After my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course

On Wednesday, August 9, I got up early, loaded my car, made a home visit to massage one of my regular clients, and drove from Austin to Kaufman, Texas, a 3.5 hour drive.

BTW, my client commented afterwards that it was really a great massage. He even had a waking lucid dream toward the end of the session. I attribute that to his learned ability to relax deeply while staying awake and to me having more presence and being more tuned into him and myself. I knew that for the next 10 days, I’d be stepping out of my everyday life and meditating quite a lot without distractions. I didn’t have my normal everyday thoughts about logistics (travel, meals, timing, errands), which made a huge difference in my ability to really be present. So it started before I even left town.

IMG_0175I arrived at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center near Kaufman mid-afternoon. I registered, was assigned a room in the women’s dorm, and surrendered my wallet and cell phone. I had left books, computer, and writing materials at home.

I unloaded my stuff and set up my room, which was small, furnished with an extra-long twin bed and a plastic chair and small table, with open shelves and a place to hang clothing, and a bathroom with a shower. And a big window looking out on trees and clothesline. Very simple and adequate, and yet this particular Vipassana center is considered one of the more luxurious centers worldwide. Continue reading

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”, and SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot.)

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect but it is strong and tight enough that it stays in place . Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out of place. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo probably had fibromyalgia

While continuing to learn more about fibromyalgia, I found something interesting: Frida Kahlo probably had it.

If you’re wondering what fibromyalgia is, the Mayo Clinic says it’s a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a trauma, surgery, infection, or significant stress. Women are much more likely to develop it.

One researcher, Manuel Martinez-lavin, says it’s likely the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had fibromyalgia. The bus accident that badly injured her at age 18 must have been quite traumatic and was followed by many stressful surgeries. The accident left her with chronic pain, well documented in her art.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-11-07-37-amThe Broken Column

Continue reading

A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

Applying Cold and Heat Therapeutically

Healing an injury or treating a painful condition can be significantly impacted by the appropriate application of cold and/or heat. Both cold and heat relieve pain and help with tight muscles, but other considerations (especially inflammation and depth of injured tissue) apply.

COLD

Apply cold immediately following any muscle, joint, or bone injury to relieve swelling, reduce pain and inflammation, and decrease muscle soreness and tightness. You can use cold any time after that. Cold only penetrates about 1 cm below the surface, so it works best for initial swelling/inflammation and for superficial conditions.

Do NOT use cold on broken or irritated skin, on superficial nerves, or when circulation is impaired. Also avoid applying cold when these conditions are present: Raynaud’s disease, cold intolerance, cold allergy, any previous experience of frostbite, impaired mental ability or sensation.

How to apply: Wet a cloth in hot water, wring it to dampness, wrap it around the cold pack, and apply. Check the skin in 5 minutes. If it’s bright red or numb, add another layer of insulation. Leave cold pack in place until it warms to room temperature. Repeat if needed. Never apply a gel pack directly to skin. Continue reading

Report on effective treatments for fibromyalgia

A few folks with fibromyalgia have come to me for bodywork. Fibromyalgia, if you don’t know, is a condition of chronic pain with tender points located in various places on the body.

There’s a lot of mystery about it. It used to be thought by doctors to be “all in the head” (which basically means they don’t know, so it must exist just in your mind), but we know better now. A couple of years ago, scientists pinpointed the cause.

In my bodyworker role, I’ve noticed that some fibromyalgia sufferers prefer very light touch, while others prefer medium pressure and don’t mind, in fact prefer it, if I do deep tissue work in the tensest, tightest places, such as the upper trapezius. Continue reading

Massaging levator scapula

I’m a massage therapist making sense of what I discover working on clients — the most common issues I encounter, why people have these problems, and what to do about them (massage-wise and making minor but meaningful lifestyle changes that result in more well-being).

Recently I posted about massaging the upper trapezius muscles. In that same shoulder/neck area, another muscle, levator scapula, gives some people a lot of problems.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the upper trap issues seem to be from working with the hands out in front of the body, such as using a keyboard, cutting hair, chopping vegetables, operating a cash register, and so on.

