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

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 🙂

More from the healing front…

Every time I’ve thought it was done there’s been another chapter.  After the main final “block” in my head let go last month (see post) the unwinding started moving along much more quickly.  But about a week before my next scheduled (monthly) appointment with Hanna, I noted that it seemed kind of stuck again.

Sure enough last Friday when she worked on me, she found a pattern still in the remaining muscles.  Another tangent related to the whole witch’s curse story still held on, this one holding muscles related to opening my third eye, which has been a central piece of this story from the beginning.

She spent almost the whole appointment working on my head.  The pattern was very resistant and I was interested to hear her sense that it was entirely ancestor-placed, nothing that I did.  Eventually it did let go and the muscles are back to a fast pace of unwinding.

The cool thing since she released that block in October is my head feels more free and the unwinding doesn’t have the constant feeling of something tugging back hard and trying to slow down or halt progress.  But the few remaining pieces are a core of strands from several different muscles that have intertwined and glued themselves to one another so tightly it’s still tough for them to loosen up.

A couple of nights after the new release, the opening in my head set off a bunch of opening all down my left side and a huge pop released a tight little pattern that’s been in my left knee forever it seems.  Gone.

It’s still unbelievable to me that my muscles could have been so badly twisted, pulled out of place, wrongly-intertwined and glued together to take SO INCREDIBLY LONG, but it sure has. I like to remind everybody because even though you may not have it as bad, if you have tight patterns there are more interconnections and ever-deepening issues than you probably imagine.

The longer muscles remain twisted, the more they pull other muscles into the twist and misalignment.  You can wind up with pain in your right knee that’s actually caused by knotted muscles in, say, your left shoulder.  They’re all interconnected and the longer a pattern goes untended the greater the portion of your body it will pull out of balance.  In my case where there were multiple accidents and origin sites, various patterns wound up locked up with one another.  Take care of your body sooner rather than later!

In the meantime, these last weeks have been amazing as I feel the lightness and feel some slow shifts happening on the energetic level beginning to peep out in daily life. Quite a ride I’m on!

The right stuff finding me

Throughout my journey I’ve been kind of up and down about how well I pick up on my inner voice — and whether I listen to it when I do hear it…  In a couple of arenas though, I consistently both hear and receive/act on the messages:  which alternative health therapies, therapists, supplements, etc. are the next best step for me and which spiritual teachers, classes, etc. are for me.

In the last couple of months I’ve had several alternative medicines tap me on the shoulder and trying them has been life changing.  Several people over the years have expressed interest in hearing more about some of the alternative health paths I’ve explored, so I thought I would share these latest additions.

Catnip Tincture

First, my friend Hanna started touting catnip tincture and gave me a sample from a recipe made by a friend.  She offered it for sleep and, while it does ultimately help me with sleep, nothing is enough to overcome the muscles in my face yanking.  But I quickly noted how very calm and peaceful I felt and then that I slept a bit longer and more deeply once the yanking stopped.

I googled and found recipes and made a batch of my own.  Initially I just used it once or twice a week, especially if I faced a busy day and wanted to be more sure of getting some rest.  But lately I’ve been taking some every night and have had more sleep in a week or 10 days than I’ve normally had in more like a month.

Nasaya Oil

Facebook has figured out that I’m interested in alternative remedies, so sometimes I see something there that’s new to me.  Most of the time I shrug and move on, but once in a while something grabs me in that “knowing” sense so I do some research and nasaya oil was one of them.

This winter I had an unusual run of allergy issues and just as I was wondering what alternative thing I could try — besides the nasal cup I already use daily — nasaya oil popped up.  It’s an ayurvedic formula of essential oils and you just put a drop on your finger and rub it around a bit in your nostrils.

Not only did it clear my unusual sinus/allergy problems in winter, but now that we’re in the spring pollen season which is often miserable for me, I’m having no problems at all.  Not even on the days when the pollen count is super high.  If I start to itch, I can rub a drop around and in minutes, problem solved.

It’s so effective I have a tendency to forget to use it every day and the impact even lasts pretty well through several days of spacing it out.  And as soon as any symptoms arrive and remind me to use it, one drop erases the symptoms.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha appeared on Facebook one day, felt drawn to it, and immediately set off to read about it.  There’s a nice piece on Chopra’s site and also a good explanation here.  I was excited by what I read.  While most customer reviews rave about its stress-relieving effects, it was the thyroid and adrenal benefits that roused my interest, along with its boost for weak immune system, and antiinflammatory impacts for my mom’s arthritis.

