Who Is That Woman and What Has She Done to Mimm?

CIMG0083Im not feeling myself these days.  Wait.  Thats not entirely true.  I feel very much like myself when Im in the studio practicing asana with a group of students.  Thats where I feel fully present.  In the moment.  At ease.  Loving and loved.

Im very grateful, therefore, that in a few hours Ill be in the studio teaching my facilitated Yin workshop, Giving and Receiving.  Ive been looking forward to this workshop from the moment it was added to the Samyama schedule.

I am looking forward to it for all the right reasons.  Its another opportunity to share the benefits of a quiet and soulful practice.  Plus partnered yin – an offshoot of traditional yin practice that asks two individuals to work as one – builds on a foundation of open trust.  Melting into the asana with your partner’s support explores ideas of control and release, surrender and outcome.

Meanwhile, outside of the studio, I have a stranglehold on control and outcome.  Theres little room for surrender and release.  I am preparing to move into my new home and have a clear image in my mind of how this should unfold.  But the image in my mind – the story Im telling myself of how this should all happen – is not congruent with reality.  Im surrounded by what I believe is chaos. My soft edges have begun to harden into corners.  Ive lost my ability to roll.  Ive lost my practice.

It doesnt matter that the hurdles in front of me are joyful pursuits.  It doesnt matter that the end-result, when the chaos around me clears and the dust settles, will be a home of my own.

I am desperate to be finished so that I can return to being the woman who remembers that this mad pursuit is like running a race with ghosts.  These walls that I call mine, this carpet, that furniture – these are all ghosts that will one day crumble to dust.  Yet I am desperate for the illusion of warmth and safety to wrap itself around me. I am desperate to wake each morning with the man I love snoring beside me. Desperate for a fresh cup of coffee and the latest Economist on a quiet Sunday.  I am desperate and I am in this race so that I can have the story Ive told myself but there is no traction, my feet spin but I cannot move.

These cravings have filled the space once held by my practice.

Wanting to shape the future I see for myself is not a bad thing.  Locking in the trajectory of my future without accounting for all the variables that make life interesting is.  I want a home.  But if Im ever to find it I need to surrender.  I need to loosen the grip I have on the outcome I see in my minds eye.  I need to soften my hard edges and learn to roll.

Thai Me Up


Image via Wikipedia

I was reminded of my love for Thai Massage during Yin Teacher Training last August when Paul Grilley taught us The Stiff White Guy Routine – or what I prefer to call (after I stop laughing) “Assisted Yin.”

Assisted Yin is exactly that: one individual receives the Yin Yoga and the other provides it.  The receiver remains relaxed while the provider folds and holds the receiver’s body in classic Yin positions for up to five minutes.  This eliminates effort for the receiver and facilitates a deeper level of physical and emotional release.

Last Sunday I attended a workshop taught by Terri van de Sande from Esprit-de-Core, a lovely Pilates Studio in Los Altos (for locals it’s just behind Chef Chu’s).  Terri is a Pilates instructor and Thai Massage expert.  During the afternoon workshop we worked in teams while Terri introduced to us basic Thai Massage techniques.  I was looking for a few appropriate moves to add to the Assisted Yin treatment I offer clients.

Terri is a very generous therapist, and when she learned who I was and my reasons for being at the workshop (most of the other attendees appeared to be couples) she asked me to be her “demo body”.  Who was I to refuse a request like that?  By the end of the workshop and my stint on her futon I knew what I needed:  some non-clinical, hands-on, deep stretching, relaxing beyond belief bodywork.  Sooner rather than later.

And so, last night, I met Terri at Esprit-de-Core.  She set up her mat, asked me to lie down and put a pillow under my head.  I closed my eyes and handed my body over to her capable hands.

Thai Massage is practiced fully clothed.  More fluid than Assisted Yin, Terri pulled, held and dragged my body from one position to another for ninety minutes.  She drew me into backbends, forward bends and twists.   If Assisted Yin gives Yin Yoga to the receiver then Thai Massage, in its own way, offers a nuanced classic Yoga experience.   Most of the time I had my eyes closed and allowed the work to happen to me rather than feeling I had to actively help.

