Inviting deep, restful sleep: tips for positioning and good sleep practices

Positioning for Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is hugely important for your well-being. Use sleep positioning to align your bones, support your limbs, and open your joints, relaxing muscles and minimizing tension and pain so that your sleep is fully restful.

Have on hand a variety of pillows of various sizes and firmness as well as towels in various sizes to prevent rolling and add support. Special pillows support the neck and head.

When preparing for sleep, scan your body for tension and adjust to relieve tension. Re-scan and re-adjust. You may need to keep doing this for a few weeks as your body responds.

Sleeping on Your Back

Support your neck and upper back. Place a pillow with the bottom edge at the level of the shoulder blades or use a cervical support cushion under the upper spine and neck. You may prefer a pillow that cradles the back of your head as well.

For leg and hip comfort, make a wedge-shaped support under the thighs with the upper edge tucked under the buttocks to create a slight bend in the knees.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.08.29 AM

If the small of the back is not resting on the bed, support it with a small cushion or rolled hand towel. If desired, place pillows along the body to support the arms and hands. Continue reading

Tight shoulders? You gotta try this Pressure Point Massager aka Spiky Roller Ball gadget!

As a massage therapist, I do lots of chair massage, and this tool, the Gaiam Pressure Point Massager (aka the spiky roller ball gadget), is so amazing, I must write a blog post about it!

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.02.31 PMI first discovered it when my trainer, Matt Fuhrmann at Tao Health & Fitness, bought one at a local store and brought it into the school. I tried it on myself and was impressed. Those little spiky points seem to activate the sensory nerves in a way that is pleasurable, and almost as a side effect, the muscles it rolls over release tension.

I used it lightly on myself and my chair massage clients until the day after a workout that I handed it to Matt to roll my tight, sore shoulders for me. He used a lot of pressure on my upper traps, shoulders, and upper back, more than I’d ever used on myself or anyone else. The sensations were intense, with that exquisite “hurts-so-good” feeling, and so was the tension release. I felt rushes up and down my whole body!

After that, I started checking in with my chair massage clients about how much pressure felt good to them. I use less pressure on bare skin than I do over clothing, and of course, every body is different, so checking in is critically important to avoid hurting them (in a hurts-so-bad way). Continue reading

He said, “Why aren’t you a craniosacral therapist?”

Years before I went to massage school, I received monthly craniosacral therapy sessions from Nina Davis for 2-3 years. I didn’t know what craniosacral therapy was, exactly, but I figured that between trauma, head injuries, sacrum injuries, and scoliosis in my spine, that any kind of bodywork that focused on the cranium, sacrum, and points in between was going to be good for me. I asked who was good. Nina was recommended.

And it was good for me! Continue reading

13 reasons for learning peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking

I did my 10 minute presentation on peripheral awareness yesterday. I wish we’d had  more time! I’m learning how to teach this by teaching it, and one attendee asked me a great question:

What would someone get out of learning this?

Thanks, Xtevan. That seems worthy of a blog post! So here are my top reasons for learning peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking.

  1. Using more of your human capabilities, which means you have more resources. You could have a choice about how to see.
  2. Better mood. The neurology of peripheral vision affects your state. When you’re doing it, it’s impossible to feel anxious or depressed. Your center of gravity drops, and your breathing slows. You feel more relaxed.
  3. Shifting attention away from minor pains and discomfort.
  4. Ecstatic states. Feeling joy, feeling euphoric, feeling very “in your body” and connected to the planet. Feeling really, really alive. Feeling one with everything.
  5. Altered states of consciousness! You may experience trippy effects such as “eating the trail,” a feeling of levitation and of being still while the scenery moves past you (while you’re actually walking). And more!
  6. Trust in your unconscious mind. The wiring used in peripheral walking and night walking bypasses your conscious mind. Thus, you step over a rock before your conscious mind perceives it’s there. It’s uncanny and takes some getting used to.
  7. No thought, stopping the world, shushing the internal dialog.
  8. The ability to see in nearly complete darkness. It takes about 20 minutes for the eyes to adjust to the dark, of course. With practice, you could do night walking in a remote place over uneven terrain on moonless or cloudy nights with no problem. You would be much more aware of nocturnal creatures and their activities.
  9. An advantage in activities where seeing more of your surroundings is key. Great basketball players know where the other players are and where the ball is while moving quickly around the court. Martial artists, gymnasts, dancers, other team sports players, long-distance runners and more can all benefit.
  10. Enhancement of other senses. Hearing and proprioception become sharper.
  11. You could also have more resources in unsafe situations, such as being where sneaky predators of any kind are, whether urban or rural jungle.
  12. When night walking, you can see the energy of some plants, which appears as a moving bioluminescence.
  13. The world you’ve always known becomes new.

Some of these benefits don’t happen right away. The originator, Nelson Zink, said it takes 15-20 hours of using a peripheral training device for the eyes to become trained not to switch to focused vision and for the eyes to consistently focus where they’ve been trained to gaze without a device. (He said they always took them with them, though.)