Last year the muscles around my thyroid loosened enough for me to spontaneously lose quite a bit of weight as my thyroid began to function again.  I still have some symptoms of low thyroid but I figured with the looser muscles there’d be a chance a supplement would help.

My various acupuncturists used to treat me often for weak adrenals and sometimes their needles and/or herbs gave a boost but once I found out the real problem was muscles squeezing all my glands and organs, I understood why none of it ever lasted.

Recently the muscles squeezing my kidneys and adrenals have finally loosened a bit.  Seemed like a perfect moment to see if ashwagandha’s adrenal benefits could give me a boost.  After a bunch of research on the “best” ones, I chose Nutraherbal Organic Ashwagandha with Black Pepper Extract.

After looking at lots of them I realized they come in many different numbers of mg and with wildly differing suggested daily doses (mg wise).  I picked this one not only because it made several “best” lists but it’s also one of the highest dosages.  I started off trying just one of the two suggested daily capsules and it has turned out to be plenty for me — in fact two seems like too much, moving me from energized to feeling a little hyper.

Many sources told me it could take a month or two to decide whether it helped, but I felt energized an hour after taking the first one.  Since then I have been building more energy during the day, going to sleep earlier at night (that one still needs a lot of adjusting but any change helps!), staying asleep for more hours (helped along by the catnip tincture).

Back when I was getting regular acupuncture (and the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia were FAR worse), I’d get a boost from each treatment  or new herb try that would give me a few days of pretty good energy.  Since stopping acupuncture in favor of body work for the muscles, I have rarely had any of those “energy” days.  And once the unwinding started interfering with sleep, almost no days of feeling energetic.

As the muscle stuff has gotten better, I’ve been working a bit at re-building stamina and have been pleased with small increments of improvement, but most of the time I’ve just felt exhausted.  I’ve been taking Ashwagandha for about six weeks now and energy has been slowly building.

I’m regularly staying a bit busier during the day than I’d been able to be for years, which has been helping the stamina building process.  I haven’t felt this good in decades — and to be honest the last time I had this long a sustained period of feeling energetic, it was mostly thanks to caffeine and nicotine– combined with being completely neurotic and anxiety ridden– pumping me up.

Ashwagandha so far has exceeded my expectations, bearing out once again how well my instincts operate for this kind of thing.  I’ve been waiting for years for all the alternative treatments and therapies to finally bring me some energy back.

Without all that came before, I doubt the Ashwagandha would be having this dramatic impact, so I don’t credit it alone, but wow, how perfect a tap from the Universe this was.

 

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…

 

The Sense-sational Challenge: sensing the physical

Linda over at litebeing chronicles issued a challenge for this month, to write about our senses and the joy they bring.  I actually put up a post a few days ago on scent and realized too late I could have saved it for this.  In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the senses and segueing into thinking about my healing journey and how it has helped me to “sense” into my body more minutely than ever before.

And I started thinking about how numb most Americans are to their bodies and how interesting it is that it takes a kind of “sensing” to be aware of your body and what it needs and yet we don’t have a “sense” for that added to the usual list of five, nor a word for it.  It has me thinking we SHOULD figure out a name to call it and then promote using it.

In fact, in the long slog of healing my muscles, one of the blessings has been the growing great awareness of my physical being.  As I hung around thinking about the senses during a week when I’d thrown off my wrist, arm and shoulder by overdoing it with holding a mouse and scrolling on my phone, realized how important it is to be able to tune in to our bodies.  Long ago I’d have been in pain for days without realizing what caused it or doing anything about it.

I quickly realized what I was doing that had thrown the muscles and ligaments in my wrist so far out of whack, then started doing my triggers of release work to ease out the pattern in the muscles and started wearing a wrist brace when I’m dong a bunch of research on the laptop or phone.  But the sense of my body is so much more than just registering what’s wrong.

As my healing as progressed, I can feel a tingle in my body when I eat something good for it.  I’m hyper aware of how much all the sleep deprivation of recent years has impacted my ability to function and how much it helps to sleep when I can.  Years of practicing the triggers of release and yoga have loosened my spine and hips so when I walk I’m aware of an undulating, flowing movement when I’m relaxed.  If I walk more stiffly, without that flow, I’ll soon have pain in my lower back.

Awareness has brought such a heightened sense of my physical being and the importance of taking care of it.  I’m having trouble finding the words to describe how much difference it has made to keep growing my awareness of my body and how it feels and what helps it, etc.  Sensing into my body, noting anything that seems sore or out of balance, etc. has become a regular part of my life.

