Thai Me Up

Thaimassage2

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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.



Be Still My Beating Heart

While 90-year-old Reva is off gallivanting in Maui I’m back in Palo Alto, taking care of her overweight and tragically arthritic cat Koko.  Still, I have good news.  My life is officially more exciting than anything I can find on basic cable.  Comcast?  You’ll be getting a call from me today, and you’re not going to like it.

The bad news?  I’ve got some whacked out Vata imbalance.  At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Case in point: At 9:30 last night, after teaching seventy-five minutes of Yin in a darkened room, I walked into my local Whole Foods, grabbed a guy with a beard down to his belt line, held him up against a wall by his cute little green Whole Foods apron and said with clenched teeth, “Need Kava Kavanow”.

In addition, as I type it is three o’ clock in the morning.  Yep.  Three in the bloody morning and what am I doing?  I’m writing a blog post.  For someone who would, under normal circumstances, sleep through the Second Coming – something’s up.

I am not an expert on Ayervedic medicine, but I know enough to know my Dosha.  It is predominately Pitta, leaning toward Kapha. Fiery with a smattering of easy-going Sloth-dom.  But Vata, at her worst, is all air tossed chaos.

Two weeks ago, when my appetite disappeared, I thought it was a fluke.  It happens to me from time to time. The last time being 1977.  I thought I was lucky – I’d finally lose the ten-pound “writer’s spread” I gained over the past year.

But then a few curious, totally un-Mimm like symptoms arose.  For instance, a total disinterest in television.  I couldn’t care less what intriguing case Dr. Gregory House has to solve.  It’s probably lupus anyway.  What about Meredith Grey and her Alzheimer’s study?  Not interested.  And while I’m vaguely interested in discovering if Lauren Graham’s character on Parenthood finds true love, it’s not enough to make me want to wrestle the remote from Koko’s snarled paws (Koko has a lot of time on her hands.  I think she watches Law and Order Marathons while I’m at work. I prefer hospital dramas.  I could say “myocardial infarction” by the time I was five.  Give me an ER Marathon – the early seasons with George Clooney – and I’m in).

Television has been my comfort box since I was three years old.  Right there with a heaping bowl of cheesy instant mashed potatoes. If I’m turning my nose up to both – something’s not right.

But there’s more.  Did I mention the racing heart?  The full on shaking crazies that yesterday turned what was supposed to be a gentle class for my chronic pain group into Yoga Bootcamp?  And this is without caffeine.  Because I lost my taste for coffee about six weeks ago.

Yoga Bootcamp?  Seriously?  From Yin-some Mimm?

On their own the physical symptoms might be enough for one to want to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. Feeling as if I’ve just mainlined four Starbucks Venties while trying to teach a Yin class is uncomfortable at best.  But I’ve had some changes in my life that may account for how I feel.  The first is I’ve dramatically increased my cardiovascular exercise.  I went from – uh – no cardiovascular exercise to hitting the elliptical four to five times per week for an hour each time.  That will increase my energy and metabolism, and may account for my decreased appetite.

And then there’s the whole Reiki thing.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a Reiki Master.  Yeah, I know.  You wouldn’t really guess that by looking at me.  The thing is, except for a single hour of practice last August during Yin Teacher Training, I hadn’t accessed the energy in years.  Thought maybe it was a lot of patoohey.  Ok.  I’m telling a lie.  The truth is, I think I was afraid of Reiki.  Practicing Reiki meant having to access a basic truth about myself that perhaps I was trying to avoid.  (What truth?  Sorry, that’s between me an my therapist.*) For some reason, however, over the past few weeks, I’ve explored Reiki’s possibilities.  Recharged my Reiki batteries.  And I’ve been working with the energy for myself and for a number of friends who are struggling.

The result? I feel as if the Berlin Wall wrapped around my heart for the past thirty years has been torn down.

Is that why I feel as if I’m vibrating?  Why I’m experiencing every waking moment as this freakishly intense burst of energy?  Why I can’t sleep or eat and why those cute little Glee kids have lost their Gleeky hold on me?

I like to believe that these changes are the result of positive choices I’ve made.  The work I’m doing on myself physically and spiritually.  If the alternative is that I’ve entered another new and…ahem…delightful phase on my way to becoming a Crone – that is, if it’s all a cruel menopausal joke – a simple case of haywired hormones running amok or – even worse – all in my head – then maybe I won’t be giving Comcast a call after all.