Oh, and walking in public wearing a peripheral vision training device definitely helps keep Austin weird! That’s another good reason to do it!

No wonder the great Japanese sword fighter Musashino said in The Book of Five Rings:

It is necessary in strategy to be able to look to both sides without moving the eyeballs. You cannot master this ability quickly. Learn what is written here: use this gaze in everyday life and do not vary it whatever happens.

If you find this interesting and are in the Austin, TX, area, I teach peripheral awareness/walking for 1-3 people at a time. We walk on city trails. This is required before night walking, which can be arranged when demand is sufficient.

Seeing differently, peripheral awareness, Carlos Castaneda, joy, lessons

This post is to let you know that I’m doing a short presentation entitled “Seeing Differently” at Austin’s first Free Day of NLP tomorrow. The event will take place at Soma Vida, 1210 Rosewood in East Austin from 9 am until 4 pm. You can come and go as you desire.

I’m on at 2 pm. If you’re on Facebook and want an invitation or to see the whole schedule, send me a message!

Because I only have 10 minutes, we’ll do some exercises so attendees can experience seeing differently rather than go into the science and history of it. Afterwards, I’ll be available for questions and insights.

The basic premises are:

  1. Although we humans have two ways of seeing, foveally (focused) and peripherally, our peripheral visual capabilities are underused and can be developed.
  2. These two ways of seeing have different neurological wiring and create different states/experiences of awareness. Thus using peripheral vision creates peripheral awareness.
  3. Developing peripheral awareness can result in natural altered states of consciousness in which we experience less anxiety and more joy.
  4. Practicing peripheral awareness gives us more resources in life, whether it’s seeing a bigger picture than customary, feeling more centered/grounded/solid in your body, enhancing your other senses, being better at sports and martial arts, and finding your way around in the dark!

I believe this is what Carlos Castaneda was getting at with the following quotes:

Everybody falls pray to the mistake that seeing is done with the eyes. Seeing is not a matter of the eyes. Seeing is alignment and perception is alignment. Seeing is learned by seeing.

When you see, there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible!

To perceive the energetic essence of things means that you perceive energy directly. By separating the social part of perception, you’ll perceive the essence of everything. Whatever we are perceiving is energy, but since we can’t directly perceive energy, we process our perception to fit a mold. This mold is the social part of perception, which you have to separate.

I first encountered peripheral awareness in my evolutionary NLP training with teacher Tom Best, who learned it from the master, Nelson Zink. Katie Raver (creator of Free Day of NLP) and I co-ran a meet-up in Austin a few years ago in which we taught people to do peripheral walking.

The way I teach it, there are three parts: peripheral awareness, peripheral walking, and night walking.

I’m now offering lessons combining peripheral awareness and walking in my private practice, teaching 1-3 people at a time how to do it, using downtown trails. You can book a lesson online at http://thewell.fullslate.com.

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!

Massaging the upper traps

I’m going to begin sharing some thoughts from doing massage…

The trapezius is an interesting muscle. It’s big, shaped like a kite (a trapezoid), covers a large area of the back from T12 up and out to the shoulders, and then attaches to the back of the skull.

Unlike a bicep, the belly of the trapezius is not in the middle of the muscle. The belly is in the soft part of the shoulder, between the shoulder joint and the neck. This part is nicknamed the upper trap. The rest of the muscle is rather flat.

250px-Trapezius_Gray409

The upper traps hold a lot of tension on most people’s bodies. It’s rare to work on someone who doesn’t have tightness there. Often the upper trap is overdeveloped or unevenly developed. Usually one side is worse than the other (and it’s often but not always related to handedness).

Now, I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that a lot of why this muscle is such a problem is because many of us work with our hands out in front of our torsos, and that muscle supports those lifted arms. I notice it on people who use a keyboard a lot. Also hairdressers, chefs, pianists, an interpreter for the deaf. Hands out in front, right?

Oh, yeah, and massage therapists.

When I do Swedish massage, I love working on the shoulders. My favorite part is the testing I do when I finish working on the first shoulder. I give both upper traps a gentle squeeze. I can really tell the difference between the shoulder that’s been massaged and the one that hasn’t. The upper trap that’s been massaged has tissue that feels lean and pliable, like a racehorse ready for a race. It seems to sparkle with energy.

The upper trap not worked on feels stiffer, more swollen, and congested.

That’s the difference that massage makes.

When I do Ashiatsu barefoot massage, I do a lot of work on the shoulders with my feet, both seated behind the client’s head and standing on the table. It makes a big difference. If you haven’t had Ashiatsu, you might be amazed at how I can work the shoulders with my feet. Loosening the shoulder blade, working the between-the-shoulder-blade area, pressing into the upper trap…

If a client needs extra attention to their shoulders (and we have time for it), after I finish the Ashiatsu, I manually work on the shoulders. Kneading is something I can do with my hands that I can’t do with my feet. Sometimes that’s the main thing the upper trap needs, to be kneaded repeatedly to really get the blood flowing throughout the upper traps. It’s that squeezing out of stale blood so it can be replaced by fresh blood bringing oxygen that changes the quality of the muscle tissue, at least in my understanding.

