so much.

Anyway, as I note the intuitive ability growing, it’s been interesting to ponder… and wonder what abilities my ancestors had.  Maybe a seance???  🙂

A glimpse of unwinding

The main reason I’ve been absent so much from blogging has been the unwinding face muscles.  Not just the unwinding itself, but the huge transition it’s creating have been diverting me from the keyboard.

So many people have been puzzled about what I mean by unwinding, I decided one day while it was in full yanking and tugging mode to grab my phone and record.  What you can see on the surface is really just the tip of the iceberg and I wish I could figure out how to describe the multitudes of things going on in the muscles underneath.

All the contortions are driven by what’s going on in the muscles and for the most part out of my control (I can clench down hard and force it to stop but that’s not something I can or want to do routinely, especially since it re-creates some of the knots and tension already released).  When this decides to start happening it just takes over.

The good news is my face, head and neck are becoming slowly but surely free of tension, clenching, pressure, etc.  Periodically significant pieces open and I feel a new level of “wow, my face can feel like this?”  Those moments are the blessing in all this that keeps me able to tolerate it.  Not to mention my eternal optimism 🙂

Nonetheless I thought it might help make the process clearer if I showed you.  Imagine this going on for hours a day — sometimes as much as 18 or all 24 — and perhaps you can see why I say it stops so much of my life.  Why I can’t sleep.  Why I’m so tired.  Why I often can’t concentrate to write or meditate…  I’m not anxious for this to wind up all over the place so in about a week I plan to take down the video and probably this post.

My undulating spine

An animated gif of a walk sequence.

Walking “wrong” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I’m most appreciating lately about the changes in my body is the return of my undulating spine.

I figured out some years ago as I released lots of patterns with the Flowing Body work I created,  our spines are naturally meant to undulate as we walk.  When everything is released and I’m mindfully letting it flow, my hips are moving, my lumbar is moving, my upper back is moving and my shoulders are doing full rotations as I walk.

Yep.  Everything is moving.  Separately.  Unlike the guy up above who’s walking the way most of us (in the U.S. anyway–chime in if you think it happens in your country too) do, as if nothing in the entire spine from base to top can move on its own.

As I chatted with my students we realized that around age 12 or so (possibly younger now as children mature faster)

  1. girls get told that swinging hips are slutty
  2. boys get told that swinging hips are girly

and everybody starts walking stiffly.  Add in a lot of admiration for stiff military posture and you get people walking with backs that don’t move and hips that stay stiff and move as little as possible.

Even after I realized how we’re meant to walk and had released enough to be able to walk that way, I’d still stiffen up while taking a walk unless I kept mindfully paying attention to how I walked.  The stiff, motionless style of walking becomes so ingrained, it’s hard to overcome it.

When you walk that way, some muscles are overly tight in order to hold that stiffness.  Over time the tightness starts creating patterns in your muscles which can spread throughout your body.  Other muscles that are intended to be moving are not being used so they atrophy.  The tightness in some muscles and the under use of others together create an aching back.

I’ve talked with so many people who report they, as I did, often finish a walk with a terribly aching back.  It became something I dreaded about taking walks and contributed to why I’ve spent more time in recent years on an exercise bike and doing kundalini yoga.

Last year after my amazing healing session with Osunnike I noticed when I practiced the Flowing Body work for spine, even during the practice my spine already felt looser and moved much more than it usually did AFTER completing the release work and was much freer than ever before when I finished.

Since the latest big healing moment many things have been shifting.  For a while my back really bothered me and after resolving some contributing bedding issues I started realizing that all the opening in my head is releasing muscles all over my body.  As these muscles unfold for the first time in decades, they’re not used to exercise or … moving at all… and they protest.  Some of the back issues came from that.

I did quite a bit of the spine releases and some specific yoga work to help, which actually just pushed more opening faster and, for a while, added to the pain.  But now that area is all settled down and I’m realizing when I go for walks that I’m undulating pretty naturally.  I don’t have to make each walk an exercise in mindfulness about how I move because my back has released so well and everything is flowing so much that most of the time everything is moving as it’s supposed to move.

Right now I cherish to these moments when something shows me clearly how much has changed.  On the trip I saw how much more calm and centered I am.  The walks I’ve taken since I’ve been home (it’s getting HOT so they’re becoming few and far between 🙂 ) have reminded me how much my body has changed and is still changing.

Do all the parts of your hips and back that should be moving actually move when you walk?

 

Muscles: 4 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back… Forever?

Helen yoga

Helen yoga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trying to post the last couple of weeks has been an interesting process.  In this time of transition I have SO many ideas swirling through my head, so many realizations arising; much of it is interconnected.  Right now I’m struggling to sort my way through it all and my mind doesn’t seem to have its usual organizational abilities to sort through it all and create posts.  Not to mention that much of it is still in process…

I will get back to J2P Monday again, but right now the one arena where I seem to have some coherent thoughts is about muscles.