Well.  That little clock on the right hand side of the screen says it’s 3:55 AM.   Time to tuck the laptop back under the bed, roll over and let the dulcet tones of my pounding heart lull me back to a fitful sleep.

*Here’s the truth:  I feel as though I’m operating on a different level of energy – that somehow, finally, I’ve found the portal to my authentic self and that I really am this kind and this good and this gentle.

*And deserving.


Follow Up: The Menopause Report

The truth? There’s nothing to report.  A few posts back I was in a bad way.  The hormones were taking me for a mad ride and I didn’t know which way to turn.  But then, in a rare, bright, lucid moment, I decided on a three-pronged attack:  acupuncture, exercise and massage.

The good news?

It worked.  I’m back to my normal, well-balanced, chronically optimistic self.  It’s a great feeling.

Was there one therapy that seemed most effective, or did they work symbiotically?

The acupuncture in combination with the herbs my acupuncturist prescribed and increased cardiovascular exercise were great co-captains.  Body therapy in the form of a few Rolfing sessions and one perfect chair massage became important team players and helped to reduce stress.  I also improved my diet by reducing sugar, caffeine and alcohol in favor of whole grains, fish and vegetables.

My advice?

I wish there was an easy answer that didn’t involve manipulating our body chemistry with Big Pharma.  But the bottom line is, we’re all different.  As we go through this transition the most important thing we can do is stay in touch – with our bodies, our emotions and with each other.  For every woman who claims she “sailed through” menopause there will be one who believes she is lost and alone.  In my case, I felt silly admitting how bad I was feeling.  I’m a yoga teacher.  Shouldn’t I be the poster child for well-balanced good health?  Once I realized that even yoga teachers lose their equilibrium from time to time I became proactive and sought advice from friends and medical professionals.

Be Practical

Acupuncture and massage can stretch the pocketbook but a brisk walk around the block is free.  My symptoms – the raging mood swings and the frightening emotional plummets scared me into taking action.  But I had the time and the freedom to explore options.  I asked for advice and then chose the approach.

Exercise is easy; looking at what you’re eating and then making subtle dietary changes towards wholesome, living food is doable.  We should all be exercising and eating well whether we’re moving toward menopause or not.

But as a peri-menopausal woman, deciding if our symptoms are severe enough to require ‘chemical intervention’ – whether it’s in the form of Chinese herbs or artificial hormones – is difficult.  I must admit to feelings of failure when I finally admitted I couldn’t navigate this passage on my own.  But those feelings disappeared the moment I began to feel better (which was almost immediate following the first acupuncture treatment and the start of the herbs).

The bottom line is, we want to feel our best – for ourselves and for the friends and family we love. I’ve chosen a path that has put me back in touch with the person I’ve always been inside.  What solutions have you tried for relief of symptoms associated with menopause?


The Fat Content of a Fifty-Two Year Old Woman and other News

It's corny, but in 2011 I 'heart' ME!

I know. Why do I need to spend money on a health club membership when all I really need to do is strap on a pair of sneakers and head for the great outdoors?  Except that really isn’t my thing.  I enjoy nature’s wondrous beauty standing still, not riding a bike over the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Instead, I crave stats.  I need to know calorie counts, miles tread, a hill’s gradient.  I need an elliptical.  And so, today, I returned to the place I forgot I loved.  The gym.  I confess.  I was nervous. I knew my fitness assessment was not going to go well.  And here’s the bad news:  thirty-two percent of me is fat.

But there’s good news, too.  My fitness level tests in the ‘good’ range for a woman my age.  Barely.  In other words, I can hit my maximum heart rate and still carry on a conversation, but I can only do two and half push-ups.  My flexibility is good (it better be) but I have postural imbalances that need to be corrected.

What went wrong?  Simple – like many of us, I stopped paying attention. I stopped packing healthy lunches and began grazing at the local Whole Foods.  And just because the food is from Whole Foods doesn’t mean it’s wholesome.  The hot bar has plenty of empty, fatty calories to choose from.  And I convinced myself yoga was enough.

