Sunday, December 20, 2009
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” Rachel Naomi Remen
I was talking to a friend the other night, a fellow LMT, about what makes a good massage. Massage styles vary from therapist to therapist and there are many different modalities to experience on a bodywork table. And while some people might joke that like pizza and sex, there is no such thing as a bad massage, I would argue that viewpoint. Despite the fact that I am a touch junkie and that I find touch therapies to be the most effective way of treating the patterns of dis-ease that manifest in my body, I am pretty discerning when it comes to massage.
So what makes a massage a "great" massage? Body work is a blend of science and art. Understanding anatomy and physiology, knowing the intimacies of the muscular system, being well versed in treatment techniques are examples of the science of the work. In New York state, the 1,000 hours of schooling that is required provides sound training in the science of massage. The art of bodywork is what the therapist brings of herself to the work and springs out of being present and listening.
In massage school we began our hands on class by learning a basic routine that addressed all the muscle groups. It was a massage that I received many times from many different students. One of the benefits to going to massage school is that for a stretch of time you receive a daily massage. As brand new therapists it was a wonderful to have a routine to hang onto because it helped us learn a variety of strokes, work on our pacing and flow and increased our confidence. Our one size fits all massage was pleasant to receive and I still use elements of it in my own practice, but it makes for a predictable massage, very relaxing and pleasant, but not a massage to write home about.
The difference between a good massage and a great one, I think, is the ability of the therapist to listen and respond to both what the client asks for and what she learns as she works. It comes down to listening. The greatest gift that I can give as a body worker is to listen. After all, the body is wise. There is much to listen to. If I listen to the tissues, the bones, the fascia, the movement, the breath and the energy, if I put my full attention into the place where my hands meet my client's body and listen, a dialogue ensues. I learn how to coax the tissues into softening. I learn the pathways that allow for greater ease of movement. The body tells me what to do.
The body "talks to the hand."
Bodywork is about being fully present, listening, connecting, and allowing the work to arise from a place of meeting. This is where the power to heal comes from- the gift of listening.
Wishing you balance,
Friday, December 11, 2009
As I quoted in my last post, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth," says Virginia Satir, family therapist. In response to that quote, one of my college students joked, "If Virginia Satir is correct, then I am going to die."
The quote prompted me to count hugs for a week. Here is the raw data-
Saturday- 13 hugs
Sunday- 4 hugs
Monday- 6 hugs
Tuesday- 10 hugs
Wednesday- 6 hugs
Thursday- 1 hug
Friday- 1 hug
41 hugs in a week! It isn't the 84 needed for growth, but I am doing better than survival! And it was fun to pay attention and really appreciate the hugs I got/gave this week.
Here was what I learned from this experience-
1. There is a inverse relationship between the age of the students I work with and the number of hugs I get.
2. To get hugs from my son, I had to pay him. ("Here is how it works. You get 50 cents per hug. You have to mean it. Limit of two per day.") He only did it one day, however.
3. Thinking of hugs as a daily vitamin made me a lot more excited about each hug I got. I felt like they were little gifts of health. I tend to hang back and wait for the other person to initiate a hug, but this week I found myself inviting more hugs than usual.
4. For adults, hugs seem to be delegated to special occasions when you haven't seen someone in a while or for romantic relationships. So, there were days that went by for me that were relatively hug-free. If I had tried to hug the people at work, or the people who were waiting in line at the post office or at the grocery store instead of just saying hello and smiling, it would have been awkward for all involved. Hugs offer comfort and warmth and that isn't something that we often share with strangers or even with people with whom we have a professional relationship and see everyday.
5. Kids have it right. They are uninhibited about showing the joy they feel when they see someone that they like.
We adults, I think, are too grown up for our own health.
Have you hugged someone today?
Wishing you balance,
Friday, December 4, 2009
I hugged this guy. Well maybe not this guy, but it was a guy with a sign just like his. And a woman too. I hugged her. I was walking down the sidewalk in Times Square and when I saw the free hugs signs I excitedly ran and gave them both enthusiastic hugs. It was a great moment!
Here is a link to the FREE HUGS campaign site. Visit the site. Watch the video. It is good fun.
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth," says Virginia Satir, family therapist. I don't know where she gets those numbers, but it is certainly something to think about.
I teach an improvisational dance class at a university. The dance form, contact improvisation, explores contact and support between dancers. It leads to interesting lifts and tumbling about, falling to the floor and rolling over one another. Our language is touch. In the beginning of the semester, dancing together in this way can feel a bit awkward as we are unaccustomed to such close interaction with people that we are just getting to know. Touch is delegated most often, in our culture, to sexual relationships and to mothering. Because touch can be so loaded, once our children get older, we often stop touching them. Despite the fact that children love to hug, people who work with them are often told to touch them only on their shoulder or arm. Because we are fearful of touch being misunderstood, we err on the side of caution. But studies have shown again and again that human beings need touch. Babies who are not touched, for instance, do not thrive.
