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.

Healing Hurts– The Inner Landscape of a Human Body, Volume III

I do NOT believe in “No Pain, No Gain.” Pain is complex. It demands one to feel and explore because let’s face it, not many sufferers appreciate pain. Pain is however an important part of healing, so how do you decide when pain is okay and when it’s not?

You all know how I like to dissect things. Well, pain is no different. It provides and opportunity to be present with yourself in an attentive way. One cannot truly look into sensation without discovering something about oneself. It’s hard work. It’s time consuming. It’s definitely worth it!

I am grateful for my experience with pain because it has helped me to truly understand what it is like to manage and what it takes to come through the other side. The experience, while not fun, has made me better at what I do. This is my story, it’s long, but it ends well!

When I was 16 I started working at a grocery store. After a few years of heavy lifting I had developed severe sciatic pain where my entire leg would go numb and I had pain all the time. Not knowing that the issue stemmed from my spine, a long and frustrating search for the cause of my leg pain came up empty. It was even suggested that I was making it up. Finally, I was diagnosed with a herniated disk and surgery was recommended. Thankfully, this route was not pursued. Several treatments were recommended and nothing worked. Eventually, I just gave up and submitted to the idea that pain would become part of my life. After 2 years of unrelenting pain, I started to feel less and less constant irritation, but would suffer acute bouts from time to time. This was ‘better’ in comparison to what I had previously dealt with.

When I was 26 (and mostly pain-free), I discovered yoga. I began almost immediately practicing 4-5 days/week and was feeling amazing. After about a year of yoga, my pain came back with a vengeance. This time it was all in my back without any effects in my leg but, it was worse than before. The frustration also multiplied because it hurt to do yoga and I felt that my body was failing.

My teacher encouraged me to stay with the practice, so I did. I endured a year of pain before things began to subside. After that year I was ‘healed’ and never felt pain again (stay tuned!)

To explain how pain in healing works, bend your index finger at each joint until it coils completely shut. Now imagine if you tied it up in this position for a day, how long do you think it would take to straighten out at the end of the day, and how painful do you think it will be? This is healing. We have knots like this tied up in our bodies for various reasons. Some have been there 10, 20, 30, 40 and more, years. IT IS GOING TO BE PAINFUL TO UNDO THOSE KNOTS. Do you choose never to use your index finger again because it’s too painful and scary to straighten it? I doubt it, but this is what we do to all the knots we do not see. We allow pain to stop us from proceeding because somehow we believe that pain is bad. The year of pain I endured through yoga was what ultimately untied the knots that had developed nearly 10 years earlier, but this is not the end of my story.

When I began working as a RMT, I had been pain free for 15 years. I thought I was done with pain. It began again almost immediately. Long days leaning over the massage table irritated the weak spot where my injury was focused so many years ago. I never stopped doing yoga, and felt incredibly discouraged that it was not helping me this time around. I tried everything. The problem was, I would do quick yoga practices that were not strong enough to take me over the hump, or I would overdo it out of frustration and irritate my back.

After 3.5 years of pain EVERY day, I decided to get serious about it. Using all of the knowledge I had about the body and movement, I created a yoga practice targeted at my pain. These were the guidelines I used:

1) Commit to 80% effort (experience taught me that more was exhausting and doesn’t help the body heal. Less is a waste of time).
2) When tired, do it anyway.
3) When energetic, stick with the 80% rule and don’t do more.
4) Expect it to get worse before it gets better (oh, it did).
5) Be patient.

It took me SIX WEEKS to come through the other side.

I feel silly because I had these tools 3.5 years earlier, but did not use them. It took me a year the first time and only 6 weeks this last time. I know through experience in the lab, that bodies manage through all sorts of distortions, to put themselves back together. I may always have a weakness in that part of my spine but, I also know that this is not a life sentance to pain. Our bodies want to heal, the problem is that most of us are too busy attending to everything else in our lives to bother with the annoyance of pain. I won’t lie… It’s a tough road to heal and with all the therapies we have access to, the only thing that will truly heal you, is you. What a ‘therapist’ can do is help you find the tools, support you and keep you honest. Your body wants to heal, you’ve just got to get out of the way and let it.

The Inner Landscape of a Human Body – Experiences in Human Dissection, Volume II

As more of you are becoming aware, I love anatomy and have a deep interest in dissecting the body both literally (yes, literally), and figuratively.