Healing my body has been so tied to healing my emotional issues and to opening my connection to my divine being, I wish I could convey to people how much it would change their lives to know their bodies, to “feel” their bodies and to keep them in good health.

So I think we should figure out a word for the “sense” of our own bodies.  Something conveying an ability to tune in and “know” what’s going on just as clearly as we “see”, “hear”, “feel”, “smell” or “taste” and identify  aspects of our world and our lives by using them.

Next challenge post will be here.

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.

Peeling more layers

Eyemuscles

Eyemuscles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last couple of weeks have involved a lot of unwinding, not sleeping and headaches…  and a lot of reflection about this long long process.  [Pretty much every muscle you see up there has been wound up in knots and intertwined and/or glued to just about every other muscle in my face they could possibly touch]

Both body work practitioners and meditation “guides” have told me there were dangers (blindness or stroke) in opening the muscles too fast so I’ve tried to be grateful but really by and large I’ve been frustrated and impatient.  I’ve repeatedly asked the Universe and Ku to just finish the healing and let me be free.  I’ve said affirmations and done visualizations (and no, I’m not looking for suggestions for some other technique to try).  I’ve done practices and spent fortunes on body work and healers.  It all helps but the process is still maddeningly slow.

When I feel the degree of tugging on the left optic nerve and realize the depth to which it has been entwined in other muscles it IS nerve wracking and I can sense the danger if something pulled too hard or too suddenly.  It helps me understand the need for a slow unfolding but doesn’t stop me wishing it would hurry up.

I also keep feeling different stages of energy returning, with growing comprehension of how much energy tight muscles commandeer.  Long ago, when I finished the Fisher Hoffman process, most of the major muscles in my body (not head) finally started letting go.  The next year or two brought great progress in body work and I experienced a great boost of energy first from releasing the emotional material and then from opening muscles so energy could flow more freely.  It turned out the chronic fatigue arose from the muscle issues.

Now I’m experiencing an amazing process wherein the unfolding around my eyes is opening up energy pathways through my whole body.  It’s amazing to realize how much of my prana has been sidetracked into holding all these tight muscles in my face and how much tight muscles interfere with the flow of energy.

And the more I feel it the more I want to shout out to the many folks I see everywhere I go whose muscles are visibly tight:  heal your muscles and get your energy back!  Haven’t decided how to present this mission of healing but I can see it’s part of the reason for this long drawn-out process.

My impression, based both on my own experience and what I’ve observed, is that most people don’t realize how fatiguing it is to have tight muscles.  How detrimental to your health.  Until I finally got the right diagnosis, I had no idea tight muscles could squeeze organs and glands.  For me, it was every organ and every gland being squeezed until they could barely function.

For now all I can think of is to tell you to take care of your muscles.  If you have knots and painful places, do what you have to to heal them.  Your health and vitality depend on it.

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Thankful Thursday: gluten free eating

I have a sensitivity/allergy to wheat, which makes lots of restaurant menus tough to negotiate.  When I first got taken off wheat, there were basically no substitutes.  No spelt pasta, no quinoa tortillas, no gluten-free this and that.

Even after I could buy substitutes for cooking at home, restaurants were a nightmare.  Often my only choices were a salad stripped of most of its contents (can’t have dairy either) or a leathery piece of chicken with some tasteless vegetables on the side.

Things have been improving for a while.  The Atkin diet brought lots of choices that work for me.  And in the last year or so, increasing numbers of restaurants have gluten-free options.  Even though I can have the gluten in other grains, those grains are rarely used; gluten-free at least means wheat-free.

So when Puccini’s Smiling Teeth started advertising a gluten-free menu I really perked up. Italian food is my fave but I’ve had to make my own for a long time.  Sunday night found me happily scarfing down gluten-free spaghetti with meatballs and I could even have garlic bread!

After years of eating spaghetti only if I made it or if I decided to suffer the consequences and eat the wheat, I felt so thankful, sitting there with my wheat-free Italian meal!

[As usual, it never occurred to me to take a picture so, sadly, the photo above isn’t a picture of my dinner… probably not gluten-free either.

For Thankful Thursday.

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.

Healing Journey Monday: the walking sway and your back

Microsoft Clipart MH900400345

My walking plan for this visit has been askew and for no particular reason, after having done some walking prep in KY first, I failed to take any sort of walk for days after I got here.  I’m not used to walking hills as daunting as these so I have a straight uphill walk that I start with for a few days.  Once I can get all the way up with reasonable ease I start making longer forays.  As I struggled uphill from my house sit yesterday I started paying attention to my walking and realized I was holding my hips stiffly.  I also noticed after 5 minutes or so that I was experiencing some dawning low back pain, which has become a sadly normal part of walking for me — and from comments I hear from others, it’s fairly common to many people.