My students soon get over their initial awkwardness and by the end of the course are able to crawl all over each other with the playfulness of young children. One thing, to this end, that I repeat each semester is a hug day. On that particular day we receive more than the four survival hugs, the eight maintenance hugs or even the twelve growth hugs. We probably get close to hundred hugs in a less than an hour's time, depending on the size of the class. The hugs start out tentatively, like in the video, and by the end of the class we are running and jumping joyfully into each other's arms, spinning one another around. Everyone leaves class with big smiles on their faces. The dancing changes quickly after the hug class. The students become much more comfortable supporting one another, lifting each other up, piling up on top of one another without feeling awkward, sexual or worrying that the touch will be misunderstood. Our class becomes a community, the participants feel safe and open to interact in a way that is unusual for our culture. Unusual maybe, but so very healthy.
Touch is necessary for our health.
And that is a great reason to get a massage. And you should totally do that. But you can't get a massage every day! But you can get a hug. And here is the good news...
HUGS ARE FREE!
And today, I got 4 hugs. Which is...
I am going to start keeping track of my hugs daily. I will report back.
Wishing you balance,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I just got back from a great trip to New York City to visit family for the Thanksgiving Holiday. What can be better than seeing your family and seeing them happy and healthy? It hasn't been a given lately, my father recovering from quadruple bypass surgery, but this visit was so joyful. My sister just moved to the city and my parents are nearby so I shared my time between the two. My sister's apartment, in typical New York City fashion, is small. The house where my parents are staying was the house of my grandparents and thus is fairly bare, since my parents have a home filled with their life possessions one thousand miles away.
So, although the digs were far from acetic, I wasn't surrounded by piles of stuff either. To be fair, other people's stuff doesn't have the same meaning to me as my own stuff, which demands action- piles of paper work to be done, piles of clothing to be laundered, even piles of books to be read. Other people's piles are much less visible to me. But still, there were fewer of them on my trip. The streets, of course, were busy with stuff- people everywhere, piles of produce, merchandise, cars and trucks, no inch of real estate going unused. But inside, there was just plain less stuff.
When I returned from my trip and walked in the door I felt assaulted by stuff. It didn't help that I entered through my kitchen and the garbage smelled and the first thing I saw was the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink. I am a piler by nature- organization is difficult for me. Plus, I have the tendency to procrastinate and I don't like sending things to the landfill so I tend to hold onto stuff. My son is no different, so between us, we struggle to keep things tidy. Right now, for instance, I have a bunch of new paintings that are waiting to be hung, a happy acquisition, but I haven't gotten around to following through with placing them on the wall. So instead of enjoying their beauty, I am reminded of the work I need to do when I look at them.
I know I have already written a post about the stuff we bring into our lives. Stuff is an issue for me. And it is one I am addressing, albiet slowly. Piles are getting weeded. Trips to the thrift store to donate are being made. Things are being given away, tossed, shredded, etc...but it is slow going and the stuff keeps coming in. There is one room, however, that doesn't have any piles. In fact it has nothing that it doesn't need. One room that is peaceful and lovely.
My massage room.
I love my massage room. It is cozy and magical with its little twinkling lights and branches that are decorated with paper cranes. Sometimes I go in there just to sit or meditate or I push the table aside and lie down on my mat and close my eyes and breathe. Heater on and candles lit, the scent of the essential oil in the diffuser and the beautiful music all feel like a cocoon, embracing me.
It is easy to feel peaceful in such a room. Is it possible to extend that feeling to the rest of my surroundings? This is what I am working toward! Always working towards balance- it seems a constant process! And always...
Wishing you balance,
Friday, November 20, 2009
From Dr. Gary Greenberg's website-
"The secrets of nature are visible everywhere. Yet, they remain secrets until they are revealed. Dr. Gary Greenberg’s art takes us on an astonishing microscopic journey through the hidden wonders of nature. Using his special three-dimensional microscopes, Dr. Greenberg combines his zeal for art and science by creating dramatic landscapes of unseen worlds."
The picture is of grains of sand, magnified.
Astonishing isn't it?
When you are able to look closely, really closely, the world around us reveals itself in ways that are breathtaking.
When I was a teacher I purchased a set of jeweler's loupes for my classroom. The days when we used them were the most amazing of my teaching experience. The wonder at looking at shells, rocks, the back of their hands, a leaf magnified five times, one eye closed to block out the rest of the world, took them to magical places. Seeing details that were normally unavailable to the eye allowed them to be explorers of previously uncharted territory and their discoveries were shared excitedly.
Cries of "Look at this!" filled the room.
The crevices in their teacher's hand, looking like cracked desert earth.
The rivers of veins running through a leaf of a tree.
