Tag Archives: wellness

Happy Merry Us

happy-holidaysWhen I googled “Holiday Stress” this morning, I got 7 million, 500 thousand items. Top picks were articles and blogs attempting to help people manage their holiday stress. As an expert on dealing with tough stuff, I feel obliged to jump into the fray of suggestions for surviving and thriving this holiday season.

Let’s first look at the stress we create for ourselves.

  • What about the big deal hassles over the proper way to wish a friend a happy winter holiday? In an effort to be inclusive of all citizens, the White House has sent Happy Holiday cards for the past 8 years. Some Christians take that as an insult, as a “war on Christmas.” Some Jewish people have their own issues on greetings at the holidays. Coming out of my health club yesterday I overheard a couple of Jewish women ridiculing a non-Jewish woman’s mispronunciation of Hanukkah, or Chanukan. (For those who don’t know, to pronounce either word correctly, a soft guttural clearing of the throat needs to precede the H or C.) And this matters why?
  • How come we expect our holiday season to always and continuously, be happy? This unrealistic obligation pumps pressure into all our activities; In searching for just the right gifts, planning decorations and menu items we’ve seen in magazines, addressing holiday cards to business contacts that reflect our brands, and writing an annual letter to friends and family recounting all the happy successes of the past year.

Meanwhile in the real word – life continues as usual – people get sick, family members disagree, loved ones die, accidents happen, and bad weather delays travel plans. Instead of blaming ourselves, one another, or the gods, for this unexpected bad timing –

How about…

1) Lowering our expectations, it’s just a fleeting season of the year

2) Calling on helpers, both seen and unseen, while reaching out to help others

3) Saying yes to whatever cannot be avoided and asking ourselves “what good can come from this?

4) Continuing the radical self care practices that have kept us sane and healthy throughout the rest of the year  

5) Honoring those no longer with us by sharing stories of when they were here, or giving a gift in their name to a charity or cause they believed in

6) Connecting with previous experiences of peace, joy and love and bringing them into the present moments of this particular holiday season.

Allow me to wish you a blessed holiday season and a peaceful,  joy-filled New Year.

 

Getting Back On The Horse

magnetIt’s nearly 5 months since my fall and it feels important to notice how far I’ve come. I can raise my left arm into the air almost as high as the right one. When my left hand is behind me, I can raise it slightly above my waist. There was a time when I couldn’t even get it behind me enough to try working towards this position. I’m moving through the world with more confidence, no longer afraid of falling when I venture out. I’ve been doing InterPlay movements more freely when I teach and when I practice alone. The next milestone will be going back to my Zumba dance class, something I have not felt ready to do until now.

Looking back over the past few months, I got some inspiration from one of the poems I wrote 20 years ago for my first book Stillpoint, which was on self-care. At that time I was visiting my son Kevin who was on the gymnastics team of his university. During the particular meet I was able to witness, each member of the team, when it was their turn, fell off their apparatus and was unable to complete their routine. I was struck by the dejection and disappointment in their body language as they exited the space.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 28:  John Orozco of the United States of America competes in the pommel horse in the Artistic Gymnastics Men's Team qualification on Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on July 28, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Trained as a dance, I was used to the practice of covering a mistake, or at least not reacting to it with a grimace, or some body language that in theatre would be labeled “braking character.” As a dancer in the chorus I was trained to not react to a mistake or misstep but to proceed as though that was the way the routine was suppose to go. I imagined that if I had been the gymnasts’ coach I would have tacked the following note to their dressing room door –

Hey Team

Falling is not a giant zap from the gods

meant to embarrass, humiliate, or hurt you, but,

falling is one of the things that happens

in the process of “going for it,”

as you move too close to your growing edge.

It is a sign that you have made an error

and you need to;

BREATHE…….as in keep breathing

LAUGH……… as in keep releasing

GET UP…   as in keep moving

LAUGH………as in keep enjoying

and get back on the horse,

ring, barre, or floor!

SMILE…………as you uncover, discover,

recover, the lessons of each particular fall.

Our Lady of the Broken Wings

“You’re not as you were,” the doctor tells me as he shows me the x-ray of my shoulder. The picture has little meaning since I’m not totally clear on what the shoulder bones are suppose to look like. It’s three months since my fall, and after he directs me to push against his hands and reach up overhead he declares, “you are at 80 percent.”

