Thank you Doc Mike Evans and Benjamin Degenhardt!!!

Many Grateful Hearts

Many Grateful Hearts (a valentine wrapping job from years ago – I was quite pleased with the results)

I owe Benjamin Degenhardt a thank you for sharing these videos on FB.  Just this past week I heard of a local doctor who is repeatedly turning people away from Pilates because of the negative impact she sees with her patients.  I only wish that she knew enough about Pilates to realize that it’s not the Pilates that’s to blame for those painful results, but poor execution of the method’s principles and exercises.  Pilates is brilliant when practiced well; but like anything else when not completely understood and performed imperfectly – Pilates involves a certain degree of risk.  Time to remind:  change the body not the exercise (thank you Jay Grimes!)

Anyway, I really enjoyed the low back pain video, Dr. Evans gives sound advice and I’d venture to guess that his other videos on various health-related topics are just a good.

Now if I could just get that local doctor into my studio, maybe I could give her enough information about Pilates to convince her to stop turning people off to Pilates rather than advocating for finding quality instruction that truly helps each and every person find their own inner power….another day, another project awaits me!  Yet another reminder of why I visit this space so infrequently these days.

Pride and Sentiments

Railing cozies bursting with Pride

Railing cozies bursting with Pride

Our beautiful bay is abuzz with Pride these days.  And I’m feeling sentimental attachments to the gay citizens of humanity, but especially those who I know personally in and out of the Pilates world.

I’m grateful to live in a community that embraces everybody.  I’m grateful that there is no one human being like another and as we collectively advance we learn the depth of meaning in that common observation.

I’m grateful that Pride happens once a year and that I get to bear witness in the smallest of ways with my heart bursting with love for those who are bold enough to express their love in spite of the hardship that comes from being in a minority.

I’m grateful that the people in my life, who I love and appreciate so much and who happen to be gay, are free to be who they are.  Because I know that freedom makes each of us much more loving and wonderful.

Here’s to expressing our sentiments opening and freely – and to trusting that there will always be an empathetic person to receive us with open and loving arms.

PS.  Aren’t libraries the best?!  Ours is putting on the most amazingly entertaining series of events this summer and I am so grateful to have lots of free and fun outings for my son to enjoy with me and with his caregivers.

Stiffness and Pilates

chest cave

chest cave

I’m very lucky to be getting some excellent Pilates instruction these days.  It’s been a great while since I’ve had regular lessons and I’m grateful to let somebody else oversee my workouts.

All my peculiarities are on show now – the little things that I’ve figured out over the years as I sleuth my way back to wholeness and what Joe Pilates called “normal health”.  One thing’s come up in this process which I determined might be better to write about – at least as an introductory measure.

That little thing is my ribs.  How can I make this a short story?  Over the years I’ve noticed in photos that my ribs tend to be sort of pulled down and together in the front which makes for the rather unflattering posture of a collapsed chest and hunched shoulders.  The thing is that this posture really began to show up around the time that I was being told repeatedly to pull my ribs in, knit my ribs, and other such cues.  Over time I’ve come to realize that I had a tendency to brace with my ribcage (and pelvis and shoulders for that matter) which inhibited my acquisition of the Pilates Holy Grail – spinal articulation.  As I saw this personal tendency, of course, I started to see how my clients were often doing something similar.  Often my bodyworker finds the pain that I experience in my back or abdomen linked to my rib position and that’s not to mention how many times I’ve been in agony because a rib pops out of place.  Through these experiences and more, I’ve come to realize that getting my ribs to sit well and right is no simple task.  So I’ve resolved to stop fussing with my ribs and focus on my spine.  When I practice Pilates, I draw my stomach inward and upward for length and I try to leave my ribs out of it.  Which I realize in some traditions of Pilates instruction, my tradition to be specific, is blasphemous.

