When a muscle feels tight, the go to for many folks is to try to stretch that muscle. That might help and it might not. If stretching feels helpful for your tight muscles and you see the improvements you seek, keep on keepin on! However, if you have a sensation of tightness and stretching doesn’t seem to help, might I recommend a two-step approach?
When I experienced a searing pain in my right hip while going up the stairs, followed by a deep ache that wouldn’t go away, I immediately recalled my pregnant, unstable pelvis. This was familiar pain. During both pregnancies, I dealt with pretty terrible sciatica. Thanks to the fluid nature of my pregnant bod, the pain frequently switched sides to keep me guessing. In addition to deep aches in my hips most of the time, they would often buckle or give out when I went to stand up.
Several months ago, our dining table broke. One of the legs that folded out to support a leaf snapped off during clean up from The Great Smoothie Spill of 2018. (Heck, it could have even been 2017…what is time?) Thankfully we could still use the table but it wasn’t ideal. Without the leaf, it was too small to accommodate any guests. In addition, the table’s corners were sharp and at the perfect height to poke out the eye of an unsuspecting toddler. Every time Coen walked around the table, I felt so nervous I did an irreverent Kegel.
After reading Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman and seeing how her family sits at a coffee table-height dining table, I decided this would be a really good option for my family. Besides, I had searched and searched to no avail for a table I really liked and that was affordable. Sitting and eating on the floor would allow our bodies the opportunity to remain body-shaped as opposed to chair-shaped - the position they are so often in throughout a normal day. By giving our bodies a chance to self-support, we invite opportunities for more movement. As we start to fatigue in one position, we shift and move into a more comfortable one. Also standing up from the ground requires the body to load itself with more weight in a broader range of motion than standing up from a chair. Not to mention, the ability to stand up from the ground with out using the support of hands, the wall, etc is a marker for longevity. When I presented the idea to my husband, I expected resistance but he was one hundred percent into it. Travis spends a lot of the day sitting at work (although his desk does convert to standing) so he was on board with changing up his routine in favor of more varied movement.
We had an old 1920s table in our garage; it was the first piece of furniture we bought as a couple back in 2009 at some vintage shop in the Old City. We used it as a dining table for quite sometime but it was an odd height and the wobbly legs made it feel like a risky piece to have around small children. Since then, it sat under a copper pipe, collecting water stains from condensation and lots of cob webs. I used a lot of Barkeeper’s Friend and elbow grease to remove the stains from the porous surface. Travis removed the metal hairpin legs, sawed them off, and then reattached them. The table now actually feels super solid! I found a rug on sale at World Market that I knew would hide stains well along with some comfy floor pillows for us to sit on. Voila! Our new dining space fell into place so easily.
We knew there would be an adjustment period for the kids but especially for Coen, who has always been buckled into a high chair. When they saw the new set up, their first order of business was to climb on top of the table. We were not suprised! Audrey even got a pillow and pretended to take a nap on it. It was nice that our dining room felt more versatile and usable.
Our mantra became, “We stay on the ground while we’re eating.” The first meal was tough for Coen; he cried a lot and didn’t eat much. Audrey announced how much she loved the table right from the start. I’m not surprised - it was much easier for her to serve herself and the pillows were definitely more comfortable than her chair. We added a second pillow to the kids’ seats to boost them up and draped a towel at Coen’s place because he’s still a pretty messy eater.
Since that first meal, Coen’s had a much easier time. He knows to go and sit on his pillow at meal time and when he’s done he stands up. Sometimes he gets fidgety and it turns out that he’s not all that hungry and chooses to leave the table until snack time later. I think that because the kids can easily come and go as they please, meal times are much more pleasant for everyone.
All in all, the new dining table seems to be working out well for our family. It’s also a nice dynamic workstation for me and my laptop. Oh and I almost forgot to answer the question we’ve been asked so many times, “But what about guests?!” Well, the dining table is nestled into a nook so guests who aren’t used to unsupported sitting can lounge with their backs to the wall and we also have a myriad of other pillows and cushions they can use to get comfortable.
