Category Archives: Body Sleuthing

The documentation of my gradual and ever growing understanding of my body and my slow and steady process of transitioning to a preventative model of care and maintenance.

Good Luck, Bad Luck, Who Can Say?

With a four-plus year old in the midst, who can keep track of time?  Certainly not me.  I was supposed to report back here on something like September 28th about my current happiness project and here it is October 19th – whoops!  I’m still going and very pleased with the results.  Although it’s clear that I’m still in the early stages, because my feathers still get ruffled when I fall off in my practice.  My overall goal is to make happiness and contentment my norm rather than my practice results.  That said, I’m so grateful to be making some headway with Megan’s support, I feel that I’m truly on to something here.

Of course I’ve got a story about what’s been happening.  It was September 16th and I fell down my basement stairs.  It took a couple days for the initial inflammation to go down in order to confirm what I was instantly fearful of when it happened – I hit my tailbone nearly 24 years after the fateful knock sledding down the Amerman hill.  Here’s the amazingly good news, the thought of which has been putting a smile on my face every time I think of it since my moment of realization thanks to my chiropractor’s assessment:  I knocked my tailbone back into place.  When I broke my tailbone off my sacrum in 1991, I hit the very end of it and consequently it curled up inside my sacrum and off to one side (I can’t remember which one).  When I slammed it back into place I hit the top end, where it meets the sacrum and popped it right where it used to be when I was full of youth and hope for a good life.

(Note to self:  I will try not to extrapolate from this any theories which include me actually having good luck rather than bad luck.  I will do my best to remain neutral in my mindset.  Knowing that it is my extreme responses to life that can get me into trouble, remaining neutral is a strategy for staying happy and content and that’s what I’m after.  I will remember the wise Chinese farmer and stay the course of the neutral path.)

Note taken, the moment of transition from self pity to jubilation is pretty fun and happy-making.  The first couple days after my fall I was feeling all sorry for myself and put out by the fact that I’d have to put things like my happiness project on hold because all my limited free time would be going into tending to my injury and taking a really long time to do things like walk and get in and out of cars.  I still had to take time off for convalescing, and yet it is with much better prospects.  Even now, nearly five weeks later, I remain tender; but it’s great to know that my continued journey out of pain just got significantly shorter.

This happened to me once before when I had a painful ganglion cyst on my wrist that keep me from practicing most of the Pilates weight-bearing exercises for a year.  One day I was in dance class and my wrist collided with another dancer’s foot.  The physical pain was shocking and my pride was wounded; so much so that I left class immediately.  As I did I cursed the other dancer who didn’t even acknowledge our collision.  I sat down outside to collect myself, looked at my wrist and realized that the cyst was gone.  My resentment melted instantly and I left marveling at how remarkable it was that my body took a hit in the exact spot that it needed.

Honestly, I needed to write out these stories to remind myself today.  These days I feel in the midst of so much that feels overwhelming and even impossible when my mind is entertaining a funk.  It’s so good for me to remember the moments when perfection in all its realness and messiness was achieved.  I’m encouraged to think that every moment can be like that.  The wholeness of myself in this time space reality can be perfectly in line.  The perfect spot can get just what it needs.  And the beat goes on.  To me, that is the definition of happiness.

That and the fragrance of roasting tomatoes wafting in from the kitchen.  It’s time to go and make dinner……

bigger, Better, BEST

The Cadillac:  After

In all honesty, I’m in a rather sour mood lately.  It’s the sort of mood that comes along in the wake of a very full and busy season of crafting and merry making.  This makes it either the most or least ideal point at which to finally close chapter two of my Pilates Body Boost:  The Cadillac.  This space has always been my place for finding my way out of the blues, so I’ll hope for the best and I’ll try and keep this short (as if).

The good news first:  my body sleuthing efforts are really paying off.  In 2014, I managed to find my way out of chronic pain thanks to the help of a very talented bodyworker.  I have also learned how my diet impacts my skin and how my habit of overeating was affecting my figure.  Right at this moment though, I’m feeling achy and stiff, I’ve got a small colony of blemishes on my face, and the frigid weather (I know, I’ve got nothing to say in a conversation about cold weather that includes anyone outside of California – but it’s still c-o-l-d here) is keeping me entrapped in a dull frame of mind.  Just about the only cheery thought is that we’ve started a new year ripe with possibilities and I’m primed to cash in on a few years of diligence when it comes to work, health, and happiness – so here’s to optimism!