IMG_1511I agree with his assessment but let him know I will not be satisfied until I have regained what was for me, a full range of motion. He’s careful to make no promises. He tells me to make an appointment in three months and continue physical therapy. If I am not satisfied with my recovery by then he will do an MRI and see whether there is any surgery that would help. If I’m satisfied with where I’m at that time, I can cancel the appointment.

Standing in the examination room with my husband as my witness I am grateful for yesterday’s conversation with Susan, a dancer friend from Chicago, about her own recovery from a shoulder injury. “I’m at 100 per cent. I’ve gotten it all back,” she says as she moves her left arm in a gigantic circle overhead and reaches behind her. She looks straight into my eyes when she says, “I wanted you to know that. It’s possible,” and then she tells me how she did it. Physical therapy twice a week, 20 minutes of exercise three times a day, and Reiki sessions weekly to deeply relax the muscles that are constricting the movement. In other words, it takes work but it’s doable.

At my favorite dress shop yesterday Helen, a woman who claims to be older than me though she won’t say how much, lifts her arm upwards to show me her range of motion. Her shoulder injury was more than five years ago and her arm is about like mine is now, but she’s satisfied. Somebody else can reach the items on the top shelf. In other words, it’s not only what you’re used to, but also what you’re planning to do in your future life. I’m still a member of the “going for the gusto club” though I realize it takes more effort than it used to.

Another dancer friend and mentor Cynthia, had a shoulder injury a couple of months before mine, (her right, my left). She’s nearly back to a complete range of motion and her recovery program included all of the above along with her spiritual practice of making art with whatever comes into her life. We’ve commiserated about our “broken wings” and when I saw her at InterPlay’s national conference she gifted me an art piece she created out of found objects. It’s a shrine to honor our brokenness – individual and collective, to call on the energies of renewal and restoration, and to remember our bones, and other body parts need lots of love, commitment and a caring community in order to heal. 

The Pain of More Than Halfway There

Neck-pain-generalAfter ten weeks and the twice-weekly Physical Therapy sessions and daily exercises, I am no longer managing with only one hand. The injured arm still needs strengthening but that’s starting to happen, so being able to drive seems to be in my near future. Monday I get on a plane to Chicago on my way to Racine WI where I will chair the national board for Body Wisdom, the organization that oversees InterPlay. It will feel good to be in a useful role and in community again after so much alone time this summer but getting there feels more than a little daunting.

Several weeks ago the woman who cleans my house and who had broken her wrist several years ago, told me, “It hurts more later on, when it’s healing.” I did not want to hear that and I was hoping that my experience wouldn’t be the same as hers in that regard. But she was right. For me, it’s not just that the shoulder and arm are healing, it’s that I’m challenging them everyday, trying to unfreeze that shoulder, stretch the muscles and strengthen them to regain my range of motion. Every gain brings new discomforts.    

20050622-9562-painYesterday as I was getting emails about taking a train from the airport to a particular stop in Chicago to meet up with someone who would be driving to Racine, I got in a pretty cranky mood. “Nobody’s getting that I only have a hand and a half to lug my suitcase,” I’m thinking, “although a hand and a half is better than only one.” The low-grade pain running down my arm was a big part of the problem and the ice pack I put on after my exercises had not helped to any great extent. Reflecting on it later I am amazed at the people whose every action in life is accompanied by a certain level of pain. The next cranky person I meet, I’m going to take this possibility into consideration and be in awe of their heroism.

 

 

 

How Did I Get So Lucky?

Health Care 2When people ask how I’m doing my husband says, with a lot of enthusiasm in his voice, “She’s doing great!” I try not to contradict him in front of our friends but the truth is, from the inside of this body it doesn’t feel like I’m doing that well. During my daily physical therapy exercises I come close to tears and when I’m finished I’m completely exhausted. If I can manage the time, I take what can turn out to be a two- hour nap, lying as still as if somebody hit me over the head with a mallet.

I often teased that Zumba was my anti-depressant. Now that it seems such a struggle to maintain my emotional equilibrium without it, I have to admit there’s more than a bit of truth in that statement. When I look around the physical therapy clinic at the other people doing exercises, it doesn’t seem anyone else is having the emotion tenderness that I’m experiencing. When I told my husband that a tear ran down my cheeks during my session one day he said, “That’s the disadvantage of being in your body. A lot of people aren’t in theirs.“

His comment reminded me of when I used to do dance workshops in California with Anna Halprin. I would often be brought to tears as I did her morning movement rituals. She would say encouraging words like, “That’s wonderful. Tears often accompany the body when it releases.” After a couple of days I asked her, “How come nobody else is having this tearful releasing?” She said, “They will. And sure enough, in a few more days many of the other students began experiencing tears as their bodies released.

