What does your Psoas say?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Does something or one have to be broken to be fixed?   On the same note, does one have to “hit rock bottom,” to change their practices and/or begin believing and trusting in themself?  I wrote this post to encourage you to not only slow down, and listen, but to also believe in yourself enough to take action if you are feeling that something is not quite “right”. 

I am guilty of not believing in myself, and placing more value on other peoples’ opinions instead of listening to my own intuition.  My ‘problem’ had to get really loud for me to finally listen to it and take action.  Consequences will accumulate and the problem/symptoms can become more intense and confusing if the root cause to what you did and/or what happened to you is never addressed.  My unique and extraordinary story I have lived the past 17 years, has taught me a lot!  A lot about the physical body, in particular my body, and the deep connections between the body/mind/spirit.  Although, I am grateful for my experience and all of my lessons along the way, its been very challenging that I would not wish my experience on anyone.

I hope this post inspires you to dive deeper within your physical, mental, and emotional body and pay more attention.  There is so much at play in our lives and our body will talk to us if something is not quite right.

 

The following is a glimpse inside part of my ‘problem’…

If you have read any of my previous posts, especially my last one, you already know that I have been experiencing pain this past year.  It’s quite a dynamic and it has been hard to pin point a root cause and in my case possibly several root causes to explain my sensations.  The one thing that has been clear, is that my pain lives only on my right side body.  

My last post mentioned that I have integrated many practices to help relieve my upper body right side pain.  Pontus, my husband, a physiatrist and an osteopath was able to also help derotate my neck that he believes to have been stuck rotated to one direction since I had a neck replacement back in April 2017 between C6/C7.  Although this has noticeably helped my neck and shoulders to some incredible degree, except for when I am playing ‘Martha’ in the kitchen(as Pontus likes to say) and my right shoulder area can get agitated, the upper body practices and adjustment to my cervical spine has not been as useful, as I had hoped, in alleviating my pain sensations I have also been experiencing in my lower half.  

I do have a 19 month old baby, and although I know all the caring for her has not made the pain better, and probably has aggravated the sensations I feel, I do not believe this explains everything.  This past year I have woken up several times a week to intense throbbing pain in my right low back hip/pelvis.  I’m afraid most nights I wake Pontus up and beg and plead for him to massage my right low back in hopes that I can be soothed back to dream land…How I wish I could sleep like Pepper!!

These past several months, I have known, deep down that something is still not quite right, I should not be in this much pain!  My ‘pain’ has been intense this past year in my right hip/low back and pelvis.  As you may already know, this past year, I have gotten MRI imaging of my lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine.  I also got a bone scan.  The imaging showed no new areas of concern(does show my old compression fracture in my back between L1 and T12).  As I contemplate what I did and why I am experiencing so much discomfort I remember an old yoga injury I suffered in my right hip.  In fact, I have felt tightness and that ‘something is not quite right’ in my right hip low back, specifically dating since 2005, from this specific yoga injury.  Fast forward to 2021, I feel as if this injury has increasingly spread to the whole right side of my body.  Deep down, I always knew something was ‘off’ in my right hip, but ‘it’ wasn’t speaking loud enough to get my attention to take action.   I recently got an MRI of my right hip.  Although, I was not thinking the MRI would show much, I WAS WRONG!

My MRI of my right hip shows a severe anterior and posterior(rare) labral tear and extreme tendinosis of all my muscles within and surrounding my right hip.  I have been feeling mixed emotions, but most of all, relief.  Relief, that my sensations I have been feeling in my right hip/pelvis/low back is most possibly a result from not addressing my old yoga injury.

I remember the incident as if it was yesterday.  I was pushed forward in low lunge.  The teacher knew I was flexible and came from behind me in my lunge pose and said, “oh Brooke, you can go deeper,” and she pushed my hips down and forward from behind.  That moment something popped in my rt hip and I had trouble walking after for a couple of weeks.  After this injury, I was aware that I was walking with a dramatic shift and had a pronounced anterior tilt only on my right pelvis.  At the time of my injury however, I was not worried, nor did I seek out treatment because the rest of my body functioned just fine and I was not experiencing pain. I was 25. 

Now, age 43, and 3 kids later…I am experiencing ‘pain.’  I do not believe my pain is simply from the tear in my hip, but instead, all the muscle compensation!  I believe the muscles that surround my right hip have been working overtime all these years to protect my hip!  Muscles are there to protect our joints. Furthermore, I cannot believe ALL my ‘pain’ is from my old compression fracture I have between L1/T12, at my thoracolumbar junction.   Although I know that this vulnerable and unstable part of my spine must be contributing to the problem, its not the main source (like I have thought to myself all these years).  I also understand, perhaps, why I have not gotten better, in my right side imbalance, as I do believe that I’ve changed my ways and attitude especially in the past several years to heal myself and my body since this experience.  My body has been stubborn to adjust and transform with all the practices I have integrated.

One of the muscles I know to be wound up and tight from all my compensation is my Psoas muscle (on my right)!  

 If you are unfamiliar with the Psoas muscle here is a little info:

Our psoas is the deepest and one of the largest and dynamic muscles in our body. It’s referred to being the muscle of our soul as it is deeply enfolded into our core, internal organs, and central nervous system.  The psoas is located underneath our superficial abdominals and lies deeply connected to the center of our body and spine, it has a direct rapport with our superficial core muscles and internal organs.  The psoas connects to our diaphram/T12, and extends along our spine through our SI joint down into our pelvic bowl.  It then wraps around our pelvis via the illiacus and then down on on our femur bone deep in our hip(inner upper thigh).  There are 2 muscles, one on each side of our left and right pelvis and spine.  If our psoas muscle is over worked/tight/or weak it can unintentionally cause a slew of physical imbalances, internal turmoil with our organs and, even cause us to enter our empathetic nervous system with its connection to our diaphragm.  