As I’ve reported before, my cadillac phase just seemed to go on and on, I eventually gave into the idea that it would endure for the entirety of 2014.  The full year turned out to be necessary because it was meant to set me up for the reformer and I really wanted to address the tension that has held my body captive for over 20 years so as to get somewhere new on the reformer.  I haven’t maintained the same routine throughout the entire year and in truth, Pilates has served as a maintenance regimen for substantial periods of time as I’ve navigated some pretty big stresses.  During those periods the time that I have set aside for my Pilates workouts went to various therapeutic exercises, what we call Mami’s self-care in my family.  About mid-year, I was very heavy and pimply but out of pain.  That was the bigger and better part of the year.  At that point I resolved not to continue to put on more weight as my body seemed inclined to do – adding a pound a week really doesn’t work for me or my non-existent clothing budget.  And the pimples were driving me crazy – if I could figure out how to get rid of those, I’d be soooo happy.  True to my historically proven approach, I started with exercise.  I added 20 minutes of quick walking every day and got back in to a rhythm of Pilates workouts that gave me a minimum 20 minutes of sweating and heart pumping in the studio.  Just to prove that I was serious, I cut back on sweets a lot and made sure to eat a little less.  After six weeks of that I weighed the same.  THE SAME.

That’s when I got serious.  That’s when I decided that something with the food I eat was going to have to change.  I started by cutting out sugar.  I still eat honey, maple syrup, and fruits – I haven’t gone all the way with cutting out sweets, so that eases the challenge substantially.  Excepting several “off” days that I can count on my two hands, I have not eaten cane sugar since mid-October.  That’s a lifetime record and I have been amazed at how easy it’s been for me.  My dedication has made me realize how motivated I am to find a way to stay slim through adulthood.  But I wasn’t there yet, I discovered something else when I cut out wheat too….

After a week of no sugar, I realized that I’d have to cut wheat flour too.  Because with no sugar, I somehow managed to eat way more bread than usual.  And that just didn’t seem right.  Once the sugar and wheat were out of my diet, I did start to feel some positive changes, I wasn’t quite as achy, and I generally felt lighter and more energetic.  Avoiding wheat and sugar meant abstaining from lots of snacking and eating for emotional rather than physical impulses.  It made every food choice more deliberate, has helped with my overall intake, and has taught me a lot about how I eat.  It wasn’t until nearly two months in that I realized the pimples on my face were associated with my eating wheat and sugar.  Case in point:  after one of my days off to enjoy the most delicious-pancakes-ever at an annual neighborhood party, a big red prize popped up within 24 hours.  That is why I attribute the current cluster of red dots on my face to my Yuletide indulgences.  And that is why, I’m bound and determined to keep clear of sugar and wheat for the next few months with the hope that after a good long break my body will be able to handle some treats without a complete freak-out such as I am now experiencing.  I’m afraid that I’m also going to have to cut way back on cow’s milk because it’s become clear to me after hearing from my aesthetician, and Rupam that my skin reveals my food choices nearly instantaneously.  As of now I have assessed that limiting my food choices is primarily taking care of the pimples.  I’m glad that my determination to slim down has given me some insight into what I need to do to care for my skin.  But what about the extra weight?!