It’s easy to practice blasphemy when teaching on one’s own studio and not having lessons.  My practice has led me to pose questions that I would not have dared ask in the company of others.  Questions that have ultimately led me to truly figure things out for myself.  I value that immensely because going forward, I know what I know from deep within, not just because somebody told me and I believed them.  Taking what I was told on faith was my starting point as it is for most of us at this day in age.  But to really understand something from within, we must face ourselves honestly over a long period of time so that we can sort out all our ideas and conceptions.

If I am to be completely candid, then I would admit to entertaining the possibility that Pilates might have caused me injury and actually I’m sure that it has, but that’s another story for another post.  I’ve come away from such thoughts quickly because either I’ve realized the fundamental error in them or I’ve come to understand that I was not practicing properly when the injury occurred.  As Jay Grimes has said, “don’t change the exercise, change the body”.  Such a statement is much more difficult to fulfill in practice than it is to appreciate in theory, but it is an excellent directive for overseeing our own practices and those of others.

As is the case for everybody, there is something to understanding just how I need to practice Pilates because of my specific body.  I tend to be slightly hyper-mobile.  I have been in pain every day for nearly twenty four years.  I have to be careful with stretches because they can easily lead to muscle spasms (I have had some muscle spasms that have lasted as long as six weeks, where I literally cannot move my back.  These things are no joke and so I have learned to be careful and gentle with myself).  I build muscle quickly and easily.  I have a tendency to grip my muscles, to engage more than necessary for the sake of engagement – I’ve always been keen to have tone muscles.  As I was considering how to explain all this to my new teacher, I realized that my body tends to hold muscle engagement like egg whites that have been whipped to hold stiff peaks.  I think that this is most likely due to the constant tension pattern that my tailbone injury holds my spine in.  Or maybe it’s just how I am, it’s hard to know what is innate and what is learned through experience.

Apart from honoring myself and my own personal tendencies, which is clearly important for my daily comfort and for making  improvements, this new teacher of mine has reminded me that not everyone is like me.  It’s such a blessing to see how Pilates translates onto each body differently – it’s like seeing the many facets of a sparkling diamond.  While I’m pretty sure that I’m never going to be too enthusiastic about pinching my ribs together, I can see how I’d be open to trying to do so without grasping onto the holding pattern so tightly as to keep it forever.  This is a thing that I tell my clients, after all.  What we do in Pilates is not a prescription for how to move and carry ourselves all the time – it’s a way to exercise our bodies so that they will be strong and functional outside of our constant monitoring and control.  Because we’ve got lives to live 24/7.

Pilates has been and continues to be a blessing for me.  Movement has kept me from being far more stiff than I would be otherwise and it’s given me a framework to work with and understand my body.  Pilates cannot fix every aspect of my injury and I’m lucky to have found some really wonderful body workers to help me slowly shed layers of tension and holding patterns which make Pilates that much more accessible and understandable to me.  If I’m completely honest with myself, I have caused myself some agony because of my various Pilates exploits, but I’ve managed to learn so much from each one that even those feel like a blessing.

Truly, I wrote this for my teacher.  But it seems like the sort of thing that’s worth sharing because I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that has experienced what I have.  The more we can help each other to understand ourselves and our bodies, the further forward we all progress together.  Thanks for reading, please share this post with anybody who you think might appreciate it.

Now He Is Three

For the Birthday Boy

For the Birthday Boy

My lack of writing time is starting to get to me.  Recently I had the idea that perhaps I could figure out a way to keep a weekly schedule.  We’ll see, it’s busy times around here.  This past weekend we had a birthday party for our little boy who turned three yesterday.  Three seems like a rather long time – as if certain things ought to be different by now.  When following that train of thought, I’m realizing that the size of the increments by which I measure such changes determines whether I feel that my life is a continual stream of potential being realized or an ever increasing mount of challenges.  I’m opting for the first perspective and therefore am learning to measure progress in very small steps.  As is so often the case with mental exercise, the results are proving to be compounding.  The more I focus on small improvements in my life, the more small improvements I notice and pretty soon things are looking pretty good (to borrow one of my son’s favorite phrases from a couple months back).  So I’ve got my positive frame of mind going for me.

