Body Talk

Rear view of a young man holding his neck in pain, isolated on wHow you talk to your body matters. I am not talking about society driven gender norms, although, they are not entirely separate from this conversation.

As a massage therapist, I constantly hear people refer to their bodies in less than positive terms. People apologize to me for being overweight, not shaving their legs, having moles. I have a client who told me, “I hate my left shoulder. I mean, my left shoulder is a real bastard. No one can figure out what’s wrong with it. Nothing helps. MRIs, PTs, energy workers, massage therapists, orthopedic surgeons–no one can find anything wrong with it. If I could have you cut it off, I would. That is how much I hate my left shoulder.” This kind of commentary is not uncommon. “Maybe try saying you love your left shoulder?” I suggested, suddenly feeling a bit self conscious of how hippy-like I sounded. But, that was my honest reaction. “Maybe stop saying how much you hate it and want to hurt it and it may let off on hurting you.” Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe this dude was making up his pain, his pain was undeniably real. But, he was leaving his body absolutely no room for improvement; cutting off any possibility of change before it could manifest, and was asking that I join in on the hatred. The second you start condemning a piece of you as dysfunctional or unworthy, it will start to act as if that is the truth. This is something we do over the course of years. Think about it. If you tell a child they are stupid once, they may not believe you. But, say it to them a billion times, and usually the outcome is unfortunate and predictable. A child will hold on to the verbal trauma inflicted by parents, teachers, and other kids. This is true. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have psychotherapy as a profession. Your body is no different from a child’s mind. Brutally honest, reactionary, and always moving toward love; your body will curl inward protecting itself from the emotional onslaught of the world around it, and most especially from the world that is created within it. Your left shoulder can’t decide to move to New York City, take shrooms, and flip you off for making it miserable. So: it gets painful and angry. And, in my non-scientific opinion, is more prone to injury, due to lack of awareness and the shutting down any other possible experience other than pain in that part of the body.

There is a lesson to be learned from everything. I am not one of those people who smiles brightly as you sit there will a broken ankle telling you that everything happens for a reason. I am the person that says, “That really sucks that you broke your ankle. Now, let’s get to work.” There will be physical pain, but also frustration, anger, and maybe even grief over an injury. But, becoming friends with your ankle is profound and healing in the same way as reconciling with an estranged family member can be. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t pretty. But, dammit, there is love there and getting to a place where you can express that is pretty fucking amazing.

SO, how does one go about shifting how the body is thought and talked about? Well, we can know that something is correct, but knowing it intellectually does little to change our habits. You can know smoking is bad for you, but unless you experience the act of quitting–actually throwing them out and not lighting a cigarette–you won’t understand what it means to not smoke. Same thing here. You can say to yourself, “Yes, this sounds reasonable. I should start telling my left shoulder that I love it instead of that I hate it.” But, unless you wake up every single day and make a conscious effort, no change will occur. Then, you will likely just beat up on yourself even more for not making the desired changes. Trust me, I am an expert at this.

The first step is just to be aware when you are thinking or saying something about your body that is confining, leaving you no opportunity for growth. Just recognize it. Say to yourself, “Hmm, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize I said xyz about my right big toe.” Continue with that for a long time, maybe months. Become aware of the situations where that attitude pops up. I always would talk about how horrible my left foot was when trying on shoes. I would tell the sales girl that I had a “gimpy” left foot and needed some serious arch support due to an injury when I was twelve years old. Oh, and bring two different widths because my Sasquatch of a left foot was unpredictable and I almost always needed a wide width just for that foot. Same thing with buying eye glasses. I would try to be cute and quirky and tell the sales person I needed the section for “big and tall heads” because I do have a wider face and most glasses just do not fit. Yes, it is true that my face is wide and yes it is true that my left foot is different from my right foot. But, the way I condemned my left foot set the stage for me to disconnect myself from that part of my body, inviting more injury. I went through orthodics, discussions on surgical solutions with podiatrists, everything except accepting my left foot as it was and opening up to the possibility that it could change for the better. I’m not saying that orthodics and surgery are not helpful or needed in many cases, they are tools in the toolbox. But, by thinking about my foot as permanently damaged, whose only direction would be one of decline; I had already eliminated any other possible outcome.