I persisted and have finally clued in to what the slender people of the world have known all along.  The real drops in pounds came from another project that links back into the Pilates world – 80 Bites.  A colleague returned from the PMA conference with a copy of The Body Biz – thanks for sharing  Joan!  I borrowed it and finally read it through.  I recommend it, there is some solid Pilates intel within those pages.  But what really got me curious, was one of the author’s more recent businesses, 80 Bites.  I downloaded the app on my phone the evening that I finished the book and within a few days I’d ditched my over-eating habit.  That was back around Thanksgiving.  I haven’t been overly full since and am finally on my way to dropping the extra 20-or-so pounds that I’ve been lugging around everywhere I go.  On average, I’m dropping a pound a week.  What’s interesting to me about 80 Bites is that it helped me to understand my particular brand of over-consumption and constant eating.  Before my few days of revelation, I would eat several small meals throughout the day and then a way-too-big-but-healthy dinner.  In the evening, I would eat way too much of something like a salad simply because I felt it was good for me.  Between the frequent meals that didn’t give my digestive system ample time to focus on its singular duty, and the great big dump of nutrition that I’d load in at the end of the day, I was creating weight gain.  Now I’m careful to eat enough at breakfast to really sustain me until my next meal.  I may have a snack or I may not depending on what my three meals consist of.  It turns out that I can enjoy food and not overeat which somehow I hadn’t really understood before.  I believe that part of my lack of understanding around portion control has to do with my rebellious response to my mother’s obsessively small portions given her previous line of work as an RD.  It’s also possible that it boils down to getting the appropriate information at a point when I was receptive because it’s not as if I hadn’t caught wind of the calories-out-calories-in concept before.  Speculations aside, 80 Bites forced me to look at my eating habits in a way that no other previous program had and I can’t help but wonder whether my eating habits would have changed earlier had I learned specifically what the 80 Bites program teaches.  I’m very grateful to have found it now, and I’m happy with the idea that I’ve got a plan for staying slim for the duration of my life.  Because while I know that there are merits to cutting out wheat, sugar, and dairy, I can’t see it as a permanent solution for me and I really like food.  80 Bites has given me a way to savor food for as long as I live.

(So much for keeping it short, I haven’t even gotten to how I found my way out of chronic pain.  That’s HUGE for me.  2014 really has been a very productive year despite what currently appear to be lackluster results.  It’s a good reminder that sometimes life is like that.  The good stuff happens in the meanwhile, didn’t I write that a while back?)

I just had this feeling that Stephanie Wilger could help me when I met her.  It took a couple months, but I eventually scheduled a session with her, not with any particular agenda.  When she asked what brought me there, I started with my tailbone since I’ve learned that so much of what ails me started with that fatal bump on a sled in the bleak Michigan midwinter.  In that first visit, Stephanie got my tail unstuck and determined that it had indeed broken off many moons ago.  She’d had a similar injury as a teen in the midwest and has since become an expert at unfurling tailbones.  She gave me homework that I have diligently practiced daily since our first session.  During our next session the topic of mouth guards came up and Stephanie told me about Spino-Mandibular Equalization.  I was soooo excited at the prospect of a new mouth guard that would not leave me achy and desperate to be rid of it after a night of sleep.  (My dentist fitted me with mine back in 1999 and I’d worn it every night for fear that I’d wear down my teeth by grinding – he checks for tight jaw muscles every visit and always confirms that I clench.  Turns out that old guard was keeping me in knots.  Each and every night it was reversing any progress out of pain that I’d made in the day.  I’ve learned that getting out of pain and staying in pain are both daily projects.)  The new mouth guards worked miracles.  When I first got them, I’d pop them in my mouth whenever I felt that old familiar tension arise in my abdomen.  Within minutes the pain would be gone.  For the past several months, I’ve witnessed my body unwind layers of tension as I reset every night to a relaxed and productive state of self-repair.  I still have a long way to go and it’s clear that my tension patterns need support to keep unwinding, but I am heartened by the progress that I’m making.  For as long as I can remember I’ve been at the mercy of muscle tension.  I’ve always been amazed at how other people will not get worried about a muscle spasm because for me once a muscle seizes it’s always been days or weeks before it lets go.  But now, muscles seize and muscles let go.  It’s a whole new world of ease in my body.

Given my mood and the overwhelming list of things on my my TO DO list, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about taking another round of photos to officially close this phase of my personal care project.  But as I was in the studio one day I realized that my body does feel different than it did a year ago and my ever-supportive husband was ready and willing for a quick shoot and photo processing for the upload.  Boy am I glad to have these photos!  The changes aren’t necessarily huge, but all the same it’s quite satisfying to see the increased openness in my upper back and shoulder position.  Now I have proof beyond my own feeling that the past year has been one of improvement.  And I can’t help but think of Joe’s words:
“…Rome was not built in a day.  Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”

Circle Frog: Before and After

Circle Frog: Before and After

Kneeling Ballet Stretches:  Before and After

Kneeling Ballet Stretches: Before and After

Thigh Stretch:  Before and After

Thigh Stretch: Before and After

Roll Back:  Before and After

Roll Back: Before and After

Monkey:  Before and After

Monkey: Before and After

And now, it really is time for a jumpstart with my Pilates workouts.  I’m eager to see if I can make any gains on flexibility especially in spinal extension – though I still have a limited amount of time to dedicate to my workouts.  Keeping track of my progress is satisfying for me so I’ll keep My Pilates Body Boost going since I’m now two for two with progress made (here’s the concluding post for phase one for any curious newcomers).  I’m just going to get comfortable with 2015 first and then gear up for Phase Three – The Reformer.  Hopefully I’ll report back here before summer!  Putting this post together, photos and all, has indeed improved my perspective:  I am happy to conclude that 2014 was the year for bigger and better.  That sets me up for getting to my personal-best-yet in 2015.  Sounds like a happy new year to me!