If the bulk of your time is spent with  your arms just hanging down, surrendered to gravity, you wouldn’t have issues with your upper traps.

I don’t think there are many jobs like that! Irish dancer, perhaps?

Levator scapula (sometimes called just levator) attaches to the upper inner corner of the shoulder blade and to the transverse processes of the top four neck vertebrae (the bony parts that stick out on the sides of your neck under your ears). Levator lies underneath the upper trap and other muscles.

250px-Muscle_élévateur_de_la_scapula

250px-Levator_scapulae

I notice that some folks just have upper trap issues, and some have both upper trap and levator scapula issues. Trap issues come from working with the hands out in front. Levator issues come from raising the shoulders up toward the ears. In fact, levator scapula means “elevating the shoulder blade”. This is often accompanied by the “head-forward” posture.

If you rub across the top of your shoulder between your neck and shoulder joint and feel your fingers crossing over a tight but tender lump of a muscle, it’s your levator.

People who have pain in levator are raising their shoulders toward their ears, and they are most likely unaware they are doing this. They just notice the pain.

Sometimes it’s one-sided pain. The cause is often cradling a telephone receiver between the ear and shoulder to have the hands free while talking on the phone. If you work in an office and talk on the phone for much of the day, you can avoid levator pain by using speakerphone or a device that sits on your shoulder and holds the phone receiver up to your ear….

When it’s two-sided pain, the cause is usually an unconscious, habitual tension, a response to stressors of raising the shoulders toward the ears (“turtling”).

As a stress response, this would protect the vulnerable neck area, but since our modern stressors are usually not predators out to have us for dinner, the solution is to start catching yourself doing it and consciously retrain yourself to lower your shoulders. Your body will eventually catch on, and lowered shoulders will become your new habitual posture! (Also practice moving your head slightly back, if you have the “forward head” posture.)

You can lengthen the levitator muscle by standing and letting your shoulders drop downward, surrendering to gravity. You can hold a light weight — 1 or 2 pounds, or a can of soup — to help pull your arms and shoulders down and let the levator lengthen.

It also feels good to make forward and backward circles with the shoulders. Spend more time where it does the most good.

You can also stand and lower your ear to your shoulder, alternating sides. I think slow is good.

Another good practice is letting the head float up, as if it were a helium balloon. You can release all kinds of neck tension this way.

For massaging the levator, it usually feels awesome to press on the end of the muscle that attaches to the top of the shoulder blade. This is a magical point on almost every body that feels terrific to have pressed!

If you have a hard time finding that corner of the shoulder blade, put the client’s hand behind their back to make the shoulder blade pop out. You will feel that upper corner more easily. Static pressure and rubbing the corner area both feel great.

Because levator is deep to the upper trap and neck muscles, it’s difficult to knead the way you can knead the upper trap. I like to work my fingers around the inner part and bottom corner of the shoulder blade. Then, standing at the head of the table, I pull on the edge of the triangle that’s opposite that upper inner corner, leaning back and pulling it toward me. (You can also push this edge toward the head when standing at the client’s side.)

This allows levator to go slack and shorten, taking the pressure off it. I usually hold this for about 15-30 seconds.

Then I do the opposite. Standing at the head, I place both thumbs on that upper inner corner of the shoulder blade and lean into it. This gives levator a nice stretch. I hold this for 15-30 seconds too. The entire shoulder blade will have more mobility.

And yes, I can shorten and lengthen levator scapula during Ashiatsu barefoot massage sessions, using my feet!

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

I posted this originally on June 16, 2011. Needing to remind myself of her wisdom, I thought you might want to (re)read her words and appreciate her wisdom too.

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Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a link to her obituary, a note from her dharma heir Barry Magid, and a remembrance by a long-time friend.

And here’s a link to an article that puts her work into perspective:

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind — as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy — it often doesn’t — but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

Self-care for massage therapists, part 2 (what works for me)

In part 1, I listed various self-care methods that massage therapists use for their own aches and pains from giving massage. In part 2, I want to share what I’ve tried (so far) that works.