The unfortunate truth is that, even if you do not have an injury to your hip/pelvis/spine etc etc, if you are an active person and not aware of this deep postural muscle, you may not be doing enough to help it relax, release and restore!  For the psoas does more than just flex at our hips and is said to have a more orbital quality of movement so it is integrated in all that we do!  It can also get extremely tight from sitting all day. Furthermore, being integrated with our diaphragm and our central nervous system, it is also known to be the ‘waste basket’ for our held feelings of emotional trama.  Sometimes when you release the hips, you are simultaneously releasing ‘old stories’ that have been locked up inside.  It’s important to value rest and restorative actions to keep the psoas supple, so we also feel vital and free in our body, mind and heart.

Its quite the paradox!   For as much as we participate in actively strengthening our core muscles, we need to equally learn how to and allow ourselves to relax and release this deep core muscle called the psoas.  A fluid, elastic, released psoas, will help us sustain a healthy posture/spine, healthy functioning internal organs(gut balance), positive outlook on life, a healthy lower to upper body connection, and beautifully long lean midsection.

If you are practicing Pilates you are already a step ahead of most people.  You already are aware of the importance of paying attention to the whole body and not just your abdominals.  You also value spinal health.  You diversify your spinal movements keeping the joints and ligaments and tendons healthy and well lubed with flexing, extending, rotating, and side bending without overdoing.  You are aware that every part of you (body/mind/spirit) is participating in some way or fashion in your Pilates practice…

QUICK UPDATE – 

I recently had a cortisone shot in my rt hip and botox in my piriformis and quadradus lumborum (psoas muscle lies too deep to inject).  The cortisone shot helped initially but dampened quickly after the local anesthetic wore off.  The botox has maybe helped a little too as the waking up in the middle of the night to throbbing pain in my right low back/right hip/pelvis has dampened.  That said, I am still suffering with persisting tightness and pain to my right side pelvis/hip and low back.  The pain travels sometimes up my right side spine and also sometimes down my leg into the arch/sole of my right foot.  Some days are better than others!  I am trying to keep a positive outlook and remind myself that this is just a ‘wave’ in my ocean, and that ‘nothing lasts forever.’  

Pilates, swimmimg, gentle stretches, whiskey, infrared sauna, dry brushing, breathing meditation practices, and looking at all the positives in my life, helps me keep my life in perspective to the greater picture and hopeful that things will begin to get better.  I have so much to be grateful for; not only do I have the most amazing, loving, and supportive husband and family, I have more knowledge and more insight to choose better and do what’s right for me moving forward.  

My next step is to try PRP for my hip and also my irritated facet joints near my thoracolumbar  junction in an effort to reduce inflammation in those areas and hopefully nourish the surrounding muscles and the surrounding tissues in May.  If this helps, I plan to do it again. In the meantime, I will try to continue to remind myself to – love, listen, forgive, and honor the beauty that lives inside of me.  I hope to heal with time.   I will keep you posted.  Until then, I hope you take time to actively listen and believe in yourself enough to take action!

The below are a few simple insights/practices to help you sustain a healthy balance between your deep psoas and core surrounding muscles…

-“F*** the tuck” – excuse my language on this one, but I still see many people that are still over tucking and hardening their groins beyond what is necessary in an effort to strengthen their core muscles and feel “tight”.  Like everything, there is a place for the tuck (‘rolling like a ball’ ‘open leg rocker’ for example), but is has to be in relation to what the rest of your spine is doing and also if you are weight bearing or not.   I feel that all this tucking and groin hardening in the Pilates method or any exercise practice can have the reverse affect of what one is trying to achieve.  Instead, soften your groins, scoop your abdominals in and up, lift your hip points, and lengthen your spine!

-Sit and stand TALL.  When sitting feel your 2 sit bones rooting down and when standing(soften your knees) ground as evenly as you can through your 4 corners putting a little more weight over your inner and outer heel opposed to your toes.  In opposition to rooting/grounding through your sit bones or feet, lift and lengthen your spine.  As always wear the center of your head over your heart and the center of your heart over the center of your pelvic bowl. 

-Take some time each day and do CRP, Constructive rest position.  Rest lying on the floor in a neutral spine position(allowing natural curves of spine) with knees bent and feet flat on floor hip distance width apart.  Breathe deeply and slowly for 5-15 minutes/day.  “I visualize inhaling down into my pelvic bowl and exhale gently zippering up through my front spine out the crown of my head.  Grab a pillow for your head if you are over arching your head and your base of chin is not vertical to the floor.”

-Pressure point release balls!  Lie down and breathe big for at last 30 seconds on any spot on your abdomen/hips/gluteus muscles to release any tight knots.  I love using these balls right below my rib cage, slightly above my hip bones closer to my spine, and on my glute medius muscles.  Be sure to release both sides:)

-Educate yourself!  My favorite books on the Psoas

The Psoas Book

-by Liz Koch

The Vital Psoas

-by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones

 

“it is not about being fully healed and then starting your life, it is about embracing healing as a life long journey while allowing genuine connections to organically emerge along the way.” 

-Yung Pueblo

 

Love,

Brooke

where’s your head at?

If you have read my blog you may have figured out by now that I have struggled to surrender and soften my efforts.  I have had a tendency to be too disciplined and sometimes ‘overdo’ it.  I have started this blog in part to help myself take my own advise to be more self-compassionate, truly listen, and believe in my own intuition.  This takes incredible trust and love of self!

I believe that by writing this blog, I have become a better listener, but still, it is an evolving and imperfect journey along with everything else. 