And how can I fix it?  Easy. Mindfulness. Now where have I heard that word before…

I believe in Yoga.  I know it has helped my bone density, kept me as flexible as women half my age and helped me to manage stress levels.  But the style of yoga I love and the one that contributes most to my physical and mental health does not, unfortunately, contribute to cardiovascular health.  To do that, statistics vary, but most suggest thirty minutes of vigorous exercise five days per week.  In other words – I need to balance my Yin and Yang.  I need to regain some equilibrium.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I have a silly wish.  I’ve always wanted a lean, muscular body that shouts HEALTH.  It’s not about narcissism – it’s about how being fit makes me feel.  Which is fantastic.  Unstoppable. Confident.  Once – for a few years – I managed to maintain a decent enough fitness level to run 10-K’s on a regular basis. And to have been there and lost it is incredibly frustrating – especially since being physically fit is one of the best feelings in the world.

So I think I’m on the verge of doing something a bit crazy.  The trainer who conducted my fitness assessment today was good.  And I know enough about the body to know who’s good and who isn’t.  I want him to be my personal trainer.  How can I afford it?  I’ll cancel Comcast.  Or something.  I’ll figure it out.

The thing is, I’m tired of talking myself out of life.  Saying ‘no’ to the things I want because as long as bad things happen in the world I don’t deserve good things in mine.

Today the hosts of this blog, WordPress, suggested we write about our personal highlight of 2010. But how can I compare witnessing a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, or seeing my mother for the first time in twenty-eight years to joining a gym?  Yet making this commitment to myself – basically admitting that I am worth the effort – will impact my life more.  After all, I’ve heard it said you can’t love another until you love yourself.  Maybe it’s finally time for me to embrace that idea.

And now I have to ask.  What are you saying ‘no’ to? What’s your silly wish?


Peri-menopause is Not for the Faint of Heart

Looking back, I showed considerable restraint.

“Why don’t you just go to a doctor and get a pill?”

This coming from a man who has never been and is never going to be the poster child for good health.  Besides, what does a man know about it anyway?

Some women flush, some sweat.  Others deal with insomnia while some unfortunate souls juggle all three with swinging moods thrown in for good measure.  For me, peri-menopause – otherwise known as the “Transition” seems to be all about my mood.

Life was so simple just a few short years ago.  How I long for the time when I enjoyed seven simple days of general malaise followed by my flow – and the wonderfully manic high that followed as my hormones swung in the opposite direction.

But my formerly light yet lengthy pre-menstrual tension had, over the past twelve months, boiled itself down like an over-reduced sauce to forty-eight hours of mournful hell.   Seriously. You really did not want to be a bicyclist running a stop sign during those two days if I was on the road.

Yet my body had one more trick up its sleeve.  Just as I was growing accustomed to Mimm’s Evil Twin making an appearance every thirty-days she was traded in for a hormone storm of such ferocity that I could not fathom there would ever be an end.  I fell into Alice’s dark rabbit hole.  I fell and fell for days until a breakdown during my writer’s group (we’re talking mild hysteria, twitches and unstoppable tears) made it clear to me I needed help.  I was losing my peri-menopausal mind, and I wanted to find it again.

This is usually the moment when one of my wonderful, older clients chimes in with, Menopause?  I sailed right through menopause.  Don’t even remember it.” Of course she doesn’t remember.  It was thirty years ago.  While she was peri-menopausal, the rest of the world was watching Dallas and trying to figure out who shot J.R.!

I guess the truth is, some women do ‘sail through’.  But not me.  It’s embarrassing.  I’m a yoga teacher, for Pete’s sake.  Things like a few hormone fluctuations shouldn’t bother me.  I wish. Even though I have a reasonable diet and a daily yoga practice I know that it will take more to manage my symptoms.  But hormone replacement therapy is a last resort.  For now, I have a three-point plan of attack:  acupuncture with Chinese herb chasers, Rolfing and, of course, Yoga.

I have another ten days before my hormones take a swing toward the dark side and so it is too soon to know if my complementary approach is useful.  I can tell you that, for now, the black mood is gone.  This post is proof that I’m writing again – I’m functioning.  But will I crumble again on December 20th?  I’m not planning on it, but the truth is I just don’t know.

 

And now, the disclaimer.  I’m single and childless and can indulge my whims.  If you’re suffering – see a doctor.