First, I want to say that my strength and endurance have increased with practice. I used to be in pain after giving 3 hour-long massages in a row several days in a row. Now I can do 4 hours 5 days a week with just a few twinges and aches afterwards. For several weeks, though, I was hurting and feeling some despair about having upended my life to get trained and start working in this new profession and the possibility of not being physically able to do it.

Key learnings from a newbie:

  • I no longer attempt deep tissue work, sticking to Swedish and reflexology. My Swedish massages are good and getting better. I incorporate some of David Lauterstein’s deep massage strokes into every Swedish massage, and I use pressure points, stretching, techniques from sports massage, body mobilization techniques, and reflexology, depending on the client’s issues and the amount of time I have. I cannot deliver the pressure that some clients (well-informed or not about what “deep tissue” means) seem to want. If I work within my limitations, it’s win-win for everyone.
  • I trained in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy so that I can deliver deeper pressure using my feet and body weight, controlled by holding onto overhead bars. It’s so much easier on my body and a lot of fun, too.
  • I rock with my feet and leverage my body weight strategically as I deliver Swedish massage so my arms and shoulders do less work.
  • Hydrotherapy totally rocks after a long shift. I fill my double kitchen sinks with hot water (my water heater is set to 130 degrees F. for sanitizing laundry) and cold water that I dump a quart or two of ice into. I immerse my aching forearms and hands in the water, alternating cold-hot-cold-hot-cold, for one minute each. I can barely stand it, and yet it makes a huge difference in just 5 minutes. Seems to flush toxins and swelling and pain right out.
  • I stretch my fingers and wrists, holding each stretch for 15 seconds. Good to do when driving, at red lights.
  • I press into the trigger points for the elbow and wrist (see part 1 for links).
  • I apply magnesium gel with seaweed extract topically. According to Wikipedia, symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakness, and fatigue, and fifty-seven percent of the US population does not get enough magnesium from food.
  • I love epsom salts in a bath. (Guess what? They contain magnesium!) When I was feeling a lot of pain all over, I would dump a cup or two of epsom salts into a fairly hot bath and add a few drops of lavender oil, then soak for 15-20 minutes. I felt like a new woman when I came out! I learned this years ago from dancers.
  • I use Young Living’s OrthoEase oil on clients’ painful muscles, and I use it on mine as well. Contains wintergreen, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and more that are analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
  • I keep hydrated and have been avoiding nightshades lately. I’m already gluten-free and eat fairly healthily. I’m interested in following an anti-inflammatory diet but haven’t done the research yet.
  • I take at least a couple of days off per week, not always together, though. I’m still finding my ideal schedule.
  • I do 10-15 minutes of yoga every morning. Sun salutations stretch and strengthen my body. Plus, it’s a great check-in to do something that starts the same every day. I start slowly and really let my hamstrings lengthen in forward bend before I move on to the next pose. I add standing poses, balance poses, and pigeon as I feel the need and to keep it interesting.
  • I get at least a chair massage every week. I’m interested in setting up a weekly trade for a full-body massage with someone, too.
  • I use a foam roller on back when needed, and a tennis ball to my gluteus.
  • I have two tennis balls tied into a sock that I use when driving to massage my back. I’ve also learned to “pop” my own back while giving massage!

Here’s something that just doesn’t fit into any of the categories I’ve seen so far about self-care for MTs. It’s about how you use your attention. I’ve learned to keep some of my attention on my body most of the time.

When I focused exclusively on the client’s body, delivering what I thought they wanted, I hurt and fatigued myself. I listen more to my body now and check in verbally with the client if I am not noticing nonverbal feedback.

If I notice that I feel rigid anywhere in my body, I say to myself, “Soften,” and my body softens.

Sometimes I put my attention on the soles of my feet and their connection to the floor/earth (I massage with bare feet always for Ashiatsu and as much as possible for Swedish), making the movements of giving massage into a soft, fluid dance.

Sometimes I attend to my breath, letting it become easy and relaxing (and audible to the client, as a nonverbal suggestion that they relax too).