More recently, approximately March 2021, I over stretched, strained something in my neck.  Fast forward to now, November 18, 2021, I am doing much better!  I do still struggle with muscle tightness depending on what I am doing but do feel equipped to navigate my discomfort with the many lessons I have learned from being in relentless pain these past several months.  

My husband, Pontus, who is an osteopath, was able to work on me which no doubt is, pretty special, but with everything else, it also has its’ challenges!  I know it was hard for him to deal with me especially after having to care for his patients all day long.  He was tired and impatient and I was also impatient, in pain, and wanting clear answers to explain my uncertain state.  Regardless, I am very lucky to have my husband.  He knows my story, my body, and my tendencies and was undeniably helpful in my healing & recovery.

Pontus believed ‘some’ of my incredible discomfort was most likely caused by a rotation at the base of my cervical spine where I had my disk replacement b/t C6 and C7 in 2017.  I must have exasperated this rotation.  I could speculate forever on why?…but understand that it is simply a consequence to my tendencies to ‘do.’  At times, my pain sometimes was so bad that it encompassed my whole right side body, from my right side occiput to my right low back, but sometimes I was such in a flare state that I had irritation that continued down all the way to my right foot!  Continuing to breastfeed through my pain was a blessing and a curse.  Pontus was and still helps me de-rotate my upper thoracic/cervical spine with muscle energy technique, where I get stuck rotated to the left.  He also advised that I practice some daily muscle energy work in my upper spine to help strengthen and stabilize this very unstable area of my body.  I still perform muscle energy in my neck daily!!  In addition to Pontus manually working on me, I did accupuncture and/or massage weekly at times.  Although these modalities helped short-term, they were not able to stick and help long term. 

Due to my pre-existing conditions in both my neck and my old compression fracture in my low back I had MRIs of my lumbar and cervical spine, a bone scan, and blood work done to make sure the pain I was experiencing wasn’t more serious.  Luckily, the tests showed no significant information to explain my discomfort.  This was also  a blessing and a curse!  Sometimes I thought, is it all in my head!?  Quite possibly!  I do know that my head played a significant role, both in how I positioned it physically and also metaphorically speaking.

Are you wearing your head in front of your heart? Or are you holding your head with your heart?

From as early as grade school I can remember being taller than most everyone in my class including all the boys, I was very insecure about this, this continued all the way into high school, where I would purposefully slouch and hang my head to one side so I would be a level to my other peers. I look back at this and wonder why I didn’t stand tall and be proud of my height?  As you already know, I know the answer to my own question!  I was not secure in who I was, felt powerless and unworthy to be me.  Fortunately, after experiencing a tumultuous couple of years in all facets of my life, I hit rock bottom my freshman year in college, but in the end, I was able to choose me!  I truly did a full circle, my self image changed drastically for the better and I started to love myself more and more.  Interestingly, not only did my self image transform, but also how I held myself changed, including how I positioned my head.  My posture wasn’t perfect however, and its been evolving (I believe) for the better ever since, of course along with my own self image.:)

Currently, my posture has suffered with the demands of caring for a new baby and also my tendencies to “do” and neglect what my body is telling me.  Pepper is now 14 months, and although she is still quite petite …23 Ibs, its been a lot of holding, breast feeding, bathing, feeding, twisting turning etc etc.  The steady demands of caring for  Pepper and the stress I put a on myself has definitely taken a toll on my posture!  This coupled with loose ligaments and general instability especially at L1/T12 from my old compression fracture and disk replacement between C6/C7 has been difficult for me to sustain freedom and ease in my spine!

I am writing this post to reflect on my experience these past several months in hopes that what I say may help you, if you find that you are struggling with neck, shoulder, back, body pain.   I hope that you will read this feeling some hope that your pain will go away and that there are simple things you can do to help yourself.  

I learned somewhat quickly that alleviating my pain temporarily was as simple as taking the time to align where my head was at, both from a metaphorical and physiological standpoint. It’s interesting how the 2 affect one another.  Furthermore, My pain significantly lessened when I physically reminded myself to hold my head with my heart, instead of forward of my heart which is where it wants to go.   My head also, naturally aligned more with my heart when I committed more time for self care.  This is not a simple action to take when you have a newborn!!  I found it to be very beneficial to work from my “head” first, not only physically with my posture, starting at my head and allowing the alignment benefits to cascade down, but also in my own thoughts!  I definitely had my moments of playing a victim to my pain…especially in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep!  However, this attention I would give to my pain lessened the attention I would give to taking the steps to feeling better and seeing the joy and beauty that was in me and that also surrounding me. 

Below is a brief summary of some ideas/practices that helped me feel better!  Remember the following are practices and ideas, and most if not all of the below are things I still work on and practice daily to keep me feeling better…

PHYSICAL PRACTICES – First you need to align and “wear your head over your heart!”  Then do the following…

-practice muscle energy from all sides of your skull with the heel of your hand to strengthen & stabilize…isometric exercises.

-“wear your smile from ear to ear” practice keeping the base of your chin in and down towards your throat.  Slight chin tuck.

-extend the roof of your mouth to the crown of your head

-“Stand your ground,”  Stand tall and be proud of who you are.

-in general, make smaller more precise movements.  Progress takes time and steady practice – little by little, bit by bit…!

MENTAL PRACTICES – 

-“What is the lesson?” What if I am experiencing this pain to help someone else not have to experience pain?  How can I use this experience to help and serve others?

-“Less ego and control, more universal and flow.”  Soften, relax, breathe and let be

-“Forgive, no self judgement”

-“Do less and Be more”

Lastly, if you’re hyper mobile, unstable, have pre-existing conditions, and a mover like me, you may want to consider doing prolo-therapy or PRP(platelet rich plasma) for your vulnerable areas, especially if you have good, healthy blood.  I did undergo PRP in both my low back around my old compression fracture and also more recently around my disk replacement in my cervical spine.  I know it has made a positive impact.  I am noticeable more stable in my ligaments and joints and therefore, experiencing less pain and persistent irritation caused from the instability.