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.

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.

Sensing Hope

stages of opening wide

stages of opening wide

A few days ago I had an interesting experience after my workout.  It was my first after a couple days off that I take in accordance with my hormonal cycle that just so happened to coincide with my boy needing extra tender loving care due to the presence of two staples in the back of his head.

I wasn’t expecting much because I didn’t have a lot of time and it hadn’t been the easiest couple of days off.  So I was surprised to feel such an immediate and full-body sense of lightness as I walked back from the studio.  I felt as if a heavy fog had lifted from my body and I daresay that this sort of experience is what prompts my clients to exclaim how wonderful they feel at the conclusion of a lesson.  I’ve always privately marveled at the complete conviction with which folks say that they are improved after a Pilates workout, because the effects have rarely been so dramatic for me.

I’m wondering if this is a result of MELTing.  My bodyworker has noted that my body seems to have less noise and perhaps I’ve just experienced what she means.  If indeed my body’s internal static is fading, then every input I receive will be more easily processed and likewise I will be able to sense the positive effects of all my self care projects.  I do believe that this is what getting out of chronic pain feels like.  If nothing else, it’s what hope feels like.

Thoughts on Being Gentle and Kind

a lesson in gentleness

a lesson in gentleness

Be gentle and kind.  Those words are circling around in my head a lot these days as I am doing my best to teach our boy the many expressions of gentleness and kindness.  I trust that he’s working with the concepts in his own way when he follows the cat around the house screaming, or when he pushes over a friend that he really loves.  We’ve been following up those decidedly un-gentle and unkind acts with a lot of close and quiet conversations about how our behavior effects others.  To the point that yesterday in the car he said, “be gentle and kind.”  I was on the phone with my mother at the time and she oohed and ahhed over his sweetness – more than she would have over the acts that have prompted the frequent reminder.

Anyway, I woke up today with a really stiff back.  The kind that used to be commonplace for me.  It put me in a sour mood and demanded a good deal of my attention.  Which pulled me into a process of evaluating just how gentle and kind I am to myself.  I’ve been looking back over the past couple days because I’m currently in the thick of these various new body projects and I have the idea that perhaps I pushed myself a bit to far.  All the while trying to be gentle and kind.  I believe that it’s a pitfall of specializing in corrective exercise that one runs the risk of becoming a bit too vigilant with one’s body.  In all the efforts to make things right, there is an undertone that things are not currently so.  That seems fine enough, but for certain kinds of over-thinkers like myself, it can easily become a constant barrage of thoughts about what is wrong and what needs to be fixed.

My injuries compound these tendencies.  Twenty-three years of daily pain has definitely influenced my perception of my body.  I’ve come a long way from where I started, and yet it is still quite easy to feel downright negative about the state of me.  The only way through that is to be gentle and kind and to clean up those critical thoughts as they sweep through my mind which is also navigating pain signals, wild toddler signals, nanny signals, client signals, and all the rest that a day offers me.  It was around noon that I had some time to myself and I really noticed what a relief that quiet space was.  I needed that quiet to engage fully with my body, to tend to the aches and pains and everything else in between.  I made progress and that was a comfort.  But I believe that I’m going to be in the process of unwinding for at least a couple days here.  And I will look to gentleness and kindness as my constant guides.

Thoughts On Showing Up

tulips reaching for the light

tulips reaching for the light

80% of Life is Just Showing up – Woody Allen

Remember that video that I promised?  Here it is.  I will confess that I do not at all like seeing myself on screen.  All those postural imperfections, mannerisms, and flubbits in glaring clarity.  But sharing is caring, and I do care to share.  So there, self.  There.  I’ve made it something of a personal goal to improve upon those things that I don’t like about looking at myself in videos, it is one way that I plan to show up to myself in the months to come.  Because, I do have some more video ideas to manifest and aren’t they sort of an ideal way to see just how we show up in physical form?  I do believe so.