When one of the physical therapists heard that I had been a professional dancer he made the comment – “Your feet don’t look too bad for a dancer.” I told him it was somewhat surprising that this was my first broken bone and first dance injury since opening night of a show in San Francisco in 1960. He’d worked with many dancers and athletes and found it unusual that I’d never had an injury requiring physical therapy throughout all these years.

Our conversation got me thinking about how have I been so lucky? One thing that might have helped is that the types of dancing I’ve done have varied greatly. Rather than just specializing in just one type, which sets the body up for repetitive overuse injuries. The second thing that has contributed to my good luck in my dedication to many forms of bodywork and psychophysical education – Alexander, www.alexandertechnique.com Feldenkrais, www.feldenkrais.com Tai Chi, www.medicinenet.com Rubenfeld Synergy Method www.rubenfeldsynergy.com Pilates, www.pilatesmethodalliance.org These systems of physical self-care have reeducated and strengthened my body and rescued me from the bad habits that tend to develop, as people age. I’m grateful for these gifts from my younger self to the person I am now.

After The Fall

It’s day 16 since my fall, the pattern interrupter that broke my shoulder (or more exactly, the humerous where it inserts into the shoulder) and changed every activity of my daily life. injured.dancerLuckily I’ve learned quickly how to sleep on my back in a stable, relatively comfortable position. Not so quickly, I’ve mastered a one-handed version of dressing myself. A friend came over and helped me figure out what items in my wardrobe could work. Tops with wide-neck openings are the only ones that can go over my wounded left arm. The top buttons on some pants make them impractical for fastening and unfastening during visits to the rest room. And forget a bra and contact lenses. Those items can only be included when someone is available to lend me another hand.

It does astonish what one cannot do having the use of only a single hand. I found clapping for my granddaughter as she walked across the stage at her high school graduation impossible, also tying my own shoelaces. Sandals work well but when it turns cold I enlist visitors to my house to help me don my silver sneakers. I’ve had to invent an entirely new method for wringing water out of my face cloth. The childproof tops on our medicine bottles had to be changed out so I could take my medicine on my own. And as I discovered yesterday, locking and unlocking our front door is something I cannot do without assistance. It’s a two-handed operation – you must pull with one hand while turning the key in the lock with the other.

I’m getting quite a bit of exercise just moving about the house. In order to preserve my balance and avoid another fall I must make multiple trips to move items from place to place as I can carry only one item at a time in my one good hand. To recover something I’ve dropped, which happens much more often now, I execute an elaborate slow genuflection of my knees to the ground in order to avoid bending over and disturbing the placement of my ailing shoulder. And that is the overarching goal. To preserve the proper alignment of what the doctor calls, “the bag of bones” that comprise my shoulder and upper arm, so they may heal on their own without the need of the surgeon’s metal plates and pins. So far, so good.impairedtraveler

Now I listen carefully to the universe to extract the message and meaning of this experience for my future life. I know already it will be a long time before I take for granted the simple acts necessary for self -care in my everyday life.

The Fall

Paramedics My usual Sunday morning ritual when I’m in town, is to take an 8:30 am dance class at my nearby fitness club. Three days a week I take Zumba, the dance workout that draws from the Afro-Cuban rhythms of the salsa, mambo, samba, and cha-cha. But Sunday is an eclectic modern dance class consisting of simple movements and phrases our teacher Laurie has created and taught in her children’s classes. After a stretching warm up we get our heart rates up as we waltz, skip, slide, and jump. And as with all the dance classes I’ve ever taken or taught, we leave class feeling energized and relaxed in ways that seem to last throughout the day.

On this particular morning, which was to change my life dramatically, the studio was humid, (the air conditioner had not been turned on yet), and the surface of the floor had become sticky. As we traveled across the floor in sliding motions, four counts facing our partners, four counts turning our backs to them, my feet stuck to the floor and my body kept moving. Failing to get my feet back under me, the movement pattern ended in a thump and a splat, with me sprawled out on the wooden floor facedown on my stomach. The pain throbbing in my left shoulder told me, “DO NOT MOVE.”