I have a class on my Vimeo account – “upper body tune up” I recently made that shows some of the physical practices I would do to help me with my pain.

I hope this helps and please reach out with feedback or questions.

Aloha,

Brooke

Vagus Baby!

Aside from reading all of Paulo Cohleo’s books (I find his perspectives and stories to be so heartfelt.)  I do not do much reading these days, nor did I EVER before I had a newborn.  If I’m lucky, I’ll read 1-3 books a year, usually when we vacation in Hawaii. My latest book that I read, although not a Paulo Cohleo story, is called Cured, by Jeffery Rediger MD.  Jeffery Rediger researched why people have remissions from terminal illnesses.  He explains the science behind these miracles, instead of just calling them flukes of nature.  There has to be an explanation, right?  He reveals 4 pillars that played a significant role in helping one heal.  

1 – healing your nutrition; 2 – healing your immunity; 3 – healing your identity; and 4 – healing your stress response.

In todays post I will talk more to the 4th pillar of healing our stress response and how I believe this work to heal how we respond to stress could also significantly help us find and sustain more physical integrity and a sense of well-being within.

Dr Rediger discusses how stress is inevitable as we deal with stress everyday.  It’s how we respond to the stressors in our life that is important.  If we can somehow learn to be more conscious of what we do when we are stressed, maybe we can make little changes to alter our tendencies, and instead, unstick ourselves from our unconscious patterns.    These unconscious patterns, I believe, affect not only our mental and emotional state of well-being, but also our physical body.  I believe our body can suffer and can continue to suffer from the simple memory of “what happened to us” and be in pain until we can change how we respond to our stressors differently.

So how can we change our stress response?

I will start by giving you these 2 following excerpts – 

(pg. 183) Think of how Often you’ve used the phrase gut feeling for a broken heart; you had butterflies in your stomach.  You feel different emotions in different parts of your body for good reason: areas are hot beds for neural receptors. Recent research is showing that we actually have three brains: the head brain, the heart brain and they gut brain and their health and development depend on keeping them in balance and alignment. With the vagus nerve as a connecting cord, emotions flood through our system in the form of neural messages and hormones. Some signals begin in the gut or the heart and flow upstream to the head brain, while others cascade from above. In this way, our thoughts and emotions have both instant and long lasting effects on our biological systems: nervous, endocrine, immune.

(pg. 182) The vagus nerve exits the brain stem at the base of your skull deep in your neck. Press your fingers to the pulse points on your neck and you are close as you can get to your vagus nerve. From that spot under your fingers it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozen of other vital functions. If you have doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two – a thick humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

This idea that we have 3 brains is fascinating and even more intriguing to me is that they are all connected to our vagus nerve that regulates how we respond to what is happening.  Stress affects me in curious ways, physically I experience many things depending on my current state, but recently more irritation in my neck and right side body(probably due to all the holding and breast feeding I’ve been doing).  I also generally experience a lack of inner flow and circulation.  It is a horrible feeling to feel so stuck inside.  I can feel frozen regardless of how much physical movement I do, foods I eat, etc, etc…So to learn that the vagus nerve controls most of our body functions and our ability to rest/digest and connect to our parasympathetic nervous system was huge insight for me.  How then can I tone my vagus nerve so it’s able to help me relax and help me better respond to simple stressors?  I learned that, toning my vagus nerve to help me relax is relatively simple. However, just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it is easy!!! So I am writing this post, to reflect on what I could do better in my efforts to fine tune the way I respond to stressors in my day to day to create more feelings of ease. 

As I mentioned above, the “gut” is a brain and integrated with both our heart and our mind with our vagus nerve.  This idea made me contemplate the connection between listening to my gut instinct and how that generally has helped me make “better decisions” – of corse when I chose to listen to it!   Studying in France, marrying my husband, Pontus, and switching careers to focus on teaching Pilates and Yoga are 3 decisions I have made that reflect my choice to listen to my GUT.  All those decisions felt really good in my whole body and I cannot always say that has been true for other experiences and decisions. As a human being, I believe we have been more programmed to listen to our mind and heart.  It’s easier to give priority to these 2 brains, especially the mind, as most times this is the logical thing to do!  The whole idea of listening with my gut requires me to trust in myself and in order to trust myself, I need to have at least a general understanding of who I am at my core.

In my youth, (no offense Mom and Dad, I love you and so grateful for you) I often felt as if I had no value.  I didn’t feel like I mattered, as I was not encouraged to have a voice and did not feel listened to.  I was never included in my parents decision process from the schools I went to, to the activities I participated in… I was the child and they were the parent and I did things because “they said so.”  Oh, how I hate that saying!  I believed my role was to be quiet, respectful, grateful, do good in school and do what my parents told me to do, including the Catholic schools I attended.  I should be grateful, no doubt, as I had a lot of opportunities other kids did not. I know my parents were doing the best they knew how, and wanted to give me the best!  However, life is life, and most of us know by now that things are not as always as they seem!  From this memory, I believe it is important to feel like you have a voice in order to feel love and have trust in yourself

If you think about it, “listing to our gut” requires us to trust in ourselves.   Listening more to our inner voice is just a way to be true ourselves and love our actions/decisions.   This love for self and what we do tones our vagus nerve keeping us out of our sympathetic nervous system and therefore, more easily able to deal with STRESS.  Our gut instinct should never be ignored!  It’s definitely an up and down and circular journey for me, but as always, I believe, it’s worth the effort!  For me, listening to my gut brings me back to me!  Knowing this helps me to remind myself (over and over again) to not look past my own inner knowing and self worth.  Maybe you would you would benefit from this reminder about yourself?