Showing up seems like something of a theme in our home in recent hours.  It started with our nanny not calling, not coming, not responding to her subsequent termination.  In more than one sense, she failed to show up.  Perhaps her mostly – she’s always been slightly unreliable but it’s not too easy to find childcare for a 8-noon shift on Sunday mornings – uncharacteristic behavior can be attributed to the start of DST, but unfortunately it makes us all the less sympathetic to whatever may be her side of the story.  Try as I am, I can only get to the point of having lost a majority of my respect for her.  I’m offended that she was so disrespectful in her method of quitting, that she left us to do the “dirty work” of ending the relationship.  And now I’m here holding the bad feelings too.  So I continue to work on it because I’m pretty sure that right now I’ve got double the load, hers and mine.  Apparently this current situation reveals something of a cultural thing.  In some places it is considered acceptable to terminate one’s term of employment with nary a word of communication.  Point taken.

I must confess that I have my own history of not showing up to my personal preferences with respect to work.  As it’s virtually impossible to erase any of our experiences completely, I must still have some remnants of an old complex around leaving, something of a reverse abandonment complex.  Back in my early twenties, I was ready to leave my waitressing job, but I had an irrational fear that when I gave the standard two weeks notice I’d be instantly terminated.  So I arranged to have all my shifts covered for two weeks and then I gave notice.  Strange, eh?  I eventually came to terms with my error in judgement and lack of consideration and apologized to my manager.  She was gracious, but explained to me precisely the pickle that my actions had put her in.  Clearly I did wrong, but I feel that I did my best to take responsibility for my negligence.  In some way, if only retrospectively, I showed up.

There’s no two ways about it, breaking up is hard to do.  But I believe that it’s worth doing with as much respect for all the people involved as possible, and that requires showing up.  Saying goodbye in person.  Facing oneself in the face of another.  Being an employer forces me to do my best to do those things, that are in no way easy for me to do.  Perhaps that is why I’m an employer, because I need to be forced to show up in order to do so.

This weekend I had an enlightening Holistic Biomechanics lesson in which I sensed my tailbone in a whole new way.  I felt so many amazingly alive sensations at the very base of my spine and afterward I felt a kind of relief that I have not had in decades.  Apart from being an exciting discovery process, it was also trying.  I noticed myself becoming impatient and irritable more than ever before in a HB class.  I had the idea that perhaps those emotions relate to the very base of the spine, indeed I’ve often noticed a correlation between the length of my fuse and the amount of discomfort that I’m experiencing in my pelvic floor.  Because I was supported in showing up to my body, I was able to work through and hopefully work out some of those emotions.  Now I’ve got more ways to tune into my tailbone and will be doing so in the coming weeks.  The prospect of truly releasing the old injury, as much as is possible, is a powerful motivator.

In my work with clients, I am the one who keeps them company when they show up to themselves, that is what they are essentially doing when they arrive at my studio.  Often, people are finally showing up to parts of themselves that they have ignored for many years.  It is incredible to witness the relief that comes from addressing those long-ignored parts of ourselves.  I get eager for more.  So much so that I have to refrain from pushing rivers.

But sometimes, I can’t keep my words to myself.  Here we are again, Daylight Savings Time has arrived and I’m gonna beat the drum of discontent.  I’m gonna proclaim:  That DST! That DST! I do not like that DST! (did you catch the Seuss reference?  I hope so!)  I’m even gonna go so far as to say that if more people were showing up to themselves regularly, we would not stand for such silliness as changing the hour twice a year.  I know, I know, people like more light at certain times of the day, work / play schedules blah blah blah.  I don’t care about that stuff.  I care about the fact that I feel like crap for a couple weeks two times a year.  I care that in the years when I was more vulnerable I would routinely get sick every spring forward.  I think that I care because I show up to myself enough to notice the effects of the time change on my body.  On this point I’m quite certain.  And I’m gonna keep banging this drum because I figure that after years of showing up to my twice-yearly frustration maybe others will see my point.  Maybe something will change for the better, maybe the saying will be proven right.  If I don’t keep showing up, I”ll never know.

A Metaphor For How Our Nervous System Works

A client came in today all bent over and so her first stop was to put her legs over the spine corrector.  I have a smattering of experience with hands on work and in this case I gave my client a little compression on her feet that I learned from Holistic Biomechanics.  Since some degree of mental engagement tends to enhance our physical experience I gave her a brief reminder of what I was doing (she’s also had some experience with HB).