Last time, I talked about how muscles intertwine, squeeze off energy and can take a long time unwinding.  This time the exploration moves to the up and down process of healing muscles.

You see, no matter how much body work you get or how many muscle-healing exercises you’re doing, life is still going on.  You sit with your head twisted to the side watching television and that’s twisting the muscles in your neck.  You hit your head on a cupboard door and tighten a bunch of muscles in your jaw, neck and shoulders.  Your boss goes on a rampage and you tighten your whole body.  If you have really tight muscles, the tight ones are pulling the healed pieces back into tightness.

For a long time I found that at every massage appointment the first half — at least — was spent getting out the kinks that settled back in between appointments.  Increasingly I tried to make sure to do yoga and/or soak in a hot bath before an appointment so I could work some of the kinks out on my own.

When I created my movement work, it was just for me and I practiced numerous times in between appointments, often achieving more releases.  Sometimes my practitioners said I came back in even better shape than I’d been in at the end of the last appointment.

At this point I generally make appointments at a time when I can spend at least an hour-and-a-half beforehand on doing the release movements and yoga and then soaking at least 20 minutes in a hot bath.  Very little time is wasted in my appointments on retrieving lost ground and the fact that I’m looser and in balance makes it easier to achieve some deep releases.

Even with these efforts, there were times when I fell or slept in an awkward position and lost some ground.  With TMJ, even though the muscles in my face and jaw were unwinding, I clenched in the night and tightened it back up.  Sometimes I had stellar spells when the movement seemed only forward.  But most of the time the process of healing my muscles moved more like four steps forward, two steps back.  Always getting better, but an up and down process…

The healing moved much more quickly when I developed the exercise sets that so deeply trigger releases in the muscles but still it has been kind of four steps forward, one step back.  Always up and down.

When I say I’m almost done, I’m referring to the patterns of muscles currently in my head.  There are still a few other places that haven’t let go.  And I’m always aware, body work and doing my exercises is a life-time commitment because as long as I’m alive my muscles will ever be subject to sitting “funny”, bumping into things, tension, etc.

There is no such thing as DONE with muscles.  If you want muscles that are relaxed, strong and healthy, it’s a lifetime commitment to taking care of them.  Even when you’ve solved any specific issues you may have, you still have to work at keeping them healthy.

More on vision a la Dr. Harry Sirota

Eyemuscles

Eyemuscles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I write about Dr. Sirota and his revolutionary thinking about vision, I usually get some comments and private messages expressing interest, so after mentioning him in my last post I thought I’d update my long-ago piece about him.

Dr. Sirota believed that the 20/20 standard to which optometry and ophthalmology conform is an over-correction and causes tight muscles around the eyes to tighten further, which leads to deterioration of vision.  He also developed incredible insight into the psychological factors behind vision issues and the many ways in which vision impairment influences everything about your body and your emotional state.

The first visit with him lasted between three and four hours and every visit lasted at least two. He evaluated me and my movements and my life and what affected my vision to a depth I couldn’t have imagined. Dr. Sirota believed that near-sightedness begins with emotional trauma. The muscles behind the eyes tighten around the emotion and the pull on the eyes changes the shape of the cornea.

But there’s so much more to his work. By the time I got to Dr. Harry he’d been working so long on his ideas and knowledge about the relationship between vision and emotions and physical being that it was like visiting a psychic/shrink/ eye doctor.

He’d noted a deep relationship between what’s going on in the eyes and how the body moves.  As he worked on the prescription he’d put some lenses in the test glasses and have me walk forwards and backwards. “Mm, you’re throwing your left foot out to the side.” He’d change a lens and suddenly my foot straightened.  Or he’d try out a prescription and have me walk around, comment that I held one shoulder higher than the other and he’d shift the prescription and my shoulders would level out.

He’d have me walk backward toward a hanger and reach out a hand to touch the center. “You’re not really seeing where the center is….” Change lens, try again, change lens and suddenly I could walk backwards and touch the hanger in the center. By the time he decided on a final prescription my whole body would be moving differently and I’d feel more calm. Your eyes relate to so much in your body and so much about how you feel in your skin it’s amazing.

His prescriptions were very complex and quite expensive, but oh boy, the relaxation and comfort of wearing a pair of his glasses!

As I mentioned in the previous post, one key to his method was prescriptions that were reduced quite a bit from the 20/20 required by most optometrists. The strong prescription that is the norm creates tension so the muscles behind your eyes tighten more and the near-sightedness actually grows worse over time. It also causes your whole body to be more tense. When I put on my first pair of glasses from him the sense of relief was immense.

His work on this began when he entered the clinical phase of his training and kept noting that most people complained about discomfort every time they got a new prescription.  Most eye doctors will tell you you’ll adjust and aren’t concerned about the discomfort.  And most people do just get used to being uncomfortable.  It isn’t that it’s gone or corrected, you just become numb to it.  Dr. Sirota didn’t feel it was right for people to feel so unhappy with new prescriptions.

