Savasana for Beginners

What could possibly be so difficult about savasana (corpse pose)? Physically, it’s about the easiest position to get one’s body into. All you have to do is lay down on your back and decide whether or not you need a lift under your head or knees to ease any low back or shoulder pain.

For most beginning yogis, everything seems backwards when you are upside down, and it’s tough to decipher right from left. This is sort of the brilliance of yoga, it distracts your mind with the details of the body. Forced to investigate a sensation or movement within the confines of a few breaths can be all consuming, and It confuses you into complete presence of the moment. Whatever you were doing before you began your yoga practice, is nowhere to be found in your mind. That is, if you set yourself up well for the experience.

Going through the motions of asana when you have distractions close by, will usually end in a shortened practice or one that leaves you unsettled and anxious to get on with your day.

Creating adequate space in your day is the key to a yoga flow uninterrupted by the mind. I find my practice is best before my day begins, (and my day is best when it begins with yoga). When I come to my mat, I always begin by chanting OM three times. For me, this signifies that something deeper is about to take place, it warms up my diaphragm and creates space for deeper breath, which steadies me to begin.

Throughout my practice, I am observing my mind, my breath, my body sensations. If I don’t task my mind with these observations, I could easily stop to water the plants, check my email, attend to that thing that I just suddenly remembered I forgot… ‘Cause as soon as you begin to turn the volume of life down, you remember the things that you forgot.

This is why it’s called “practice”. Because we are never going to get it right, this is a lifetime journey. In order to actually turn down the volume, you must practice turning down the volume. The initial question: Why is savasana So. Damn. Hard? Because we have no experience with turning down the volume. Most of us can do ON or OFF, but to lay still idling? That’s a skill.

To get more out of savasana, first it’s good to know that without rest, your body cannot heal. Healing refers not only to physical injury/pain, but emotional unease, hormonal imbalance, digestive issues, anxiety… You name it. The body needs stillness and silence to recuperate. This is not the same as sleep, (a topic that deserves a separate post), also chances are if your are experiencing something you need to heal from, you probably aren’t sleeping all that well.

Through the yoga practice, you are already setting yourself up to be able to slow down. You are giving your mind stimulation and learning that is fully from the body; the place you are disconnected from in your day and work. For the first while, your mind will pipe up as soon as your body is quiet because, that has been its role. With practice, your mind will slip into a place of waking dreams during savasana. That place where you are hovering between a conscious and unconscious state. Where you are dreaming, but you can hear everything going on around you. This is the place where the greatest rest and healing occur. It feels a bit like magic (and happens all too rarely).

Keep at it. The learning is huge. You’ll see.

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Not completely unrelated: I had a epiphany while writing this. I had more to say than I thought, and it took some time to compose. I got hungry!
I paused to put together a plate of garlic stuffed olives, cheese, peppers and crackers. I wanted so badly to shove a few olives in my mouth while I prepped the plate, but talked myself out of it so I could fully enjoy the spread as a whole.
As I fished the olives out of the jar, I began to salivate PROFUSELY. Then I flashed back to my physiology studies where I learned that digestion begins in the mouth (with salivation). Had I have immediately gulped down the olives, I would not have salivated. The process of digestion would have had to correct itself down the line because I missed the salivation step.
Hm.
That is all.
I will leave this analogy here for you to run wild with 😉

Therapeutic Yoga

There are three types of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies: Physical, chemical and emotional. How does yoga actually work in reducing the effects of these stresses?

Although the method of each type of stress varies greatly, the impact on the body’s chemistry is the same. A physical injury, chemical reaction to food or drug, and emotional challenge all cause chemical changes within the body as it strives to repair damaged structures and return to balance. When the body is under constant stress (any of the three types), our immune response can become overworked, confused, and ineffective.

Your body has a way of maintaining balance under normal circumstances, and excessive stress can upset the controls of this balance resulting in pain, digestive issues, mood swings, fatigue etc.
Yoga, believe it or not, is actually stressful for the body – in a good way. We’ve all heard of good stress but what exactly does that mean?

Yoga challenges both the body and the mind by putting you in uncomfortable body positions, stimulating mental activity that can show up as elation, frustration, curiosity and maybe even provoke feelings of sadness or anger. While this emotional event is taking place, your body is responding by releasing a flood of hormones and chemicals that are part of the fight or flight response. The goal is to restore balance to our body’s physical, emotional and chemical state. For most of us, the fight or flight response can not discriminate between a real threat or a perceived one, and our body responds too strongly to small stimulus which eventually leads to burnout.