Back in 2001 when I entered my first Pilates Certification Program, my instructors talked about imagery with respect to cueing.  I was mostly baffled with how to come up with metaphorical images.  But then, I had hardly any personal experience with Pilates.  These days, images tumble out of my mouth before I can even fully picture them and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised with what my imagination conjures up.  Today was such a day.

I was explaining one of the simple facets of how the human nervous system functions.  Our bodies are designed to respond to external stimulus.  When I put my hands on somebody’s foot, that draws the attention of their nervous system.  Once the nervous system has tuned into that area it begins to address anything that requires improvement.  In the case of my client, she was noticing some sensations associated with the release of tension and I was noticing various fluttering movements and an increase in overall circulation under my hands.  This is a basic description of one level of our “factory installed” self-healing system.  And I’ve gotta say, isn’t it amazing?!

So, back to my metaphor.  I likened this cycle to keeping one’s house tidy.  If you’re like me, you tend to tidy up when folks are around.  Even more so if you’re going to throw an official party.  I’ve been saying for years that the key to a clean house is throwing regular parties (having a kid certainly affects this strategy, but kids are only little and all-time-consuming for a few years, right? right?!).  Anyway, a guest visits my house and I immediately start putting things in their proper place.  Little things like gathering up stuff that belongs in other rooms, hanging up coats that have been tossed on chair backs, or sorting the piles of mail that are so often right by the door.  And this is very similar to what our bodies do when we receive a visitor in the form of external stimulus.

I’ve come to trust in this process much more than I used to thanks to HB and MELTing.  My first introduction to the magic of HIgh Bounce Pinky Balls was back in 2001 but at that point I was trying to solve all my physical ailments (there were many) with direct and purposeful action.  In pretty much all cases, I had to get more nuanced in my approach to see the results I was after.  These days Pinky is still a big part of my life, but I use the ball much differently.  Rather than a lot of pressure and a hurts-so-good massage, a light touch with the intention of focussing my awareness is all I’m after.  I trust my body to do the real problem solving.  And it does!

I am often suggesting that my clients begin to care for their entire bodies via their hands and feet with a light Pinky rub.  It’s nothing so strong that it can aggravate their sensitivities, but it begins the process of rebuilding a trust in their body’s power to heal, It gives the body some useful stimulus, and it feels really good.  In nearly all cases, folks come back with good things to report, but I believe that’s partly because they know how to approach what they are doing and what to look for, hence my many metaphors.

Perhaps now I’ve shared enough here to incite your curiosity, dear reader.  I encourage you to try it, you’ll like it!

Hand meets Pinky

Hand meets Pinky

Foot meets Pinky

Foot meets Pinky


Wandering off the Beaten Path

Off on a verdant adventure behind an ivy covered wall....

Off on a verdant adventure behind an ivy covered wall….

I haven’t completely lost my way, and I am grateful for March MATness because I have been growing concerned about my studio habits lately.  The truth is that I’ve been exploring unchartered territory in a couple areas of my life and I’ve gotten rather muddy in the brain.  But here’s the thing, I’m working on something that I think is pretty important, something that I wanted to be working on and so I’m staying the course.  Now with a daily dose of mat work, I’m even more confident that all will turn out well.

I’ve already mentioned that my chiropractor’s maternity leave gave me a welcome opportunity to get more proactive with my self care.  And indeed, I’m digging into the depths of my chronic pain in ways that I haven’t ever before.  And I’m getting somewhere, namely, to a place of less pain, more often.  It’s great.

I’m pretty jazzed about starting to practice the MELT method too.  Reading Hitzman’s book was inspiring and so exciting since she’s put together two worlds that I’ve been straddling for many years.  But the really big deal is that she’s given any of us who are receptive the tools to benefit from her discoveries and innovations.  Bravo Sue Hitzmann!  I will be reporting on my progress back here in the coming weeks.

I’m also really enthused to be digging a little deeper into my study of The Alexander Technique.  It offers me such a nuanced approach to inhabiting my body that I’m left pondering the simple words of my instructor in the days between my lessons.  I like having something to think about, especially something that enhances my physical experience.

