I’ve touched 100 naked people

I realized today after carefully counting that I’ve touched 100 naked people in the last 7 months. That probably makes you wonder if I’m a sex worker.

I’m not. I’ve been a student of massage therapy since June 2011, and I’ve worked on my fellow students and teachers, many of my friends and family, and clients at the student clinic.

I’ve worked on many of these people several times. When I complete just 10 more massages in the intern clinic, I’ll have completed the requirements for graduation and will have given about 150 massages.

Every person I’ve touched has gotten my full attention, presence, and skill. Even that one person who happened to be my fourth recipient in one day, when it crossed my mind that I felt tired and cranky — I pulled myself out of that mindset, got a second wind, and gave them my best.

A naked and vulnerable human on the table in front of me is a divine gift with whom I hold a sacred contract to give my best.

Every person I’ve massaged has contributed immensely to the intelligence in my hands, heart, instincts, and awareness.

Most people are fairly silent when receiving massage, their attention on their bodies or breath or my hands, I presume, or perhaps their grocery list. I don’t read minds, so I don’t really know.

Silence helps me work.

Some people stay mentally alert and present the entire time. Some sink quickly or slowly into a state of deep relaxation, that state of no effort where the body is being breathed, the mind is loose and free, and imagery bubbles up out of darkness. Some fall asleep. Their snoring tells me.

Sometimes I go into a trance with you, and those are the best massages.

I watch and listen to you breathing. I feel your pulses. I see your scars — the ones on your skin and the emotional ones like the chronically rounded shoulders, that one tight hip, the rigidity in your torso. Sometimes your bodies tell me stories, of weight gained or lost, an old injury with a long recovery, a recent injury complete with road rash, surgery, playing a sport, working out regularly, working at a computer.

No one — so far — has had a perfect body. I belief that’s likely a myth created by airbrushing.

I’ve learned that nearly everyone has some tension in their shoulders — in the upper trapezius muscle, to be specific.

The low back is also a popular place for tension and pain to hang out. It’s amazing that by working on your rectus abdominis (the abdomen’s six-pack), the front and back of your body become balanced and your low back pain goes away.

I’ve learned that due to handedness, no one’s upper trapezius muscles are exactly symmetrical.

Some people think they’re relaxed, but when I pick up their arm or leg, they have a hard time letting go of control, giving me the full weight.

Some people want more pressure, some less. I’ve gained strength in my arms and hands and can now deliver more consistent firm pressure.

I’ve worked on fat people, skinny people, people with chronic health problems, healthy people, a lot of people stressed out from office work (I’ve posted before about too much sitting), an age range from 11 to 85, people with tight bodies and loose bodies, and one pregnant woman.

All precious.

When I worked on my daughter, memories of her infancy arose, and I realized that everyone who gets naked on my table is just this:

an old baby
no longer tiny or quite so helpless
nonetheless innocent and vulnerable like a newborn

I’ve learned that some people are not very knowledgeable about their own bodies, misnaming their body parts, unaware of tensions, oblivious to the postural or movement habits that cause them pain — that they’ve unconsciously created for themselves.

Your body tells the truth. It can’t lie.

Why aren’t body awareness and anatomy taught at home and in schools?

There are certain massage strokes that tend to get sighs of relief and moans of pleasure. I’ve developed an opening routine that opens.

Receiving massage is all about you becoming more alive and your nervous system waking up, your body shedding tension and moving into relaxation and pleasure, not to mention improving your circulation, breath, brainwaves, mood, compassion, immunity, energy flow, digestion, posture, alignment, balance, movement, and presence.

In many ways, allowing me to massage you is like letting me to take your armor off — the armor you probably weren’t aware of putting on until you started feeling tense or in pain.

Everyone can benefit from taking their time getting up afterwards, not rushing off in their cars to get somewhere else, not re-engaging their left brains too quickly.

Yes, leave your armor off for a while and stay for a cup of tea with me.