The craters in a rock, like the surface of the moon.
We are surrounded by hidden miracles everywhere, revealed to us only when we pay very close attention. Magnification allows us to pay close attention. And what miracles it reveals! But I use the magnified images as an analogy. We can give our attention over to the taste of a drink of orange juice, the feel of the bark of a tree on our fingertips, the details found in a snowflake resting on your hand. When all the rest of the world falls away, there are miracles to be found in a single breath, an embrace, a sunset, a flower.
Take a single breath, for example. Follow the breath as it is drawn in, as it swirls and fills; follow the wave of movement that ripples through the body. When we give it our full attention and notice the details and complexity, a single breath is completely new experience, just as the grains of sand are when magnified.
When we pay attention, we experience beauty and wonder all around. When we pay attention, we experience beauty and wonder within.
Wishing you balance,
For more of Dr. Greenberg's photographs click here.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Recently, I had the unique opportunity to be a part of a discussion with a group of body workers, nurses, chiropractors, doctors and other professionals in the field of holistic healing. The discussion focused on self care, setting boundaries and taking time for oneself. In today's world it can be difficult to disconnect from the stream of tweets and texts and calls and people demanding our attention. We are spending so much time plugged in that people become used to your being available immediately and that expectation can cause stress. We talked about the importance of turning off the cell phone, saving work e-mail for work hours, and taking vacations without taking your work with you. We discussed the importance of family time, time without technology, and time alone. Whether that time alone is spent in the bathroom or an entire weekend with the house to yourself, it is important for us to take the time we need to rejuvenate on a regular basis.
Take time to unplug, to power-down and breathe. Take time to disconnect from the chatter and demands. Let the world go about its hustle and bustle. Let the politicians politic. Let the tweeters tweet. Let the people call. Let the world do its thing. You can opt out for five minutes to light a candle and breathe, for an hour to take a warm scented bath, for a weekend to hike trails and breathe fresh air, for a week for a vacation that is truly a vacation. When we disconnect from the chatter; when we make ourselves unavailable to the demands of others, we can connect to ourselves and recharge. This is as important to do for ourselves as it is for the others who depend on us.
Here is one very simple and very quick way to unplug-
I had a friend once who kept votive candles all over her house. When she felt stressed she would light a candle, sit down and breathe. I always liked that because it was a very simple ritual for taking oneself out of the stress of the moment and calming the mind and the body quickly. Taking time to sit and breathe helped her get through her day.
I would love to hear your strategies for unplugging and recharging.
Wishing you balance,
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Soften: to make less harsh, strident or critical. To make calm and placid.
Soften is a word that I have heard so many times and in so many ways throughout my education in massage therapy. To soften my gaze, my shoulders, my heart, my hands and my presence. To soften in a way that increases acceptance and decreases judgment. To soften in a way that increases relaxation and decreases tension. To soften in a way that provides a safe and soothing environment. A softened approach that encourages healing and the emergence of health.
The way I see it, we all need to soften a bit. Our world could use much more softening and acceptance. If we all softened, even just a tiny bit, our world would be less troubled. If we all just softened, even just a tiny bit, our bodies and minds would feel less tense and more comfortable. Try it, just for a moment, soften, take a slow cleansing breath and then soften some more. Feel your ability to encourage healing, relaxation, acceptance and content.-Jessica Gumkowski
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
"The only thing I fear more than change is no change. The business of being static makes me nuts." ~ Twyla Tharp
"The only constant in this life is change." ~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld
On their Facebook walls, a number of friends have been talking about change. Their comments talk of its potent nature and the excitment that change brings. Years ago when I was going through a divorce, I remember that I used to say, "I love change. I embrace change. I take change out for dinner." Yes. It was my best friend, change and I skipping through life together eager to see what was new 'round each corner. A tumultuous and challenging time, my life had been thrown up into the air and I was waiting to see where it would all land. I had to find work, a place to live and a new circle of friends. But I was courageous, tenacious and lucky and I landed on my feet. My life changed. It changed big. And I welcomed it. Not to say that I didn't mourn the loses, of which there were many. But at the same time, I embraced the change. Life was ripe with possibility.
It really is the only thing that you can count on. And Twyla has it right; a static life is to be feared. Life is meant to be dynamic. One season makes way for another. Children grow up. We change jobs. Our bodies age. Wonderful people come into our lives. And wonderful people are lost. Beautiful things happen that change our lives in ways that we treasure. And traumatic events can forever change our lives in an instant.
I have experienced a lot of change of late. Change that I didn't chose. Change that I didn't want. Losses that hurt. I have been angry and sad about the changes. But I am beginning to accept them. After all, not accepting change is like arguing with reality and only yields suffering. Like it or not, things are different. I wasn't ready to accept all the things that were happening right way, that can be a tall order, especially when changes are sudden and traumatic. There is grieving to be done and that takes time. But now, as I begin to accept what is happening, I am feeling more at peace.