Once I realized I was walking stiffly (like the straight up and down walk of the lady in the picture), I took a deep breath and concentrated on allowing the flow I’ve worked so hard to achieve get going (see previous post about getting the flow).  My hips began to sway and I felt my shoulders rotating separately from my lower back which had it’s own movement in between hips and shoulders.  And once everything began to move the way they’re intended to move the back pain disappeared.

Just a little healing observation for today.  Let your body flow and it’s less likely to feel discomfort from movement.

 

Veggies, school yards — floating an idea

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One major talent I have that I’ve probably not used enough is an ability to synthesize lots of varied pieces of information and find a way to put them together into some sort of new whole.  Sometimes I  put it to good use though.  Out of lots of reading about many things and watching news documentaries and substitute teaching, following environmental issues and exploring nutrition I came up some years back with an idea for edible schoolyard gardens that -at the time, at least (haven’t looked for what’s new lately)– had a broader scope than any projects I could find .  For a while I had a partner who was going to help me work on funding and start-up, etc. but life took her in a different direction and while I’m good at dreaming up ideas like this I’m less skilled at execution (especially in the proposal and fundraising departments; know how to do them just don’t like to)  so the idea has languished.   I thought I’d just lay the idea out in a post and float it out into the world where maybe somebody can make it useful.

My interest is mainly in putting edible gardens in poorer school districts though I think the basic plan can work for any school.  I’d like to see funds included to have nutrition, cooking and gardening classes for parents so that interested families can be impacted at home as well as school.  Since many school yards don’t have enough spare space for a garden large enough to feed a whole school every day, I’d add a community garden component that involves the children and parents as well as volunteers.  The aim would be to have enough crops from the community garden to not only supplement the school’s supply but also to have fresh fruits and veggies for the families of children to serve at home.

I know that school districts make a big deal out of the core curriculum and it’s tough to get that to change, but I think a curriculum that ties multiple subjects to the garden project could be created that could be fit within the regular curriculum.  Studies on experiential education indicate that children like to see how the things they’re learning can be applied in life and learn better if they can experience that application of learning.  I can see ways to tie in everything from simple math and health and reading to advanced math, literature, geography, biology, etc. so the schools could have classes within their classes at every level of public education.  Some of my grant proposal thoughts are to get some education profs to work with organic gardening experts on developing such a curriculum so that each subject could be tied to reality by a component related to the garden.

Many schools are too far north to have vegetables very much of the year.  Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs (which has since morphed) started a rooftop greenhouse project many years ago that friends of mine were involved in.  I’ve followed along occasionally over the years as it’s changed and grown with technology and I still think it’s an amazing way to bring fresh food to places without enough land.  The greenhouses also reduce energy use in the buildings so the schools could not only have fresh produce in the winter but also save lots of money on heating bills.

My most luxury component came from a series Jamie Oliver did about how schools in Italy provide nutritious fresh meals for the children on reasonable budgets.  I’d love for each participating school to fly the cafeteria workers to Italy to see it in action and then provide classes stateside to help them transition to use the harvest from the garden project.  If not the fantasy trip, then at least the classes –and maybe viewing the Oliver series????

I realize there are lots of pieces.  My thought was a given school district, if unable to get the funds for the whole things at once, could start with a basic plan in consultation with the Chez Panisse Foundation‘s Edible Schoolyard Project and then keep adding components.  I’d like to create a foundation (or see someone create) that would put the whole package together and do fundraising so that schools could come to the foundation and get assistance for funding and implementing schoolyard/community edible garden projects.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.  All of this came with a bit more thinking and gathering than I’ve spelled out here so I may do another post or two to lay our some of my thinking about specific pieces.  I’m interested to hear suggestions.  Mostly I’m sending this forth with the wish that it may move out into the world and do something good.

This post is for Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday which is “V” this week.

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!

Related articles

Learning Yourself Through Yoga

My long-time yoga teacher, Bill Hunt, taught me so many things that I’ve remembered and that have helped me, not just in yoga, but in life.  A lesson that has had a big impact on me related to paying attention to how you practice yoga and learning about yourself as you do it.

Each major category of postures relates to a stance you take in life or a way you deal with life.  If you pay attention to which postures are hard for you to do, which postures are easy to do, which you don’t like, which you love you can see a lot about how you are in the world.

Forward bends relate to inwardness or being introverted.  If forward bends are hard for you to do or you don’t like them (regardless of whether they seem easy or hard)  there’s a good chance that you have trouble looking inward or delving deep into your psyche or that you’re extroverted.  If you easily do forward bends or favor doing them you’re probably introverted or inclined to look inward.