In a yoga class when you are holding a long pose and your muscles begin to shake and burn, your heart rate increases and you might even begin to panic (while your brain screams profanity at the instructor). This intentionally induces a stress response in a controlled environment and you are actually learning on a cellular level, that the stress and panic are not life threatening. Over time, your nervous system learns to discern the difference between major and minor stress and deploys the appropriate response. It’s no secret that those who practice yoga regularly are less affected by the small stresses, and the reason is in your body’s chemical response. Yoga retrains your response to stress.

Some of the wonderful side-effects of yoga include increased strength & flexibility, decreased physical and emotional pain, a stronger immune system and a more balanced nervous system.

Is it normal to be sore after a massage?

Even though you are passive during a massage, the muscles are being stimulated in a way that is similar to a workout; cycling through a repeating pattern of stretch-contract. This creates micro tears in the muscle, increases blood flow and eventually results in inflammation. The inflammation is what causes the soreness and is also what promotes healing. So, yes it is completely normal to feel some soreness following a massage.

Just as soreness lessens as you become more efficient with a specific exercise, soreness also decreases with repeated massage; the body builds a tolerance to the level of intensity. Increase the intensity, and the sensation will follow suit.

This does NOT mean “no pain, no gain”. While there is a certain level of soreness that is therapeutic, not all post massage pain is good. There are situations where there is already an ample supply of inflammation around an injured area and aggressive massage can slow down or even reverse the body’s natural healing.

The harder your knots are, the more time we need to knead them out. It’s a bit like buttering fresh bread… You cannot spread cold, hard butter over the bread in a hurry without destroying the bread. You have to let the butter warm up and soften in order to get a good result. A little skill and patience can go a long way!

A recent tightness may be well addressed in 60 minutes, where an old pain may take several consecutive visits (and some home exercises) to see results.

What is Thai Massage

There is something deeply relaxing about being on the floor. It seems as though the support and firmness of the floor allow for the body to yield more fully to gravity, encouraging a much longer and deeper breath which, in turn allows muscular tension to dissipate. 

Thai massage differs from regular massage in that no oils or lotions are used, it is done fully clothed, on floor mats. Your body is moved and stretched while being massaged. Some of the many benefits include:

Enhanced Energy Flow: Thai massage works off the belief that tightened muscles lead to the diminished flow of energy in your body. When energy can’t flow freely, you become tired, suffer pain and feel stiff. Clients report a stronger sense of vitality following a Thai massage.

Pain Relief: Studies suggest that the movement involved in Thai massage provides longer lasting effects on painful physical conditions such as low back pain. This is likely due to the full body nature of Thai massage, where stretch is delivered to all the muscles that contribute to the pain restoring balance. Thai focuses a great deal on the legs and feet (areas often underappreciated), resulting in a feeling of lightness and easy movement.

Stress Reduction: At first glance, Thai massage appears to be a lot of work because you are not lying still. However, when you are able to let go and allow your body to be moved passively, the rhythmic motion of Thai massage has a way of lulling your nervous system into a deep state of ease.

Christine came to thai massage accidentally while attending a yoga workshop in 2002. The experience inspired her instantly to explore the modality further and shortly after, she completed her thai massage training. Christine worked for 10 years doing thai massage exclusively before becoming an RMT.

*thai massage is covered by your benefits, just as a regular massage is.

Curious about which style is right for you today?

Thai massage is great (but not exclusively) for inactive bodies and active minds. It is an effective way to energize a sluggish system, calm an agitated mind and begin the process of repair to stressed immune cells. Because thai massage is always full body (with a lot of focus on the lower back and legs), it is a great remedy for lower back pain.

Yoga Teacher Training Manual

In 1999 I began an epic yoga journey. I call it epic because it’s the only thing that has been consistent in my life for that long. I began practicing 6 days/week within the first month of my first class. Everything in my life changed in order to make space for my time in the studio. It’s still difficult to explain why. I can come close by saying that somehow the practice facilitated an improved management of my life choices. I was so desperate for everyone to feel the same empowerment, that I enrolled in teacher training and began teaching shortly after my first year of practice.

My first teacher training was 2 years long. I took a month long intensive on the heels of that certificate, and then a few years later, enrolled in a yoga mentorship program. Each program and instructor offered a different view of the practice, and enhanced my understanding. Thirteen years into my yoga journey, I began writing a teacher training program. Drawing from my experience of Anatomy and physiology to make a key distinction between the motions of yoga and the benefits of an informed practice. Extracting the most enriching aspects of my training, practice and teaching, it took a year to write.

I taught the program for several years, and each time was challenged further by the inquisitiveness of the students.

