Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Healing Space: Where Do You Experience Your Joy?

Healing Space: Where Do You Experience Your Joy?: I taught one of my favorite Nia routines to some new students this past Friday morning. Two students had taken Nia classes before from other...

Where Do You Experience Your Joy?

I taught one of my favorite Nia routines to some new students this past Friday morning. Two students had taken Nia classes before from other teachers (in fact, one student WAS a teacher from out of state) and therefore knew what to expect. Another student (I’ll call her “Angie”) was new to Nia and, while she was an avid yoga practitioner, she was interested in experiencing being in her body from “the other end of the spectrum”, if you will. At the beginning of class I asked my students to focus on the transformational power of movement, to notice how they were feeling in their bodies at the beginning of class, to notice moments of ease (and even difficulty) during the class, and to check in with their bodies and emotions again at the end of class to notice if any shifts had occurred. And then we began the class.  As the class progressed, I kept noticing in the mirror that Angie was smiling. She literally smiled through the whole class! At the end of class, I checked in with the students to see if they had noticed any shifts and when I got to Angie, she began to cry and shared that she was feeling overcome with joy because she connected with her playful side in ways she hadn’t experienced since she was a child. I understood completely. The participants and I chatted about how little space we create for playfulness in adult life and how society frowns upon such "childish" behavior. Too bad. I have been pondering the following questions ever since that class:

Why do we adults blindly or unconsciously buy into the unspoken “rule” that pure joy and playfulness is childish? Isn’t that when we feel most alive and connected to ourselves and others? Why do we close ourselves off so much to our emotions as adults?

I believe that children can teach adults a thing or two about living. Children are rather honest about how they feel at any given time and, thus, live more honestly than many adults do. They hide very little. What a wonderful way of being! When we reach adulthood, we buy into this attitude that life is a burden that needs to be taken seriously. If we get angry, become hurt, feel fear or feel unsure, we believe we must detach from those feelings in order to hide perceived weaknesses and to just get through the day or a particular experience. The unintended fallout is that we also stifle our joy, an emotion that feeds our spirit and makes us feel complete. How unfortunate.

Our emotions are vehicles for information. We do not have to react to them, but we can use them to help inform/reflect how we move through our lives. We are living at a time when there is an immense amount of struggle. That is why, more than ever, it is important to connect with our feelings and lean into the joyful moments that occur in our lives. They are happening all of the time. They can show up as a wonderful conversation with a friend, lover, child, or even a stranger. They can show up in the lyrics or melody of a song. They can show up as a completed project that evokes pride, they can even show up when we’re not doing anything at all. Joy appears in myriad ways even when we don’t expect it.

Take some time this evening to ponder what brought you joy today. You might be surprised by where it has shown up.                            

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Healing Space: Nia: A Personal Account of Exploring Joyful Moveme...

Healing Space: Nia: A Personal Account of Exploring Joyful Moveme...: In 2004, a friend told me that she had begun attending Nia classes at a new Nia studio in Denver. I was delighted to hear that Nia had f...

Nia: A Personal Account of Exploring Joyful Movement through Exercise

In 2004, a friend told me that she had begun attending Nia classes at a new Nia studio in Denver.   I was delighted to hear that Nia had finally arrived in town but, admittedly, I felt apprehensive about taking a class.  I knew that Nia was more than just an exercise practice; it was a way to connect to one’s core and spirit.  What if I were unable connect with my “self”? (I actually thought this!) What if I were unable to do the steps perfectly? What if I embarrassed myself in front of the other people in the class???  After a year of extensive internal debate, I finally donned my “big girl pants” and attended a class. 

As I stood in the classroom waiting for the class to begin, I felt intrigued, nervous, a little scared and, yet, determined to enjoy my experience. Within the first ten minutes and with each successive step, I felt I was “coming home” to myself in a way that I had not realized that I had ignored.  The music was intoxicating and inspiring. The movements were playful and stimulating.  I released my inhibitions and dived into pure sensation.  I felt my body stretch, contract, spin, and open in ways it hadn’t in YEARS…I felt alive and free!  Toward the end of class, as I moved with my arms outstretched, chest open, and my face turned toward the sky, I heard this little voice in my head saying, “thank you.”   In that moment, I felt so overcome with joy and gratitude, I struggled to restrain tears.  I approached the instructor after the class concluded and thanked her for leading such a magical experience.  I then burst into tears, involuntarily, in front of her.  I felt embarrassed by my unintended outburst and I apologized for my weepiness.  The instructor smiled kindly at me and said, “I understand…I cried for four months when I first started taking Nia classes.” 