Any massage is, of course, physically therapeutic, but Terri’s energy tuned into my need to clear a little emotional baggage.  It wasn’t long before I released a few sighs and then a few silent tears.

I love Thai Massage.  Of all the massage techniques I’ve experienced, it remains a favorite.  But if you’re new to bodywork, or have never tried Thai, these tips may help:

  • Wear very loose, very comfortable clothes.
  • While the technique is practiced fully clothed, in many ways the work feels more intimate than classic massage in that the practitioner may need to place her hands and feet in unusual locations. For instance, to help stretch my shoulder, Terri put the heel of her foot in my armpit.  To work my hamstring, she “walked” her feet on the back of my thigh.
  • Be prepared to hand yourself over.  It’s important that you trust your therapist.  If you try to help while she positions your body you’ll lose some of the therapeutic benefits of the treatment.
  • Avoid eating a few hours prior to your Thai Massage.  You’ll feel better receiving the treatment on an empty stomach.
  • Drink plenty of water afterwards.

Dealing with Trauma

Last night I had dinner with friends.  One was recovering from a bad motorbike accident a few days earlier that left him bruised, with several broken bones. My friend was particularly agitated because he had only just begun a new fitness regimen – and now all that hard word would be lost.  He was in pain, frustrated, impatient and determined to heal.

We discussed his options.  He understands muscle ‘memory’ and is concerned that ‘memories’ of the accident will make it difficult to regain the strength and flexibility he had prior to the accident.  My friend isn’t certain what sort of physical therapy he’ll have – he’s still waiting to find out if he’s going to have to undergo surgery – but he’s anxious to do whatever he can to encourage healing.  He wondered if body therapy in the form of Rolfing might be of benefit.

I had two bits of contrary advice:

Rest. Give the body time to process. The physical trauma is recent – only days old – and the body is still trying to figure out what happened.  That’s true on an emotional level as well.  When trauma occurs we need time – at least seventy-two hours, longer depending on the injury – for our physical body and our spirit to process what has happened and how our life might change.

Keep moving. The longer he stays still, the more time his connective tissue has to tighten.  So move.  Even a little.  And as silly as it sounds, the more you move, the more you’ll move.  (If you want to know more about connective tissue and why we must include a flexibility practice in our fitness regime watch The Fuzz Speech.)

My third bit of advice falls between the first two:

Multi-task. I told my friend that as soon as he can climb on a table, to book a massage appointment.  A soothing massage will rest the nervous system and manipulate the muscle fibers – it will increase circulation and help break up forming adhesions and scar tissue.

And Rolfing?

Funny enough, when I woke up this morning I saw an article posted on Facebook by my friend and Rolfer Michael Murphy.  You can read the article here.  And you can meet Michael here.

One paragraph stood out:

In that regard, he said he viewed the treatment as an extension of practices like yoga, which also offers relief without drugs. “Yoga is in many ways analogous to Rolfing because it takes tendons and it stretches them into a position of discomfort,” Dr. Oz said. “They’re just doing it for you without your doing it yourself.”

So true!  Especially considering practices that include a Yin or Assisted Yin element. Assisted Yin combines yoga with massage.  Think slow motion Thai Massage.  The practitioner supports the client in Yin derived positions for up to five minutes.  The effect is a profound stretching of the connective tissue that breaks up scar tissue, dissolves adhesions and deeply soothes the nervous system.  The work can be challenging but is not painful.

Disclaimer:  I’ve never been Rolfed.  I don’t have an informed opinion.  My ideas regarding Rolfing are based on anecdotal evidence. I have, however, experienced the trauma of being thrown twenty feet off my bicycle by a moving vehicle.  Would I want to be Rolfed after that?  No thank you. Still, Rolfing appears to be an intensely powerful experience – one that I think I’d like to try.  But as far as my friend is concerned, my advice is for him to wait until his bones have healed and the bruising is gone.  The best thing he can do right now is practice gentle, mindful patience.