The second step is, once you have a good flow of recognizing when and in what situation it happens, the see what happens if you just choose not to say accusatory things about your body in those situations. What would happen if you didn’t point out your weight while trying on swimwear? What would happen if you didn’t refer to your “bad” shoulder, or your “trick” knee, or your “gimpy” foot in those terms? The same old thoughts will likely pop up in your head. Note them, there they are. Now, what happens if you just don’t verbalize what your mentally telling yourself? Now, to change the mental habit, start to imagine your shoulder/ankle/foot/knee just wants you to hold it, tell it everything is okay, that it is loved. Smile at your foot. Smile at your knee.

After this goes on for a while, you will become more accustomed to smiling at your knee, and it won’t seem weird at all. You will start to notice a moment or two before it “gives out,” and might be able to adjust your gait in time. You will get to know your knee, figure out what it wants, needs, likes, dislikes. You will have a love affair with that knee and therefore be more open and available to the rest of your body. In those pictures of 90 year olds amazingly doing crazy yoga moves, or still doing gymnastics, or running a marathon–do you think they get up in the morning and decide that their body is incapable and defective? My guess is that they listen to what their body is saying and know what they can and cannot do without worrying what that says about them as a person.

Have unconditional love for your body, and it may just love you back.

I will leave you with some great quotes from some great teachers .

Forgive me for paraphrasing; Lindy Ferrigno, a shiatsu practitioner for the last forty years once said, “Science has shown that the human body has about as many cells as there are stars in space. Science has also proved that we have much more space between cells than cells themselves. So, when you think about it, we only appear to be solid. In reality, we are more space than stars. It is there I focus my attention when working with the body, on creating more space.”

“Smile at your vehicle.”–Chris Ray,

“Body problem, body solution. Body question, body also answer. Lucky, you have good body teacher.” –Pichet Bonthumme,

Changing the way you think and talk about yourself translates to how you think and talk about others as well, but that is a post for another time.

An experiment on the language of love.

 

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Thankful

The other day it was 80 degrees in Chicago…in April. We threw open all of our windows and slept without covers. It was glorious. Waking up the next morning, the temperature had dropped to 45 degrees. Snuggling a little closer to the cats and husband for extra warmth, I realized the smell of the morning air was somehow foreign. I mean that in the most literal sense. The air smelled like waking up somewhere else. I had visions of going to get a cup of coffee in Paris, being the first one up on a rainy morning in Ireland, and I could not get Loyola in Pais Vasco out of my head.

That started me thinking how thankful I am that I grew up when air travel was cheap(er), thankful that I had parents who encouraged my love of travel, and thankful for my own sense of adventure and desire for solitude. I am thankful that the two most horrific childhood diseases I had were chicken pox and self doubt.

I am thankful that my father was from another country, and that he came to this one. I am thankful that he taught me to burp and say ‘thank you’ afterward. I am thankful that he was an amazing story teller, and that he told me the most unique ghost stories as a child. I was frightened in the most exhilarating way–the way a child loves to be uncertain, when the line between fantasy and reality blurs. I am thankful that he worked very hard for many years at a grueling job, and I am thankful  that he cared nothing for money. That is why I could travel as a teenager and young adult. I am thankful he taught me that brusselsprouts are not the devil. I am thankful that when my mom was in the hospital, and I was three years old, he brought me home two Barbie dolls. I am thankful for the made up image in my head of him standing at KB Toy Store at Alton Square Mall, staring at a wall of glittery and scantily clad Barbie dolls, shaking his head in bewilderment and slight disgust. I can see his tattooed sailor’s hands reaching for the only two Barbie dolls he could stomach to buy for his daughter: Astronaut Barbie and Business Barbie. I am so thankful. I am thankful that my dad was delightfully not handy around the house, and refused to read assembly instructions for anything. I am thankful he was always pro-ice cream. I am thankful my father never truly disliked anyone, not even Margaret Thatcher, whose autobiography he kept on the kitchen table for years. I am thankful my father taught me that staring out at the rain for hours while sitting in a lawn chair with the garage door open was a kind of prayer. I am thankful my dad was so generous, regaling me with stories of his successes and failures. I am thankful he loved music, and blasted it very loudly at very inappropriate times. I am thankful he loved and respected his mother. I am thankful he loved good conversation, but was comfortable alone. I am thankful he loved to dance, and hated having his photo taken; the result being, I have less photos, but have danced more. I am thankful my dad refused to listen to racist talk, and was very vocal about not wanting me to hear it. I am thankful he loved to mow the lawn, and that he cried the one time he actually killed a deer while hunting. I am thankful I have his eyes, and can see that little bit of him every morning when I look in the mirror.