And thus began my love affair with Nia.

Nia was developed in 1983 by former high impact aerobics instructors, Debbie and Carlos Rosas.  They understood that their students wanted to participate in an exercise class that would challenge them to develop their flexibility, agility, mobility, stability and strength but also felt there was a way to exercise without risking unintended injury to the body. They also recognized that the body has its own sense of natural movement and that people like to move in ways that are enlivening.  As a result, they created this low impact movement modality to invite the student, in the words of Carlos, to “re-connect to passion, play, ease, and joy, and re-awaken something very powerful in us—whole-body dance movement.” 

Nia is about achieving and maintaining fitness through movement. More important, it is also about celebrating the joy of movement and all that it entails.  It includes creating a space in which to dance and move freely, setting an intention for what one would like to experience during the dance, creating an awareness of the how the music and movement feel in the body, and liberating ourselves to move without self-conscious restraint, both with choreography and without.  How beautiful is that???

As Nia has evolved, Debbie and Carlos have incorporated various dance styles (Modern, Jazz, Duncan dance and Ethnic) with Martial Arts (Tai Chi, Aikido, and Tae Kwon Do) and the Healing Arts (Yoga, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method) to create an original exercise modality that is healing to the body, mind and spirit.  Additionally, Nia was created to be accessible to women and men of all ages, abilities, skill levels, and body types.  It is even a perfect modality for people recovering from injuries and illness.        

Nia, for me, is more than an exercise practice; Nia is a means of self-centering, focusing, and listening deeply to what my body needs in the moment.  If I feel I want or need to dance intensely or gently, I do.  If there is a movement that does not feel right in my body, I modify the movement until it does feel right.  Nia helps me to tap into my creativity because, while the classes are presented by an instructor, I can incorporate my own “flavor” of movement into the routine to make the dance my own.  I can also use Nia to explore states of being that we all possess; happy, light, heavy, tense, at ease, sensual, aggressive, introspective, and so much more.

As we move through our adulthood lives, we are often tasked with tending to external responsibilities that can overwhelm and numb us to who we are at our core.  Activities that ignite our passion, joy, and honor our authentic selves are often sidelined because we have children to care for, bills to pay, jobs to maintain…  Nia helps us to remember that we matter and that those little  personality nuances are what make us unique.  I invite you to experience a Nia class for yourself; you will be delighted by what you find. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How To Find A Massage Therapist

Many clients say that finding a massage therapist is quite arduous. I agree. In fact, the process can be downright frustrating if you are looking for work that goes beyond traditional Swedish massage. Some massage businesses create confusion because they offer a wide variety of services but might not have the massage therapists available to implement those services. For example, some businesses may advertise that they offer deep tissue, prenatal work or some other type of massage when, in fact, the massage practitioner they assign to work on the client may only be able to (or trained to) give a Swedish massage.  There is also an inaccurate assumption among many consumers that massage only exists in the form of relaxing spa work. There is no fool proof way of finding the best massage therapist to work with but there are steps you can take that will lead you in the right direction if you are willing to do a little research. 

1.      What type of massage work do you like/want to receive?

People receiving a massage for the first time and people who receive massage more regularly tend to consider whether they want to receive lighter, relaxing work or deeper, more therapeutic work. Lighter, more relaxing work is much easier to find because it is readily available at spas as well as in private massage studios. Deeper, therapeutic work is also offered at many spas and at many places but depth of pressure will vary among practitioners. If you know what depth of pressure is most comfortable and effective for you, feel free to communicate that to your therapist.    