Struggling to catch my breath and to control the pain, I began audible deep breathing. A classmate, whose voice came from my left side, spontaneously became my breath coach. As if I were in the labor phase of childbirth, her reassuring voice encouraged me, “That’s it, just inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.” From the center of the room, someone asks me for my husband’s phone number and I tell them how to reach him using my cell phone. I hear the person leaving the message on his voice mail, “Your wife has fallen in her dance class. She’s injured but she’s ok. She’s conscious and she’s breathing.”

A Grandmother Looks at Vaccinations

In 1945, during the only semester I attended kindergarten, I brought back to my family’s household of four younger siblings, the three most common childhood diseases of that time; measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Luckily my mother was a nurse and knew how to take care of a houseful of sick children. We all survived and since then, we’ve had immunity without being vaccinated. But survival had not been assumed, especially for my youngest sister Mary Jane, who was six to eight months old at the time and still recovering from being gravely ill at birth.

11973371-child-vaccination-2Part of how things turned out well during and after our house became an infectious disease ward, was that no pregnant woman visited us during that time. No person with a suppressed immune system came past the front door. We were able to completely quarantine ourselves so as not to become agents of illness and death to anyone else, especially someone who might not have the immune system strength to recover that we apparently did.

Flash-forward to 2015, and I’m watching the accounts on the evening news of the spread of measles in the United States – ten states, then twelve, then eighteen. I note the state where I live, Pennsylvania, is one of them as is California, the state where my unvaccinated 2½-year-old granddaughter lives. Her parents, concerned for her safety have not decided to have her vaccinated yet.

Am I worried? Yes. But my worries have changed as I’ve paid attention to the realities and the science behind vaccinations. Initially, I was worried about my granddaughter. Last fall, I didn’t want her flying through the DFW airport when I heard that some cases of Whooping Cough had been reported in Texas. Since she hadn’t been vaccinated, I reasoned, she might get the disease and die from it.

color-flu-vac-cat-webBut now I realize if my granddaughter, who is extremely healthy, contracted one of the diseases prevalent in my childhood, she most likely would survive it as I did.  My worry now moves to a concern for somebody she might infect, somebody not as fortunate as she is. Frail elderly people are at risk, as are children and adults whose immune systems are compromised, like someone in treatment from another disease or health challenge. My unvaccinated granddaughter could be an agent of serious illness and death for some one else. And in the manner that epidemics move, it would eventually become impossible to trace the trail of how many people had died from her particular linked series of exposures.

I wish I had the power and influence to make certain that my granddaughter will not be an agent of harm to someone else.  But apparently I do not. My own son, my granddaughters’ father, thinks as many of his friends do, that the government can not be trusted to tell the truth. They’ve heard stories of perfectly healthy children being harmed by vaccines as these stories are passed through the community where they live. They don’t watch television news or read the morning papers. They haven’t heard that the stories, even the study they are based on, have been scientifically refuted.

They think my advice is based on experiences from the olden days, not relevant to their generation. And it is true that, in my day, we had no choice but to take our chances with the diseases themselves, before there were vaccinations to prevent them. When vaccines became available, as they were when my three children were young, my family and most others gratefully followed the medical guidelines and had them administered to our children. Now as an elder, my own self care involves following the medical profession’s advice and getting shots to prevent the flu, pneumonia, and shingles.

But to this grandmother, as the opportunities to prevent illnesses are greater, so are the risks to humankind if such opportunities are not subscribed to. Modern life involves international travelers sharing oxygen in small cramped quarters of airplanes, newborn and young infants clustered together in daycare centers, families eating in restaurants and coming into contact with others at large shopping malls; none of this existed in my day. So my prayer for my granddaughter, and for us all, is that we not return to the days when most people were not vaccinated against highly contagious diseases. That we not return to the days when everyone knew someone who had died or been seriously impaired by diseases that, in the 21st century, are entirely preventable.

Health: Not Just An Individual Matter

Do you know how it feels to be healthy, really healthy? A new eating program I’ve been following has caused me to pay attention to what foods seem to increase that healthy energetic, yet relaxed feeling. This practice has generalized to noticing other things that seem to contribute to a greater sense of well-being.

Grandma.SheilaMost of us pay attention to health when we get sick. As a kid, I’d be leaning over the toilet bowl or lying in bed trying to get comfortable enough to go to sleep with a blocked nasal passage and I’d think, “Yesterday I was feeling great and I didn’t even realize it. I took for granted feeling healthy.” I’d vow to appreciate the days I felt good, but of course, it didn’t take long to forget again to notice and be grateful for the gift of health.