6 experienced yoga teachers talk about the anatomy connection

This group interview was originally published in YogaCityNYC Yoga Weekly. Because I couldn’t directly link to the article, I’m including it in its entirety below, because yoga and anatomy are two loves of mine that should go together like a hand in a glove.

Six Experts on their Favorite Topic

Quick Question: Where is your calcaneus?*

Anatomy is a complicated subject. Many yoga teachers and students are intrigued by the names of the bones yet studying it in detail gets passed over in most yoga classes – if it is discussed at all. YogaCity NYC’s Margie Suvalle sat down with six experts to find out how they learned more about their muscles and joints, why it is necessary, and where to learn more about anatomy.

Why did you get interested in anatomy?

Paula Lynch: My parents’ heart disease.  I had to learn a lot fast, so I studied the heart and cardiovascular system.  From there, I started to study physiology and then the muscular system.

Jonathan FitzGordon: When I started doing yoga I had a lot of flexibility, but no strength.  I got hurt and ended up having knee surgery. If I didn’t know how my body worked, then how could it heal?

Genny Kapuler: I took a class at NYU with Andre Bernard, Anatomy for Dancers, and I wanted a greater understanding of the body, so I continued to study for the next ten years with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.

Jason Brown: I got injured a few times early on in my yoga practice, either because of a teacher’s instruction or my own fault. As a teacher, I felt ill prepared to answer questions.

Amy Matthews: I was a dancer and we had a weekend on anatomy and I realized how much I didn’t know.  I wanted to know how I use my body, the movement, the muscles and the anatomy.

Joe Miller: My interest started with artistic anatomy when I was painting and drawing skeleton positions and continued to expand when I started teaching yoga.  I did several trainings that focused on anatomy and I ended up getting my masters in applied physiology.

Do you think the average yoga teacher knows enough about anatomy and how long does it take to learn the basics?

PL: People are more interested these days. The average training is just a starting point. But people need to pursue it on their own, really understand it. Are they interested? What are their students asking of them?  How much do you need to learn? The process of learning is ongoing.

JF: No. You don’t need to know anything about anatomy to lead a class, but you do if you want to teach. How long does it take – everyone is different.

GK: Without knowing too much you can lead students and give them direction and guidance. But Iyengar, where I studied, teaches a certain amount.

JB: Absolutely not! There just isn’t enough time spent on anatomy during teacher training. It takes a year.  I created a nine-month program where students meet for three hours a week and then can apply the knowledge to their teaching.

AM: No, because people come out of a 200 hour training with 20 hours of anatomy, which is only a taste. For each person, learning is individual.  You can be a great teacher and not know a lot about anatomy.  However, if you don’t know something, don’t say anything.

JM: You don’t need an anatomical background to be an effective teacher.  You do need to pay attention and know the basics of human movement, the alignment of asana.  The more you know the more it will enrich your teaching and give you more depth. The Yoga Alliance says a minimum of twenty hours gets you started, but you need continuing education and to study on your own.

Do you think that more anatomy should be taught in teacher trainings?

PL: During the 200 hour training there should be more integration of the information.

JF: It takes a lot of time to learn anatomy, so you need to be taught well.

AM: Yes, there should be more taught.

GK: The teacher trainer decides.  Different people are drawn towards certain knowledge.

JB: Yes, that is why I started my program Anatomy Studies for Yoga Teachers.

What part of the body fascinates you the most?

PL: The respiratory and cardiovascular systems and the physiology mechanism and muscular housing of it all.  Sensing more clearly, breathing.

JF: I am obsessed with the psoas.

GK: There is not one part that fascinates me because it is always changing.  I guess right now it would be my sense of smell.

JB:  The knee.  It is my favorite joint to teach.  It is weight-bearing and takes a lot of force, it is intricate, delicate and important.

AM: Embryology and the origin of tissue.  It starts one place and ends up elsewhere.  The muscles and the skin are closer than the muscles and the bones, so exploring movement from that place.