How often do you sit at your dining table? If you’re open to adding some new movement to your menu, consider using a ‘breakfast in bed’ tray (the kind with fold out legs) for your food as you sit on the floor - or you could even your coffee table! Even just shaking things up once or twice this way can benefit your body.
Have you ever practiced foot-in-mouth pose?
I have. I am right now. (If I’m being 100% truthful, I can only get my left big toe in my mouth. The right foot doesn’t even come close.)
I’ve recently come to understand that a good many things I was taught (and have taught to others) in my massage therapy and yoga trainings were unfounded. Perhaps they were in a line with what science was presenting at the time but there was a fair amount of hocus pocus thrown in there too. Now let me just say - I’m not knocking the hocus pocus; I love me some woo. Things get complicated, though, when the woo is presented as the thing that will cure what ails you and as the Indisputable Truth.
For the past month or so, I have been reading voraciously everything on the interwebz I could get my hands on regarding the intersections of pain science, yoga, massage therapy, and evidence-based practices. I think my brain started to dribble out of my ear a little by the end.
I’m finally coming up for air.
You may not know this about me but I went to a Christian college. Not just one of those private liberal arts schools that was founded by a Methodist three-hundred years ago - I’m talking a legit BIBLE college. My diploma says B.S. in Bible (oh the irony). If you know me now, you know that I am not a Christian. I gradually stepped back from religion nearly a decade ago and it was a huge shift. Deconstructing was like taking off a million pairs of glasses, each one representing a Christian principle, value, or perspective. Just when I thought I had taken off the last pair of glasses, I would find myself in a situation thinking in a way that didn’t align with my current values. Slowly, I would realize that I was still wearing a pair of old glasses, still filtering the experience through my outmoded worldview.
Well, this post is not about leaving religion. That process was a conscious, evolving choice. The paradigm shift I’m experiencing now blind-sided me but it still tastes like deconversion — only it’s with my yoga and massage therapy practice.
I didn’t go looking for this information (at least not consciously). I just happened to see something on Instagram that led me down a rabbit hole. For some time now, I’ve wanted to know what’s going on in the body during a yoga class or while getting a massage. I always just assumed I needed to go back to school to figure it out (and I almost did to become a PT but then I was like, Girl you crazy, you’re 6 months pregnant with your second child and you never even took a science class in college).
The information I learned about pain science was really cool and it seemed to have a trickle down effect, shedding light on various other topics as well. This post is not necessarily about what I have learned (News flash: most everyone’s fascia is probably fine) but it is about the process of uncovering, shifting, and finding a new ground on which to stand. (Or maybe it’s the same ground and a new way of standing on it.)
Is evidence-based everything? Is there room for mystery?
When I get really into something, I get really into it. Like I totally chug all the Kool-Aid. Then after the buzz wears off, my critical thinking kicks in. Sometimes the hangover comes quickly and other times it can be a slow recovery.
I got really into Reiki. In case you don’t know, Reiki is energy work. In a straight-up Reiki session, the client lies on the table and the practitioner uses light touch or no touch (hands hovering about six inches off the body) to transmit this ‘universal love energy’ via his or her hands. (I just saw your woo flag go up).
‘There is no scientific evidence that there is an energy system in the body that can be manipulated with the hands,’ says the science-based massage therapy community. True statement.
Just like with many other things, I shotgunned the Reiki Kool-Aid and then after a while, I was like, Hmmm…what’s really going on here? I still have no clue. I am a Skeptical Reiki Master. I know there is no scientific evidence for this practice. Although it won’t hold up in the court of science, I do have anecdotal evidence for this practice:
When I practice Reiki, I experience certain sensations that some would call the ‘flow of energy.’ Sometimes I experience vivid imagery or see colors. Following the Reiki protocols feels very meditative to me so I often get incredibly relaxed. When I practice Reiki, the palms of my notoriously cold hands get hot.
My clients have reported experiencing sensations to which they referred as ‘the flow of energy.’ They have also reported feeling my hands go from cold to hot when I started using Reiki in a session. They have reported feeling like their thoughts melted away and becoming deeply relaxed. Often, there is snoring.