About ten days ago, my husband got sick.  A couple days later I too became very congested.  We’re both still sick and as far as I’m concerned it was pretty much the perfect set up for a perfect birthday celebration.  It put things in perspective for me.  Since three is the first year that my boy is actually enthusiastic about celebrating his birthday, I wanted to make it special.  A little over two weeks ago I asked him how he wanted to celebrate his birthday.  He replied that he wanted cake and a party and toys that would be inside presents that he opened.  When I asked what kind of cake, he said strawberry.  I love a party.  I love to plan a party.  I love baking birthday cakes.  But I usually go overboard in some respect.  I tend to be the sort of person that over works and over does.  In this case my husband’s illness and my more mild cold demanded that I keep things simple.  Sweet and simple.  This meant that our boy enjoyed just the right amount of fun.  Just the right amount of cake.  Just the right amount of presents.  Just the right amount of everything.  And so did I.  I managed to put on two lovely parties without completely running myself into the ground.

That’s my simple story.  A sweet little reminder that sometimes what seems like a curse is really a blessing.  And once we are in that frame of mind, blessings are abound.


Cake and Crown to his liking

Cake and Crown to his liking

My Current Thoughts on Breast Health

Wild Pink Rose - One of the many Flower Essences Contained in Lady Nada's Breast Oil

Wild Pink Rose – One of the many Flower Essences Contained in Lady Nada’s Breast Oil

As my work focus has switched to tasks related to my real-life studio, my time in cyberspace has been seriously reduced.  That’s the short explanation for why I am only now getting this post up (I’d had it planned for March-ish).  These periodic write ups come after we hold a Breast Health workshop in the real world.  I just love how every workshop brings new information and new insights.  Each coming together involves different women and so there is always something unique to share.  As it happened, I caught a glimpse of an article on the cover of a free local magazine that struck a chord especially given what was the predominant area of discussion in our last workshop:  “Breast Health, Mammography vs. Thermography.”  In spite of it’s title, the article isn’t about health as I define it; rather it is the about monitoring the breast tissue mechanically.  Clearly when it comes to breast cancer, western medicine has its necessary methods of detection, and thermography is slowly gaining deserved respect as an integral part of a complete cancer screening program.  But what about simply having healthy breasts?

This reminds me about what I think Joe Pilates was getting at in his book, Your Health, back in the 1930′s.  Sadly, his writings did little to alter our course and here we are still conflating caring for our health with receiving medical treatments.  Joe pointed out that health is not only a normal condition but also one to be deliberately maintained.  When Rupam, Ollie, and I offer our Breast Health workshops we give women a variety of things to do every day to promote and sustain normal healthy breasts.  This puts health in the realm of personal practice – a set of actions that give us a framework for tending to our healthy bodies.  It is not something that we get from a Medical doctor, unless that practitioner has gone beyond the typical boundaries of their practice for these current times.  Rather, the wide variety of practitioners who give us the tools for actual health care are most often to be found outside the medical community since Western Medicine is most wholly occupied with tending to disease.

Only upon writing that, it dawned on me that what we are calling “health care” is actually more aptly called “disease treatment”.  To my way of thinking, thanks to Joe Pilates and others, real health care is something different.  Real health care is personal and completely holistic.  It is a learned practice that most of us are learning as adults but that is most ideally learned from birth onward.  It is passed from person to person and while folks often have a lot of training in order to share knowledge; it can and is intended to be practiced by anyone and everyone.  We are the only rightful experts of our own bodies.  Real health care is the people doing t’ai chi in the park, it’s taking a walk in the woods, it’s making proper use of nature’s bountiful herbal and comestible provisions, it’s holistic exercise, it’s being grateful, it’s jumping on a trampoline, it’s swimming, it’s Ho’oponopono, and so many varied practices that are too diverse to list here.  All of those practices have something in common, they have the potential to shift our nervous system over to its parasympathetic mode of operation.  As I’m learning in Holistic Biomechanics, that’s a pretty important switch to have at our command.  It’s one of the keys to maintaining normal health.