2.      What type of massage work do you need?

If you have an issue that requires a specific style of work and want the best results, seek businesses and practitioners with specialties in those areas of focus. A person’s need can change according to how he or she feels in that moment as well as by circumstances. It is okay to work with several massage therapists that can meet each particular need as those needs arise. For example, there are businesses and practitioners that specialize in Sports massage, Aromatherapy, Maya Abdominal Massage, Lymphatic Drainage, Peri Operative Massage, Prenatal/Post Partum Massage, Thai Massage, Normalization of Soft Tissue, Orthopedic Massage…the list goes on. If you have a strained muscle in your back, you will receive the most relief from a practitioner who is trained in and understands deep tissue work and how to normalize soft tissue. You will be much less likely to receive the results you want from a Swedish massage because the focus of a Swedish massage is different. Likewise, If you want a little TLC, a practitioner who only offers deep tissue work may not be the best fit in that moment. If your “go to” massage therapist unable to meet a need that you have, find someone who can.       

3.      How do you find a massage therapist?

The most popular way clients find massage therapists is through the recommendations of friends and acquaintances. Massage involves a level of vulnerability that few other industries require. Thus, attaining a reference from someone known and trusted is often reassuring. 

Additionally, the American Massage Therapy Association is the best known national professional organization dedicated to promoting the massage industry. AMTA has a website, www.amta.org, containing a massage therapist locator web page called Find A Therapist. Massage therapists listed on that page are all affiliated with AMTA and have completed training from accredited massage schools throughout the country. The massage therapists identified on AMTA’s Find A Therapist web page will have all of their business information included on that site and, because many therapists have websites of their own, you will be able to attain more information about what they do and get a better idea regarding their approach to massage.

Primary care and alternative care professionals are also good resources for referrals because, in many cases, they have worked with the massage therapist they are recommending, either through other client referrals or by personal experience.

Whether you are referred to a massage therapist or find a therapist on the internet, feel free to call that therapist to ask questions. Find out more about what he/she does, how he/she approaches his/her practice, the massage school attended, number of years in practice, post graduate certifications and any other pieces of information you want to know. You will be able to learn a lot about the therapist’s level of professionalism and experience, enthusiasm for his/her practice, knowledge about modalities advertised, and whether you would like to work with him or her.     

4.      How do you feel about your massage therapist?

Few massage therapists talk about this important point but it needs to be addressed. Find a practitioner that you like and feel comfortable with; it is important to be open with the person who is working with you. The more you are able to share about what you are dealing with, the better able the therapist will be in addressing your needs. I have often modified my course of treatment to accommodate the needs of my clients who have undergone surgeries, recovering from injuries (both immediate and past), illnesses, and even some emotional difficulties. And, if I am unable to address a need adequately, I have a referral list of professionals whose work I respect that are well qualified to meet those needs.      

5.      How comfortable are you with the practitioner’s touch and tone of the session?

 You are seeking massage in order to take care of yourself. Expressing your needs is an important aspect of taking care of yourself. If you are working with a practitioner who does not respect your needs, it is time to look for a new therapist.

There are a lot of talented massage therapists out there and many different approaches to massage work. No two massage therapists address their work in the same way. However, when you are clear about what you want, need, and are looking for in a massage therapist, the easier it will be for you to find the best therapist for you!    

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Psoas Says, "Work Me!"

Many clients seek bodywork to relieve lower back pain and, oftentimes, the therapist they visit responds by focusing directly on their backs. Makes sense, right? However, the muscles located on the back are not the only muscles that help to maintain lower back function. The result is that some clients do not receive the desired relief from their pain. The psoas is a low back muscle that is often overlooked but requires attention, nonetheless, if a client is to receive complete care for back pain. The following is a brief "lay man's" discussion of the muscle's location, function and symptoms when the muscle is tight so you, the consumer, can play a more informed role regarding your own care.

The psoas, is a long, thick muscle located directly on the anterior (front) sides of the spinal column and can only be accessed by pressing into the mid to low abdomen on either side of the navel. It attaches at the T-12 vertebrae, is connected to the subsequent descending vertebrae leading into the pelvis where it blends with the illiacus (a flat muscle located on the inside of the pelvis), then extends over either side of the pubic bone and then inserts on the medial sides of the lesser trochanters. The psoas primarily activates when you walk. It also helps to stabilize and balance your torso and abdomen when you are sitting, and it helps to support the lower spine and the pelvis. When this muscle gets tight, it pulls at, and compromises the integrity of the bones, muscles, and associated vertebral bodies to which it is attached, creating dysfunction that can result in pain along the front side of the legs, and in the lower back. It can also result in simulated sciatic pain, scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis, and even menstrual pain, to name a few issues. This may be more information than you want or need to know but it is important to know where the muscle is, what it does, and what problems can arise in order to better understand what is happening in your body.