Sometimes the universe, our own personal universe, seems to re-order itself. The life you knew is thrown up in the air and you wait to see where it lands. And people will tell you, well intentioned people, that good will come out of it, you just wait. And you don't believe it. Believing it takes time, as it is a process to move from grief to acceptance. I have found that once I am able to accept the changes that are about me, changes that I have no control over, I am then able to feel not only a sense of peace but just the faintest glimmer of hope. Life is reordering itself. And I can see now that at some point life will feel ripe with possibility again.
One change that I didn't want and I didn't expect was a 3 month set back with a wrist injury that has interfered with my bodywork practice and dance teaching. I am happy to report that my wrist is finally starting to feel significantly better. So those of you who have been waiting to schedule a massage appointment, hesitate no longer. I hope to see you on the treatment table soon!
The picture, in case you were curious, is from the Twyla Tharp Foundation.
Wishing you balance,
Monday, October 26, 2009
I teach a movement class that emphasizes body awareness. One of the pleasures of the class is reading the students' thoughts as they are exposed to the ideas and exercises in the course. One of my students wrote something interesting in her journal and gave me permission to post it. She writes:
We are born with the bodies we have, and all our unique talents and discrepancies and things that come naturally to us, and it’s up to us to decide how to use them, and in what ways we want to stretch ourselves, and what positions we put ourselves in. I read some Native American proverb or something once that said something like, “our faces are the maps of the lives we’ve led,” referring to wrinkles or sunspots or what have you, and I think our bodies are the same way. I find that I can sometimes tell what sport a person plays by their body type and how they carry themselves, especially if they’re really good or have played for years, and I wonder if it’s because they’ve spent so long moving themselves in those particular patterns that their bodies start to reflect the sport; or if it is that they gravitate to the sport that their body is naturally suited for. -Penelope
Our bodies are maps of the lives that we have led. Of course, we are born a certain way, with the face we have and with the body we have, but as we age our bodies and our faces reflect our life style and history. How we use our bodies, how we abuse our bodies, how we eat, how we move, how we express, how we stifle...it is all reflected in our posture, our musculature, our movement, and our health. We are drawn to certain activities because of how we are built and wired, and at the same time, our bodies respond to the activities that we do. If you practice yoga for long enough, it will show in your posture. If you run distances, you will develop long, sleek muscles. If in your culture, you carry water on your head, you will walk with aplomb and grace. If you sit at a computer day after day for hours without stretching, eventually you will suffer from neck or back pain. Your posture, your strength, your flexibility, the tension you hold and your stamina is in great part a reflection of how you live in your body.
Be mindful of how you live in your body.
Move. Dance. Walk. Stretch. Relax. Eat well. Sleep well. Treat yourself to bodywork.
Live in your body well. Live well in your body.
Wishing you balance,
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I was just reading through my daily list of blogs and ran across a quote that sang to me; "Writing is the new praying."
Writing. Pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard.
I love to write. I write to make myself and others laugh. I write to organize my thinking. I write to give thanks. I write in order to help other people. I write to connect...
...with that which lies deep within.
Whenever I go through a difficult time, one of the first things I do is start a journal. I write. I vent. I dump out all of the ugliness. It isn't writing that I keep or develop into anything. It is writing that purges. And although I often read it through a few times before ultimately discarding it, I have no audience in mind when I write it. I just let it pour out from within. By giving it form, by putting it on paper or pixel, I am able to get rid of it.
Not all at once of course. Cleansing is a process.
Take Morning Pages. Morning Pages is the name of a writing exercise taken from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, a very useful book for unblocking the barriers to your creative spirit. The practice of writing Morning Pages is to write three pages long hand every morning. You start writing and keep writing whatever comes up until the three pages are filled. Here is a wonderful description of Morning Pages from a website I ran across dedicated to journeying through the book.
I compare Morning Pages to my morning shower. While I'm not visually dirty in the morning, I feel refreshed and ready for my day after taking a shower. Your shower takes care of your body. Morning Pages is a shower for your heart, mind, and soul. There's no visible "dirt," but there might be something under the surface that needs attention. Or maybe a dream or two looking for a place to land. Or maybe a list of things you want to get done during the day. Or just random thoughts that plague you like a song you can't get out of your head.
They can plague you.
Thoughts can be trouble shooters and they can be trouble makers says Buddhist teacher, Anam Thubten Rinpoche. Thinking isn't bad, but it isn't always good either as so much of our suffering is a result of the thoughts that we are having.
When we meditate we clear our mind of thoughts. We suspend the thinking.
Through writing, we can begin to let them go.
