Chicago I’m a coming!! Five weeks to go and then I get a nearly the whole month of August in the city. I am getting excited. To get back to class at Yogaview, to see my friends, to cycle, to soak up the sun, to do SUP in Lake Michigan, to wander, to drink great coffee, to clear my mind, to make big decisions about where I want my life to take me. Makes my heart overflow just to think about it all. So grateful.
I did probably my first vinyasa practice for over three months today. Needing to clear my mind after another long day of ‘clearing out’ possessions and sorting out my Mom, I mulled over the options in my head - do a Yogaglo class, do nothing or get myself on the mat and do what felt right.
Procrastination is the ego’s tool to draw us away from what we really need to do, into the realm of what think we want to do as a means of escaping whatever it is we are uncomfortable with (even when it doesn’t really serve us). Since hitting a physical wall and being engulfed by grief back at the end of April, my yoga practice has shifted so much as to be virtually unrecognisable. Firstly, I’m doing a heap of Yin, like 5 days a week I do Yin and often for anything up to a good hour and a half. I’m not sure how I knew that I needed to do Yin, but since starting the practice I have come to feel in a very real way which areas of my body are tight and need to be gently coaxed open. Secondly, this deep realisation that my shoulder needs to heal itself has meant that I have had to step back from any form of strong flow. For the first few weeks it was a hard place to be - I even wondered if I would ever flow again.
Of course, only my ego is beside itself without flow. It has said things like “its not yoga without flow” and “you will get weak and you will never master a free handstand” and it has also said “you’re not working hard enough”. My body, on the other hand, is pretty happy. Its probably the happiest it has been in a long time since I started listening to it and not to my ego. My shoulder is also getting slowly stronger - with massage, myofasical release, adjusting how I use my arms - it is starting to move out of a place where it was stuck for 22 years. That, I feel, is a big thing.
One thing that I have learnt over the last few weeks is that yoga simply has to be something which we use as a tool to help us navigate life. It never stays the same and grasping onto anything in your yoga practice is just as foolish as trying to grasp onto life itself. We get so wrapped up in which poses we should do, and how long we should do them, and how it should feel, that we forget to just breathe and move and be with that deeper, unchanging part of ourselves. Sod the should - it limits our experience.
Sustainable flow is possible, but not without accepting that it will change. You will not always do 90 mins of hardcore practice; in fact, most days your yoga will be much less than this. Are you ok with listening and responding to your body’s needs rather than your ego’s? Are you able to surrender your self? Can you face injuries, illness, being tired or emotionally drained and find someway to use yoga to heal? Most important of all can you just come to your mat each day and truly, deeply, fully accept yourself as you are right now? If you can, that is yoga.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Mind massage and the complexity of the body
I was training on Sunday down in Bristol with the wonderful Darien Pritchard, who has worked in the massage industry for over 25 years and is a super-skilled practitioner and teacher. He’s a joy to work with and I feel like I learnt a huge amount in the space of the day. I also feel like Darien has come into my life at a time when I am ready to really work and learn from him. Darien’s book “Dynamic Bodyuse for Effective, Strain-Free Massage” was one of the first books on massage I ever bought. Back then I couldn’t understand a word! Now it seems like he speaks to me in a language I understand. How wonderful!
The focus of the workshop was Freeing the Shoulders, and I went motivated almost entirely out of a deep personal need to understand this part of my body which has always been an area of tension. I think that all good work comes from deep personal experience - the things that interest us, the way that life offers us opportunities and the choices that we make, are usually motivated by something deeply personal. This is often the case for anyone who is deeply passionate, committed and open in their work with the body (in whatever form it takes) - you will early always find that they came to their work because of an issue with their own bodies.
If I break it down my shoulders have not been ok for a long time. 21 years in fact. A climbing injury when I was 19 led me to the place where I am today. Torn muscles in my upper back (probably the right Levator Scapulae and part of the Upper Trapezius) where not given adequate attention at the time of the injury……I remember the options presented to me as “rest your arm” or “have a cortisol injection”. Pretty unhelpful. Massage wasn’t offered and back then I wasn’t present enough in my body to know what needed to be done. I had my arm in a sling for ages…a sling?! What possible good was that for a muscular injury? I remember being so scared to move my arm that it became quickly immobile. Strike forwards about 5 years and I had developed RSI in my right wrist…..a desk-based job and stressful life added to the sensation of being unable to take action in the world. Literally - not being able to use my dominent hand. My shoulder never felt right and I was often in huge amounts of pain. I remember being unable to reach my hand behind my back or turn my head for probably the best part of 10 years. After a while my body stopped sending those pain signals. The poor posture and that lack of mobility solidified, and the original injury got buried ever so slowly under layers and layers of tension, sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem and fear. I think of those years now as the years when I wallpapered over the cracks rather than being wide awake with my deepest, darkness fears and insecurities.