Rupam has discussed the topic of thermography in our workshops before and this time I heard the full story.  She knows a person who administers thermography tests in the SF Bay Area (get in touch with Rupam to find those local resources).  Through asking her patients, this practitioner had discovered a relationship between an absence of “hot spots” in the breast tissue and use of Rupam’s Lady Nada’s Breast Oilall the women with tissues clear of “active zones” were using Rupam’s oil.  Given that the oil is applied through a specific massage that Rupam recommends, we don’t know whether the oil or the daily massage has more effect on keeping the breast tissue healthy.  But it seems apparent that there is a correlation between regular care of the breasts with Rupam’s breast oil and breast tissue that is healthy (read, at low risk for becoming cancerous) by the standards of western medicine.

Given who was in our spring workshop, the conversation revolved around the topic of cancer.  For those who have had some degree of relationship with breast cancer, there can be a lot of fear around the topic.  Rupam pointed out that the antidote to fear is love, that the two cannot coexist.  Taking the time to direct our energy toward caring for our breasts on a daily basis shifts us to a place of love.  For those of us who have associated fear with our breast tissue, this is an important and radical shift to make.  But I’d venture to guess that most of us women could stand to benefit from expressing love toward our bodies, our breasts in particular.  Rupam’s experiences in India taught her how important our breasts are to us women, and how tender loving care of our breasts enhances all aspects of our lives because our breasts are our natural source of nurturing and creativity.  Indeed, breast health is about much much more than avoiding cancer.  I am grateful to Rupam each and every day for teaching me that valuable lesson.  (When I get a little time, I’m going to catch up with everybody else and watch this movie that Rupam mentioned.  Apparently it gives us some insight into the power of love.)

When it comes to our health, in many ways we are called to slow down.  When we are touching our body, especially the breast tissue since it is so delicate, it is important to go very slowly.  V-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y.  I added the emphasis because so many of us are already going at a remarkably fast pace – even our slow is fast by the standard of slow.  It takes 5 seconds for our body to sense and integrate touch in the Limbic System.  Honestly, I don’t know what the limbic system is, but Rupam made the statement with the sort of emphasis that compelled me to take note.  Generally when systems of the body are mentioned that I know nothing about, I tend to rely on a notion that I learned from reading Joe Pilates’ writings, that our bodies have layers and layers of function that all coordinate with one another.  We are consciously tuned into the most superficial of those layers if even those – how our skin looks, if our muscles are tone, if we are experiencing pain.  Focusing our attention on other layers of our physical function can serve to enhance that miraculous and incredibly complicated internal coordination that is the healthy functioning of our bodies.  When our health is at risk and we are dealing with the possibility of disease, slowing down can serve us in another way.  Taking the time to fully understand what is happening and what the practitioners who are helping us understand to be happening is very important to arriving at a plan of action that serves our best interests.  Taking the time to get multiple opinions can help us complete our understanding and ensure that we avoid treatments that we may eventually regret.

From where I started, growing up in Michigan completely embedded in the standard of our mass culture when it comes to every aspect of health and self-care, it has taken me a long time and all my resources to arrive at my current perspective on health.  The change that I’ve undergone was so monumental that I’ve made a career out of it.  While I still learn every day, I can see how my mindset is now firmly set in a mode that I would call proactive prevention.  I share little bits of what I know here so that others who are interested in returning to their own state of normal health may have support in doing so.  Please, with love, share this post with others who you feel would be grateful for the information.

My first post on the topic of Breast Health.  And some others, here and here, that touch on the topic, if indirectly.