He couldn’t get the optometry community to listen to him but psychologists took an interest and he was invited all over the world to speak about his work. When he worked with a prison all kinds of behavior issues were resolved after inmates received his care for their eyes. The last I knew he had never found anyone in the vision care world who wanted to be trained in his work but he lived and continued working for many years after I moved, so I don’t know whether someone stepped up to the plate.

For me CranioSacral therapy and emotional release work have been key to getting the muscles to relax and my vision has improved immensely as a result so even though you can’t see him, you can address the issue of tight muscles around your eyes and bring your eyesight back.

If you or someone you know is near-sighted I highly recommend that you read the two articles below. Sadly Dr. Sirota died a few years ago so you can’t work with him but there a few people who are incorporating his work in other healing modalities.

This article has a really good interview with him, discussing his work:

There’s also an excellent article in the Chicago Tribune:

And one place has actually incorporated his work into something they call Sirota Repatterning

Interconnected body, interconnected world

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...

Collage of varius Gray’s muscle pictures by Mikael Häggström (User:Mikael Häggström) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been on another wild ride lately with the muscle unwinding thing.  And it’s been one of those phases where something opens in my jaw and a couple of minutes later there’s a huge release in my shoulders.  The other night, a few things opened on the left side of my face and for the next several hours various points opened down the left side:  shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, foot.

It reminds me how incredibly interconnected our bodies are.  How one muscled clenched in pain can pull the whole body out of whack if it’s not addressed.  The place that hurts is often not the point of origin of the problem.  That interconnectedness is ignored a lot in the U.S. (chime in rest of world if it’s true where you are too); western medicine largely ignores muscles and seems to have lost track of the impact an injury can have on muscles throughout the system.

Muscles are not individual, isolated parts of us with no interaction with anything else.  One muscle attaches to another which attaches to another.  Just one key system involves muscles connected to the sphenoid bone (at about the level of the bridge of your nose) which connect to the jaw, and then the neck, creating an unending pattern that goes all the way down each side of your body to your feet.  When the sphenoid is tilted (and it can be influenced to tilt by muscles) it can pull one whole side of the body upward while the other side tenses as it tries to compensate.

When I teach movement classes a big goal is helping people realize how each part connects to all the rest.  I learn every time how detached people are from their bodies and how very unaware of those connections.  It’s always fun to do the triggers of release for ankles and have someone exclaim because their jaw opened up.  Or to do the triggers for hips and then as they walk around during the after check-in*, to observe that every set of shoulders in the room is lower.  To see the awe on people’s faces as they realize how one part affects another.

These days I’ve been reflecting a lot about the way the world mirrors us.  I’ve believed for a long time that the state of Earth’s health is directly related to the state of our health on all three levels (body, mind, spirit).  We’re such a key part of the interconnectedness of all life and the Earth.  The more each of us understands and heals our own body, the healthier the web of all life — and therefore the world — becomes.

As I reflect I see the importance of understanding the web of the body.  Just as the tilted sphenoid can impact the whole body, the dis-ease of so many people throws off the balance of nature. I’m gonna keep saying it:  heal your body, heal the world.

And yes, I can see it’s time to use ho’oponopono to heal in myself the disconnect I see in others…


*Part of gaining consciousness in this work is to check in before each movement and then again after so  conscious mind can note what changed and become aware of a new possible state of being.

 

Inspiring Performance and Healing Update

I’m back to zombie state (see below) so I’m mainly going to give you another inspiring performance from America’s Got Talent.  Her story is interesting (beginning), but you can jump ahead to about 1:35 on the recording to just hear her sing:

The last CranioSacral appointment releases have let the final muscles in my face set off on what I think is the last wild ride of unwinding.  It’s incredibly exciting to follow and it also, as usual, is interfering with sleep, giving me headaches and leaving the muscles really sore.

My whole head felt like it was in a vice grip for so many decades it’s hard to explain the sensations as it opens.  Every time a bunch of unwinding occurs, I announce my face feels so much freer.  Because I don’t remember what it’s like to have a naturally relaxed face/head, every increment of release brings me to more freedom than I’ve known.

Muscles that have been tightly wound for decades tend to howl in pain when released, so I REALLY feel this.  But it’s so amazing to “watch” the slow opening in my jaw and behind my eyes.

A couple of practitioners have commented on my head almost seeming like something was pushing down from above while something simultaneously pushed up from below.  My eyes have been pulled down toward my jaw and my jaw up toward my eyes in a giant clamped, pinched configuration for so long.  It’s awe-inspiring to feel the space grow open.

But boy oh boy, it’s wearing on its own and when it’s going on night and day so I can’t sleep….  Zombie Leigh …

J2P Monday: In your body, what blocks peace?

Another aspect of the challenge I’ve issued this month is physical.  As the temple that houses the soul, the body’s condition is so important to the journey.  A body out of balance or struggling reflects emotional and spiritual aspects out of balance as well.