I am thankful to my mother for teaching me how to read. She opened up a world of imagination and knowledge that I still reach for every day. I am thankful that she let me eat cereal in bed. I am thankful that my mom took me to the zoo the day I “graduated” from preschool in her brand new 1984 Ford Escort, even though she was terrified to drive on St. Louis highways. I am thankful she taught me to throw trash into a trash can, and not on the street. I am thankful my mother showed me that the most fun anyone could ever have consisted of sitting at the kitchen table and playing endless games of gin rummy. I am thankful we shared a similar sense of humor and laughed together. I am thankful she thought ‘Legends of the Fall’ was the most ridiculous movie ever made, and that Harrison Ford was the only man besides my father to catch her eye. I am thankful she loved science fiction and Shakespeare. I am thankful she allowed me to play outside from sun up till sun down in the summertime. I am thankful she was not angry with me for so many things. I am thankful that my mother, without any hint of self pity, told me to ‘Go’ when I asked her if I should stay home from my planned year of studying abroad. I am thankful that she nicknamed me ‘Mongoose,’ and always called me on my birthday. I am thankful that she kept her promise to my grandmother to take me to Mass every Sunday, even though she was an outspoken Agnostic and staunchly against organized religion. I am thankful that she taught me that there is beauty in contradiction and the importance of giving your word. I am thankful that she thought I was funny, and too smart for my own good. I am thankful she allowed me to climb trees and come home muddy from head to foot without repercussion. I am thankful she taught me how to cook, even if it was a box of brownie mix. I am thankful she danced with my father. I am thankful my mother always put sunscreen on my face. I am thankful she wrote poetry, and believed me when I told her I saw a ghost. I am thankful she let me crawl into bed with her on nights my father was working. I am thankful that I still hear her laughter every time something absolutely ridiculous happens.

I was not always the best daughter, and they were not always the best parents. But we had our moments of greatness for each other and ourselves. And for that, I am thankful.

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Walk it Off

Those of you who know me well, would most likely not describe me as being ‘graceful.’ I have always been somewhat vertically challenged, knocking over objects and people on a regular basis. Enter:  walking meditation. Now, wait just a moment–don’t tune out just yet. If the word ‘meditation’ makes you think of unshaved armpits, incense, and dreadlocks then pause a moment.

By the way, I happen to love hairy armpits, incense, and dreadlocks. Anyway, walking meditation is meditation in action. It is great for making you more spatially aware and therefore less likely to careen into small children or glass doors. This is something you can do walking to the train in the morning, and you can incorporate it throughout your day to help maintain a calm mind and improve balance.

What is walking meditation?

Walking meditation is literally walking while making an effort to be mindful of your surroundings, your breath, and all of the sensations that you feel. Before you use this on your way to work in the morning, take five or ten minutes (set an alarm on your phone) and practice it at home.

How do I do walking meditation?

First, make sure you are in a room or some place that screaming children cannot find you. Okay. Excellent. You may find it easier at first to do this without shoes. Standing, take a few deep breaths. Now, put one foot forward, stepping slowly down onto the floor, and pause. How does the floor beneath that foot feel to you? Where are your arms and hands and how does the sensation of them touching your sides feel? Now repeat with the other foot. Try not picking up your back foot until the front foot is totally flat on the ground. Then, when you do pick up your back foot, peel it off of the floor slowly, registering the texture and feeling of the floor beneath you. Oh, and do not forget to breathe.

Once you have this mastered, check in with your thoughts. I actually find it easier to meditate while walking rather than sitting. The external stimulus gives me something tactile to focus on while still maintaining a calm mind. When thoughts of any nature enter your head, simply say to yourself ‘thinking, thinking,’ and go back to focusing on your body, breathe, and surroundings. The important thing is to not judge yourself. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad way to do this.

Who should do walking meditation?

Well, while not everything is right for everyone….I believe everyone who has the ability to put one foot in front of the other could benefit from this. Leave a little early for work if you take the train or bus and walk mindfully to your destination. You will be amazed at the effect it has on your day.

Where  can I practice walking meditation?

Anywhere you can walk! It is sort of like kegels in the fact that no one else will know when you are doing it.

How can I transition from really slow walking in my living room to using this in public without seeming like a total freak?

While I throughly advocate being a freak in public, one can achieve the appearance of normalcy with practice. It is possible to walk with some speed while doing this, as several YouTube videos feature a very blonde young lady (with dreadlocks!)demonstrate.

 Studies

While there have not been a lot of scientific studies published on walking meditation, here are some related articles on mindfulness practices.