All of these techniques activate the inner body, subtle body, energy body, whatever you want to call it. It feels better to give massage with this “soft present alive expanded body” than not. There is definitely an aspect of being “in the flow” that seems somehow related to doing Reiki, but I don’t know how to put it into words (yet).

Another bonus: the sensations of pain and fatigue become distant as peace and love fill my awareness.

I don’t know if clients perceive the difference, but I don’t think it could hurt. I do it for me because I “in-joy” it!

It’s been four months since I got licensed and began working. I look forward to learning even more new things about self-care and sharing them here.

Lessons from the 21-day Byron Katie challenge

The challenge to focus on The Work of Byron Katie for 21 days was worthwhile. I examined a painful thought that has been a thread running through my life, that my father didn’t care about me.

I subjected that belief to inquiry, and it did not hold up. My father did care about me. I know that deeply now. The way he chose to express it — nonverbally, without physical, verbal, or visual signs of affection, without playfulness, and pretty much without much eye contact or much facial expression at all — was not a way I understood or valued when I was young and first had this thought.

I realize now that he showed his caring by simply being there with his family and not somewhere else, supporting me from infancy through adulthood, reading aloud to his children, helping with homework, and creating order through daily rituals (dinner time, bath time, bed time). He wasn’t really that different from many men who were fathers in the 1950s and 1960s — who had been through sobering times (the Great Depression and World War II). He was not frivolous, not expressive, and a man who had lost his own father at age 9.

I took him for granted.

I did this challenge a bit differently than I initially envisioned doing it. I had thought that I would do one worksheet a day, answering the four questions and doing the turnarounds for 21 days.

That would have been extremely time-consuming. My blog posts would have been quite lengthy, and I fear you, dear readers, might have completely lost patience and interest.

So instead, I worked on one issue, my relationship with my dad, which even though he’s been dead for years, I still felt some tender sensitivity and pain about. I liked doing it slowly and deeply like this. Sometimes at Katie’s workshops, there just isn’t time to really go deep with my own stuff. This was satisfying and memorable. I feel like I got the process in my bones and now find myself asking, “Is that true?” and “What happens when I believe that thought?” Just noticing…

I have turned over that rock and examined the ground under it, the creepy-crawlies, the shadow, took a good thorough look, and then put the rock back and moved on.

Of course there are more rocks to investigate, but I can see that each time I do inquiry, the remaining rocks are perhaps fewer, lighter, and smaller.

And wow. Would I ever like to get to the bottom of how I create my own suffering with my thinking! That would require a lot of discernment. Speaking of which, this great quote on that topic came up today on Tricycle Daily Dharma:

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. ~ Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”

So yeah. Enlightenment comes through examining illusion, that is, using inquiry and discerning the truth. This is how it works in real life.

In filling out the worksheet, I went back to the last years I lived at home, when I was in high school, and how it was then between my father and me. I remembered yearning for his positive personal attention, and it never even crossing my mind to just ask him for it! Because “we didn’t do that in our family,” it wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities back then.

I am so grateful to have busted out of that prison. I’m not sure when that happened.  At some point, I gained the quality of brashness. It usually works, too.

I think it’s a great idea for people to ask for attention when you need it. If the person who is asked can give it, fine, and if not, fine. There are always others, and of course, there’s the self. Doing The Work is a fine way to relate to the self. Quality time.

My relationship with my father, which transcends his death, has expanded. It’s become lighter and broader. I can consider other possibilities for his behavior than the narrow, joyless ones I laid on him.

This opens me up too. My hurting self, the wounded child, has healed (at least about this topic). It’s a memory now, in the past.

After having done the work, it doesn’t matter whether my father did or didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s only a concept, just a theory to explain his behavior.

When I ask, “How do I react, what happens, when I think that thought?” I realize that it just doesn’t matter that much to me. I wonder more how he would have reacted had he known, fully aware that whatever I think is idle speculation, just opinion. It was his business, not mine.

I like to think that if he wanted help with it, which he never asked for, I would have gladly been willing to give it.

Just like he would have been glad to give me more attention, if I had asked for it.

People are like that, aren’t we.