JM: The nervous system and relaxation.

What is the most vulnerable part of the body during asana practice?

PL: The lumbar spine is already compromised and vulnerable.  We ask a lot of that area and weaken it and then add the stress of asana.

JF: The psoas.

GK: It’s individual.

JB: The knee is very delicate.  The bones don’t support it, the muscles and ligaments support the soft tissue.

AM: It depends on the person and the asana. Where there is a lot of movement is the most vulnerable.

JM:  There is not one part.  However, the most common ones are the knee, the shoulders, the wrists, the lumbar and the cervical spine.

People constantly complain about lower back issues.  What should a yoga teacher do when someone comes into class complaining of back pain?

PL: Ask a lot of questions and listen.  The more information you have, the more you are able to help your student.  From the information, figure out which poses to avoid and which ones will stretch and strengthen.

JF: Instruct them to stop tucking their pelvis because it is compromising the ligaments and IT joint.

GK: If the SI joint is thrown out, then sync the hips in and keep the lumbar spine vertical.

JB: It is usually caused by tight glutes and hamstrings.  Show modifications.

AM: Back pain can be caused by many things.  Ask question about what kind of pain the student is experiencing.  Knowing the sensations can help them identify what it is and how weight travel in the spine.

JM: Think about long-term health, how are your movements creating the problem.  Is it extension or flexion?  Don’t push through the pain, find modifications and ask for help.

What role does anatomy play in the classes you teach?

PL: Anatomy is integrated into the whole class.  It is the environment, not the backdrop.  It is unavoidable because the body is the classroom.

JF: It is everything.  My classes are hard because I pound it to the ground, how it all works and more.

GK: It is the main idea that I use.

JB: Anatomy informs the sequencing and alignment cues in my classes.  It is under the surface.

AM:  Anatomy is the jumping off point.  It is something physical to check in with in all of my classes.

JM: It enriches my teaching and creates an understanding of alignment and instruction.  It is always clear and accurate.

What three books do you most recommend?

PL: The books by Dr. Ray Long, an orthopedic surgeon and long time Hatha Yoga practitioner. “Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology and Asana,” by Judith Hanson Lasater. It is digestible and specific.  Lastly, “Light on Pranayama,” by BKS Iyengar because it is poetic and really explains the respiratory system.

JF: “Taking Root to Fly”, by Irene Dowd, “Human Movement Potential” by Lulu Sweigard and “Rolfing”, by Ida Rolf

GK: “Atlas of Human Anatomy”, by Frank Netter, “The Thinking Body”, by Mabel Elsworth Todd and “Primary Anatomy” by John V. Basmajain.

JB:Kinesiology: The Skeletal System and Muscle Function“, by Joseph Muscolino.

AM:  Netter,“The Body Moveable”, by David Gorman and of course “Yoga Anatomy,” which I co-wrote with Leslie Kaminoff.

JM: Netter, Judith Lasater’s “Yogabody”,  “Yoga Anatomy” and “Anatomy Trains”, by Thomas W. Myers.

Bios:

Paula Lynch is a YogaWorks Certified Instructor and is affiliated with the YogaWorks Teacher Training programs. Her teaching style is influenced by the meditative flow and heat of Ashtanga yoga and the precision and playfulness of Iyengar yoga.  www.yogapaula.com

Jonathan FitzGordon has been teaching yoga since 2000.  He is a Level II Reiki practitioner and the creator of the FitzGordon Method, a core walking program.

Genny Kapular has been teaching yoga for over 30 years.  She is a Intermediate Junior III IyengarTeacher. As well as a practitioner of Body-Mind Centering.  Before teaching yoga, she was a modern dancer for many years.

Jason Brown is the creator of Zenyasa Yoga, which synthesizes Zen Buddhism, vinyasa yoga and mindfulness-based conditioning exercises.
He teaches classes at the Zenyasa Yoga Studio on the Upper West Side, as well as Anatomy Studies for Yoga Teachers & Movement Professionals.