Treatment of the psoas can be a bit uncomfortable because it requires working past the organs in front of the muscle and applying direct pressure to the muscle itself. Additionally, clients sometimes feel understandably vulnerable in regard to having their bellies exposed and massaged. However, from personal experience (both as a client and as a practitioner) the relief received is well worth the few minutes of discomfort. If you are concerned about the discomfort you might experience, remember that you can ask the therapist to modify the pressure according to your comfort level. If the discomfort feels good, breathe deeply and enjoy the feeling of the muscle as it releases. If the discomfort feels bad and you find yourself tensing up, ask your practitioner to reduce the pressure. Yes, you have the right to request and expect a depth of pressure that you are comfortable with.

While lower back pain can manifest in various ways, from mild discomfort to debilitating pain, psoas work can reduce back pain and support back health. If you do not feel relief after receiving a few massage session, express your concerns with your practitioner and consider exploring additional avenues to treat your issue. Moreover, if you have a disc displacement, rheumatoid arthritis in your lower back, or another medical condition that is affecting your back pain, consult your physician before receiving massage treatment.    

Monday, June 6, 2011

Massage: A Gift of Balance Through Touch

Our society embraces the thought of "do more, go faster, push harder..." Ironically, the ways in which we relax often reflect this same belief. Many people find centering and relaxation in activities like running laps, biking for miles, or pumping iron. All of these activities are beneficial, yet active. Unfortunately, little value is placed on the type of balance that is achieved through stillness and complete relaxation. I invite you to consider and experience balance and true relaxation through receiving a massage. Massage is a healing activity that improves our well being physically, mentally, and emotionally. It also gives us permission to take a much needed break in order to receive the care we deserve.

As we move through our busy lives, we can become accustomed to feeling disharmony in our muscles due to repetitive use of muscle groups. In fact, we can become so accustomed to the disharmony that we do not recognize that parts of our bodies are out of balance until we feel discernible pain. Stress is another symptom of disharmony in the body that people often overlook. Stress can trigger many issues that include muscle tightness, agitation, insomnia, and inability to focus. Stress can also lead to physical conditions like hypertension and depression and can be linked to outcomes like cancer and stroke.

Massage offers myriad benefits on multiple levels. It helps to relax muscle tissue, beyond what can be achieved with stretching after a workout. It can heal and re-invigorate the muscles so that the muscle group can continue to be worked at a reduced risk of injury. Massage increases the circulation of blood, nutrients, and oxygen through the body which helps to improve and maintain muscle health and support proper immune system function. Incidentally, because massage increases circulation, it can be ideal for individuals who are recovering from injury, illness, and surgery. Massage positively affects chemical levels in the body. For example, it naturally raises serotonin and endorphin levels; increased serotonin levels help to enhance a positive mood and increased endorphins help to reduce the perception of pain. Massage also lowers levels of stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol. These hormone shifts are, in part, why people often feel varying levels of happiness and euphoria after receiving bodywork.

Studies have proven that massage provides great benefit to many different communities of people. For example, massage helps babies, both healthy and premature, to grow and thrive faster. Massage helps pregnant women to feel more comfortable as their pregnancies progress and to deliver their babies more effectively and with less pain. Massage is fabulous for people who suffer from eating disorders because touch helps them to accept their bodies as they are, more readily. Massage is valuable for HIV and AIDS patients because it helps to reduce pain, nausea from taking medications, and feelings of isolation. Massage is wonderful for the geriatric community as well because, in addition to it helping to ease aches and pains, massage provides them with much needed connection and interaction. Even 15 minute chair massage offered in the work place lowers the number of sick days taken by employees and raises worker productivity during the work week.

Massage is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. More important, massage requires that we do little more than show up. Giving ourselves permission to receive completely can be extremely challenging, especially in a tight economy; how can we be "deserving" of something so "self-indulgent?" However, we can only be the most productive and give the best of ourselves to others when we have really cared for ourselves.