Is that all due to the flow of energy? I don’t know. Is it even energy? I don’t know. I don’t make claims that Reiki will do anything other than help clients relax and hopefully increase feelings of well-being. (Be well, feel swell.) The nervous system is a powerful thing. Who knows all the ins and outs and whys of what happens when two nervous systems collide via touch (or near touch as is sometimes the case with Reiki). We do know from pain science research that the therapeutic relationship between the client/patient and the healer (whether that’s an MD, PT, LCSW, LMT, or the village witch doctor) can influence the client’s experience of pain.*
If Reiki provides a way for me to connect with my client and meet them where they are while doing no harm and helping them relax, then why NOT do it? After all, I’m not making claims that it will cure cancer or treat a medical condition.
The yoga and massage therapy communities are full of modern-day gurus. When we blindly and without question fall in line with these ideologies, we tend to chuck reasoning and critical thinking out the window.
This skeptical approach I take to Reiki illustrates the stance I’m taking in my massage therapy practice and yoga teaching practice: I will continue to seek out the evidence and to practice and teach with integrity based upon those findings. I also recognize there are gaps, dark places, and mysteries that still elude scientific explanation. As I continue to dwell in the mystery, I will honor the complexity of the human body and the human experience. I will continue to practice foot-in-mouth pose and I will continue to tell you all the things I don’t know. Thank you in advance for your graciousness. May we all continue evolving toward enlightenment.
Today I went to my first yoga class in probably a year. That’s pretty bad considering I’m a yoga teacher.
I haven’t been intentional about making time to attend a yoga class for several reasons:
The classes available at the times I regularly have childcare haven’t really worked with my schedule…although they could have if I had planned in advance to attend and blocked off my calendar.
- Many of the classes available at the times I regularly have childcare don’t really appeal to my pregnant bod (i.e. Toasty Core Strength Vinyasa)…although I’m sure I would have enjoyed Yoga for 50+.
- After my first pregnancy, I noticed sub-optimal changes in my core after attending a yoga class. I didn’t know how to engage my transverse abdominis so all the planking and boat poses were setting me back instead of helping me strengthen.
- Reinforcements (my husband) arrive home too late for me to make it to an evening class. But there are later classes that I could make.
- But then I’d have to miss putting my toddler to bed on another evening (I’m already gone two nights a week).
So those have been my excuses. I imagine that with two kiddos at home, there will be even more excuses. (Please note that I’m not saying these are merely whiney-pants excuses; they are valid logistical complications that require a certain amount of energy and planning to overcome).
I’ve been telling myself that maintaining my home yoga practice is the same thing as going to a class. Wrong!
At home, I either do yoga while my toddler is awake and playing, or I put her in front of a 20-30 minute TV program (mom guilt), or she is taking a nap and could wake up at any moment. I can never really fully devote 100% of my focus toward myself in these situations.
In addition, I’m missing out on the community-building aspect of going to a class, the inspiration an instructor can provide, and the challenge I’m sure to avoid affording myself at home.
Back to this class I went to on Saturday. I wasn’t planning on going but I was a grade A grumpoose that morning and really struggling emotionally. After already telling my daughter we were all hanging out together that day, I informed her I was going to take a yoga class. (Saturdays are literally the only day a week when all three of us can be together for the day.) When it came time to leave she started to cry and told my husband, “I’m upset that Mama’s leaving.” Dagger to the heart with a twist.
I was headed to prenatal yoga. I went every week when I was pregnant with my daughter. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my son and this is my first prenatal class. It was a welcome opportunity to connect with baby boy in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to so far.
As a yoga instructor, I’ve developed this kind of judgmental voice in my head when taking another teacher’s class. It can be difficult to turn down the volume of that voice and just be present in the class like any other student. Sometimes the voice is telling me that a particular instruction might not be best for where my body is at (which is a helpful thing to listen to!) but other times the voice can be snarky, critical, or kind of like Larry David. I’m not proud of it but that’s the truth. Perhaps if I start going to more classes, I’ll get more practice quieting that voice.