The role of the body in achieving inner peace and/or higher consciousness is often ignored or put on the back burner.  While many seekers seem to put a lot of emphasis on diet and nutrition,  they often pay no attention to the role of stuck patterns in muscles.  These patterns influence a spiritual journey in two main respects.

1.  When muscles are held in twisted, knotted, intertwined patterns, there are usually unacknowledged issues buried in the knots and twists.  Unacknowledged/unconscious beliefs are part of such repressed memories and those beliefs are usually negative and controlling much of your life.

2.  Prana, or vital force energy, flows through channels called nadis which correspond roughly to the circulatory system.  Tight, twisted muscles block the flow of energy as well as restricting blood flow.  It is very difficult to maintain inner peace when the body is tense, blocked and working overtime to move energy and blood.

Not only do I know through reading that TMJ, tight necks, shoulders, lower backs, hips and hamstrings are rampant, as a long time movement teacher I can see how stiffly most people move and how common it is to have muscle patterns interfering with a flowing body.

Sometimes these issues can be released through emotional work or spiritual practices, but to the extent they’re caught in the muscles, the muscles need to be released too.  Practices like yoga, Feldenkrais and the Psychophysical method (see my movement classes) and bodywork like craniosacral, Rolfing and Polarity therapy help to sort out the muscles and can help you release the issues if you’re willing to be open to all that arises from the work.

Close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe or toe to head.  Note every place where you feel pain, tightness, numbness (lack of consciousness of that place) or discomfort.  All those painful, tight paces are blocking the flow of prana and tell you something is buried there.

Do you have TMJ?  A stiff neck?  Trouble moving your hips?  What blocks peace in your body?  Why do you think you hold these patterns?  What stops you from doing something to release it?

Just a suggestion of an area you might want to explore in a post for this month’s challenge to write about what blocks your peace.  Link to the challenge post and tag it “J2PChallenge” and “Journey2Peace”.

Layers unraveling — the energy we lose…

Wikipedia Facial Muscles

 

As I struggle with the unwinding muscles I keep being struck by the vast amounts of my energy that have obviously been bound up in holding all of this tightness.  It isn’t a new thought; as the process of restoring my muscles from all of them being steely, twisted, and glued-together has moved along I’ve been aware that my energy increases as my body opens.  But there’s something about the slow journey from cement-like to healthy in my head and face that has really brought it home.

Most of this year I’ve felt like I’m barely hanging on in one sense.  The constant unwinding of the muscles in my face, while miraculous, is also painful and wearing.  It interferes so much with sleep that I’m often just catching naps whenever I can.  Keeping to any kind of schedule is nearly impossible.  Exercise, meditation, cooking, cleaning — all these things have become hit or miss.  It’s hard not to feel like a failure when I so rarely do what I meant to do.

The shining light that keeps me taking one more step each day is the amazing feeling as life is restored to one tiny place at a time.  Every increment of blood and prana flow restored show me how much energy did NOT flow.  Every piece that opens reveals how very much energy has been devoted to holding all this steely tightness from head to toe for most of my life.

You can see in the picture above that there are many layers of muscles in your face.  Every single one of those was twisted like steely pipe and every single one that you can see connected to others was intertwined with and glued together in groups with every connected piece.  I can now feel parts of my face that I have no memory of feeling.  The body is like that — lots of layers, lots of interconnections.  Once one part goes off they all start twisting to fit the pattern.

I’ve said it many times — I know that most people don’t have a situation with their muscles as bad as mine.  But I also know that TMJ, tight necks and shoulders, near-sightedness and back pain–to name a few–are rampant.  And I’m not sure that everybody realizes how much of their energy is lost to those holding patterns.  Various sorts of body work help with these things but at some point I think it takes personal work.  If you don’t practice yoga or some sort of pattern-ending movement (see here for the work I developed) in between, body work will rarely take you the whole way.   Emotions are also in there. These holding patterns contain parts of your story.  Parts of your ancestors’ stories.  You don’t have to dredge up every detail but I do think you have to be willing to look inward and see what you’re holding in there.

It takes time.  This isn’t stuff you can plan on fixing with a few body work sessions or one “release the past” exercise.  Most people don’t have to go through the excruciatingly slow process that I’ve had to go through but these patterns take time.  I think I’ve been led through this long slow process so that I could feel every stage of opening and be aware of it all.  And to spread the word — do the work.  It’s worth it.

DON’T FORGET TO CHANT FOR PEACE!  See Collective Prayer Sundays for info.

 

My variation on the trauma exercises

After I worked with the trauma exercises a few times exactly as they’re described in Berceli’s Trauma Release Process (see previous post) I wasn’t too keen on the warm-up exercises.  The first six exercises are basically to fatigue the muscles so that it’s easier to get them to release.  They’re also pretty tough on the quads and REALLY hard on the knees.  Initially I thought I’d just give the same instructions I’d give my students for modifying those.