Listen to Your Lyrics

I was sitting in a giant van without seat belts barreling down the back roads of Thailand in the torrential rain. The third row back, I had my ear phones tightly in listening to Mumford and Sons repeatedly. During my (approximately) twelfth time listening to the song ‘Sigh No More,’ it dawned upon me that most of the lyrics were taken from the Shakespearean play ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’

The van suddenly stops. Visibility is zero outside due to the unimaginable downpour. I remove one headphone. The van door slides open. We are invited to run across a stream and into a Buddhist temple that we cannot even see. No one moves. In my other headphone the line  reminds me, ‘Oh, man is a giddy thing!’

Taking out the headphone, I bolt out the open door into the rain.

Inside it is clear that the temple is built in a circular design with a central staircase, going up and up. More people from the van arrive. We instantly start running up the stairs into the mysterious. At the end of the stairwell is a ladder. We climb the ladder, our bare feet still slippery and wet. At the top is a Buddha and open doors in all directions. We are so high now that we can see the rain engulfing the Thai countryside.

We all start laughing. Man is indeed a giddy thing.

Idiot Compassion

This is my first post in a while. Getting bogged down in the minutia of daily life is still something I struggle with–as I think most of us do.

Driving down Lincoln Ave. in Chicago on a hot summer day, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What is wrong with people today? Why are you just walking out into the middle of traffic? Can you not find your turn signal/gas pedal/steering wheel? Why is the guy behind me so close I can see the chicken pox scar from when he was in 3rd grade?”  Sigh. Cha cha.

I only got more frustrated when I went into a shop, you know the one–where the employees never look you in the eye and can’t seem to acknowledge that you exist. Sigh. Cha cha.

So, when I got home I looked up Pema Chodron’s website. She has a short explanation on ‘Idiot Compassion,’ and I find I suddenly feel more calm. I realize that I have been practicing ‘Idiot Compassion’ on a very small level today.  This is a reminder to me that self care is not always physical, although calming stress can help the physical.

The name ‘Idiot Compassion’ does not really describe our ability to be compassionate toward those who we perceive to be idiots. Rather, it is practicing compassion toward ourselves by leaving certain situations behind. It is getting rid of the enabling sort of pseudo compassion we feel toward a person or situation: the idiot kind of compassion.

So, I won’t be shopping at that store anymore, and I will probably be taking public transit more. This translates to damaging relationships, friendships, and beyond.  This speaks to that friendship you have–you know the one where you feel you give 110% and get zilch.  The co-worker you work alongside that wants you to conspire in his/her negative gossip. So, practice some compassion for yourself and lose the ‘idiot’ part by setting clear boundaries for yourself.

Tell your friend who borrows your books only to return them in terrible condition why you won’t be lending to him/her anymore. Tell your gossipy co-worker that negative gossip is something you don’t want to engage in anymore. Being an advocate for yourself can only inspire others to treat you, and perhaps themselves, a little better. This does not necessarily apply to city traffic, however.

Cha Cha…

In Thailand, whenever someone was visibly flustered or in a hurry, they would say “Cha Cha…”  No, this is not a new crazily hip dance move–it means “Slowly slowly…”  I find myself repeating “cha cha” to myself several times a day:  in traffic, at the grocery store, waiting for the train. People may look at you a little strangely, but who wants to be normal anyway?

I have definitely been in need of  “Cha Cha–ing” it lately. My fabulous cousin was married in Vegas last week, and this week a great friend left to study in South Africa. Then there is work, meeting with friends, and before you know it finding time for yourself gets a lot more difficult.

So, this idea of taking your time, of being mindful can sometimes be mistakenly classified as laziness in our fast paced society.  But, if you find how to shift yourself into a lower gear great things can happen.  Suddenly you hear what people are really saying, what they mean– colors seem brighter, work becomes easier, people start to notice your peacefulness and are drawn to it because it is also what they crave in their own lives.

When thinking about what my project would be this week I had to incorporate this idea of taking time; of mindfulness and how that works for someone who has a busy schedule.

So, the project this week is creating your own ‘still point inducer.’  Yes, it is an odd name, and even odder looking. My husband made a lot of colorful jokes that, if you know David, well…

Still Point Inducer

What is a still point inducer, you ask?

