Sage advice: muscles

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

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

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

Emotions and muscles

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

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

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

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

Strength and Flexibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muscles and Bones

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

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

Therapy and Self Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems Arise Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*i.e. cranio-sacral or body patterning

Sideways into New Year

Close to home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the healing goes on

View from Windy Corner — Leigh Gaitskill All Rights Reserved 2018

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

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

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

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

Sage Advice: Calcium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sage Advice 1: balance first

A big part of my journey has involved physical issues.  I’ve mentioned my journey through alternative medicine occasionally and people have expressed interest in hearing about what I’ve learned.  So I decided to start occasionally posting “Sage Advice”.

When I first started having issues in the 80’s, western medicine held quite firm on insisting neither chronic fatigue nor fibromyalgia existed.  I knew something was wrong and when I grew tired of hearing them suggest I see a shrink, I turned to alternative medicine.

My first foray into the alternative medicine world was acupuncture, a modality I love and stayed with regularly for 15 or so years.  One of the things I’ve loved most about alternative practitioners is they always try to make sure I understand what’s happening and what I can do to help and my first practitioner, Chicago’s Jody Speckman (still in practice, for any of you in the area) taught me SO much.

One arena of advice has been on my mind a lot lately.  When it came to many things to do with what I ate or drank regularly, she told me not to try to stop cold turkey.  It’s mostly a path of frustration.  And the most unusual corollary:  as you move more into a state of balance your craving for the things that are harmful will naturally fall away.  She suggested I cut back as best I could but to let the desire fade as healing proceeded.

I’d always thought cold turkey seemed like a goofy plan and I was so struck by the idea that it’s more important to work toward a place of greater balance/healthiness.  In this case the acupuncture and a lot of horrible Chinese herbs made into “teas” were doing the work.

As you know, a whole lot of stuff was way off kilter for me, so it’ taken a long time to reach the place where I absolutely see the truth of her advice.  I’ve been slowly changing various dietary habits ever since I started seeing her, especially since she found I have mild allergies to wheat and dairy.  But it took years before shifting those habits combined with therapies to get toward that balance.

Lately, though, I’ve been noticing that I’m more naturally attracted to healthier food.  Not that I don’t still love some fried chicken or a chocolate sundae, but far more often I want something healthier.  And for the first time ever I’ve been drawn to eat kale-broccoli slaw or half a grapefruit for a snack instead of some dark chocolate or a handful of potato chips.

This change arrives at the moment when all the years of alternative therapies and medicines and my own spiritual and physical activities have paid off in feeling better than I have in years. Not sure Jody foresaw it would be 30 years down the road before I hit the place of balance to which she referred 🙂 , but it’s so true that when your health is in better shape you tend to crave more of the things that keep it healthy.

It seems such a kinder way to treat yourself.  I’ve watched so many people struggle with going cold turkey off of things and then feeling depressed by failure, a slower gentler approach makes so much more sense to me.  And then it’s so easy when you have improved enough to have healthier cravings.

So first advice:  work toward balance and then watch your habits change to hold the new, better feeling.

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.