Amy Matthews is a certified Laban Movement Analyst, a Body-Mind Centering Teacher an Infant Development Movement Educator and a yoga therapist and yoga teacher.  She teaches an Embodied Anatomy & Kinesiology course at The Breathing Project.

Joe Miller has been teaching at OM Yoga since 2000.  He is on the OM Yoga Teacher Training faculty and is the Dean of OM Yoga anatomy studies. He has his Masters in Applied Physiology from Columbia University.  Joe recently started an anatomy-related blog: Yoga Physiology.

*Calcaneus is your heel bone.

-Margie Suvalle

Sadie Nardini Responds to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

Sadie Nardini Responds to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. | elephant journal.

Here’s yet another response from a well-known yoga teacher to the controversial recent New York Times article. Sadie Nardini recommends that students concerned about the possibility of injuries choose instructors based on how much anatomy training they’ve had. Very little is required for the RYT-200 credential. I think it’s about 20 hours.

She mentions Leslie Kaminoff as being an expert on anatomy. I took a workshop with him today. Nearly half the class of 70 were yoga teachers. He showed us some of the Anatomy Trains cadaver video and a couple of Gil Hedley’s cadaver videos (I posted his video on “fuzz” previously).

Leslie and Amy Matthews have updated their book, Yoga Anatomy, which Sadie recommends.

She makes some good points, especially noting the contradictions in what Glenn Black said to the New York Times and what he said to the Huffington Post about his own yoga injuries and whether yogis should do headstand.

It’s your body–don’t trust it to just anyone. Ask any prospective yoga teacher what, if any yoga injuries they’ve had, and if, for example, they’re about to go into spinal surgery from years of severely over-expressing themselves in yoga posture, then move on.

In addition, each student has a responsibility to check themselves before they wreck themselves in class. You might not know everything about yoga poses or anatomy, but you do know the feeling when you’re pushing too hard.  So when the urge to go all agro on a pose arises, whether it’s to strain toward strength or flexibility, it’s ultimately up to you to resist the ego’s siren song–something that leads even more experienced yogis to push their limits, then act mystified at the fact that this supposedly ‘healing’ practice hurt them instead.

Book recommendation: Listen to Your Pain

This blog post isn’t about anything especially far out. It’s actually pretty ordinary. It’s about injuries and pain and a book I came across in my studies that I like a lot. It’s very left-brained — and very practical.

Listen to Your Pain: The Active Person’s Guide to Understanding, Identifying, and Treating Pain and Injury is one of my textbooks in massage school. It’s not written for massage therapists, but I know I will find it useful.

I recommend this book for anyone who leads an active or adventurous life, who might occasionally experience falls, twists, or other accidents, who wants to know more about what’s going on.

I wish I had had this book in my library years ago. You might need to have a certain kind of information-freak mindset like me to appreciate this, but it could increase your understanding of your own body, save your medical dollars, and give you realistic information about what kind of time and attention it takes to heal from an injury.

Most of the injuries I’ve had have come from things like falls, bike wrecks, dance, yoga, running, pulling the lawnmower cord, a car wreck, and so on. Some like plantar fasciitis have crept up on me. It would have been helpful to me to be able to learn more about what was happening under my skin. One thing I’ve discovered in massage school is that most of us know very little about what’s going on inside our own bodies. 

Before massage school, I used books like The Anatomy of Movement and The Key Muscles of Yoga to help me understand my body better. In fact, referring to books like that probably helped draw me toward massage school and more study of anatomy. I love the drawings and the insight I get, and the language is a wonderful skill to acquire.

Here’s how Listen to Your Pain can be useful. Say you begin to experience knee pain. This could be obviously from something that happened, or it could be knee pain that gradually appears and worsens for no discernable reason, or maybe it comes and goes.