Come forwards now to the present. I am a massage therapist. I am a yoga teacher. I spent most of my days reading & learning about the body and exploring my body through massage and yoga. I have a far better and more comprehensive understanding of the human body and of my body than I ever did at 19. And yet it has still taken me years to work out what was going on in my shoulder. Even though I have a conceptual understanding of the road by which I ended up here - with poor posture, tight Pectoral muscles, over-lengthened and weak upper back muscles and impingement in my right shoulder joint - none of this matters as much as how I choose to heal myself right now. Lets face it, nothing that has been buried for so long is going to heal itself quickly. Maybe it will take as long for me to heal my shoulder as it took for me to hide it away. I know that it will never be the same as it was before the injury. I think it is more about how can I bring this part of my body back into the whole? How can I learn to use my body in a way that is supportive and allows that which was so broken to become unbroken?
You see, deeply held tension in the body - which each of us has - is as much, if not more about the mind as it is about the body. It was Darien’s exact words on this that got me thinking about my own bodymind, “we are not massaging the body, we are massaging the mind”. Lets be clear here that I am not telling you that a muscular strain or a physical injury does not exist, clearly it does, clearly we do injure ourselves and it hurts. What I am saying and what I think Darien was alluding to, is the fact that the body and the mind are one. Therefore something physical always has a mental or emotional or spiritual element to it. Your not just flesh and bones. Your not just a mind. My wallpapering over the cracks in my life led to a very physical ‘locking-away’ of that injury…..but much of the hanging onto it now is emotional. When I think of my shoulder my mind never thinks about the injury, it relives times in my life all of which involve a sense of being a deep failure, of never being worthy, or not being loved.
The most interesting part of the day was the time we spent on the massage table working with a partner, freeing each others shoulders with Darien’s guidance. Because it is a part of the body I struggle with, its a part of the body I am challenged by when I work there on others. Hence, I took the workshop! I have yet to meet a single person who does not hold tension in their upper back so its good to learn how to work this area in a skillful and comprehensive way. Some of you will know that my Father died two months ago. There is a huge amount of grief in the tissues of my body right now, and not surprisingly, in my shoulder joint. In fact, I believe that the grief is what unlocked my understanding of the whole situation, often this is how life works. Added to this grief is an element of fear. I hear my shoulder asking me - Will it be ok? Will I get hurt again? Can I speak up if it’s too much? How can I let go?
The lady who I worked with was clearly a skilled and well-trained massage therapist with a good knowledge of the body. She was confident and had good body use. Yet there was something in her actions and in her words that has caused me to stop and examine the roots of my own work. This is mostly because my experience of the massage was that in her efforts to get my upper back to let go she was forcing it. At one point she even had her fingers under my right shoulder blade whilst saying ‘let go, let go’ and physically trying to move my shoulder out of its imobility. I know that the massage was too deep because of the way my body reacted afterwards. I know that my muscles are in revolt because my upper back is more sore than it was before I got on the table. I also feel somehow, violtated and as if my deepest needs have not been met. What I learnt yet again from this experience is that we need to meet each person as they are - what we call 50/50 - and go on the journey with them, rather than DO the massage to them. There is nothing wrong with deep tissue work, nothing at all. But when it is DONE TO YOU rather than done with you, it really isn’t a good thing.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again - THE BODY CANNOT BE BULLIED, FORCED, PUMMELLED OR BEATEN INTO SUBMISSION - it doesn’t work. Its counter productive. It does nothing but make already tight and tense muscles get more tight and tense. Where does this all-pervading myth that pain equals healing come from? I’d like to shoot it down. Pain is the bodies way of saying ‘somethings wrong’. Pain DOES NOT equal a good massage. Pain DOES NOT mean that great work has been done. All that will happen when you try to force a muscle to let go is that the muscle will resist and you will go two steps back. Muscles hold on because its what they are good at - they hold us together, and when we are stressed or another muscle is injured, they step up and do their best to keep everything in balance. Muscular tension is part of being human and having a body!
What I want to say in all of this is that if you have massage please make sure that the massage is something that nourishes you. If you go to a therapist and it doesn’t work for you, find someone else. You might have to go through heaps and heaps of therapists till you find the right one. You may work with them for a while and then need something else. That’s fine. If you have long-held tension, don’t expect it to disappear over night. It won’t. Open yourself to the fundamental truth of human existence, that your body IS YOU and YOU ARE YOUR BODY. Every experience, every emotion, everything you say and do and think and feel is reflected in your body. So be kind to it. Care for it. Let massage be this great tool for understanding, experiencing, loving, caring and balancing your body and not something which causes pain.
Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.
Life will punch you in the chest when you least expect it. Hard. It’s going to hurt like hell. At one point it’s going to hurt so fucking bad you’re going to question the purpose of everything you’ve ever known and you might even lose your grip, slip, and fall. And it’s going to hurt. There is no escaping this fact. But in the depth of this pain there is something so profound, so fundamental… It will move the very ground you walk upon. It will shake the earth. You will never be the same. The world will never be the same. You’ll learn to live with the pain and it will heal you. The very pain you’re shying away from is what in the end will be the light in the end of the tunnel. You need this pain. Feel it. Feel it all. Through this pain, you will find your purpose. When you see it coming open your eyes and your arms and your heart wide and say; “Welcome”. Let it transform you and it will change the world with every single step you take from this moment on.
Forgive the past. It is over. Learn from it and let go. People are constantly changing and growing. Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past. See that person now. Your relationship is always alive and changing
Life and loss
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time