Getting Bigger

Many years back my insightful acupuncturist, Raymond Himmel (still practicing in Mill Valley, CA for anyone near enough) commented, “You know it’s okay for you to be big,” as he popped another needle in.  Me holding back my bigness in one way or another has come up often over many years on this journey and among my various spiritual teachers and alternative health practitioners, he was not alone in perceiving and pointing out that issue.

Over the years I’ve done lots of work around the ideas of making myself small and fear of being big, from digging around in the issue to release work to efforts at changing my negative thought patterns, particularly those I see as keeping me small.  For me it’s one of those major, pervasive issues with tendrils, and I imagine I will be circling back to it for the rest of at least this lifetime.

Years ago I understood the tight muscles all over my body created a defensive system almost like having body armor under the skin.  More recently, as the final throes of unwinding in my face move through, I’ve been also understanding the same tightness as part of being small.

In my early yoga training, my teacher talked to us quite a bit about how we can see many things about our personalities and our ways of being in how we feel about postures, and in our relationship with the difficulty or easiness of various postures.  I, for instance, did forward bend stretches with ease from the beginning.  An indicator of introversion or inwardness.

Back bends, on the other hand, were a strain.  Initially I could barely lift an inch off the floor into a cobra pose  An indicator of being afraid to be open and exposed in the world.  I didn’t exactly mind doing them but they were hard for me.  Since I knew being more open in the world was an issue, I concertedly kept working at back bends.

My ability to move farther into postures like cobra improved in a complementary fashion with my becoming more outward in the world.  Those are just a couple of examples, but it’s a lesson I’ve always carried and reflected upon periodically.  So as my head has finally opened up significantly the import of the squeezed up muscles became a subject of contemplation.

Increasingly I’ve understood that the super tight squeezing in all the muscles in my head and face (I’ve described it as feeling like a vice grip that could squeeze to the max from every direction) served to keep me small.  And as the muscles have opened up– and opened more of my body as the patterns in my head connected into and held up patterns all the way down — the feeling of being bigger has grown.

A few weeks ago while following along to one of Steve Nobel’s great meditations I suddenly opened into a sense of a big space in me while receiving a message that it’s time to be big, to let myself be all I came here to be.  For most of this journey I’ve  had visions occasionally of me in a much bigger, more out there life and, while excited, my main reaction has always been that it’s too grandiose, too much for “little ol’ me” to imagine I could be and do all that.  Without the opening in my muscles, I don’t think I could feel the bigness as I now do.

For the first time I felt this really big, impactful life truly is the one I came here to live.  I’ve been naming some well known teachers and saying I feel like I belong on the same stages they’re on.  This isn’t a sudden complete transformation.  Any given day (or even time of day) you could find me feeling anxious about stepping out like that or tearing up because it seems like too much.

But the rest of the time I’m mulling it and taking it in and telling myself, as Raymond so long ago told me, “It’s okay to be big.”

And it’s done!

The unwinding has been crazy lately though the good news has been I could feel the final core of the core starting to release.  Thanks to a recent change in circumstances I was able to book an appointment with Hanna for yesterday afternoon.  And what an appointment it was!

I went feeling hopeful we could get another piece loosened maybe, given the degree of opening in progress.  As she worked on the rest of my body I noticed lots of places that had been stuck before seemed to release pretty easily.  When I commented, she said nothing seemed stuck and I’m a good example of what you can do with lots of bodywork and yoga, etc.  I’d have left pretty happy there!

But then she spent the last portion of our time on my head.  Things were opening in my jaw like never before and then the muscles around my eyes started releasing.  I lay there wondering if she’d think we’d made a bit of progress.

At the end she told me she felt the final locked up piece released.  She described a sense of something like a metal pole shoved down into my head and that it released entirely.  Very interesting, as five years ago at a cranio-sacral appointment Robyn “saw” the ancestral witch driving a spike down through the chakras as part of her determined effort to stop the “sight” for all future women in the line.

The lower level impacts of the spike released long ago and Robyn thought we’d gotten my head, but I’ve been contending with a lingering piece ever since.  And now it’s gone!

Release of the pattern doesn’t instantly release every knot in the muscles, but they’re opening at quite a pace.  My usual experience has been it takes a few days to a week for muscles to complete all the opening possible from such a release.  As the unwinding continues, the cool thing is there is no longer a big pull back every time a knot tries to open, which I sense as the absence of the big locked piece.

A few places with muscle issues remain in my body; unclear whether the releases in my head will finish these.  And of course life is constantly putting kinks in muscles so some degree of body work and practicing my Flowing Body work will be life-long.

I’m elated, dazed, disbelieving…  finding it hard to imagine what life looks like without being centered around this long ordeal with my muscles.  But hey, blocks in head are gone!!!  Woo Hoo!