Along with the idea of listening to my gut instinct, I feel it’s easier for me to listen well when my gut is physically aligned more with my heart and mind.  Grounding, in general, has always been a challenge for me and something I have been trying to cultivate my whole life.  Since a very young age, I have been told several different times that I lead more with my ‘upper body.’  Growing up playing various sports, my coaches all tried to get me to run with my feet under me instead of behind me.  they would say,  “Brooke, you run with your heart.”  It is true, I did!   My lower body followed and tried to keep up!  I look back now and feel maybe I was just ‘running to please’ without ever stopping to ask if I was pleasing myself in what I was doing?  I wonder if this lack of connection between my physical upper and lower bodies translated to my lack of ability to be able to align my gut with my other 2 brains and therefore my vagus nerve?    Maybe that’s why I love how I feel now after practicing Pilates and Yoga; where these 2 disciplines encourage me to find and connect to a plumb line and work from a place of whole body integrity?   Hmm?

A strong part of me has always believed that you can change your own destiny. Believing my thoughts reflect my current state.  This belief structure works great when things are “good” In my life. The events, stuff, experiences that I believe (especially in the moment) are not “good” I have to wonder… Did I subconsciously ask for this to happen to me, what lesson is the universe trying to teach me now?

Regardless of what your beliefs are it is quite interesting to look at your life from this perspective.  Although, it’s sometimes easier to put the blame on something or someone else for things that happen that are not what you “think you desire” it can be illuminating to play with your own life pieces in an effort to make sense of what makes you YOU! 

I hope you remember to align your gut, heart, and mind, in and out of your workouts, and truly listen to what your GUT is saying.

Here are some other fun excerpt regarding the vagus nerve from Cured

(pg. 184)The vagus nerve is like a muscle the more you use it the stronger it becomes. using the vagus-stimulating it through everything from deep breathing to connecting with a friend or partner is like flexing your biceps as you lift weights, it increases its strength, flexibility, and elasticity. And just like with physical exercise, the more you use it, the better you get at using it, and the more health benefits you reap.

(pg.185)What truly tones your vagus nerve are small moments of connection –  a sort of falling in love, if you will, with the people who surround you on a day-to-day basis, everyone from your husband or wife to children to the barista you’re getting to know that your corner coffee shop.  It could even be a total stranger you meet on the street.

(pg. 189) When the parasympathetic is engaged the vagus activates face-heart connection. At the metaphorical level, it opens your heart to others, and on a literal level, both relaxes and constricts different facial muscles that help you to smile, focus, and express warmth and interest so that you can connect with the people you’re speaking with. When you’re in chronic fighter flight mode, you without even realizing it –  a flatter or forced affect. Fight or flight stiffens your body, inhibits the warmth of your gaze, limits the genuineness of your smile, and overall inhibits your ability to make connections, leading those opportunities for micro moments of love to slip by…..

Therefore a person and fight or flight will have more difficulty, therefore connecting with others, and essentially healing their own selves.

On Demand Pilates Mat classes

Check out some of my latest on demand Pilates Mat classes offered on Community Fitness online membership

1/18 – ‘Intermediate Classical Mat Pilates Flow’

1/25 – ‘Invigorating Pilates Flow’ including several backbends

2/01 – ‘Easygoing Pilates Flow’ to simply move your energy

2/08 – ‘Intermediate Reformer on the Mat Pilates Flow’ *optional light weights

2/15 – ‘Thighs back Pilates Flow’ including STAR & a posture in Yoga called Fish 

2/22 – ‘Abdominal bracing, hip opening, & arm strengthening Pilates Flow’ *optional weights

3/1 – ‘Opening Back Body Pilates Flow’ featuring balance control – more advanced!

Join me for live classes every Monday from 11-11:50am! Contact me or check out Community Fitness for more information!

Connecting to a ‘BIGGER PICTURE’

Aloha!

Happy new year to you all.  I have a new Pilates video to share with you on my vimeo account.  The practice begins with 10 minutes of simple yoga salutations to ‘wake up’ the body before diving into a 30 minute Pilates mat workout.  The practice is a perfect practice for the morning, especially when you are not at home and have the luxury of space.  You can expect to stay on your mat from start to finish…no side lying leg kicks here.

The one instruction I give, sprinkled throughout  the workout, is “Breathe into your back body.”  The back body is beneficial to be aware of, not only because it gives you a cue or reference point from which you create more inner space, but also because it is symbolic of the universal energy within us.  The front body on the other hand is symbolic of our ego or of a more singular energy.  Although both are necessary and good, the back body is the unseen energy and therefore more of a challenge to be aware of, making it easier for our ‘egos’ to take center stage.

The practice of Pilates is all about taking a step back and softening our egos in order to connect us to our back.  This concentrated physical effort to balance our front with our back (ego with universal), I believe, can also indirectly connect us to something ‘bigger’ than ourselves.  Clearly a strong and tall ego will allow us to move forward and reach for our desires. However, too much ego, without the consideration of the unseen and universal back energy, could surely deplete and exhaust us. Balancing the two, with a slight edge to the back body, will allow for something better.

Personally, I have experienced both extremes!  I have had too much ‘ego’ with too much discipline and rigidity in my practices, without considering the current situation and others involved, making for an unhappy ending.  Also, in my physical practice, most of you know that I have a love affair with backbends.  I love them so much as I feel invigorated every time I do one.  However, I have learned that if I do not take the time to also balance my practice of backbends with something to bring my back and me back to neutral, all the back bending or emphasis on opening up my front body, is like drinking too many cups of coffee.  We all know too much coffee, although oh so good, can lead you to feel anxious, jittery, and just not well.  That said, it is valuable for me to also incorporate some basic forward folds (as I breathe in my back body) in my practice of backbends.  