Wishing you balance,
Monday, October 12, 2009
Something bad happens and we feel intense emotion- loss, shock, sadness. We suffer. Or we busy ourselves and push the suffering away. We ignore the pain. I have learned however, as perhaps you can attest to also, that if we ignore our feelings, if we tamp them down, they come up anyhow, maybe much later and maybe in ways that we don't expect or want. We explode or fall apart in reaction to something small. It is like when your back goes out as you reach for a toothbrush. Because the underlying cause has been there for a great while, it only takes but a hair to break the proverbial camel's back.
Why do we push on being strong, burying our feelings when faced with trauma? First of all, we have responsibilities; other people depend on us. Second, being strong is what we are supposed to do. Our culture admires it. Third, there is shame about feeling week, vulnerable and unhappy. So, if we do allow ourselves to experience our feelings, often we have judgments about those feelings. I need to be stronger. I need to get a hold of myself. I can't fall apart. It's not the end of the world. But sometimes it feels like it is indeed the end of the world. See those people falling in the picture? They are leaping from the burning tower. Their world has fallen apart.
And when things fall apart, we experience suffering. To judge the feelings you are having is to kick yourself for being down. We don't do that to dogs, so why do we do it to ourselves? It is human to feel. It is human to suffer. And being human is what we are. But to honor the feelings, to feel what there is to feel as opposed to putting them away somewhere takes courage. So, although it seems like we are doing the strong thing when we ignore our feelings, it is actually a courageous act to sit with our feelings and really feel them, going past the narrative, the thoughts that we are having about whatever is going on, and to discover what lies underneath. You might have a story about why you are mad at someone, but when you allow the story to fall away, you are left with the feelings underneath. It might be fear, shame or sorrow that you feel. Once you get in tune with it, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you feel. Know that it is ok and that you are ok for feeling that way. My experience is that feelings don't go away unless you honor them. Then healing can happen.
Staying with feelings that are so strong and raw that it causes you to re-experience the trauma is isn't productive, however. But after a time, when you have some distance from the event it can be very helpful to open up and see what is there, to let yourself become a bit undone, or vulnerable at least, as long as you can be gentle and accepting of what you find.
Another thing I have found to be tremendously helpful is to connect with the body. My experience of trauma has had me feeling at times, as if I were not solid. My body feels as if it were vapor, as if a hand could pass right through me. Exercise, walking, body work, yoga, the reassuring touch of a friend or family member, even my own hand on my leg, on my arm, on my heart, communicating that I am indeed here. There is something very comforting about feeling connected with the physical matter of the body. (Remember the last post? The Mary Oliver poem? The spirit "needs the metaphor of the body.")
Whether you are going through a difficult time or not, my wish is to offer words and ideas that might be of some help if you do indeed need them at some point in your journey.
Wishing you balance,
P.S. The image that accompanies this post is of the Thunderbolt card from Osho's Zen Tarot deck. Here is some of the text that accompanies this card-
"The card shows a tower being burned, destroyed, blown apart. A man and a woman are leaping from it not because they want to, but because they have no choice. In the background is a transparent, meditating figure representing the witnessing consciousness......but this inner earthquake is both necessary and tremendously important...if you allow it, you will emerge from the wreckage stronger and more available for new experiences." -Osho Zen Tarot, by Osho
Friday, September 18, 2009
It seems that every time I hear a poem I like I find out that it was written by Mary Oliver. What spoke to me in this poem, which is untitled, is the idea of the spirit embodied. The body, so often in our culture is considered inferior. It is so often thought to be something we have rather than something we are. But what is our spirit if not for our body?
An untitled poem by Mary Oliver
likes to dress up like this:
shoulders, and all the rest
in the black branches,
in the morning
in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather
plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,
and the dark hug of time,
to be understood,
to be more than pure light
where no one is --
so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;
and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
What a perfect picture of relaxation and bliss.
I love this kitten because she illustrates perfectly the vulnerability in and pleasure of relaxation.
To drop into full relaxation requires us to drop our defenses. This is not always appropriate, of course. If we are in danger, instead of relaxing, we want to gear up to fight or flee. This protects us. Unfortunately, all too often, however, we operate with a perceived sense of danger. Under constant stress, we tense up against it. We tighten our muscles in defense, our body becomes contracted, our chest sinks, our shoulders hike up, our belly is tight. We go about life wearing armor to protect ourselves.
To drop into full relaxation requires courage to let go of that protective armor. Our belly softens, our chest opens, our shoulders drop. Our body relaxes and opens. Some people find that it is difficult to relax, that dropping that armor is not so easy. If this describes you, be patient and gentle with yourself. After all, it takes courage to let go and to be open.
Albert Einstein once said that the most important question was, "Is the world a safe place?" The stress that we feel on a daily basis can lead us to approach the world as if it is not safe. We tense up against the fear. We take shallow breaths so that we don't take the world in. We guard ourselves with tense muscles to keep the world at bay.