But I’ve been working with muscles and movement for nearly three decades so I know there are other ways to get muscles ready to release.  I started experimenting with a couple of different lead-ins to the release exercise itself.  First I tried a series of yoga poses that I do regularly that deeply stretch a lot of muscles in the thighs and groin as well as fatigue the quads.  When I shifted to Berceli’s seventh exercise–the release piece–I had a huge release on the first two inch lift where the previous times I only experienced some quivering in the first two levels.

Next I tried doing the hip release work from my Robert Masters-based movement work and then some yoga and psoas stretches.  Again, enormous release right from the beginning of the release process.  Instructions for these releases are in my booklet, Restoring Fluidity and Freedom of Movement.

I thought I’d give you two different yoga series to use as warm-ups for the release.  If anyone really wants my modifications to the original series I’ll provide them in another post.  Various poses are known by more than one name in different traditions and over time I’ve just made up names for some so don’t worry if you recognize some of these as having a different name.   Instructions for the release itself are below the two sets of yoga poses.

First Series

Modified Chair Pose

I don’t recommend this if you have knee issues.  Stand with your legs and feet together.  On an inhale, bend your knees and lift your arms straight out from your shoulders with your wrists bent so that your palms are facing outward and your fingertips point to the ceiling.  Don’t bend your legs any farther than your place of comfort.  While you hold continue deep breathing.  Start with just a few breaths and try to work up to holding 20-25 long deep breaths.  Take as much time as you need to increase the hold — months if necessary.  If you feel any pulling or discomfort in your knees discontinue.

Downward Dog variation

Get on the floor on hands and knees.  Plant your hands firmly and make sure that the pressure on your palms is extending to the top of the palms (just below the fingers).  Once you get into the pose keep checking the pressure — if you rest on the base of your palms you’ll overextend your wrists.  Once your palms are set, inhale and then on an exhalation lift your hips toward the ceiling.  Make sure that your back is straight and long.

English: downward dog posture I took this pict...

English: downward dog posture I took this picture for use in the Anahata Yoga instruction manual. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do not lift your shoulders toward your ears — keep them down so that your neck is long and free.  Bring your heels as close to the floor as you comfortably can without forcing and then lift your right foot and wrap it around your left calf/ankle.  Continue long deep breathing.  Start with about four deep breaths and over time work up to 20-25.  After four breaths bring the right foot down and lift the left foot and wrap around right calf/ankle.  Hold four breaths (working up to 20-25).

Prayer to Cobra

When you complete the second side on downward dog, come down into prayer/extended child’s pose.  Your bottom should be on your heels. Bend forward from the hips and bring your head as close to the floor as you comfortably can.  If your hamstrings or low back are tight, try folding a blanket or getting a bolster to place behind your knees so that you can rest instead of tightening your legs to hold the pose.  Stretch your arms out on the floor in front of you, extending as far as you can.  Take a couple of breaths in this pose.  Then on an inhalation slide your nose forward along the floor and push up into cobra pose when your head is between your hands.  When you exhale bring your nose back down to the floor and slide back into prayer pose.  If you’re using a bolster and it moves, just don’t go all the way into prayer pose.  Start out doing just three or four.  If you can, work up to 12-15. If you’re not familiar with these poses or the movement isn’t comfortable, do just a cobra or a camel pose as your backbend.

Side Umbrella Pose

Stand with your feet about three feet apart.  Turn your left foot so your toes are pointing out to the side.  Angle your right foot toward your left at about a 45 degree angle.  The heel of your left foot should be pointing toward the arch of your right foot.  Turn your torso to face the left leg.  Clasp your hands behind your back.  Inhale and stretch upward so your back is nice and long.  As you exhale bend forward from the hips.  Keep your back straight for as long as you can.  The ultimate aim is to bring your face down to your knee/lower thigh (and your back won’t be as straight) but do NOT go any farther over than you can go with comfort.  When you’ve bent as far as you comfortably can hold for a second and check your balance.  If you feel secure, lift your clasped hands and try to bring your arms up and over your head.  For many people it takes a long time to get anywhere near the full pose.  It’s worth practicing because it is a fabulous stretch for the low back, hamstrings and pecs.  However far you can go into it to begin with you WILL be getting some stretch and that’s what will help the muscles open.  Hold for 4-12 breaths (start low, work up).  On an inhale feel as if a pulley from the ceiling is lifting your hands and let your whole body glide up.  Turn your feet to face front and then change to the other side and repeat all.

Wide-leg Table Pose

When you complete the Umbrella, turn your feet back to face front and walk them out, heel, toe, heel, toe as far as you comfortably can and/or until you have a good stretch on your inner thigh.  Inhale to a straight back and exhale, bending forward from the hips.  Place your hands on the floor so that your back is flat and parallel to the floor and your arms are like the legs of a table.  Start out holding for about 4 deep breaths.  Over time try to extend until you can hold for 15-20 long, deep breaths.  Do not stretch beyond your comfort zone and do not hold too long.  To come out, walk your feet in, heels, toes, heels, toes until you can comfortably bend your knees and roll up.

Standing/Moving Forward Bend

Stand with your feet a few inches apart.  Make sure you’re well balanced on your feet.  Inhale and straighten, stretching your spine long.  Exhale and bend forward from the hips, keeping your back straight.  There are several levels at which you may do this one, depending on your flexibility.  For the most flexible, bend all the way down and grab your big toes; keep your legs straight.  On the next inhalation, straighten your arms while still holding your toes and lift your head.  On the exhale, grab behind your ankles and pull your chest as close to your thighs as possible, head down.  When you inhale, grab your toes and lift your head again.  Continue this movement pattern with the breath.  Begin doing four and work up to do 15 reps.  If you’re less flexible, you may have your hands on your shins or on your knees instead of holding your toes.  If necessary have your knees bent (but try to keep legs straight).  When you inhale keep your hands on your knees or shins and straighten your arms and lift your head.  When you exhale, grab behind your knees or shins and pull yourself down as far as you can go with comfort.  Continue this movement pattern with the breath.  Begin doing four and work up to do 15 reps.

Second Series

This group of poses have been my saving grace for tight, out-of-balance hips and psoas. I know they open that whole area so I wasn’t surprised when they turned out to be great triggers for the release.

Cobbler’s Pose

Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together, your hands holding your feet together and the outsides of your thighs facing or on the floor.  Push your knees down as close to the floor as you comfortably can.  If your inner thighs are already screaming, lift your knees a little higher.  Make sure your spine stays straight and if that means you need to lift your knees a bit more, lift them — always take care of that spine.  If this position is as much as you can take, just sit like this and breathe deep.  If you can take a bit more, bend forward from the hips keeping a straight back and place your elbows on your inner shins, adding a little pressure to stretch the inner thigh a bit more.  If that’s as much as you can take, stay there and breathe deeply.  If you have a lot of flexibility keep the pressure from your elbows and continue bending forward to bring your head as close to the floor as you comfortably can.  Wherever your stop, take long deep breaths and hold for at least four.  Over time work up to hold for 10-12 breaths.

Eye of the Needle (for hips)

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Raise your right leg and place your lower leg sideways across your left thigh just above the left knee.  You should now have a big triangular hole between your legs.  Put your right hand through that hole and grab behind your left knee.  Put your left arm around the outside of your left thigh and grab behind the left knee.  If your hips are really tight you might need to just stay here.  If you can, lift your left foot off the floor and bring your legs a little closer to your chest.  At the same time press outward with your right elbow on the inside of your right leg.  If that’s as much as you can take, stay there.  If you can go farther, lift your shoulders and head and with your hands pull the left leg closer to your chest.  Wherever you need to stop, hold and breathe deeply.  Start with four breaths.  Work up over time to doing 8-10.  Switch sides, left lower leg across right thigh, left hand through the hole to grab behind right knee, etc.

Log Pose

This one is a little more demanding for the hips.  If they’re really tight, stick with the previous pose until you’ve loosened up.  Sit on the floor as if you were going to sit cross-legged and stack your lower legs so that your right lower leg is directly on top of your left lower leg.  If necessary let the knee of the top leg lift but if you can, keep your knees down.  If this position is already stretching your hips as much as you can take, stay like this.  If you can do a little more, inhale to a straight spine and exhale bending slightly forward from your hips.  Place your hands in front of you on the floor.  Stay there if that’s your maximum stretch.  If not, continue bending forward to bring your head toward the floor.  If you can go all the way over, rest your head on your hands on the floor in front of your shins.  Where ever you stop, breathe deeply.  On each exhalation try to stretch a little more.  Hold for 4-6 breaths.  Over time try to extend the hold for 8-12 breaths.  Inhale back up.  Switch legs so that your left lower leg is on top.  One side will usually be tighter than the other so don’t be surprised if you can go more deeply into this on one side than the other.

Reclining Lotus

Unless you have pretty flexible hips and pretty good knees, either skip this one or do the easier variation below.  Sit on the floor and place your right foot as high up on your left thigh as you can get it.  Then put your left foot as high up on your right thigh as you can get it.  Place your arms behind you and slowly start to lie back.  Then bend your arms and rest on your elbows. If that’s as far back as you can go, stay there.  Otherwise, continue back until you are lying all the way down with your legs still in lotus pose.  Hold for four breaths.  As you practice, expand to 15-20 breaths.  Inhale as you use your arms to assist you in sitting back up.  Switch the legs so your right leg is now cross on top of your left and repeat all.  To modify, bend your right leg and place on the floor as if you’re about to sit cross-legged– outer thigh facing down, right foot on the floor, aiming toward the general vicinity of your left hip.  Bend your left leg and place the foot on your right thigh as high up as you comfortably can.  Go through the same slow process of lying back in stages.  Check in at each stage to see if you need to just stop.  If you can, lie back on the floor.  Same breathing instructions.  Inhale slowly up with an assist from your arms.  Change sides and repeat.

I also generally add a lunge pose variation that’s much like what I learned as Half Cobra only without raising the arms.  I also do a pigeon pose series that has about four different positions.  I don’t want to try to explain it with only words and I don’t have pictures, so do these if you know them, don’t worry about it otherwise.

The Release

I recommend that you buy Berceli’s book and use his photos to assist in doing this piece.

When you complete the warm-ups (one or the other or both of the series above), sit on the floor in the opening position of cobbler’s pose (see above) and then lie back in a reclining cobbler’s pose (you can do a search and easily find pictures of what this one looks like).  Hold for a few breaths and let the muscles relax.  Your arms can be wherever they’re comfortable; resting on your stomach, over your head or at your sides.  Then lift your pelvis about two inches off the floor and hold in that position (soles of feet still together, knees still open to the sides) for a minute.  Then lower back down and lie in reclining cobbler’s pose for another minute.  Sometimes I stay here a bit longer as it really helps some of those muscles release.  Your legs may begin to quiver.  Let them.

Next, raise your knees about two inches and hold in that position for two minutes.  This is the point at which I start getting some big releases when I do the yoga poses first instead of his warm-ups.  With his warm-ups there’s more quivering at this stage.

Bring your knees another two inches higher.   Hold.  Let any quivering, shaking, etc. keep going.  If there are any releases let it continue.  When the release stops or after two minutes of quivering, bring your knees two inches higher.  Stay there and allow the quivering, shaking, etc. to go on as long as you can.  If you need to, stretch your legs out on the floor to rest before continuing or at any point when you feel tired.

Place the soles of your feet flat on the floor and have your knees somewhat apart.  The quivering should begin again pretty quickly.  Let the shaking move on up into your pelvis, low back, shoulders, etc.  Sometimes my head and arms also start moving around.  Allow this to continue as long as you can; even 15 minutes or beyond.  If you’re body is feeling fatigued, stop at any point.  With the warm-ups I’ve been doing, I actually have releases in other areas of my body starting with the first two inch raise of my knees.

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Three years–wowie zowie

By Tayunea on Wikimedia

Since I’m still not back in the world all the way I’m a little behind on things.  So it slipped by me the other day when WordPress told me I’ve been blogging for three years.  Doesn’t seem possible.

I’m ever more grateful for this lovely community and the fact that I’m always meeting new wonderful people.  I love the connection with all of you but I want to give a special shout to those who’ve been part of my blogging journey since somewhere near the beginning.  It’s amazing to me that we’ve been in one another’s lives for three years.  Whether you’re a new friend or a long-time blogging buddy, I’m so grateful we found one another here!  I’m so thankful for the many lessons and insights I’ve received from all your thoughtful, heart-felt posts.  Thanks everybody!

Yoga tip:  Lots of yoga postures for abs involve lying on your back on the floor and raising your head or head and shoulders.   Lots of students complain that it hurts their necks.  As with so many things, form makes all the difference.  Most of us don’t really use our necks properly.  It’s easy to use your shoulders to do some of the neck’s job and in these postures I find most people tend to both hunch their shoulders slightly forward and lift their shoulders up toward their ears and then tighten them.  That position is all wrong for your neck and the wrong position is quite painful.  Make sure your shoulders are back slightly and pulled down from your ears.   Since the neck muscles are often underused and/or overly taut, the muscles that are supposed to hold your head in this position will probably be sore at first, so some pain may still be present but it should feel different when you’re just pushing some muscles beyond what they’re used to rather than scrunching your neck unnaturally.  If you’re holding an abs move with your head up for a while keep checking your form to make sure your shoulders are staying in proper position–down and back.

Transition Time?

http://www.laurierohner.com/pink-peony-oil-painting-botanical-garden.html

Pink Peony by Laurie Rohner

The above picture is presented with gratitude for Laurie’s permission to use her art.  Please go check it out on her site.

The last four or five days have been interesting and trying.  A bad cold over the weekend had me down for the count.  One night while miserably not sleeping from its effects the muscles in my jaw opened enough for the formerly numb nerve endings to come to life and shout “Ow!”  I didn’t know my jaw could hurt that much without a dentist in the story.  Then that gave me a headache.

When I finally gave up on sleep and got up to make a nest by the T.V. and hang out I was thinking, “This is too much!  Really, on top of the cold you now have to saddle me with this?”  But later, after the Ibuprofen kicked in, I realized that for the first time in living memory my jaw didn’t feel clenched.  There are still some strands of muscles that haven’t finished the unwinding process but the deep, deep stuff wound into my jaw — especially at the hinges — has finally let go enough for me to feel like my jaw is relatively restored to health.

Suddenly I felt thankful that the Universe let me have all that misery at once instead of in consecutive rounds over the course of days or weeks.  And so grateful to feel the flow of blood and energy in my poor, formerly-numb-with-tightness jaw.

The post on Brenda’s Blog last week talked about a spell of transition arriving during the week and although her piece talked about big emotional responses, I felt like my cold and the muscle shifts were my responses.  If I released a bunch of associated emotions I never noted it.  But something changed.