The practice of Pilates encourages us to connect to our backs, both physically and metaphorically.  It’s a beautiful and humbling practice that hopefully reminds us all to soften more, let go more, yield more, forgive more, be okay not to be “right” more, all without losing our capacity to love ourselves and stand tall in who we are.

I hope you breathe into your back…

Aloha, Brooke 

delighting in a “Bigger Picture” – Kukio Beach, HI

A return on your investment


As I sit to write this post, it is 2 days before Thanksgiving, and I am reflecting on ALL that I am grateful for.  There are so many things that I am grateful for, where do I begin!  Of course all of you!  I so miss seeing and connecting with many of you in person.  

In todays post I will share with you, someone else that I am grateful for, and that person is John Friend.  He is not an immediate friend, nor do I see him regularly and last saw him in Park City, Utah in the spring of 2009 for one of his Anusara Yoga trainings.

John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, helped me realize and understand how “more return” was possible to experience in my Yoga practice.  I believe this idea is true for every aspect of life.  In other words, it is very possible to get more than you give!  I also know that nothing is for ‘free.’  At least there is nothing worth doing for free.  I have to work if I want something and that awareness brings integrity and steadiness to all my practices.  

John Friend essentially taught me the 3 A’s. They stand for, Attitude, Alignment, and Action.  These 3 A’s act like a recipe.  Essentially, if all of these A’s are integrated in your practice, you have created a profitable experience for yourself.  Time and time again I remind myself of this lesson.  It has opened my eyes and given me more insight into why some of my experiences might not be the best and how I can help myself next time around. 

ATTITUDE –

Although all 3 A’s are all important, I feel the first A, Attitude, is the most valuable and allows the other A’s to integrate to their fullest potential.  I call this aspect, the “je ne sais quoi.”  “Je ne sais quoi” translates to “I don’t know what” and is essentially an expression of a quality that makes something or someone attractive, distinctive, or special in some way, but is hard to put into words.  In other words you can think of the “attitude” of what you do is the heart quality or intention/feeling behind why you do what you do.  This, in my opinion is the most powerful of all 3 A’s because it can make the physical body come alive and shine out with pure satisfaction and delight.  This simple enjoyment cannot only uplift and  transform us it can also be an inspiration for others in our life to delight in what they are doing.    The attitude/intention can be simple too.  Just an intention to feel more joyful or at ease, for example, could do wonders for your inner state if you carry it with you throughout your practice.  Although there is nothing wrong if there is no attitude/inner purpose, as a practice can still be physically beneficial with the alignment and action, it is lacking in inspiration, and in my opinion, can set one up to experience unease.

My practice has not always been connected to my “attitude.” I have definitely “practiced” to practice and have not been connected to how I wanted to feel or what I was hoping to achieve.  I simply needed to work my body.  Although there is nothing wrong with this as I have stated above, my experience was not as rewarding as when I integrated an intention, and I believe, this set me up for trouble on a few occasions as well.    For example, I have ‘invested’ in intense postures and movements that were not good for me at that ‘time’, thinking the postures themselves would yield me more reward.  Looking back, the ‘reward’ came with no internal benefits and sometimes left me feeling more uneasy and in a general state of stress.   I was paying more than I received.  Having experienced many set backs from not connecting to my heart and staying connected to it by listening to what my body was telling me during my practices, I have grown insight and refined my practice to respect my inner, subtle desires and experiences instead of focusing on simply what I was performing on the outside.  This commitment to turn inward first,  has interestingly enough, created other external benefits I wasn’t expecting.  

How do you start your practice?  Do you have internal or more external intentions?  Maybe take a moment to observe how you are feeling inside before you practice.   I hope that awareness will motivate you to invest in things (joy, peace, calm, connected etc..) that yield you the most profit in return whatever that is for you!

ALIGNMENT-

We all know that simply working hard does not always pay off, you have to also be very skilled.  I love the saying “working hard at doing nothing.”  

John Friend would teach us how there is the alignment of 

  • outer gross physical body 
  • Inner subtle body (one must respect and pay attention to their asymmetries within…organs etc)
  • The dynamic play between inner and outer body.  This element of alignment requires us to pay attention and observe how our inner and outer states affect each other and how this plays into our inner experience/attitude.

Paying attention to all our ‘Alignments’ is important!   I learned that too much effort in the wrong places or generally not keeping a balance between inner and outer bodies could lead to negative outcomes.  I know that when I was not respecting my subtle inner asymmetries in my body, I have had to pay a lot more, figuratively and literally to get me in the clear!  I, therefore, remind myself that listening and stepping back sometimes to receive and allow more space and support will help my efforts in staying connected to my practice and ultimately feeling the most reward.  That said, not enough effort can also get me into trouble too!  The body is not strong enough to move itself into alignment, it takes a conscious effort.  There has to be a balance between effort and surrender, or the ability to listen and observe when you need to soften and let go to stay in balance.

ACTION – 

Last but definitely not least is action!  I saw a Sting & Peter Gabriel concert at the key arena back in 2015(i think), and I remember Sting and Peter were discussing how they both loved practicing Yoga.  Peter comically said, ”I am still waiting for Yoga to help me loose my belly.”  Sting then asked, “how do you practice?”  Peter responded, “oh like this,” and he laid down on the stage floor in savasana.  The crowd, especially I, got a huge kick out of Peter.  Essentially, you cannot just sit and meditate

for things to change and get better (loose the belly), you have to actively participate!   Action is fueled by your desire or your attitude.  The stronger your desires, the more powerful your action.  It pays to invest your time in having a clear and beautiful intention(s) before you practice.