There many choices of activities that are calming and offer a respite from a world perceived as unsafe- yoga, massage and other forms bodywork, and meditation are some examples. The more you give yourself the opportunity to drop the armor, the less you will feel the need to put it on when you don't really need it.
Wishing you balance,
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I don't believe that there is only one way to meditate. And for most of my life, I have been satisfied to call my movement practice mediation, my dancing meditation or even walking a sort of meditation. Although I have done the sitting kind of meditation, but I used to find it very difficult to sit still. But one of the benefits of massage and other bodywork modalities is that I find that I can sit without pain now and therefore I can be more disciplined in being still. Of late I have become very interested in exploring different kinds of meditation practice. And while, I think that a contemplative movement practice is indispensable, I also see a tremendous value in quieting both the mind and the body.
I am reprinting the first part of a tutorial on meditation that I have found to be very helpful. I recently went to a meditation and talk at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC. If you visit the site, you might want to explore the recorded guided meditation and talks available for download. They are really fantastic.
The following comes from their website:
Learn to Meditate
Part I: How to establish a daily sitting practice
Before you sit
As with all things, start where you are. You have everything you need right now. First, decide to sit each day. Next, plan the time, place and duration for your sitting meditation.
Choose a time
Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day. However, the best time is the time that you can commit to on a regular basis. If one longer sit isn’t possible, try two shorter ones.
Choose a space
There is no perfect place. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting. Choose a relatively quiet space where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is always there to return to. You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos or statues. These are not necessary, but are beneficial if they help to motivate you.
Choose a duration
As long as is comfortable, plus 5 minutes. This is a general guide, not a rule. Even fifteen or twenty minutes will seem an eternity in the beginning, but that impression will change with time. If you sit each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more calm) and be able to increase your sitting time.
Every time you sit: Set your intention: It is helpful to recall at the start of each sitting meditation why you are doing it. Remember that your purpose, to become more open and free, will benefit you and those around you.
Set your posture
Alertness is one of the two essential ingredients in every meditation. Sit on a chair, cushion, or kneeling bench as straight and tall as possible. In the beginning, sitting against a wall can help you learn what a straight back feels like. Around this straight-back position, let the rest of your skeleton and muscles hang freely. Let the hands rest comfortably on your knees or lap. Let the eyes close, bringing the attention inward.
Openness is the second essential ingredient in every meditation. Once you feel your spine is erect, let everything else relax, hang loose, and soften. Breathing through the nose, loosen the face, neck, hands, and stomach area. You may want to begin at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body. Please don’t skip the step of relaxing/letting go! Consciously releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.
Choose an object of meditation
Once you’ve established this alert and open posture, you are ready to decide where you’ll place your attention. Useful objects for beginners are:
• The breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
• Other body changes during breathing, e.g., the rise and fall of the chest.
• Sounds as they arise from within the body or outside of it.
• Other body sensations as they arise.
Whatever object you select, stay with it for at least ten breaths. Even with this effort, your mind will insist on going to its usual places. Make note of this when it happens, and gently lead your attention back to the chosen object of meditation. Your intention and persistence are the key ingredients for cultivating awareness, not the number of times your mind wanders. As often as you need to, check yourself—“Alert and erect? Relaxed and open?” - and begin again.
L.J. Kelly, April 2001.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Have you ever had a big decision to make and were really, very torn? The options before you have both their pluses and minuses. You are sitting squarely on the fence with the clock ticking down and you have exhausted all the decision making strategies you know. Meanwhile, the pressure is increasing and you are growing more and more anxious.
I found myself in just this situation this week. Decision bound, I made my list of pros and cons. I talked to friends, family and objective third parties. And after gathering as much information as I could and thinking about all the angles, I still had no decision. I had two part-time job offers to chose between, a lovely problem to have, especially in this economy. And I couldn't chose. My brain just wasn't getting the job done. A big believer in the wisdom of the body, I decided that I needed to listen to what my body had to say. So, I visited each potential job site (after-hours of course), walked around the outside of each building, and tuned inward to see what images, emotions and wisdom washed over me.
The body knows what is best. I believe that. When my mind is going round and round about something, if I am able to stop and tune into the sensations I feel in the body, I often get my answer. But this time it didn't seem to be working. I got some feelings and sensations but nothing that said a clear YES or a clear NO.
That night a wise friend said to me, "Trust that when it is time to make the decision, it will become clear to you." "But I tried listening already," I protested, "I even drove to both places and sat and...." My friend repeated, "Just try to relax and go to sleep trusting that in the morning it will become clear to you."
So that night, instead of ruminating over my decision, I worked to relax instead. I got out my Shiatsu meridian maps and played with pressure points that are known to calm the mind. It worked like a charm. I felt myself grow calmer and calmer until I fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up with a quiet mind, a far cry from the panicked state I had been in for days. I didn't wake up with the answer, however, but I wasn't worried; I felt confident that by the end of this day, dead-line day, I would know what I was going to do.