Maybe it’s natural to take good feelings for granted and become super aware of the painful ones, but I’ve been trying to reverse that habit lately. Perhaps my journeys with two of my children through disease, diagnosis, treatments, medication side effects, and surgeries have taught me to savor the moments when nothing’s the matter.

But the feeling of health is more than just the absence of feeling sick. My friend Cynthia, in describing an experience we both shared with InterPlay leaders around the country wrote, “Health is not an individual matter.” This truth was reinforced for me last week when I injured my hip leaning over the back seat to unbuckle my 2 year-old granddaughter from her car seat. The twisting action threw out my sacroiliac, and pain accompanied most every step I took. I wondered how I’d get home in the next three days as I’d be traveling alone through two airports. And there was the presentation I was due to give in two days.

Kyra 2nd birthday

I attempted to be a good sport and participate in my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday party, but apparently, I wasn’t doing a very good job disguising my discomfort. A friend of my son and daughter-in-law, who’d only meet me once before, asked my son, “What’s the matter with your mother?” When he learned of my injury, he approached me, introduced himself as a fitness instructor, and offered to do some bodywork he felt would be helpful. I, with some trepidation, accepted his offer.

After the twenty-minute session with Paul, and after performing the exercises he gave me to do the following day, I was able to dance during my book presentation, and to make it gracefully through the two airports I needed to traverse in order to get home. Thinking back on the “kindness (and skill) of a stranger,” I’m reminded again that health is not an individual matter. Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher on the science of positive emotions, says that “the positive emotions people feel in connection with others seem to be a real driving force behind the health benefits,” her work has documented. http://positivityresonance.com/    

The Anatomy of a Massage

They say you never forget your first, and that’s held true for me. I can still remember in much detail my first massage. Part of its memorable nature involved the striking beauty of the place where it occurred, a hot springs along the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur California. 

 hotsprings3I had dragged my luggable computer to Esalen Institute, to assist one of my teachers, Ilana Rubenfeld, with a writing project. Ilana was on the Esalen Institute faculty, having invented a hands-on therapy, integrating psychotherapy, intuition, and bodywork. While on the retreat center campus I was able to participate not only in Ilana’s classes but I was able to experience my first massage. 

hotsprings5An Esalen massage begins at the edge of the Pacific, with a soak in several tubs fed by water from the underground hot mineral springs. And yes, people did not wear bathing suits, but there was no need to feel self-conscious. The scenery the wildflower-filled cliffside, in one direction and a spectacular seascape of rocky coastline and navy blue sky in the other, commanded all the attention. The massage rooms sit along side the ocean, so that although there’s music, the predominant sounds are of waves lapping against the rocky shore and wind soothing the pine trees.

As I go back to that place now in memory, what stands out is the effort I kept making to stay aware and awake for each delicious bodily sensation initiated by the therapist’s touch. I remember thinking I didn’t know my body could be this relaxed. At some point the relaxation became so deep that it took my mind to a space I’d never visited, even in my dreams.   

 During my most recent massage at a spa in Desert Hot Springs, California, my body taught me something else I didn’t know. In the thirty years since my first massage, I’ve become a better collaborator – bringing my breath and my full awareness to the point of contact between my body and the therapist’s hands. The aroma of the lotions, the music, the faint light, all conspire to encourage a letting go of excess tension in the muscles but the state of relaxation depends on the communication between the practitioner’s hands and my breath and intention. Together we give each of body part permission to let go of whatever is in excess, whatever is no longer needed.

 massage.spaAs the massage begins I notice the temperature of the room, a bit cooler than I’m used to. I notice the music, its repetitious rhythm and non-descript phrases, purposely arranged so as not to call attention to itself. I notice the feel of the lotion on my skin and that, in the desert air, my skin seems especially thirsty and grateful for the moisture it’s receiving.

As the massage progressed, some muscles relaxed easily, others with a surprisingly spastic jerk, and occasionally a sharp reflected pain accompanied some releases, subsiding as quickly as it came. While my muscles were engaged in these various releases, my mind surprised me by recreating some violent scenes from a movie I’d seen recently, “Ten Years a Slave.”  As this internal visualization occurred I noticed it and then brought my attention back to the point of contact with the therapist’s hands. After this continued for some time I had the realization, (or the sensation) that these images were being released from my body, as though they had been stored in my muscles since I first saw them.