You can use this book to identify which structure in your knee is injured, how this injury usually occurs, ways to verify that you have this injury and not another, how long it could take to heal, what you can do yourself (ice, rest), what a massage therapist or doctor can do (deep frictioning, injections, surgery), and rehabilitative exercises.

The chapter on the knee is 54 pages long. It describes the anatomy of the knee joint and includes a drawing with arrows pointing to sites on the knee where injuries are felt to help you identify your injury. Fourteen specific knee injuries are described along with descriptions of several other knee injuries and conditions that are more difficult to pinpoint.

Each of the injuries includes a description of what it is, how and why this injury can occur, a drawing of the anatomy involved, ways to test whether you have this injury with drawings, and treatment choices.

The treatment choices section describes the self-treatments you can do — waiting it out, limiting activity, icing, and so on. The author gives some rough guidelines for healing time — for example, for Pain on the Outside of the Knee (Lateral Collateral Ligament Tear), which can happen to yogis who spend a lot of time in the lotus position, it may take three weeks to three months to heal, depending on how severely the ligament is torn. He also lists possible medical treatments and exercises to strengthen the injured tissues.

Note that the book does not include ultrasound or acupuncture as possible medical treatments because the author was not familiar enough with them to include them. The book is purely Western medicine in orientation. From my experience, those modalities can be very helpful for injuries, so don’t rule them out. Maybe the 3rd edition will include them!

The author of Listen to Your Pain is Ben E. Benjamin, a Ph.D. in sports medicine and education. He studied with Dr. James Cyriax, the father of orthopedic medicine. This book has been around for 25 years and is in its second edition.

10 things I love about massage

  1. Almost everyone loves massage and bodywork. It feels good and is nourishing to the body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  2. Caring touch, the basis of massage therapy, is probably the most ancient method of promoting well-being that human beings have used on each other.
  3. It’s the front line of health care. Massage therapists spend more time with their clients than most other health care providers.
  4. Your massage therapist gets to know you well. He or she may help you with alignment, posture, pain, emotional, breathing, self-worth, self-knowledge, and many more issues.
  5. If 90 percent of doctor visits are stress-related, why not just skip the doctor and get a massage? It is one of the healthiest ways to reduce stress that exists.
  6. There is no end to the methods of massage: Swedish, sports, deep, shiatsu, and more. Then there are branches: Rolfing, Trager, cranio-sacral, and more. A massage therapist can focus on mastering one method or practice several. Adventurous recipients can have a field day trying them all!
  7. Massage marries art and skill. Massage therapists have learned skills using specific methods and can also artfully mix and match techniques to meet your body’s needs.
  8. Studying massage includes studies in geeky subject matter, like anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology. Massage therapists use both their right and left brains when learning and giving massage.
  9. It’s one of the top 50 careers of 2011, according to US News and World Report. It’s expected to keep growing over the next decade.
  10. Massage by itself is great, and it partners well with changework. Say you’ve been struggling with an issue and have a breakthrough of some sort. You feel it in your body, right? Massage helps you integrate it more deeply, literally embodying the change.

Confessions of a Type-A Yogi (via James MacAdam)

I loved the honesty in this post, about yoga, the ego, and damaging your body. I think he must be referring to Paul Grilley’s Yoga Anatomy video, which shows clearly how skeletal structure varies from body to body.

“Going deep” should never mean trying to emulate another person’s yoga without taking into account your own unique body. As meditators know and as Patanjali knew, you can “go deep” without moving.

Thank you, James MacAdam, for sharing your story.

Confessions of a Type-A Yogi In my early yoga days studying Anusara Yoga with John Friend, he once told me (through my girlfriend) that I could be a great yogi like my friend Darren Rhodes.  To me, this meant that I too would be able to contort my body into incredible formations, and demonstrate my world-class athletic prowess through the art of Hatha Yoga.   … Read More

via James MacAdam