And as it happened, before the morning ended, the answer did come to me, and quite effortlessly, as it turned out. It didn't come as a thought, but rather a feeling. It kind of washed over me, settled in and felt right.
Here is what I learned:
Sometimes you don't get the answers by thinking. Sometimes the body has the answers. But when you ask the body for an answer, you need to invite the body to speak rather than demanding it...
...you have to be willing to wait. You have to be patient.
And that requires stilling your mind and trusting in the process.
This is perhaps just a continuation of my last post on being versus doing. All that doing, the information gathering and thinking, was important, but in the end, to make a decision, I had to just be. Visiting each job site was a good idea, but it was done in such haste that I wasn't really inviting my body to speak, but more demanding it. "OK body- what do you have to say here at this place? What about here at this other place? Huh? Tell me!" No wonder I didn't get an answer.
If you ask, you must be willing to listen.
You must be willing to wait.
And you must be willing to be quiet.
For the body can speak only when the mind is still.
Wishing you balance,
Sunday, August 9, 2009
So much of my time is spent doing. Doing, doing, doing...getting things done. It is such a habit that I often don't realize it until I stop. And all too often, I stop because I get sick. It as if my body just refuses to do any more and orders me to rest.
Recently I was the lucky recipient of some Shiatsu bodywork. When the session was over, I felt calm, centered and content. My mind was clear and I felt very, very present. What a gift that session was. What a treat to be in a state of being rather than doing, I hadn't experienced that for a long while. I had forgotten how to just be.
Giving yourself the gift of being rather than doing is an important part of living a balanced life. It is important to know when to rest, when to stop thinking, when to stop doing. Your body asks for rest, first with a polite request but when that request isn't met, the body becomes more demanding. Finally your body orders you to rest with illness.
Two wise women with blogs, Bobbi of Stop Judging, Start Loving and Liz of The Fragrant Muse, wrote posts within a few days of one another, about this very idea of taking a break from doing in order to just be. Liz talks about honoring the The Muse of Lull, which Jill Badonsky talks about in her book Nine Modern Day Muses. In the creative process, Badonsky says, we must let go at times, surrender and trust in the process. She encourages people to "hit the pause button," to allow ideas to incubate and ripen.
Do nothing. Just be. And trust in the process. Doing nothing is sometimes the best thing that you can do.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” — Zen Proverb
Wishing you balance,
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
How do you deal with gravity?
Ideally, when we lie down and rest, we completely surrender to gravity, letting our muscles relax. And when we are upright, the curves of our spine and the deep muscles that attach to our spines keep us erect and balanced.
Gravity is our ally.
The problem comes when our postural habits create an alignment that doesn't work with the force of gravity, but instead fights it. The natural curves in our spine are beautifully designed with balance in mind. The whole system- the skeletal structure, the curves of the spine, the pull of the muscles that attach, keep us upright like a tent pole supported by the tension of guy wires.
But when we over exaggerate the curves, we throw off that natural balance. Muscles that were not meant to be postural are recruited to help hold us up. For instance, our head should be balanced nicely on top of our spines, but for many of us our head is held forward so we rely on our musculature to hold it up. The muscles at the back of the neck end up acting like straps to hold the weight of the head.
We are holding up the weight of our heads. No wonder we are in pain!
I offer you this- an opportunity to free yourself from holding up the weight of your head. Just a few words, an image to embody.
Take a moment to stand up, feet a comfortable distance apart. Feel the connection between the bottom of your feet and the earth. Feel gravity as support that grounds and connects you to the earth. Imagine your feet as roots of a tree. Feel that grounding travel up your legs, up your spine and out the top of your head. Feel your head floating upward like branches reaching for the sky.
Harmony with gravity enables that medium to become a supporting and energizing factor. As the fish is supported and lifted by the water, so we as human can be supported and lifted by gravity. -Ida Rolf
Wishing you balance,
Thursday, July 30, 2009
A friend posted on Facebook that she has rented a dumpster and is cleaning house.
I found that inspiring.
Although I am surrounded by many things that I love, I also feel trapped by many of the things around me. What a different life I would have if it weren't for all the stuff. (And the mortgage to pay for housing all the stuff.) Yes I need a place to live, and my house is modest, but I can't help but think that I could find a great deal of happiness in a smaller house with less stuff.
How liberating it would be to simplify down to the essentials, or at least to have fewer non-essentials, to scale it down to the truly good stuff.
What is the good stuff?
For me, the best stuff is both beautiful and functional. Items that are a pleasure to use. Items that inspire. Treasured books. Photographs. A cast iron skillet. A well made coffee mug. The perfectly placed lamp. Things that are made by hand. Things made with good materials. Things that are made to last.