In the summer of 2016 I retired from teaching to focus solely on my massage therapy practice. While I miss the engagement of the students, I am enthralled by the depths of the body, and each day takes me deeper into its wonders.

The program contents and syllabus are available for sale, and I would be so honoured to see it embraced by those of you who cannot help but share the practice that has shaped you.

Contact me for details: b o d y w e l l t h e r a p i e s @ g m a i l [dot] c o m

Yoga, Emotional Metabolism & Self Care

If I do not metabolize my experiences, my system becomes congested, lethargic and grumpy. Sound familiar?

me·tab·o·lism
noun
noun: The sum of the physical and chemical process in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained and destroyed, and by which energy is made available.

Emotional Metabolism & Self Care

We know that emotions impact the body because they often manifest physically through tears, digestive upset and wacky immune responses. So if emotional stress and trauma involve the body, it makes perfect sense that you must consider the body in healing.

Firstly, through breath.
Releasing stored emotion is a physical and chemical process. Through mindful movement we are making chemical change through the stimulation of organs and glands involved in metabolism. Because the breath is a great access point between the inner environment of the body and the outer world we live in, there is a communication between the two. Did you know that the cycle of breath is more than a life sustaining exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide? The breath also aids in the body’s balance of acidity, which must be kept within a certain range to maintain life. When we move our bodies, we ‘disturb’ this balance, and the breath is part of correcting it. Physical movement helps to dislodge and metabolize past experience, the breath is essential in releasing the toxic aspects so that they can no longer poison the system.

Emotional toxicity can feel as euphoric OR as poisonous as physical toxicity. When you remove the toxin, you experience greater energy and space.

I believe that all experience contains both essential nutrients and waste that need managing, and we all go through periods of build up and release.
Ever been “high on life”? Many classify this as a positive thing, but yoga teaches that the high is more problematic than the low. It risks preference and possible addiction to an unsustainable state. By extracting the “nutrients” from difficult experience, we gain greater appreciation for the process over instant gratification and begin to build a framework for the rewards of taking the long way ’round.

In yoga, sometimes anger and frustration arise during practice. This friction is what we call tapas in yoga philosophy and it speeds up the process of emotional metabolism. It’s the reason you sometimes feel different emotions rising up during class, and it’s essential for the metabolic process.

There is a passage in the Upanishads (texts of yoga philosophy), that states: “everyone sees his sport but himself, no one ever sees. One must not wake the sleeping person suddenly.” I interpret this to say that yoga strives to gently awaken the soul through a slow and methodical cleansing of emotional toxicity. Without respect to the pace, we risk throwing the system into crisis, and now the cure becomes the cause for distress.

This concept has been in the forefront of my practice lately, as I recognize times when I am unable to censor my reactiveness to the small stuff. I have not been metabolizing my experiences, which thankfully triggers my return to practice. This passage also reminds me that a true yoga instructor must have some grasp on the mechanism of yoga that fertilizes the soil for personal development. Each practice and each student, will have a different formula for optimal metabolism, and it takes some amount of experience and humility to mentor a student towards their wellness.

Many students will abandon the practice upon their first brush with tapas because in a world of serial pleasure seeking, the friction is so foreign it feels frightening and wrong.
Yet without the friction, we cannot metabolize old experiences that are blocking up and weighing down our physiology. In the absence of reassurance and encouragement, important practices may be abandoned, and emotional metabolism arrested.

Food poisoning means that your body must eliminate a toxin as soon as it is detected; we know that this will involve vomiting and or diarrhea. Neither of which are pleasant, but avoiding it can mean something much more harmful (can you avoid it, really?) Knowing this, we still tend to avoid purging emotional buildup, and when we do engage, we run at the first sign of discomfort. Yoga teaches the practitioner to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It does this through the body, but it’s the mind that learns the deeper lesson through the body’s intelligence.

Our bodies have a wisdom to share that the mind may never fully grasp. By mindfully engaging in practices that promote emotional metabolism, we strengthen our emotional capacity and clear up space for new experiences. I believe we are metabolizing emotions that may go back farther than we can remember, and the beauty is that it can be done through the cells without always having to relive any specific moments. The more we metabolize, the more efficient our systems become at metabolizing.

Have you ever indulged in your favourite treat while heavily involved in another task only realize once it’s too late and the treat is gone, that you gained absolutely no pleasure from it? If we are not present through the process, the craving cannot be satiated and we immediately reach for more.

To be truly efficient, one cannot multi-task emotional metabolism. Self care is a process that demands one’s full attention, otherwise there is nothing caring about it.