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.

Ego Eradicator–Halfway Through

I’ve now completed the first 20 days of my ego eradicator challenge.  I must admit that I missed one day altogether and another day I got in the ego busting/mindfulness piece but didn’t have time to do the chant I added.  Otherwise I’ve stuck with it faithfully and that in itself for me in recent years is a milestone.

At this point I feel much much more energy and strength than I’ve felt in a long time. All that breath of fire tends to push enough energy into the muscles in my face that the unwinding has been almost violent at times.  The more my head opens up from feeling like a vice grip pressed in all around the more positive my thinking becomes.

I always have to chuckle when I try to evaluate what has created a change because I’ve used so many practices and practitioners over the 28 years I’ve been on this path.  In this case, some examples:  27 years of yoga, 15 years of acupuncture, 4 years of cranio-sacral, 3 years of bodypatterning, lots of Eight Key Breaths and Tibetan Rites practice, creating my own movement series to open my body…

And then, most recently the Break the Ancestor’s Spell Ceremony.  I think the spell started a big opening process and that the Meditation to Bust Through Blocks showed up on its heels to help complete the process but I also think all the previous years and the many layers previously removed were necessary precursors to arriving here.

So I feel the ego eradicator is quite powerful and definitely having an impact but I don’t know how much credit to give when I feel so many things have contributed to hitting this stride where I feel confident that I’ve got my health back (even though there are a few threads to tie off) and positive about what’s unfolding.

I know a few people were going to start using the eradicator — I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing.  Or if any others among you have done this at some point, what is your experience?

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

 

Healing Journey Monday: yoga and form

I’ve noticed over the years that in every type of exercise I know form is very important, whether it’s yoga, weight machines, calisthenics or something else. And I’ve also noticed that a lot of people have trouble understanding why form is important. I’m going to speak of it in yoga terms, but when I belonged to a gym for some years I used to watch the trainers trying to correct people who looked bewildered by being told they needed to use proper form and would just keep on doing what they had been doing, so I think it applies whether you’re doing aerobics or weight training or something else.

Some of my students get a little impatient with my attention to form but I do think it matters. Part of what seems to be puzzling to some people is that doing it doesn’t immediately break a bone or tear a ligament or cause some dramatic injury and thus it doesn’t seem that form matters. Although a more dramatic injury can occur it’s not the main issue. There are two ways in which form makes a big difference: (1) if you don’t use the proper form you’re often not going to affect the muscle or muscle group that the exercise is designed to address; (2) doing a pose incorrectly over time can put stresses and strains on your muscles and/or bones so that somewhere down the road you’re suffering from a stiff neck or pain in your hip or back or some other structural injury. That realization of injury may occur years after you started doing the wrong form and you may not know what caused it.

Since I’ve suffered a lot of issues with my muscles and my structure and have done a lot of exercise and movement work for it I have a pretty refined sense of the feeling when I do a pose wrong and how it changes when I do it properly. If you don’t have a lot of body awareness you may not realize that something is off. I think it really helps if you can find a teacher who does pay attention to details and keeps class sizes small enough to pay individual attention to what students are doing.

My teacher made a lot of hands on corrections for us and he’d always ask us to note how we were feeling before he corrected and how we felt after he adjusted the pose. That’s been a great help to me as my body has kept changing with all the body work because I know when a pose feels right.  If my body has re-balanced I can feel the need to shift the pose to regain the proper balance.

If you’re fairly new to yoga or haven’t ever taken from a teacher who really pays attention to teaching form I highly recommend (1) that you avoid taking classes where they allow more than 10 students because a teacher really can’t keep an eye on what individual students are doing that well if there are more than 10 in a class. (2) Search for a straight hatha yoga class (the Kriya tradition is pretty traditional as far as the poses but not the only one) to learn proper form one pose at a time before you take classes that use vinyasas or move quickly through poses. It’s much harder to keep track of form when you’re moving quickly from one pose to another. If you don’t really know the correct form before you start it’s almost impossible to do vinyasas correctly.  Wait till you know the basics before you move on to one of the moving forms. (3) Do some research about teachers. If you don’t know someone who can vouch for a teacher giving careful instructions then look for studios or teachers that offer one free or reduced price class for people who are interested so that you can experience it for yourself. A good instructor should give lots of pointers on getting the poses right and also should be able to suggest modifications if you have some physical reason why you can’t do a pose all the way.

I’ve had quite a few people come to me after being injured in other yoga classes or after feeling uncomfortable and hopeless because of the lack of direction and the expectation that every student should do everything without regard to their own limits. Anyone should be able to have success at yoga if you find classes in which you are getting good instructions about how to do the poses correctly and within your capabilities. [Note:  if you live in the Chicago area, my teacher, Bill Hunt, now has the Yoga Centre in Oak Park]