I hope this post will inspire some of you to think of the 3’A’s (ATTITUDE, ALIGNMENT & ACTION) before you practice!   Give yourself a little moment and reflect on what you need and carry that with you as you move.  The how and why of what you do, is just as important as the knowing what to do and the necessary act. “You get what you give,” in my opinion, is not all that simple.  In fact, if you integrate the 3 A’s, it is possible to receive more than you give!  I believe that receiving more in your practice(s) is a pursuit worth having, and I hope you do too.

Happy Holidays.

ALOHA,

Brooke

PREGNANCY and PILATES

Dichotomy of allowing yourself to be held before you can be independent and free…

Generally speaking this pregnancy compared to my other 2 (Ginger – 13 and Coco – 10) was challenging.  I have had more minor inconveniences, such as hormonal acne around my smile which in the big picture is no big deal (especially with all the mask wearing I am doing these days), but it still makes me feel self conscious.  I also experienced a major episode early in my pregnancy which made me appreciate the “gift” of being pregnant and getting another chance to hold and nurture another beautiful creation.  

When I was 14 weeks pregnant, and had traveled to Texas for a Pilates conference, I had a major bleeding event.  I woke up in the middle of the night after my first day at the conference to go to the bathroom but instead bled a lot of blood.  My first thought was that oh-no, I lost my baby!  I was shaking with fear and felt so much shame for what just happened.   In my head, I told myself that it was stupid to come to the conference in the first place!  I was upset at myself, as I was thinking that I must have “overdone” it again, in addition, to drinking too much coffee and matcha tea.  What did I do?  What lesson do I need to learn now?  Can’t I be done with learning lessons for a while?

I called Pontus and sadly, still in a lot of shock, told him what I just experienced.  He tried to comfort me and told me it would all be okay and that we do not know anything for certain.  “Try to get some rest,” he says!  It was 3am and I was wide awake and even though I was tired, there was no way I would have been able to sleep.  I ended up changing my flight and came home on the next earliest flight possible.  As I was packing my bags to leave for the airport I knew that worrying and looking up stuff on google would not help my current emotional state so I decided to sing to try and calm myself.  I just started singing without knowing what to sing.  I was so frightened, but was determined not to worry about it.  I told myself “I am okay, I know my baby is okay and I started singing – 

i love you

i love me

i’ll be gentle with you

i’ll be gentle with me

i love you

i love me

you are my baby

all of my dreams

i care for me

i care for you

i’ll be gentle with me

i’ll be gentle with you

stay with me

i’ll stay with you

please my baby stay with me!

i love you

i love me

i promise to be gentle with you and with me.

Baby, stay with me

i love you

i love me

Arriving back at Sea Tac, Pontus and the girls picked me up, and as soon as I saw their faces I could not hold my emotions, and the tears came streaming down my face like waterfalls. Pontus held me and I soon realized that the girls had no idea what was wrong with their Mamma as Pontus had not mentioned anything to them yet.  We got in the car and I told the girls what happened.  They were sad, but so sweet, as they tried to make me feel better.  That whole day still remains a blur, I simply rested and prayed that my baby was okay.  The following day, I saw my doctor.  I held my breath as I lay on the table for the ultrasound.  I closed my eyes, said one more prayer and soon I heard a strong little heart beat inside.  I opened my eyes, smiled and cried, and knew that everything would be okay.  I made a promise to myself to take it easy more, and continue to practice listening to what my body is telling me.  Less pushing, doing, efforting, and instead, more yielding, softening, and surrendering.  At that moment, I knew that this pregnancy was a beautiful gift and I am lucky to have another opportunity to experience the miracle of life within me.  

I am now going on 38 weeks and I have kept my promise.  Although I practice everyday, I have been gentle and loving to myself and my baby.  I take it easy, rest when I need to and I am proud of myself for listening and not competing.  I understand now that my bleeding experience needed to happen for me to slow down, and not continue with my old habits of being in autopilot – doing things just to do them.  In a way, I am grateful for that experience and what it taught me.  

Even if you are not pregnant, sorry men, …you can still visualize and imagine what it is like to be pregnant, holding and nurturing a miracle inside(your heart center) will help you lift your middle and enhance your breathing to help you sustain more space within, then maybe you are used to practicing.

With this heightened body awareness and my vow to soften and listen more, my connections have been so much deeper and allowed me to access parts of myself that have been challenging.  I’ve gotten better at letting go of my expectations of what the practice SHOULD bring me and instead have allowed the practice to literally hold and support me.  Listening to my body and asking what it needs that day to feel better in that moment to accommodate myself and the needed space for my baby has been such an important practice.  I am not simply “logging in another session.”  My breath has been deeper, my body more lifted and spacious and I treat each movement I take with a little more care and percision just how Mr Pilates intended the practice to be.  

The mindfulness that both practices of Yoga and Pilates require have helped me feel held and supported. The more consistent I am with practicing the more held and supported I feel.  This idea is so important in the practice because it will allow you to feel and experience more of yourself to make the deeper more meaningful connections that you need.  

My early  experience during this pregnancy has helped me allow the practice to literally “hold me.”  Just how the loving faces of my girls and Pontus holding me at Sea Tac, I was able to let go, soften and let my emotions flow out to and clear my state to literally, get myself back together.  I  feel fortunate to have not only a loving husband and 2 amazing daughters, but also 2 disciplines that I can count on to hold me.  I do hope you have found people and things in your life that also hold you!  