Despite my mental high horse, I enjoyed myself. The room was full of that pregnant mama juju and we all were having hot flashes. We laughed and shared in the beginning and I was thankful and amazed that the hip work we did ended up feeling so nice (not too deep or destabilizing).
After class, I headed down the street to a local cafe, Wild Love Bakehouse, and struggled to decide between a classic chocolate chip cookie or a chocolate chocolate chip cookie with sea salt. So I bought both. I ate half of each one and headed home to make lunch.
My time away didn’t fix any of the problems that surfaced in my household that morning, nor did it really change the fact that I was mad or grumpy. But it did give me a ‘time in’ for myself so I could press pause on the drama and get out of that triggered mental space. I think that brief distance was valuable.
How do you find time for a movement practice when you have young children? Do you schedule mornings away for yourself? What strategies do you use to take care of yourself at home in the midst of a challenging situation?
A 9 year old recently asked me, “what’s your spirit animal?” He didn’t find my quippy response of “pizza” amusing. He told me to be serious so I said that I wasn’t sure and asked for his opinion. The corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes moved in a way expressive of deep thought. Finally the answer emerged, “a panda.” He caught me off guard as I’ve never been compared to a panda in my life. “Because you’re always so calm and even-tempered,” he added. According to this kid, pandas are calm and I am calm too.
Even as my husband, close friends (including the mother of the 9 year old), and family are rolling with laughter at the thought of me being described as calm, I must say I get this a lot. People frequently say to me, “You’re always so calm and peaceful. How do you do it?” In fact, the client I just saw said those very words which inspired me to sit down and write this post. (She followed up by saying, “you’re so cool.” Gush!)
Just to set the record straight, I have spells of feeling quite the opposite of calm and even-tempered. I’m human (not marsupial). I fly off the handle and scream at my husband and get sassy with customer service representatives on the phone. Overall, however, I feel incredibly stress-free most of the time – think panda chilling and chewing on some bamboo. I attribute this to my amazing job and skillful self-care. I’m not in the business of giving career advice but I can help you with self-care.
Effective and nourishing self-care requires planning and commitment. I often find that when I haven’t scheduled self-care practices into my day or week they fall by the wayside. For me, self-care includes regular bodywork like acupuncture, Rolfing, massage, chiropractic, and Reiki. I have assembled an awesome team of gifted healing practitioners who keep me running like a well-oiled machine. I also make time in my schedule for regular yoga and meditation practice along with journaling and walking. Another essential element in my self-care mix involves syncing my life with my monthly cycle. Ladies, we’re quite lucky that we have a monthly reminder to slow down and release things that no longer serve us.
For me, self-care is a lifestyle choice. Even though I’ve chosen to work a bit less than most in order to focus on things that truly bring me joy and satisfaction, I often hear those voices telling me that I’m lazy or don’t deserve to be stress-free and content. For me, radical self-care is choosing to claim my worth. It’s such a big deal!
Self-care is a choice and sometimes a difficult one at that. There’s space in even the busiest schedules for nourishing and supportive practices. Aren’t sure where to start? I’d love to be a part of your self-care routine, whether that’s through yoga, massage, or energy healing. Drop me a line and we can make a plan for you. And let’s not forget the vital question that started it all: What’s your spirit animal?
Every January, my yoga classes explode; by March they’re back to normal size. I see this as evidence of the damaging New Year’s Resolution Cycle. Some of us New Year’s Rezzers do indeed accomplish our goals by December 31st but far too many of us set ourselves up to fail. Besides, how do we reconcile this culture of self-improvement with the yogic teachings that we are already enough/perfect/whatever it is we are striving to be? I’m finding the answer is in the present moment.
Many self-improvement goals take us far beyond the present moment to a future place of smaller pants and greater peace. When we live that far in the future, we can’t possible be present for ourselves and the people around us. Consider taking your eyes off the prize in order to cultivate a new level of awareness and self-compassion. Mindfulness is a great tool for this. I’m currently reading The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, an incredibly practical book which also encourages me to “let it happen” instead of “make it happen.” Expect to see these themes woven throughout my classes in the coming weeks and months.
Happy New Year! I look forward to seeing the same old you soon.