I hold onto other things because I think I will use them someday or because I once thought they were the good stuff. But we keep changing and stuff that used to be the good stuff for an old self, is now, just stuff.
I write about this because I think that that our stuff has an affect on our well being and the balance of our lives. I am not proposing an ascetic life, one bowl and one spoon, although it intrigues me. What I am suggesting is to be thoughtful about the things we bring into our lives. Stuff matters. The things we surround ourselves with can add buoyancy or add weight that drags us down.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
My sunset meditation project has drawn to a close. It didn't go exactly as planned. Perhaps I should have looked at the weather report before promising myself seven nights of sunsets. In reality, I got seven nights of observing the sky get dark. Only three of those nights were sunsets. One night was pouring rain and three nights the cloud cover was so great that the setting sun was not visible.
My hypothesis was that taking the time to watch the sky each night, as the sun set would be a powerful experience. And as it turned out, even though most nights didn't deliver a sunset, my hypothesis was spot on, and in more ways than I expected.
I expected to be delighted by the beauty of the sky. And on the nights with the vibrant colors, I was. On the nights that were rainy or overcast, I made my pilgrimage to my viewing spots anyway to see what I could see. The first rainy night I felt a profound sense of disappointment in the sky. The sky had not delivered. And the next night, it made only a meager effort. From my vantage point on top of a hill, I could only see the narrowest band of pink between the low hanging clouds and the city skyline. I watched anyway, feeling a little ripped off.
The following night it was completely overcast. By now I was feeling pretty discouraged, but my sense of commitment kept me going. I drove out to the lake, sat on a pier and watched the sky. No sunset, but the sky was an incredible purple gray- simply beautiful. I watched a pair of swans floating around on the water. And when lightning flashed in the distance, for the briefest moment, the sky shone pink. That night my attitude started to shift. My annoyance at the sky made way for acceptance. Sunset or no sunset, I found that I was enjoying my nightly excursions.
Seeing a sunset is a treat, but because I wasn't able to see one each night, the ritual became more about saying goodbye to the day and feeling a connection to the transition into nighttime. This transition would happen with or without my participation, of course, but taking part in it made me feel a sense of grounding and a sense of place. I am, after all, one small being, on an immense planet spinning through space. It is nice to be reminded of that.
Observing the sky each night was a practice in paying attention and letting go of expectation, in taking in an experience without judgement or preconception. Life doesn't always deliver to us what we want. Nor does the sky. And of course, it is futile to be angry with the sky. So, after a few days, I stopped judging what was happening and I started experiencing it. There is a lesson there.
Now that the project has ended, I will miss this nightly ritual and the solitude and sense of peacefulness and awe that accompanied it. I am certain that I will devote more time than I used to for sunset gazing and the project, of course, is always there for me to repeat. I am looking forward to my next project, in a few weeks time, when I watch the sunrise each morning for one week. It will be interesting to see what that brings.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I grew up in the land of open sky. My parents still live there and every night my mother stops what she is doing for a time and goes outside to see the sunset. She has a great view just steps from her door.
Living as I do in Western New York State where there are hills and trees a plenty and too often a cloud cover hanging low in the sky, I see very few sunsets. I have often said that my life would be different if I saw the sunset every day.
Yesterday. I was feeling under the weather so a dear friend drove me way out of the city, to a small town with a quaint park. After a picnic dinner we set up our folding chairs and watched.
The moment when the sun slipped into the water was pure magic. I was filled with such a sense of calm during the ride home that I decided that it was time to test out that hypothesis. Would I be a different person if I watched the sunset every night? So, tonight I went out to the lake again- I picked a spot closer to home and I was by myself this time. But the experience was just as profound.
I plan to carve out time for this ritual every night this week. I will let you know what I discover, what it brings me.
You may wonder why I am writing about it here, in a blog dedicated to the wisdom of the body and a balanced life.
Watching the sunset, if you give it your full attention, is meditation. Noticing and honoring the natural cycles of the day is a way of balancing oneself. So, I will see to it that I notice. It will be an experiment, one that will offer up a different-than-my-usual way of interacting with the earth, the sky, and the self.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
So many of us would use the phrase "out of balance" to describe our lives. We seek balance. But what exactly does it mean to be in balance?
To me it means-
To be fully present in one's body and in the experience of the world.
To live in a manner that nurtures the spirit, body and mind.
To breathe deeply and fully with a sense of ease, willingness and expansion.
To collaborate with gravity, allowing the body to be aligned, rather than holding oneself up using the tension of the musculature.
To move in a way that is easy and free.
A Body in Balance also implies that the systems are in harmony. The energy is balanced, allowing the body to strive towards health.
I invite you to think about what balance mean to you. It would be an interesting conversation to have. I would love it if you wrote your thoughts down and sent them as a comment on this blog or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.