 

 


Adventures in Rolfing

Time to man up.  Today is the day. Two hours from now I’ll be in Michael Murphy’s Los Altos office for my date with destiny. I based my thoughts on Rolfing in the post Healing Trauma on reports I’d read and anecdotal evidence.  Is that any way to write an informed blog?  Until today the closest I’ve come to being Rolfed has been watching this man play this instrument on television.

Kidding aside, I don’t know what to expect, and I’m more than a little nervous.

Twelve Hours Later

Here’s what I now know about Rolfing.

  • Each therapist is different.  Some keep the traditional “you must have ten treatments to be fully integrated” and some, like Michael, take the “two visits or ten, it’s done when it’s done” organic approach.  Veering from tradition does not concern me.  The Reiki technique I use no longer follows the traditional hand positions of my Usui lineage.  And my yoga teaching has certainly moved away from the strict alignment model I once adhered to.
  • It is not painful unless you want it to be.  We focused today’s treatment on two issues – the discomfort in my arms due to compressed nerves in my neck and a recent knee injury.  Sure, sometimes Michael manipulated areas with a firm pressure that was less than pleasant, but neither was it painful.  Strong, sharp or tender?  Maybe.  But not painful.
  • Rolfing may not be for the modest.  The session began with a postural assessment.  This involved a visual analysis of my spine and pelvis while I stood in my underwear. But Rolfers see plenty of bodies – I felt completely comfortable – this was no big deal.  It was made clear that I was the boss.  Besides, an experienced practitioner can make an assessment quickly.  In the future, though, I may try to get away with a sports bra and shorts.

What Does Rolfing Feel Like?

Michael did not use oils or creams.   There are no long, sweeping strokes.  Rolfing is more an intense and precise manipulation of the connective tissue.  There was pressing, squeezing, pushing and pulling, but no effleurage or petrissage.

How Did I Feel After the Treatment?

Alive.  I was surprised to feel a post-massage glow that is typical of more mellow treatments.  Rolfing is meant to structurally integrate the body and the spirit.  I’ll be the first to confess there is a gaping disconnect between my spiritual self and the Mimm I present to the world.  I’m guessing my spiritual side was happy to be out in the sunshine for a few hours.

How Do I Feel Now?

Tired.  Maybe a little achy.  It’s early on a Saturday night – not even half past nine – and yet I’ll be in bed as soon as this is posted.

Will I Do it Again?

Yes.  Absolutely.  Rolfing has a remarkable effect on the body.  And maybe – just maybe – it will have a remarkable effect on my spirit, too.  I’m off to bed – it’s been a big day.  A new day.


Pain is a Squeaky Wheel

As I was leading my Tuesday evening class towards Savasana I had a brilliant flash of unoriginal thought:  Pain is a spoiled brat – a squeaky wheel that rattles and drags and pokes until it has taken over. It’s the child constantly tugging at our shirt tails – distracting us and pulling us away from our authentic selves. Yep.  Pain – physical or emotional – is a brat.  It always wants to be the center of attention.

And there we are, giving pain permission to tap dance across our shoulders, pound on our lower back or punch it’s way through our digestive system. How can we say ‘no’?  After all, it’s always there – always shouting – always demanding attention.   (And I guess this is where I should clarify – I’m not talking about the pain of illness, symptoms of disease or broken limbs – anything that means a visit to our primary care physician or – God forbid – emergency room.)

Pain loves being center stage.  But I believe, within us all, there’s peace waiting in the wings. I believe that there is a place in our body that is tranquil and quiet.  Calm.  It makes no noise – it doesn’t squeak or make a show of itself like pain does.  Sadly, while we’re giving all our attention to pain, we turn our back on calm. If pain is the toddler tugging at our shirt tails then calm is the quiet child we forget exists.

We need to listen.  Not to the squeaky wheel – at least not all the time – but to the silence.

Let’s find some time this week for stillness – to find the place within that holds our ability to be centered, calm and tranquil. Let’s breathe in peace and create the clarity and balance we crave.

Everyone is different, but this is what works for me:

  • My place of calm is my solar plexus, the hollow just below my breastbone.
  • When I imagine my breath moving into that space – my heart center – perspective returns.
  • To see the breath moving more clearly I’ve given it a color (yellow).
  • As I breathe I visualize calm filling my entire body until there is no room for discomfort or anxiety.
  • Finally, I see my breath, in my mind’s eye, moving outside my body, wrapping around me like an aura, protecting me.