Wondering what to do about upper trap pain in between massages? One remedy available for office workers is to sit in a chair with arm rests that support your forearms comfortably while you use your keyboard. If you don’t use the existing armrests, then it’s not comfortable. Find out if you can adjust them to become comfortable.

That will take some of the load off the upper traps.

Also, even though putting heat on sore muscles feels good, ice is better. Too much heat for too long makes the tissue feel sluggish. If you feel like you just gotta use heat, alternate heat and cold, doing no more than 5 minutes of each. That will get your circulation going.

Don’t forget, there’s always arnica and epsom salt!

Coming soon: the levator scapula. Many people with upper trap issues also have levator scapula issues.

New car door magnet for my business!

 

Inspired by my wonderful Ashiatsu and Ashi-Thai teacher Jeni Spring, who advertises on her scooter and has a thriving practice, I’ve decided to explore whether advertising on my vehicle will bring me more customers, as I go about my business around town. I just designed and ordered the car door magnet shown above.

I like the personal touch — people can see it and come up and talk (in parking lots), and also call, text, or check me out online — and book an appointment if they like what they see. (If I’m driving, I don’t text back until I can pull over, to be safe.)

Since I drive around anyway, I might as well leverage that to gain customers. 

And when business is as busy as I want it, I can take the magnet off. Sweet. 

Developing attentional flexibility: the 12 states of attention

I just took four more days of training in biodynamic craniosacral therapy, and what I learned about practicing it has made me want to revisit the 12 states of attention.

Attentional flexibility is a skill that has many uses. Here’s an example: Someone has a chronic pain in their left leg, sciatica. Let’s say the person is seeking professional help in the field of alternative medicine and doesn’t want to take painkillers or see surgery as a solution, but meanwhile, there’s the pain, which can be wearisome, frustrating, and debilitating.

What if the person could transform the pain felt specifically in the left leg by diffusing it all over their body, so there was less pain spread more widely?

What if the person could then move the pain out to the skin, and then outside of their body?

What if the person could find a place on their body that was not feeling any pain and focus their attention fully on that place? What would happen to the pain?

What if the pain had a color or sound, and it changed to a healing color or sound?

These are examples of attentional flexibility, which can be a useful skill not only in managing pain, but also for dealing with any kind of state that we’d rather not be experiencing – depressive thoughts, negative self-talk, any kind of “stuckness”.

Attentional flexibility may not be a “permanent” solution to some problems, but it can create a sense of spaciousness around problems, provide options, and allow one to have a broader experience of life.

In biodynamic craniosacral therapy, a practitioner can use attentional flexibility to bring attention to his/her own body and specific sensations of biological and energetic processes, to his/her connection with the client, to the client’s processes, to the unit of client/practitioner, to the space inside the room, out to the horizon and beyond, to intuitive thoughts that arise, and more.

Attentional flexibility can be learned by practicing the 12 states of attention. For more, read my original post on the 12 states from October 2010.

SOS holiday party, silent auction, gift certificates for massage….

I am really feeling jazzed! I’ve been a supporter for many years of the Save Our Springs Alliance, a local environmental group dedicated to preserving the quality of “the soul of Austin,” Barton Springs.

bartonspringsIf you’re not familiar with Barton Springs, it’s a large spring-fed urban swimming hole with a natural bottom, populated with plants, fish, salamanders, crawdads, and other wildlife, including humans. It’s got a nice view of the downtown skyline and is a must-see stop for tourists.

The water is unchlorinated and cold, and it feels fantastic! It takes courage to get in because it’s so cold (68-70 F. year-round). I am mostly a warm-weather swimmer/snorkeler there,though I’ll do the New Year’s Day polar bear dip if the weather is decent.

Keeping the springs clean and healthy is a challenge in an urban environment, and SOS does a good job.

Every year SOS holds a holiday party and silent auction. It’s one of the best nonprofit parties around, with good food, live music and dancing, an excellent silent auction, and lots of fun people.

This year for the first time, I had something to donate to the silent auction. I donated an Ashiatsu gift certificate for a 90-minute session. I stopped by the SOS office, my first time there, to drop it off and was warmly welcomed by Pat and Bill and recognized as a long-time member.

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!

Anyway, if you’re interested, come to the party and bid on an Ashiatsu session with me and whatever else you like! It’s Thursday, Dec. 6, 6 pm-midnight, at Mercury Hall. Here are the details.

I also have massage and Ashiatsu gift certificates available for purchase. You choose the denomination — my sessions start at 30 minutes, and recipients can always upgrade to add more time.