Sage advice: muscles

My knowledge of muscles is taken from many places.  From a section on anatomy and muscles in my yoga teacher training, to info on muscles liberally dispensed by yoga teachers and multiple body work therapists to reading on my own, I’ve been learning about muscles for 30+ years.

The key factor I would emphasize is that most of us are woefully ignorant about our muscles and the central role they play in our health, well-being and ability to get around.  Western medicine largely ignores muscles, so many problems go undetected because they don’t even look for damage when you’ve fallen or been in an accident.

It’s worth learning about your muscles and seeking assistance outside of allopathic medicine in order to maintain muscle health and to restore it to balance after injury.

Emotions and muscles

Since this is everyone’s least favorite aspect, let’s get it out of the way 🙂  At times of trauma and/or drama we tighten our muscles and often the emotions evoked by these events wind up locked in knots in the muscle.

When you start opening the muscles, whether through practicing yoga, getting body work or treatments like acupuncture, those emotions and the memories associated with them are going to surface.

I think it’s one of the biggest reasons body work may plateau; resistance to remembering and/or releasing leads the person unconsciously to tighten.  In yoga people prevent these openings by getting out of a pose as soon as the muscle starts to relax enough to let those memories and feelings rise up.

Getting clear of old issues almost always needs to include some work on muscles in order to open the flow and restore essence.

Strength and Flexibility

America has somehow come to the conclusion that healthy muscles need only to be strong.  It’s a persistent misconception even though multitudes of people who work only on strength have wound up suffering pain from the impact of having muscles that are rigid but incapable of flexing.

Natural movement through the world requires muscles to have both the strength to make certain movements and hold certain parts of the body upright and the flexibility to allow you to balance, and to adjust to the motions life throws at you and, even more important, to allow vital force energy to flow throughout your body.

The nadis, or energy channels, through which prana (chi, qi, vital energy…) moves go through the muscles.  Rigid muscles restrict that flow.  Western thinking and medicine understands very little about energy, but energy and its ability to circulate is crucial mentally, physically and spiritually to good health.

After 32 years of yoga I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think it’s one of the best ways to get your muscles into the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.  A good yoga practice works on balance on many levels and one of the important features of a good practice is performing poses for both strength and stretch.

The Pain Place and the Source of Pain May Not Be the Same

The first serious massage therapist for me used a combo of sports medicine and the trigger point therapy theories of Dr. Janet Travell, particularly as shaped by Bonnie Prudden in Myotherapy.  Because muscles are interconnected, a holding pattern in one area will spread –given enough time, tightness can spread throughout your body — and may create a tight spot that hurts somewhere else.

If you work only where the pain is, you will not get rid of the problem.  Practitioners who know how to follow patterns* can figure out where the source of the problem really is.  When that piece releases, others will be easy to open.

Margaret, that first practitioner, often worked on my neck, couldn’t get anything to budge, moved down to a giant ball of knotted muscles at the top of my achilles tendon, worked there and then went back to my neck, where the muscles would now respond.

In Body Patterning, practitioners learn to see patterns in muscles and will often release several other areas before working on the place where you’ve indicated pain.  They’re releasing pieces that are holding that one and the spot you may think is central will not let go while the other patterns hold.

Another aspect of this is that your brain will numb out much of the pain if you have tight, sore muscles all over (or in many places).  Then it will zero in on one or two specific parts where you will experience the pain.  They’re not necessarily the places of origin for your problem.  Sometimes the pain is just referring from the pattern that’s the real issue.

Find a good practitioner –making sure you check on the training and experience — and trust him or her to work wherever you most need it regardless of whether that turns out to be the place where you feel pain.

When I do Flowing Body work on myself or with students, I generally do triggers of release for at least three areas and work with consciousness not only of before and after, but what has been affected by what.  For instance, during a recent knee problem, I did the triggers for ankles, knees and hips and noticed the ankle release did the most for the sore knee and the hip release was also more effective than the knee releases.

Another I’ve noted frequently, as have many students, is that releasing the ankles will often release something in the neck and/or jaw.  Almost every release will cause people to lower their shoulders even if no work has been done on shoulders.  Pay attention as you practice yoga or other exercises as to which movements bring relief where.

Muscles and Bones

Many muscles are connected to bones which means muscles pulled out of alignment can pull bones out of alignment too.  In the early years of trying to work my way out of fibromyalgia –harking back to Margaret again — the massage therapist prescribed chiropractic appointments to help.

Once the muscles have pulled bones out of whack, it often takes work on the bones as well to get the muscles to release.  If you’re not keen on the invasiveness of traditional chiropractic work, try Network Chiropractic. which doesn’t use the bone crunching technique and instead is gentle touch.

Therapy and Self Care

Over time I learned that body workers can help a lot but if I don’t do anything to help in between appointments, progress is exceedingly slow.  There are a variety of things you can do to help

I’d already been doing yoga when I began getting massages, etc. so that has always been a natural piece for me.  But it was when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area that I became conscious of helping along more.

I’d moved out to Marin but still wanted to go to the same massage therapist and also liked going to Kabuki Hot Springs, a Japanese bath place with wonderful sauna, hot tub, steam, etc.  To save trips over the bridge I started booking the massages on one of the ladies’ days at Kabuki and going in to soak, sauna, etc. first.  The therapist quickly noted my muscles were much easier to work on from the deep heat work right before the appointment.

Then, years later when I started doing a trade for Body Patterning, I only had an appointment every other week and I knew I needed to do something to maintain from one visit to the next.  Yoga had always helped but not enough.  And the commute to Kabuki Hot Springs had become a couple thousand miles 🙂

I’d done Robert Masters’ Psycho-physical Method to tapes for years but found it unwieldy for regular practice.  I began doing some of this work in between appointments and gradually re-worked it into sets of my own which dropped some pieces and joined various disparate parts in his classes into sets that worked well together and then combined it with yoga

Practice in between helped and I began a practice of doing 30-60 minutes of this work shortly before massage appointments, with a long soak in a hot bath right before leaving.  Suddenly I was being told that I had released more since the last appointment.

Normally practitioners get a number of things to open and then a combination of repetitive motions performed in life and the pulling force of patterns still holding in your body take the progress backwards a few steps (say 4 steps forward, 2-3 steps back).  Then at the next appointment the practitioner spends 15-30 of the first minutes of your appointment getting you back to where you were at the end of the last appointment.

So doing your part through practices that maintain progress and making sure you’ve done all you could before an appointment, you can move much faster through the body work to healthy muscles.  Very little time needs to be spent on getting you back to where you were and most of the appointment is about progressing further.

Problems Arise Slowly

It’s amazing how little it can take to start a problem with muscles and then it may take years before you feel the pain.  Yup.  Years.

I know I try the patience of some of my students with my emphasis on form in doing yoga and they don’t really believe me when I tell them doing it wrong can cause injuries.  If they’re not being wheeled out on a gurney at the end of class, to them there was no injury.

But do a pose wrong — or watch TV daily with your head turned or tilted or sit with your hips uneven, etc. — and keep doing it wrong and one or more muscles can be pulled a little out of place and/or strained enough to create a small knot.

At the time and perhaps for some time to come you probably won’t feel any pain at all.  But you’ve started a pattern. And if it goes untreated, the muscle will lock into the slightly-off-position and the first couple of knots will pull more of the muscle into knots.  Once that muscle is far enough out of whack it will start pulling all the muscles around it and causing them to tighten.

You might have started off pulling a muscle in your right hip out of place and a few years later it’s expanded until you’re having pain in your left shoulder and since you haven’t even done yoga for two years, you have no idea that doing it wrong started your problem.

The same is also true of having an injury and failing to get help.  You may stay off an ankle for a few days or go on bed rest for a spell and feel okay enough when you move again. But there’s a very good chance the trauma and the automatic tightening of muscles around it has set a little pattern.  Left untreated the pattern will remain and keep reaching out to affect more muscles.

The best way to protect your muscles from injury is to stay aware in the now.  Learn to do any exercise properly — and if your teacher can’t carefully explain the details of how to do something correctly, FIND A DIFFERENT TEACHER!!!  Also take care about positions you engage in routinely — how you sit, how you hold your head.

If you do an assessment and realize you’ve been twisting your neck when you sleep or sitting with one hip higher than the other, etc., seek help on identifying any patterns that have arisen and releasing them before they’ve turned into 20 patterns.

Bottom line, your muscles are important and you are the best steward in maintaining health.  Do what you can to keep them healthy and any time you have an accident or injury or feel a strain from repetitive motion seek help from alternative practitioners who actually understand muscles.


*i.e. cranio-sacral or body patterning

Sideways into New Year

Close to home

I’ve never really understood the to-do about the New Year nor what it has to do with getting drunk the night before….  But I usually try to have a special snack of some sort on hand and do a year-end tarot reading or something.

This year, however, I came down with the flu over the weekend and wound up spending New Year’s Eve in three layers of clothes plus a hat, under two blankets with a hot water bottle AND a heating pad.  Mom gave up at 10 p.m. and I didn’t have much interest in any of the countdowns — too much noise, too much being introduced to rock/pop/hip-hop performers I’m sorry I ever heard…

So I put on a recording of the Great Performances celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday and dozed to strains of Tchaikovsky and West Side Story.  Opened my eyes and realized midnight had passed without even a notice.

I always feel like my birthday is more of an occasion on which to note what has just passed and contemplate what comes next.  As I’ve slowly recuperated and moved on into the first days of 2019, I haven’t felt much need for reflection, other than to think about the week and realize it was an odd way to start another year.

Thank goodness for the Chinese herbal ganmaoling.  I took it faithfully and the worst lasted only 1-1;2 days instead of the week others have been suffering.  And I’d add some kudos to the extra Aireborne I took and drinking my daily cups of turmeric-ginger tea.

The picture up top reflects one of my biggest desires for the coming year:  to manage a visit to my beloved former home in Marin County, CA.  Need to pull together funds to see my father too, in Florida.  Otherwise I’m content to let the year unfold without the need to impose intentions and goals on the flow.

Stumbling sideways into the new??  🙂  Or flowing peacefully??

Revisit tips for the holidays: people skills

For some years I posted some tips for coping with the holidays every year and then I drifted away from it. Thought I’d re-issue one with some links to others:

dont beat drum quote

Every year at this time I post about a teaching from Kahuna teacher Serge King that has had an enormous impact on my life.  Serge likes to keep it short and simple, so the basic principle is:  “People are who they are and they do what they do.

I believe that if everyone in the world learned this one and lived by it, peace would soon follow.  As with many of his seemingly simple teachings, if you started exploring this one you’ll find it has tremendous depth.

The greatest source of disappointment, frustration, and anger toward others arises from having your own agenda/expectations about who you want them to be and how you want them to act/what you want them to do..The deep reality is that people are who they are and they are going to do what they do based on who they are.  You can wish or will others to be somebody else as much you want.  You may even occasionally manipulate someone into doing something that’s not what they want.  But in the long run no one can be anyone other than who they are.

Your best defense, if you want to avoid being disappointed or upset by others, is to know them well enough to know who they are.  Know what they do.  Expect them to be who they are and do what they do.  You’ll never be surprised by anyone’s behavior if you really know them.

And then realize who they are and what they do isn’t about you.  Pretty much ever; even when someone attacks you, the attack has everything to do with who they are and nothing to do with you.  So Don Miguel Ruiz’s advice, “Don’t take anything personally”, fits very well with this teaching.  People are busy being who they are and doing what they do and none of it has anything to do with you.  So don’t take it personally.

Is Aunt Murgatroyd going to tell unfunny jokes at the annual gathering, as always?  Of course she is.  It’s who she is and what she does.  Is your cousin Snagglepuss going to bore everyone AGAIN with stories of his really dull job?  You bet.  Who he is, what he does.  Is your overly protective dad going to criticize you like he always does?  If his way of showing care is to fret and pick apart anything that doesn’t fit his view, then yup.  Gonna do it.  If he’s an unhappy guy who criticizes to express his dissatisfaction with the world, that’s who he is…  gotta figure he’s gonna do it.

If you walk in with a chip on your shoulder because you know the irritating behavior(s) are going to arise but you’re secretly hoping it will be different, you’re going to get what you’re expecting:  unhappiness and dejection.  A lot of times we enter these situations knowing what they’ll do and expecting to be angry because of it.  And you’ll pretty much get what you’re expecting — ongoing cycles of them being who they are and you being angry.

If you expect anyone to do anything other than what s/he does, you’re doomed to disappointment.  When you can walk in knowing they’ll all be there being themselves and doing what they do, you’ll get what you knew you would.  Know that nothing they do is about hurting, irritating, upsetting or disappointing you.  They’re just being themselves.

When you can step aside from the behavior, know that it’s about them and not you, and stay centered, you can defuse most of the emotional turmoil that can make the holidays stressful.

The question we’ll explore in the next post is:  can you love them anyway?

Love Them Anyway

Communication

Recognizing Love When It is Offered

And the healing goes on

View from Windy Corner — Leigh Gaitskill All Rights Reserved 2018

Two weeks ago at my latest appointment with Hanna, she worked on my head again and returned the pleasing news that she felt nothing fighting back any more; the muscles are just gracefully opening back out.

Ever since, the core pattern has been yanking and opening at all hours; all at once an exciting, wearying and crazy-making process.  Every time some more pieces open and I feel both the relief and the realization that there’s still more, I realize anew that the complexity was more intricate and the problem much bigger than I comprehended.  An amazing process to follow.

As I follow along I often wonder how many people realize the degree to which their muscles can intertwine, twist into knots along every strand, glue themselves to one another, etc.  Or how much worse it gets the longer a tight area goes un-addressed.