Now, about to give birth to another baby girl, I feel so lucky to be the one to hold her.  I feel our amazing connection and hope I can continue to hold her and support her out of my womb in the ways she needs so she can also feel and learn what she needs, to be free and independent without me. I was given such a beautiful gift, I know it is an opportunity that will teach and show me how to navigate and proceed into the next chapter of my life.

To being held,

Brooke

WAKE UP FLOW

I have a new practice posted on my Vimeo site!  I name the mat practice, “wake up flow.” It is a 50 minute mat practice that includes some of my favorite ‘go-to’ stretches.  The practice is a nice gentle full body flow that is also suitable for active prenatal women (like me!).  I spend some time lubricating our shoulders and hips with some nice circular movements and end with some strengthening movements to reinforce our lower and upper body connections.  When I do this practice I feel more alive in my body.  I hope you do too!

 

ON DEMAND YOGA CLASSES

available to view on Community Fitness

Below show the date and the focus/theme of each class:

3/27 – “Step back to connect in the present moment”

Physical practice- integrating “skull loop” which is simply keeping your head aligned well with your heart and therefore the rest of your body.  You know when you are doing this action correctly when your neck is equally long on all sides, your ears fall in line with your shoulders, your gaze is forward and your chest is lifted!

The class is well balanced with a little bit of everything.  Expect some standing postures, hip openers, twists and shoulder openers sprinkled throughout.  A side plank with a bind is the peek posture.

4/3 – “Remembering the beauty that resides within you”

Physical practice – The practice starts off with some basic shoulder and side body openers.  I pick the flow up with some sun salutes, lunges, standing postures, thigh and hip stretches, and heart openers weaved throughout.

Some highlights from the practice are:

– a variation of camel that really opens up the psoas and hips, not to mention an outrageous heart opener. 

– a side plank variation with the top leg in tree pose.  

-a twist, side bend, and back bend all in one… “parivrtta janu sirsasana” or revolved head to knee pose.

-a beautiful backbend  “Matsyasana” or fish pose.

4/10 – “Recalibrate to adapt to new realities”

Physical practice – This HIP opening class is all about using muscle energy to create strong stable boundaries to help us open up our hips.  A lot of focus is on grounding the lower body and keeping the muscles of the feet, shins and thighs active as with muscles tone as we deepen into our stretch.  The practice includes some standing postures and twists and hip and thigh stretches sprinkled throughout.  My peak postures for today are variations of pigeon pose! 

– “eka pada galavasana” which is flying pigeon pose 

– “eka pada rajakapotasana” which is one legged king pigeon pose or mermaid/merman:)

4/17 – “Soft mind + steady foundation = strong heart”

Physical practice – this class encourages you to breathe in the back of your heart to create more width and space in your back.  Expect to try a challenging arm balance (crow pose/“bakasana”) that requires a lot of space in the back to pull up your center and several delightful heart openers with many twists sprinkled in to help us clean out any stiffness and unease in our inner bodies.

Expect some refreshing variations in:

-prasarita padottanasana – wide stance forward fold

-ustrasana – camel

-janusirsasana – head to knee pose

-explore dolphin pose (ardha pincha mayurasana), my all time favorite, to strength the upper back and open the chest!

4/24 -“Remember your truth and shine bright” 

Physical practice – This practice will be sure to get your juices flowing as there will be several hip and heart opener to allow more space.  The peak posture is firefly pose or “tittibhasana”.  Just as a firefly lights itself up, I hope this practice will fill you up and light your inner fire so you also shine your brightness to all around you.

5/1 – “Vitality practice”

Physical practice –  This practice is all about keeping our side bodies long and inner bodies bright as we free up space within.   I hope this practice will help us all feel more vitality within as we work to untangle tension in our waists and lower back also helping us release held stress around our kidneys where our adrenals sit and tend to get overly worked.  No crazy new postures, just expect a lot of focus on our breathing as we work to free up our side bodies.  I hope this practice leaves you feeling energized, luminous, and buoyant within.:).  

5/8 – “Connect to your back body to trust more in your divine nature”

Physical practice – This practice is all about turning inward, connecting more to our back body(the unseen), and softening our exterior to help us remember our own true divine nature.  I hope his practice will help us trust in the universal energy, even if uncertain an unknown, allowing it to flow through us and help carry us through any difficult situations.  Expect some twists and hip openers to unravel our whole body.  It’s a truly feel good practice.

5/15 – “Be like water”

Physical practice – This practice is designed to help us connect to our playful sprits inside.  Just how a river can flow and move through boundaries it runs into, I hope we can also do the same!  I will focus more attention on unlocking and thawing out our shoulders and hips by integrating some circular movements that can help us rejuvenate and lube our joints so we can move with more fluidity and grace.

5/22 – “Play with contrast to find balanced action”

Physical practice – This practice I will encourage us to explore how contrast in our movements can help us find more of a balanced action in our postures.  Similar to how cat/cow, working from flexion to extension can help us arrive at a neutral spine.  I hope that our exploration will help us connect our pieces to become more whole and also allow us to play and not be rigid and stuck in our movement patterns.  Just as in life, I notice when I allow myself to be curious and play and not be rigid in my beliefs and actions I notice I am generally more content and at peace with myself.  Expect a nice essential flow.

5/29 – “Balanced root chakra”

Physical practice – In this practice I will encourage us to invite a sense of earthiness in our feet, legs, and pelvic floor as we work with many standing postures and hip openers to help us balance our root chakra.   For those of you that are unfamiliar with chakras, they can be described as spiritual energy centers/wheels that are located on our spine.  As we all know, things can get off tuned and out of balance!  Having a balanced root chakra is essential for us to feel stable, safe, and generally at ease with ourselves.  Our root chakra is located at the base of our spine and is our base of support in which to grow.  I hope this practice unsticks you if you are feeling stuck and brings radiance to your life if you feel rushed!