“Oh! Is today Mother’s Day?!”

A perfect treat for Mama!

A perfect treat for Mama!

That’s what my husband exclaimed after hearing our childcare provider and I chat about the special days in May between Mexico and the US – his Spanish isn’t complete so it takes him a while to grasp the content of conversations when we’re not talking in English.

He thought that Mother’s Day was next weekend.  He’s not good with dates.  And all he does is work and hang out with us so he’s pretty removed from the rest of the world.  Luckily for all involved, I’d resolved to handle my own Mother’s Day celebration.  Since one of my clients had brunch instead of Pilates, I’d already been to the Farmer’s Market for some fresh produce and a plan for homemade frozen yogurt with fruit and carob syrup was in development (I’d been reminiscing about the frozen yogurt bar at the Hudson’s Marketplace last week and had a hankering).

I’ve had some “big thoughts” on being a mom lately.  But today it seems that the lesson is a simple reminder that came by way of the morning’s events.  It’s something along the lines of fulfilling the role of mother completely involves knowing how to mother ourselves.

At the grocery store I asked the cashier if he’d called his mother yet.  He had some face piercings and perhaps judging from his appearance he might not be the sort of guy who was too eager to call his mom so I was careful to pose the question with a curious rather than nagging tone – indeed I was simply interested in sharing in my sense of celebration for moms everywhere.  His response was so sweet:  that he’d called her first thing, that he’d called her yesterday too, just in case he forgot today.  And furthermore that he had the feeling that she might be of the opinion that he called her a bit too much given his age.  Just goes to show, even the folks that may look a little rough have a mom who loves them and they love her right back.

Blessings to each and every mother out there and every child who loves her!

Stay Whole

Watch where you're pointing that arrow!

Watch where you’re pointing that arrow!

I’ve got a bunch of posts in my mental line up.  Unfortunately, I’ve got a lot of other stuff in there too.  Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I’m hoping to cash in a little writing time, but that’s a whole day away and I think that using our special days for following whims of the moment is the best possible way to go about celebrating ourselves.  So who knows when those posts will all get written?  No guarantees from me.  And yet, here I am writing.  Turns out that I’m following a whim today – and enjoying it.

I wrote all that for a reason.  Because what I have to share today is really a little sidebar note from a much more important, and terribly late, post on breast health.  Have I mentioned that I team up with Rupam Henry and Ollie Lobeck periodically to share strategies for supporting healthy breasts?  I might not have on account of my attempts to keep this space a little separate from the rest of my life.  But if there was anything worthy of breaking my self-imposed rules, it’s breast health.  The more workshops we hold, the more I realize how important breast health is to all of us – even the men and children if you can believe it.  So, stay tuned for more tidbits on that topic.  In the meanwhile, one of our participants reminded me of something that I’ve been meaning to add to The Grace Plan:  no elective surgery.  Ever.

Here’s what I already knew.  Surgery is risky, traumatic, costly, not-guaranteed to be successful hence requiring follow up procedures, and taxing on the body.  To me, this means that unless it is absolutely necessary to sustain my life, surgery is too expensive to undergo.  Here’s what one of our lovely participants pointed out:  surgery cuts stuff to get to other stuff.  Like your lymph system, your nerves, your fascia, and whatever else seems to be in the way.  I give too much credence to the integral importance of anything and everything in my body to be willing to cut any of it.

Depending on what they need to do, surgeons may also go digging around in your body for other materials, say a little bone or muscle.  They may very well do this without even telling you so that after the fog has cleared and you have some area other than the principle site of the surgery that is causing you discomfort that could be the reason.  All you can do is schedule a follow up appointment and ask.

In spite of all this, we seem to be getting more comfortable with surgery on a collective level.  While I can’t do much about that, apart from writing posts such as this, I can keep myself away from the operating room and that is precisely what I plan to do.  For as long as I’ve got a body, I intend to do my best to keep it in one perfectly complete piece.