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.