So I’m planning a “Sage Advice” post just about muscles.  Due to severe lack of sleep the time line for that is questionable 🙂

Sage Advice: Calcium

Apparently I’m going to be so sporadic on the Sage Advice posts that I feel the need to remind:  these posts are me sharing the wisdom I’ve gleaned during decades of alternative health practitioners from acupuncturists to many varieties of therapeutic massage therapists to cranio-sacral and body patterning therapists.

Some years back I had a few encounters with an alternative practitioner with very different training than many I’d seen, including studying for a while with an endocrinologist, and she had some completely different suggestions that proved to be very helpful.

One involved calcium.  She looked at my finger nails and the tiny to non-existent “moons” at the base of them.  She told me the moons on the fingers should be proportionally equivalent to the ones on the thumbs and that it indicates calcium deficiency if they’re not.  She felt some of my symptoms arose from this deficiency.

Since then I’ve done some research and found there are other deficiencies that may also be indicated but in my case upping calcium brought back larger white crescents so her diagnosis proved right for me.

She also told me to be careful about the type. Calcium Citrate, which is one of the most common forms, will only maintain the current level of calcium, it WILL NOT ADD any more.  So you want to look for a calcium tablet that has multiple varieties.  Or, her big suggestion was Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), which when bought as a stand-alone (it’s often in B-complexes) is usually in the form of calcium pantothenate and absorbs very well, helping to raise calcium levels.  I happened to be seeing an MD turned acupuncturist at the time and when I told her about this calcium theory I was trying, she nodded and agreed about all of it, what the citrate form does, that Pantothenic Acid works well and using a supplement with several forms of calcium.

I take Pantothenic Acid AND a calcium complex with magnesium and zinc daily  and it has been part of regaining core energy — not to mention those moons on my fingernails 🙂

Grateful for small steps

In my ongoing musings on thankfulness, lately I’ve been feeling extremely grateful for small but noticeable areas of progress in my long slow healing journey.  I’m back doing some regular tasks that most people would perform without a thought; and many would (or have) consider it shocking that some of this stuff went by the wayside.

But when the unwinding muscles and bursts of energy were keeping me from sleep 7-9 nights out of every 10 –on top of chronic fatigue and muscle issues– my ability to move pretty much disappeared.  Even simple household tasks were constantly procrastinated.

The main example that’s been having me grateful every morning is dishes.  With only two of us who don’t do a lot of cooking, the dishwasher doesn’t need to be run daily but there are items of daily use that need washing plus things not safe for dishwasher. It isn’t that much from one meal so I generally accumulate through the day so I can just run hot water once and do it all.

At the worst of the fatigue, I would be so weary and shaky in the evening that it wouldn’t get done.  Then in the morning I would get up not feeling much better than I did before sleeping and wander to a kitchen with the dirty dishes waiting– many of which had to be washed before I could fix breakfast.  Man is there something disheartening about facing dish washing first thing!

Somewhere in the last three years the sleep shifted a bit so now there are more nights when I get a decent amount of sleep and nights of only 2 or 3 hours are far less frequent.  When the shift occurred and I started trying to do stuff, I realized I lost incredible amounts of stamina during those do-nothing years.  So I’ve been slowly trying to work up more staying power.

Laundry gets done more often before the piles need to be divided into more piles.  More areas get picked up more regularly.  Errands get run in a timely fashion (and in the interim I now have to run all my 93-year-old mother’s errands as well).

Lately as I’ve wandered near the pristine and empty sink each day I’ve been realizing that I’ve been spry enough to do the evening dishes daily for so long I actually can’t tell you when the last time was I had to wash dishes before breakfast!

The house needs much more work — hours and hours of clearing and sorting.  I need to build more physical energy as I’m still startled by how little activity can leave me feeling drained.  But right now I’m just grateful for the small steps of doing more that have become normal.

My concentration for so long has been only on accomplishing the healing, it hadn’t occurred to me that there’d be such a long transition to accomplish from being too ill to do anything back to being a person who gets stuff done.  But it’s in process and that feels so good!

 

Feeling thankful

As so many of us do I’ve been reflecting on thankfulness and gratitude in honor of Thanksgiving.  Lately that always includes an especially strong feeling of appreciation for the friends I’ve made through this blog.

As I’ve pondered insights about being ahead of the curve in much of my thinking I’ve realized the great gift the Universe offered in nudging me to this blog and to finding others who are out there in the advance guard on compassion and peace and love.  I don’t know if some of you felt as much like you were out there alone and offering messages which fell on deaf ears but I sure did and having this group has meant the world to me.

So thanks my blogging pals, you add community and warmth to my life every day.