I’ve said for a while that I felt like the muscles holding on in my face and head were creating emotional feeling tones of their own even though I released most of the emotional stuff that created them.  And along the way I figured out that ancestral patterns created a lot of the muscle patterns in that area.  I’m noticing so far that this shift leaves me feeling free of that sense of “jaw-clenching” anger or tense anxiety that most of the time were at odds with what I really felt at any given time.

This long journey hasn’t finished.  I keep giving you lots of detail because I so believe that your muscles have such an impact on your spiritual journey and your emotional journey.  Whatever you have yet to address in your muscle system may be just the healing you need.

Seven days of eradicating ego

I finished my first week of the ego eradicator with mindfulness meditation and Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha (see previous post). It feels great every time I do it.  It builds a big energy and the flow continues for me long after.

Any change it’s creating is very subtle I’d say.  And since I’m always doing more than one practice at a time and more than one practice over time most change for me arises as an effect of cumulative efforts.

I mentioned that the night I did my ceremony to break an ancestral spell I felt pain shoot through the two locked areas in my head — tentorium and

Wikipedia

falx — and the remaining locked muscles in my face began unwinding. That has continued.  The core tight pieces that, up to now, have been yanked around by other pieces unwinding but have not themselves let go have been opening at quite a pace.  I would say that the pace has picked up considerably since I began to do the ego eradicator.

I would also say that I’ve been feeling somewhat more inner strength and increased mental fortitude.  That’s something that’s been building with some other practices I’ve been doing for a while but the change is more noticeable in the last week.  When the unwinding muscles are letting me sleep only every couple of days it’s a little tough to decide how much stronger or more assertive I feel as fatigue tends to dull everything.   My vision has also improved.

I love this practice and I may be doing it beyond the 40 days.  But I want to be clear that it is not a magic bullet.  There has been no sudden miraculous shift nor have I suddenly been successful at some task nor magnetized some great circumstance.  There are lots of testimonials that make this sound like something that will transform your life after the first three minutes.  I’ve been at this long enough that I entered this challenge without assuming that my life would radically change.

But I do find the practice powerful and I can feel its impact on a spiritual level.  I find over time all spiritual practices slowly transform me but for me the change has usually been more inner than outer.  I’ve known lots of people for whom those inner changes have soon translated to big outer changes but that has not been true for me.  I have faith that the practices are doing whatever I need and that my higher self has the best plan. Sometimes that faith is the only impetus to practice, so don’t feel discouraged if the only change you feel from any practice is subtle.

Healing Journey Monday: Learn your body!

First, a side note:  My colleague, Kreig Cremeans (of Bodypatterning fame in previous posts) and I will be offering our 3-day workshop, Intro to Bodypatterning and Restoring Fluidity and Freedom of Movement in Corte Madera, CA  (San Francisco area) April 29-May 1.  The class has 21 CE hours (NCBTMB).  If you have body worker friends in the area I’d so appreciate it if you’d let them know.  Details on Kreig’s website.

My greatest struggle as a movement teacher has arisen from trying to make sure that students move within their limits.  I used to think I was doing a pretty good job because I demonstrate postures and movements at more than one level and repeat often that everyone should make sure they’re moving within their limits.  Over time I’ve had a number of students who wound up complaining of pain and  I worked with them on “making it smaller” with movements and postures so they were able to continue without having more issues.

But I had to realize that I somehow kept failing at communication if students continued to go too far into postures or made the triggers of release movements too large for their abilities.  What I finally came to understand is that many people are so numb to their bodies that just saying “stay within your limits” doesn’t really help them understand (and trust me that was where I started out–I was just young enough to get away with being that unconscious).  We’re kind of a society of “suck it up”, “soldier on through”, etc.  So many of my students missed noting any limit that didn’t involve something breaking or tearing, accompanied by unbearable pain.

I’ve been working on a longer list of  “signs that you’ve moved too far or made a movement too large”.  Some of these came from Kreig and I’m interested to hear whether any of you yoga teachers and students who read my posts have any more to suggest:

1.  If it hurts at all you’ve gone too far or made the movement too big (fill this in on the rest)

2.  If anything feels like it’s pulling …

3.  If the movement or pose goes from easy to uncomfortable….

4.  If you can’t breathe (because of discomfort)…

5.  If  you feel like you’re forcing your body to the position it’s in or to make a bigger movement …

In the end, as I tell all my students, I can tell you over and over to stay in your limits but only you can feel when you reach them.  There’s no way that I (or any teacher) can tell by watching if you bent too far forward in a forward bend or took your knees too far toward the floor in the triggers of release for hips.  If you’re not used to noting and honoring the signals your body gives you this can be the most challenging part of yoga (or any movement practice) but if you stay in your limits you can progress safely and without pain until you can do more and more.  Yoga–at least the way I teach it–is meant to help you find greater health and balance.  It’s not about proving that you can fight through pain and/or discomfort and wind up in a lot of pain the next day.  Learn your body, let the practice flow.  Easy does it really can get you there.

Let me know those suggestions!

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