Back bends relate to openness or letting yourself be out there and/or seen in the world.  If you struggle to do them or just don’t like them you probably have a hard time putting yourself out there or tend to be introverted.  If you love them and do them easily it’s likely that you’re extroverted and/or have no trouble being out in front of people.

Strength postures literally relate to strength.  If they’re hard for you to do that says something about whether you show strength in life or a firm ability to hold your place.  If they’re easy and you like to do them you probably face the world from a place of strength.  If your muscles are so strong that you are held rigid there’s a good chance that you have issues of rigidity or inflexibility in life as well.

Balance postures (mainly the standing balances) reflect something about whether your life is balanced–emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually.  A flexible spine reflects your ability to be flexible in life and a spine that doesn’t move well reflects rigidity or inability to bend.

Way back when I took yoga classes from him (1986-1991) I quickly realized back bends were a major issue for me.  I could barely get an inch off the floor in, say, cobra pose and since I was about as introverted as could be and virtually incapable of speaking in public I could see how my inability to bend backwards reflected the state of my being.

I began to work at back bend postures — slowly and lazily.  Over the course of some years my ability to do them improved (still an upward curve for me).  When they’d gotten to be pretty good I looked at my life and realized I’d been taking on leadership roles and teaching and feeling at ease in front of people for a while.  I worked on lots of other stuff over those years so I can’t claim it was only the change in my ability to do back bends but I think it played a big part.  Or perhaps the decision to work on a certain kind of postures reflects some internal decision to make a change.

Strength postures weren’t easy for  me either and, although I could do them, I really didn’t like them.  For some reason that didn’t bother me as much as the back bend issue so it’s just been in the last six or seven years that I’ve really worked at developing my ability to do postures like chair pose or my ability to hold downward dog for 50 breaths.  The results are more subtle, but I can feel myself holding a stronger inward space, holding my own center with strength.

I find it fun and interesting to check in periodically to see where I am in my practice and what it’s telling me about my life.  Check it out, you might learn something new about yourself or help yourself make a change by focusing on postures that support the direction in which you want to go.

See also:

Yoga and the Story of Balance

 

The growing myth that multitasking and moving ever faster is good

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I keep seeing ads and other references to speed and multitasking as good, desirable. The implication is that we all know that doing two or three things at once is better and if you can do them all faster and faster that’s better too. I keep wondering how this myth has spread so widely and been bought so thoroughly by so many people when studies all over the place show that multitasking makes you less efficient, not more, and the same is true for rushing around doing everything as fast as you can.

More and more I run into people who are constantly racing around and complaining about how much they have to do but I notice that because they don’t take the time to read a whole e-mail or to think through the most efficient way to do the next step they waste vast amounts of time on extra messages or having to do things over or arriving at the goal circuitously because they’ve chosen the most complicated way to get there.

One of the ways I’m grateful for long illness is that lack of energy caused me not only to slow down but to make sure that I plan projects and activities carefully so that I use the least effort for the best results. I’ve learned that a lot of times 10 minutes to half an hour of thinking through the most efficient way to accomplish what needs to be done means I can do it faster and with better results than if I just set off in a whirlwind. I’ve learned that if I read the whole e-mail someone sent me I don’t waste a lot of time asking questions they’ve already answered or getting more e-mails because I failed to answer the key question they asked so we get to the point more quickly.

But in the increasing chaos of speed and multitasking around me I find myself wondering what it would take to slow people down. Another advantage for me of illness was that I wound up choosing this spiritual journey as part of my healing process and meditation and spiritual practices have shown me that often slowing down and clearing my mind helps me see the straightest and most effectual path toward accomplishing a project so that slowing down actually makes me faster.

I also know from my own impatient days that when you’re hyped up and caught in the need for speed it can make you crazy to even think about slowing down or trying to do something like meditation or traditional yoga. I keep trying to think of a way to convince the speed freaks of the world that they can accomplish more and yet be more relaxed and happy by learning how to slow down and quiet their minds. So far I don’t think I’ve figured out a way to express it that convinces anyone to try a different path and I realize how judgmental it is to sit around thinking that all those speedy people need to change.

The only thing I can think of is to keep holding my own space of peacefulness and let that be my contribution to the web. I like to think that one day there will be enough of us meditating and practicing and eating “slow food”, etc. that we will tip the balance of the web of oneness and the world will get out of the mad race to ??? and become tranquil.  Be Peaceful!

See also: