“Help, I can’t relax!”

pedi_imgDoes this sound like you?

If so, sign up for my new “5 days, 5 ways to Unwind” program by requesting to be added to the Facebook group.

Then each day from Monday February 9 until Friday February 13, 2015, you’ll see information about a different relaxation activity you can experiment with to bring more balance and self-care into your life. These activities are specifically designed for overwhelmed, stressed, overworked, super busy folks like you who want to incorporate a little more restoration and rejuvenation into your days without having to spend a lot of time at it.

This is a FREE offering from A Journey Into Health. (And it’s no coincidence that this self-care program is being offered the week before Valentine’s Day because after all, we need to love ourselves too!)

Note: One lucky local (Austin/Round Rock) participant will win a free 30-minute sample Reiki session. One lucky remote participant will win a different prize (of course in keeping with the theme)! The only requirement to be eligible for a prize is to be ACTIVE on the Facebook page and post about your experience over the 5 days.

A short yet complete practice: the tree

A Tree

  • “I don’t have time to do yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation.”
  • “I can’t just sit and meditate. My body becomes restless and my mind goes everywhere.”
  • “I know these things would be good for me if I could just fit them in / do them consistently.”

Do these sound like you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Recently, in fact.

The components

A complete yoga practice actually consists of 3 components:

  1. Simple physical movements that help still your body (called asana)
  2. Breathing techniques that help change the state of your mind (called pranayama)
  3. Meditation (called dharana, dhyanam, and samadhih, depending on the phase)

And, contrary to popular opinion, meditation is NOT about stopping your thoughts. It’s about directing all of the mind’s activities to one focus, until you perceive that focus with complete clarity and become one with it. In samadhih, for example, you might feel as though you’ve “disappeared” though you’re not asleep. Few of us get past the focusing part though.

So what can you do?

Based on this information, two main questions arise for me:

  • Who has time for all that? And,
  • Why on earth do we get frustrated with ourselves when we try to meditate without adequate preparation?!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to be releasing several short (15-20 minute) practices that anyone can do.  Each will contain audio/video, as well as a summary sheet.

Practice 1: the Tree

Here it is, the first complete practice.

You’ll need… Do when… Audio/video Summary sheet
A place to lie on your back comfortably You’ve had a hectic day’s work, or anytime you feel as though you’re being pulled into 50 different directions Available via my YouTube channel here Download the Tree summary sheet

Please try it out, let me know what you think, and stay tuned for more!

My psoastic journey: 5 lessons I learned from my hips

Lesson #0: My “Freak” Hips are Really My Teachers

For a long time, I’ve had an extreme imbalance in my pelvis and hips, and have encountered many life situations where it became apparent.

  • “One of your legs is longer than the other,” said my college boyfriend’s sister in their parents living room, checking me out as she was studying to become a PT (1998).
  • “Wow, come feel this!!” yelled one overly excited Pilates instructor to another with her hands on my hip bones (2000).
  • “Do two stretches (of half wind-relieving pose) on one side and one on the other, every 10 minutes throughout your day,” said a neuromuscular massage therapist, with whom I obviously could not comply (2009-ish).
  • Whenever I practiced yoga, eye of the needle pose on my left would be cake; on the right it was an eternal struggle to get any external rotation in my hip (and therefore always a challenge in protecting my knee). This became more apparent when I started teaching yoga and had to demonstrate postures (2012).

In 2014 I started seeing a chiropractor to adjust me on a regular basis so that when I sat on the edge of something and my legs dangled (which they often do because I’m short), I wouldn’t feel as though my right hip was hiked up and one foot almost 2 inches shorter than the other (2014).

Following a trip to New Zealand that had me doing more walking than yoga and over 25 hours of sitting in my 500-hour Yoga Therapy Teacher training one weekend, I developed sciatica and low back pain for the New Year. The numbness down one leg (it alternated sides) and the almost constant pressure in my low back kept me awake at night, to the point where the only rest I could get was a few hours on my Reiki (massage) table. This sent me on a quest to heal. And ASAP!

Lesson #1: How to Manage My Mind & Care for Myself with Less Movement

Over the next few weeks I had to come to terms with the fact that I could barely teach yoga, much less be as active as I’m used to. No ballet Barre class, no running, no weight-lifting. Sometimes I thought I might go crazy if I couldn’t get up and do something, so I started ChiWalking. It was a real mental and emotional challenge seeing that I could barely walk 30 minutes at a snail’s pace. How could I manage my crazy mind if I couldn’t exercise? If I couldn’t do the physical things I enjoyed the most? Depression knocked on my door.

And of course this is the real practice of yoga. So I explored. I Reiki’d myself. I tried being more gentle and compassionate to my body. (I even wrote it a letter.) I experimented more with cooking. I sat down and relaxed and rested more, even when only doing simple chores. I made tea and ate biscuits. I allowed myself to watch TV and read books. And, it was still hard.

Lesson #2: Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water

During this time I was also pretty busy visiting different holistic professionals, including my chiropractor, and now a yoga / physical / massage therapist. The chiropractor helped the acute pain (as did more ice packs than I could count). The 3-in-1 therapist gave me yoga postures I could do therapeutically, which made me feel as though I could take a more active part in my own recovery (and helped me see what Yoga Therapy was like from a patient’s perspective).

My condition improved, but given all I was learning about the spine, I was still curious about whether an x-ray would show anything more serious. I visited with my PCP (who happens to also be an acupuncturist). He referred me for the x-ray and encouraged me to take Aleve for 5 days to relieve the inflammation in my sacroiliac joint.

I was happy about the x-ray, which showed nothing horrible, but allowed me to see that I’ve been walking around with mild scoliosis.  Since I’d been following the side-plank scoliosis study, I knew there was something I could try there too. I wasn’t sold on the Aleve. I’m generally against taking OTCs because I believe they do more harm than good and cover up the root causes. Plus I have unpleasant reactions to some (like acetaminophen). But, I needed to get this issue under control, so despite the nausea for 5 days, I took half the dose my doctor prescribed and noticed a difference in my low back pressure.

Lesson #3: Physical Traumas Must be Processed on an Emotional Level

This is a big one.

In my attempts to understand and explain my issues–in other words, to answer the question “WHY!???”, I came up with many theories.

One memory that came to me during this time was of an accident I had when I was about 12 years old. My family had just moved from the middle of nowhere to a little suburb with other children, and although I was the oldest kid on the block, I didn’t act it. After being taunted over the fact that I still rode a little pink Strawberry Shortcake bike (sans training wheels) my dad bought me a blue 3-speed, which would still be too large for me.

I didn’t understand how to use the breaks very well (I was used to just back-pedaling) and one day I was cruising down a steep blacktopped hill that was my friend’s driveway. I couldn’t stop, and I panicked and tried to leap off the bike on one side. Well, I missed, and the metal bar that ran down the center ended up squarely in my crotch. The pain was excruciating. I still don’t remember how I got home, and it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that my mother reminded me of the incident, which clarified why I didn’t bleed during my first sexual encounter. I hope the bike enjoyed the experience more than I did.

Given my current situation and what I’ve learned about trauma over the years, I started putting two and two together. Yes, this was physical trauma to my pelvis at an early age. How couldn’t it have affected me? What’s more, who ever took me to a doctor? Who ever reassured me when I was urinating blood? No one. Hmmm. I started opening up to my family about this, only to be dismissed. I was outraged. I was scared. I was sad. I was lonely. For the first time in my life, I really *felt* my emotions over this experience. And when three friends and healers agreed this had to play a role in what was happening to me now, I finally took care of and was able to release it.

Later when I was doing an assigned yoga therapy exercise on my right hip, I felt this completely irrational fear envelop my body. My mind was gently yelling in the background, “no, no, you can’t open up that way. You CAN’T!!” I was pretty surprised at this–after all it was me stretching myself. I replied, “that’s not true, of course I can,” and continued gently.

In my second 3-in-1 therapy session, I was told to completely let go of my leg, and I relayed my success in finally being able to float in a pool this past summer. (Never in my life have I been able to relax enough to do that.) The therapist told me about Watsu (Water-Shiatsu) and I thought: “this is exactly what I need to do.” Forced swim lessons twice, at least three people dropping or throwing me in water when I was young, scared, and trusted them…yeah, this would be healing. (Stay tuned!)

Lesson #4: Embrace Square One & Beginner’s Mind, Even in Your 40th Year

ChiWalking is interesting because it teaches you to walk properly, which is something one might assume we all do perfectly fine without training (kinda of like breathing, heh). You’re super conscious of your posture, your core, and how you move your limbs. Between this and the yoga therapy exercises (and my trainings in this field), I’m realizing more and more that some important muscles in my body really need attention.

Rectus and transversus abdominis, for example, aren’t used nearly enough to stabilize my pelvis when my hips move. Working hunched over a computer under stress for 15+ years created my head-forward posture, which means I need to strengthen the neck muscles that pull my head back and stretch the ones that push it forward. To address issues with my hips I need to stretch my hip flexors (specifically pectineus) more, and do some hip mobilization on my right. For the scoliosis, the side plank.

Whenever I sit, stand, or move now, I’m paying close attention to how I carry, hold, and transition parts of my body. I’m learning how to use it better throughout my daily life. Sometimes I feel like a baby. I’m asking questions and continuously adjusting. Better late than never!

Lesson #5: Gently Seek Out & Massage the Root Cause

Oh, and then…there’s the psoas.

The psoas is an important muscle physically, but also stores emotional trauma and has to be dealt with delicately. Mine is chronically, incredibly tight. Yesterday my 3-in-1 therapist gently massaged it for a little while, and I couldn’t believe how I felt. During, it was clearly very sensitive, all the way down into my groin. On the drive home I felt that my right and left sides were completely balanced. Later, all the muscles in my legs ached as if I’d run a marathon. When I slept (especially on my belly), I could just feel the presence of the muscle, letting me know it was there.

I have a hunch that the psoas is the key to unlocking many doors for me, both physically and mentally / emotionally. For the first time in my life i feel like healing my body and my heart might truly be possible.

Stop beating yourself up…

heart…over what you weigh

…over what you eat

…over your lack of willpower

…over a stupid scale

…over how you seem to sabotage yourself every time you think you’re close to meeting your goals.

There’s a better, simpler, and kinder way.

Learn how to love yourself and your body through Eating Psychology Coaching.

Mention “2014HOLIDAYSPECIAL” when you contact me and receive TWO Eating Psychology Coaching sessions for the price of ONE!

Offer good for sessions booked by January 31, 2015.

Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?

Relaxing Can be Challenging

My friends all know me as the one who never stops going. Like the infamous Energizer Bunny, some used to tell me that when they heard what I did before lunch, they were exhausted just at the thought. “Doing” has always been something I’m good at. “Being” and relaxing, or as my friend Amy says, “being a bump on a log” has always been challenging for me. I know that I’m not alone in that either.

Truth is I’ve slowed down a lot of the the years–especially in 2014, mostly with the help of several big life changes. But my body is starting to say no, and so I feel as though I need to do even more relaxing in 2015. If relaxing more, reducing stress more is your plan too, let’s connect and share ideas. It’s so important!

Afternoon Tea (with a Twist)

IMG_8609Anyway, inspired by my recent trip to New Zealand, I purchased a coffee/tea press, “Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down“, and an entire tin of assorted tea biscuits (i.e. tiny cookies). At precisely 4 pm (a total coincidence, honestly!) I pressed some tea out of fresh ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and a sprig of rosemary. I then selected 3 biscuits from the tin and placed them gently on a small pretty plate. A mug, napkin, two lit candles at the table, and relaxation patiently waited for me to sit.

Though it may seem amusing, I actually set a the kitchen timer. 30 minutes to savor my tea, allow the biscuits to melt in my mouth, and enjoy a light funny book. I didn’t need the 30 minutes to remind me to stop. I needed it to remind me to continue.

I’m pleased to say that the one time the “get the ice for your back so you could do that while you sit here” thought popped into my head, I told it “later” and returned to focus on relaxing. It was like a meditation: “yes mind, I hear you wanting to multitask, but I’m choosing not to.” The second time my brain said something more like, “Is it time yet? It must be close. I don’t think I can sit much longer”. And then the timer went off.

Truly feeling warm, grounded, and relaxed, I went about the rest of my afternoon.

The Relaxation Ripple Effect

Only I didn’t do anything after that either!

Given my recent back issues I’ve not been sleeping well, and even after the sugar of the biscuits I felt just how tired I really was. So I crawled up onto my Reiki (massage) table–which is the one place my back always feels better–covered up with a blanket, and closed my eyes.

Another 30 minutes later and my entire body felt better. I hadn’t fallen asleep, but was in a state of absolute stillness. It took a little while to get there. While lying, thoughts would arise about stuff to do, but when they did, I’d reassure myself that rest is what I needed in this moment. I kept refocusing on resting, just like I’d refocused on my tea and biscuits at the table.

Tea and biscuits, a faux nap on a Reiki table–both were just the restoration I needed, timer or not! So much so that I ended up calming, mindfully cooking a lovely dinner for my partner, that was completely ready just as he walked in the door! I was in a good mood, and we had a lovely evening together.

What about you?

Have your own tips and tricks for getting your body and mind to relax, or is it easy for you? Share your stories here. Or try one of mine, and let me know how you feel after!

7 Ways to Experiment with Life: Where Learning to Cook & Learning to Live Intersect

An old friend of mine enjoys reminding me of a day, about 10 years ago, when he rebuffed my offer of Bisquick-made pancakes for brunch. He also pokes fun at the fact that I, now a full-fledged whole-food health nut, used to subsist on Swanson TV dinners. I remember those days and laugh as well, but I know why I ate that way. The truth is that I didn’t know how to cook, and I was afraid to try because a scorched pot roast or a tray of gummy muffins clearly meant I was a failure as a person.

Braised Winter Cabbage & Potatoes – Thug Kitchen Official Cookbook

Braised Winter Cabbage & Potatoes – Thug Kitchen Official Cookbook

That may sound extreme, but allow me to provide some background.

My grandmother was overprotective of my mother and so didn’t teach her to cook (knives and fire are involved, you know). When we lived with my father, we were both forced to cook completely bland or frozen foods for him, and suffered the wrath of his criticisms regardless.

After my parents divorced, my mother began working two jobs while going back to school, so we mostly fended for ourselves. Hamburger or Tuna Helper served as a “home cooked meal”, and in high school I spent more days than not at my friend’s house, having simple but lovingly-cooked dinners made my his mom instead.

Although the expression of it was unique, each of my parents had high expectations of me, and (perhaps unknowingly) closely watched and judged a lot of I did. Many undertakings during my formative years seemed to be met with criticism, “advice,” or passive-aggressive digs about how it was less than perfect. (As adults, some of my friends are still experiencing this from family members today!) When I started dating, I was naturally oversensitive to suggestions, and I read any tips for learning to cook from significant others as an outright attack. Since they knew future offers would cascade into a fight, most men in my life stopped trying to help and started keeping their mouths shut.

How My Cooking Became an Experiment

As I was making my first couple meals of the New Year, it occurred to me that one of the wonderful things my current partner taught me in 2014 was to always view cooking as an experiment. Now, any time I follow a recipe, modify one with my own unique substitutions, or just try making something up, I say, “Who knows what will happen? It’s an experiment!” If the dish turns out good, then that’s’ fine. But when it doesn’t (and there certainly are times), then there’s no worry! We may chat about reasons why the experiment didn’t work, and then decide whether it’s worth repeating with some changes. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.

I was mincing garlic with the shiny new F. Dick knife I received as a Christmas present when I thought, “wow, that’s really a yogic way to view cooking!” I wondered: “What if I didn’t just view cooking as a series of experiments, but if I looked at my life as one?”

Looking at Your Life through a Qualitative Scientist’s Eye

I was surprised to discover there were so many parallels between cooking and living life this way! Here are just 7 ways you might look at life (and your cooking) through the eyes of scientist:

  1. Be curious. “What-would-happen-if” I used the herbs I have instead of the ones the recipe calls for? “What-would-happen-if” I added garlic to this dish? “Well, let’s try it and see!” Having a curious attitude increases your options and allows you to have more fun making choices. Feel overwhelmed with too many possibilities? Being curious allows you to pick one without feeling so attached to the outcome. “I wonder what would happen if I introduced myself to that handsome man at Sherry’s party?” Hmmm….
  1. Think out-of-the-box. It’s hard to experiment when you do things the same way every time. Curiosity is only possible when are able to dream up some new ways of looking at the world. Notice if you always make the same comfort dish, or you eat the same breakfast every time. Have leftover veggies or soup? “How would I feel if I ate that for breakfast?” “What if I had eggs for dinner?” “What if I brought this wild idea to my boss?” (Oh wait, that’s #3.)
  1. Don’t be afraid to take risks! Yes, you can still consult The Flavor Bible for a list of awesome substitutions, but if the one in bold isn’t calling to you, then choose one that’s less of a sure thing. Have a mess of random ingredients left over in the pantry or the vegetable drawer? Toss them together with something wet or garlicky—what’s the worst that can happen? Find a really loud skirt that makes you feel funky and happy? Nab it and wear it with confidence!
  1. Moderate your temperature. In our apartment, we struggle with a lopsided oven and a stove-top where a “low” setting doesn’t exist. I’ve learned that when broiling foods, a slow cook will have everything to the front of my cookie sheet. Do you get easily frustrated or “hot” over things that are out of your control? Take a few deep breaths, gaze at the flame of your gas burning stove-top, and cool off for a bit before saying or doing something you might regret. This little trick can save you from getting burnt.
  1. Develop more patience. This is a tough one, I know. But when you hurry a recipe you can end up with undercooked meat or a capsized soufflé. And with a little more patience for your man, he may turn out to be someone who does want to spend the rest of his life with you. Starting an exercise program slowly when you’ve been a couch potato for 10 years makes you less likely to get injured. Changing your eating habits with compassion and kindness for yourself when you overeat or eat something you wished you hadn’t will result in long-term shifts in perspective and your waistline. Patience really IS a virtue.
  1. Read the directions. Yes, this goes along with #5. Are you hurried while cooking, going through the motions, or being engaged and mindful while doing it? Taking in all the information that’s available to you and considering it before proceeding with appropriate action can help both your dishes and your relationships.
  1. Honor your intuition. Have that nagging feeling that one of your guests might be a vegetarian and you planned on roasting a bull? That the best thing for you right now is some alone time? Sometimes you can verify your gut feelings (see #6)—but other times you need to just surrender and change the plan because it doesn’t sit right. (Pun intended.)

Do you see even more parallels? If so, please share them here!

My first ever letter to my body

Dear Body,

Thank you for having been so good to me all these years. I’ve really put you through a lot. I’ve put you through some hard stuff physically (intense exercise, computer work, binging and overeating, insomnia), as well as mentally and emotionally (trauma, stress, depression and anxiety). Apart from little nagging things, you’ve been great these past 40 years, when quite frankly, I didn’t always deserve it.

But now I’d like to make a promise to you going forward. It’s not so much a New Year’s Resolution for 2015 as much as just that: a promise. As I move into this second half of my life, I realize it may be more difficult for you to help me out; that I need to do my part as well. So I want to promise that I will take moments out of my day to really listen, to hear you speak to me, and to do my best to honor your wisdom and make any adjustments I can to help you help me.

For example, when I’m standing at my computer typing, I’ll notice whether my weight is balanced between my right and left feet, and whether I’m locking my knees. I’ll make the fact that I’m bringing my right shoulder forward more conscious, and stop doing that, because given the kinetic chain I’m likely corkscrewing you up completely when I do that. I’ll check in with my neck to make sure I’m not straining looking at my screen or phone, with my head too far down or forward. As I did at the theater last night, I’ll sit with both feet flat on the ground, even if it means I have to scootch forward and not use the back support of a chair, which I realize isn’t great for you anyway. I’ll stop helping my pelvis get twisted up by crossing my legs.

I’ll return more to my gentle practice of yoga, even when I have to teach a “harder” flow class. I’ll model less fully and deeply when it’s not absolutely necessary. I’ll do more of what I always encourage my students to do (and sometimes complain about when they don’t): LISTEN and STOP and do what YOU want vs. what my mind and ego want from you. I’ll stop trying to do advanced postures like headstand when you know that my core isn’t strong enough for anything resembling that! I’ll learn through my yoga therapy training what will work better for you, and incorporate what I learn into a daily practice.

I’ll forgive the traumas and abuses of the past that may have contributed to your current state, whether they were self-imposed or I was a helpless victim.

towel_wrapped_meI will not judge you, but I will love you for what you are. I will love you even as you start to show more lines and wrinkles, as you become more stiff and dry with age. I will love you as my once rock-hard abs become soft, and as my butt sags. I will love you as my hair becomes even thinner. I won’t compare you to anyone else I see, or criticize you to anyone.

I will feed you only what you absolutely love, only when you tell me that you desire the pleasure of nourishment from food, and I will listen deeply to learn whether it’s food you really need. When it isn’t, I will listen to whether you want to rest (and read a book, journal, take a bubble bath, take a nap, or meditate) or when you’re restless and want to move (go for a walk, stretch, dance). When you’re feeling very hurt, I will love you by giving you Reiki, or a massage, or a visit to a chiropractor or PT (or all of the above).

I will stop complaining and start being grateful for everything you’ve done for me, and for everything you will do for me, no matter how much or how little that is.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And, I promise.

Love always,

Emotions, Holiday Cookies, & Yoga

This afternoon I took a yoga class at one of the places I’ve taught. It was a tricky one for me. I wanted to attend to see how other instructors there teach (especially this particular person, as I’ve taken some of the time slots and locations she was previously in), to support her as a new friend and peer, and to get myself moving. Recently I’ve been dogged with more injuries, this time of my lower back and SI joint. I also knew this class was an opportunity for me to practice what I preach–in other words, to listen to my body and modify or not do what didn’t feel right to me in that moment. Some folks in the room recognized me as an instructor, which made me feel both more self conscious (at least at the start) and more intent on honoring my body’s wisdom so I could “model the way”.

Once the class began, I found that I was really able to get inside myself, to remain on MY mat and connect with my breath. I was able to listen to my body, and I modified or flat out did not do what was led because it started to tug on sensitive areas. As I laid in the start of savasana, I was feeling content (and OK, somewhat proud of myself too).

But then she started saying some things I do at the end of my classes: essentially to find something you’d like to let go of, and release it into the Universe. I was feeling relaxed and content, letting my mind go to see what it might come up with to release, and then all of a sudden she said something about “being who you are”. My eyes filled with tears, and I was transported back to being a tween sitting on a sofa with a book. I could hear my dad’s harsh words: “get off the couch, get outside and get to work you lazy bitch. Just like your mother….” His words trailed off but in my mind he stood there, right in front of me as I looked up, calmly (in reverie anyhow). And then I felt my body get hot. Not tense, the calm remained. I got angry. I felt RAGE. In SAVASANA. At the end of a nice yoga class.

Knowing this happens, I allowed myself to BRFWA (Breathe Relax Feel Watch Allow). In my daydream I started screaming back: “let me be who I am! let me figure out who I want to be and what I want to do already!!” He was frozen in time, I was screaming, raging at him. Yet, I was calm and centered lying on my yoga mat, over 30 years later. The tears didn’t get worse, but I found myself wanting to stay in that past remembrance longer than the savasana lasted. I wanted to confront him, calmly. I wanted to feel the anger at not being allowed to figure out who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do when I was at an age where that was important. I wanted to feel the sadness at the idea that it was really too late. That my ways of being (which are very protective, striving and not confident–even in my yoga practice and in my yoga teaching) are too ingrained at this point to change all that much, despite all my efforts.

Even so when we sat up, I was grateful. I felt like I had in fact released some pent up emotion. Some emotion which may in all earnestness, be part of my lifelong hip issues. And then I chatted with my friend and had a chocolate chip cookie on the way out. :-)