Okay, stay with me:  Craniosacral Therapy (aka Cranial Sacral or CST) is a type of bodywork that is based on the theory that the sutures connecting all of the different bones in your skull are slightly pliable. In fact, the dude who invented this method (William Sutherland, DO)
hypothesized that the skull “breathes” in the same way your lungs do, but instead of air the skull’s respiration is caused by the movement of cerebrospinal fluid. Of course this respiration is much slower and slight than the lungs–you cannot see it, but with training can learn to feel it through your hands. In the same way that other bodywork therapies like Thai Massage and Trigger Point Therapy use compression to flush out stagnate blood and provide a surge of fresh oxygenated blood to an area of pain or injury, Craniosacral Therapy temporarily quiets the skull’s respiration to allow in fresh cerebrospinal fluid.

ENTER:  The Still Point Inducer

Getting a session with a professional Craniosacral Therapist is of course ideal. However, you can mimic a very basic CST hold on your own. This calms the respiration of the skull, and has been associated with relief from migraine headaches, arthritic conditions of the spine, fevers, and just general benefits of lowering stress levels.

WHAT you will need:

Cat Optional

Well, you could buy a still point inducer. But you really don’t need to–just grab a sock and two tennis balls. Put both of the tennis balls into the sock so that they are touching and tie a knot in the sock so the tennis balls do not have any room to move around. DONE! Make sure you use tennis balls, though–they are the right size and have just enough give to be comfortable. Also, one note:  Too much of a good thing is still too much: only use the still point inducer for about ten minutes at a time. Also, this self care technique is not for you if you have high blood pressure. Your skull has to breathe and that is just enough time to rest it. I usually set an alarm on my phone in case I fall asleep.

This is when David starts laughing hysterically…

WHERE?

Feel the back of your skull. You should feel two boney bumps on either side of where your spine inserts into your skull. Right ABOVE those bumps is where to place the still point inducer. The tendency is to place it too low. Here is a website with a really great image about half way down the webpage of where to place it.

Ideally, you want to place it on a hard surface. The floor works best. I find it helpful to scoot up to the sofa and let my legs rest; that way it is easy to totally relax. Also, it is small enough to fit in a drawer or back pack and is great to use while traveling or at lunch if you are lucky enough to have an office door. I say do it even if you have a cubical, but be prepared for some good old fashioned jeering from your fellow office mates…that is until they try it, and then feel like total heels.

Note: It will give you a very sexy double chin.

Make sure your legs are bent at about 90 degrees, and your tush is up against the sofa.

STUDIES

Enjoy! If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email.

, Sarah

Change is Possible

Studying Thai Massage with my teacher, Pichest, has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I feel I have learned so much in my time here, in Thailand, and the best part is how much there is still left to discover.  As Pichest would say, ‘Every body different.  Find what work for body and do.’ In other words, not everything works for everyone all of the time.

Find what works for that person, in that moment, and real positive change is possible.

That is why I am starting this blog. After taking a month to heal myself–I have a entirely new way of understanding what “self care” means. I am devoting this blog to seeking out methods that promote self healing.

Self Care is defined by Wikipedia as:

  “Self care is personal health maintenance. It is any activity of an individual, family or community, with the intention of improving or restoring health, or treating or preventing disease.”

In massage school self care is not really addressed. Which, when you think about it, is pretty ridiculous. Sure we learn some basic stretches, but real self care is never taught. After being in this industry for six years I can safely say most bodyworkers do not take care of themselves before taking care of others. How can we tell our clients how to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome if we are suffering from the same condition because of lack of self care?

So, while this blog will focus on the specific needs of bodyworkers, everyone will be able to glean something from my experiences and experiments. If you work in an office or on a construction site, I promise you will find these self care tips both helpful and enlightening.

This week I will be heading out to King Spa in Niles, Illinois for some seriously needed rest and relaxation.  Stay tuned for my experiences at King Spa!

Here is some information about where I will be going this week:

King Spa is a Korean style spa with separate sides for men and women. A variety of bodywork, scrubs, dry and wet saunas are offered at standard cost. Keep in mind that since it is initially gender separate, nudity is the norm in most Korean style spas–this includes treatments like massages and scrubs. If you feel uncomfortable wear your swimsuit and gage whether or not you would be comfortable getting a treatment. All dry saunas are co-ed, and pajama type clothing is supplied.  There is a lunch room with Korean inspired dishes and fresh fruit smoothies. The cost is very reasonable: $20-$25 for entry to the spa and use of all wet/dry saunas and thermal pools and showers. The spa is open 24 hours a day, and I have heard the best time to go is early in the morning during the week. I will be trying the spa, scrub, and massage. Stay tuned!