Along with The Alexander Technique, I’m getting a little more Holistic Biomechanics input these days and it’s really fun to see how the two intersect with my Pilates practice.  I think of all three new areas of study as something that I call Body Basics.  Each in their own way offers all sorts of valuable information and support for optimal functioning of the human body.  Sure Pilates does the same, but it’s a bit more complicated in that there are layers of choreography and movement control involved.  As far as I can tell, MELT, The Alexander Technique, and Holistic Biomechanics all prime a body for a slightly more complicated endeavor such as Pilates, and in turn Pilates primes a body for a slightly more complicated endeavor such as ballet or modern dance.  There my own experiential biases are revealed.  All these techniques mean different things for different people.  But pretty universally, they mean feeling better, and feeling more fully human.

And that right there, is what I’m after because….

Man must be arched and buttressed from within, else the temple will crumble to dust. 
— Marcus Aurelius Antoninius

Talking About Healthy Habits: The New Plan

In other news, I'm getting my haircut after several months of growth.  I just had to mark this occasion somehow since it's really quite a big deal to me.

In other news, I’m getting my haircut after several months of uninterrupted growth. I just had to document how long my hair got because it may never be this long again.  Even though I could only stand if for a few months, I coveted long hair for years.  The next time I fantasize about long lustrous locks I can remind myself, been there…done that…and really didn’t like it.

Aside from my ongoing Pilates Body Boost project, I’ve got some other things going on in my personal care practice these days.  My chiropractor is on maternity leave and I decided to take a break from chiropractic care and delve into some other modalities that I’ve been wanting to explore.  I’m currently taking lessons in The Alexander Technique and Holistic Biomechanics as well as reading about Body Mind Centering and the MELT method.  Yesterday, after a confusing conversation with a client, I read Sue Hitzmann’s description of building a body sense, and something in my mind clicked into place.  I realized that I have a consistent tendency to go toward greater physical and emotional awareness and engagement.  For me, taking a break from chiropractic treatments means that I’m actually going to care for my body in a more involved and proactive way.  Instead of having weekly appointments, I’ve got to have many “mini” appointments every day. If I’m going to keep myself clear of the debilitating muscle spasms that have been a matter of course for me for over two decades, I know that I’m going to have to keep careful tabs on what is happening in my body so that tensions (hopefully) don’t reach an emergency state.  While I dearly miss my chiropractor, I was eager for the opportunity to engage with my body’s self-healing operations in new ways.

The enthusiasm that I have for learning new things about my body and how to care for myself has evolved over my life.  It started as an interest when I was a kid and slowly developed into a passion which morphed into a habit.  These days it is just what I do and who I am.  I’ve gotten used to the idea that there is always going to be something new that captures my interest with respect to wellness and body care.  The longer I pursue my interests, the more immeshed I become in the particular mindset that accompanies them.  Likewise, the more confused I am when I interface with folks who don’t share my basic mindset with respect to care and maintenance of their bodies.  There are many things that I don’t get:  the thing that keeps clients who actually like the work from coming back, from prioritizing a commitment to their health over other ways to spend time and money that seem far more superfluous, from falling in love with Pilates because of all the amazing that it is, from just doing a little something everyday to take care of themselves, from being eager to learn more, the list goes on….  And yes, it is probably different for different people, which makes it all the more challenging to know just how to interact with each and every person with respect to these things that are no-brainers for me.

There is a wider social trend that I believe plays into this general tendency for folks to tune out rather than tune in when it comes to physical matters.  Collectively, we are generally ignoring our bodies.  I realize that this statement may seem a bit inflammatory, and it does come from the perspective of somebody who has spent decades paying attention, so as I already pointed out – I have a particular perspective based on my personal story.  While I do think that we are trending toward more engagement with the wholeness of our human experience, it is not the generally accepted course of behavior.  Being consistently attentive to one’s body is the exception rather than the rule.

I’m feeling the need to remember that when I interact with folks around topics of body awareness and self-care.  My way of life is fulfilling for me, but that is a private matter.  It is easiest to keep certain things to ourselves, and allow others to keep their own private arenas as well.  Perhaps if I bear this in mind, I will be less confused when my expectations don’t match up with how others interface with their own self-care.  Perhaps if I simply ask more questions and attempt to learn a little bit more about others’ relationships to their bodies, I’ll gain even more understanding into the broad diversity of experiences encompassed by the citizenry of humanity.  Yep, that sounds like a good plan.  I will report back with any new findings.