The Inner Landscape of a Human Body — Volume IV

On my first visit to the gross anatomy lab in 2004, after recovering from the initial shock of what I was looking at, I was hooked.
I entered the lab with an extreme excitement to see the muscles and bones I had been studying and trying to memorize. However, those were not the structures that ultimately seduced me into spending hundreds of hours and numerous dissection intensives in the lab over the years to come.

That first day I was introduced to the greater omentum, which is basically a blanket of fat cells that lay over top of your digestive organs. Its blood and lymphatic vessels make it a great contributor to your immune system and it has been known to isolate and limit infection by wrapping around the areas of concern like a blanket. It was the greater omentum (which I had never heard of) that started this journey of inquiry… I wanted to understand how our internal structures worked silently with intelligence far beyond any intellect to keep us in good health.

I was recently asked how these repeated visits to the lab inform my work as an RMT. To my surprise, the answer has not come easily. It’s akin to explaining what it is exactly that made you fall for that one special person; It’s more about who that person inspires you to be.

My experience in the lab inspires me to be better at what I do. With a great reverence for the donors (who had to do more than tick off a box on their driver’s license to be sure we could learn from them), in the lab we owe all of our learning to them.
The short answer I suppose would be that in the lab, I learn what everything looks and feels like in 3D. I learn that the more I question, the less I am confined to the certainty of what a body is and isn’t capable of. I learn that my only certainty is not being finished with the learning yet!

My next lab visit will be in June of this year… I’ll keep you posted on the answer to that initial question.

Pain from Poor Working Posture — It’s More than Ergonomics

If your day or week ends with burning muscles around your upper back, shoulders & neck, your body is expending too much energy trying to correct a poor working posture. This is a very common syndrome, and it’s not as tough to manage as you might think.

A common misconception is that you need to fix your posture to calm those angry muscles, and while it is true that it all comes down to posture, it’s going to take a bit more than merely reminding yourself to sit straight.

Proper ergonomics will put your body in the correct position which takes unnecessary strain off of the upper back, shoulder, neck and even wrist muscles. But what if your office cannot accommodate the right chair, desk or mouse? You are NOT sentenced to a life of work related pain.

Our massage therapists can help reduce the tension in your muscles and give you a head start in regaining a body that is strong enough to endure long days at your desk. Once the muscles stop burning, we will show you simple exercises to strengthen the correct areas. Although stretching feels great on those tense back muscles, in the long run, this may exacerbate your problems. Let us show you how to correct the damage your desk is doing.

Can’t Sleep?

As many as 45 per cent of people worldwide suffer from some form of sleep disorder. Studies suggest a myriad of possible treatments and solutions that still seem to fall short, but there is one thing they all agree upon.  Automatic functions such as digestion, sleep-wake cycles, healing and stress management are governed by the parasympathetic nervous system. If you can access the reset button on this system, you will see all of these functions improve. Unfortunately, this system is suppressed by our stronger and more well-known counterpart, the sympathetic nervous system, also know as the fight or flight response.

By soothing the fight or flight response, functions such as sleep and digestion can return to natural order, and the solution is simple — but not easy.

The parasympathetic nervous system thrives in an environment of calm. You already know that combating stress involves commitment, and one way to kick-start a routine of self-care is through massage. Ever wonder why your stomach starts to gurgle during massage? This is your parasympathetic system activating your digestive system. Don’t apologize — we love it when we hear this sound, it means you are beginning to relax!

Using Body to Silence the Mind

How can you sleep, read, or focus on anything when your brain is constantly interrupting?

Just as you lay down to sleep, or take a moment to enjoy a quiet break, your brain pipes up with nagging thoughts of all that needs to be done, or begins to replay stressful situations you are facing. With all of the intelligence the brain is rumoured to embody, why is it that we struggle so much with the simple task of silencing this great structure for only a moment?
Because the constant chatter overwhelms us so much so, that we convince ourselves the only solution is to take action on the situation the brain has fixated upon. So we satisfy the brain by giving it the task of coming up with an action plan; feeding the chatter we wish to silence.

Action is a wonderful tool, but I’m talking physical action: sports, art, meditation, gardening, music… Any task that directs your brain away from the chatter. I dare you not to think about your foot while walking with a pebble in your shoe. The pebble has successfully accessed your mind through your body.

In the same way, while you preform a task that requires special skill from your body, the brain will disengage from the chatter in order to immerse itself in the task. Massage works in the same way. If you allow your mind to focus on the body sensations, you may be surprised how the rest of your system submits to a quiet state.

No time or motivation to escape the brain through body action? Try massage.