For me, the journey into the body is paved by a rich terrain of mystery and self-discovery. It’s all about exploration and my need to let go of what I think I know. The way a body functions, although extremely complex, should be somewhat predictable when viewed through the lens of science and all its studies. Yet, there are new discoveries emerging all the time to challenge what we think we know.

This past April when I entered the lab, my only goal for the week was to remain open to deeper learning, which meant letting go of previous beliefs on the body. As someone who works with all varieties of body in movement and stillness, I am developing a greater understanding of how structure governs function yet, just when I think I know exactly how to manage a client’s ache, I am thrown off course by a body’s individual way of healing. We’ve all been given the same ‘machine’ so to speak, but it seems that our distinctive lifestyles, emotions and beliefs influence our healing style, making it unique to us.

In the lab, we have been surprised by bodies with muscles missing, extra muscles where there ‘shouldn’t’ be one, a horseshoe kidney (where the kidneys fuse together to form a horseshoe shape), bodies with only one kidney and no evidence of there ever having been another, organs of unpredictable shape and size, evidence of bones broken and healed, joints replaced… Each of our bodies has a physical story that either affects or is affected by our way of life.

Kind of makes certainty a silly concept when it comes to healing.

What I do know is that if you have an ache (any kind of ache), it’s not a bad idea to attend to it now.

The Inner Landscape of a Human Body — Volume I

What is so great about having a massage therapist who is obsessed with anatomy?

Have you ever visited the Genius Bar at the Mac Store? These dudes know their shit, and when I have a problem with my electronic device, I trust they will know exactly how to solve it. I strive to achieve their level of Geekdom …

The crazy part is that most of us know more about our phones than we do about our own bodies. Not all of us are interested enough to regularly attend to our bodies; this vehicle we carry around for life. When something goes wrong and you have pain, suddenly you are aware of your body in a way that you weren’t yesterday. Thank goodness there are some of us out there who have devoted a large part of our brains to figuring out the puzzle of your pain.

As a self-professed Geek in all things body, your pain inspires me to dig deep into my understanding of structure, movement, cause and effect. Once each year or two, I jet off to a specialized lab and spend six days in a room (scalpel in hand), unwrapping the gifts that the donors offered us on their way out of this world.

When I look at movement, I can visualize the structures underneath, because I have seen them. When I touch a muscle, the nerves in my hands stimulate images from the lab in my brain, and I acquire deeper understanding still. In the lab I am surrounded by other body Geeks and we share an excitement for exploration and sharing. It’s the most inspiring week of my year.

Did you know that the surfaces of your joints are as smooth as a stone polished by the salt of the ocean, and are protected by a steady supply of lubrication produced by YOU during movement? This fluid is protected by your joint capsule and remains undisturbed in a healthy joint right up until the end. When in a state of dis-ease, the fluid becomes like glue and the bone can get irritated and worn down by it.
Did you know that the underside of your skin looks like the outer surface of a cantaloupe, and this texture has a purpose? Where your skin stretches with growth and you see those marks on the surface, the cantaloupe texture disappears underneath.
Did you know that the bronchioles inside your lungs look like a forest landscape of trees in the early spring?

While for the most part we are all made of the same stuff, sometimes that stuff appears in different presentations, which aren’t ever seen in textbooks, but they are felt all the time by informed hands.

You don’t need to know any of this, but I can’t get enough of the incredible and constantly changing landscape inside our bodies.

Got an ache nagging at you? Go visit your nearest Geek…

Accessing Mind through Body

Ever notice how repeated activity allows you to master a certain skill? You may be surprised to know that when you worry, allowing the same thoughts to circulate in the brain, you are essentially ‘mastering’ the skill of keeping that thought close.

We are all familiar with the monkey mind! What are the tools you use to quiet the chatter?

Any activity that takes you into your body sensation will eventually distract your mind and draw you away from repetitive thought. Simple activities such as walking can be helpful, however, walking for most of us is an activity that requires little to no concentration. To bypass the monkey mind, you will need to engage in an activity that requires your mind to go somewhere further than the thoughts.

Massage therapy can be an extremely effective tool. Not only is your body getting some much needed rest, the pressure on the skin and muscle draws the mind directly into the body and past nagging thoughts. The further you get from the thought, the longer it will cease to nag at you.

Try traditional or Thai massage, and challenge yourself to engage the body over the mind.