TOUCH

“She asks him to touch her, to feel her with his hands, because bodies always understand each other, even when souls do not.”

-Paulo Coelho

Lately I have been reflecting on the loss of “touch” – relying too much on devices, interactions with automated messages, exercise apps, using kiosks to check in at airports, online zoom exercise classes etc etc…as well as the loss of personal & physical touch when it comes to almost everything!     Since Covid, especially, we have adapted to more of a ‘touch-less’  way of life and although sometimes it has been out of necessity for safety reasons, and does have some benefit,  in excess, like everything else, this, “lack of touch” can have negative repercussions.  Human touch in particular is so unique because the physical contact alone allows both bodies to ‘feel’ and experience more than just being told something in words.  Words and devices alone can create unnecessary miscommunications and guide us to do something that is not right for us.  Whereas, the addition of purposeful  and communicative touch,  could better support what is said and explained through the words etc.  Furthermore touch can shine a light on places of tension we didn’t even know existed until we become aware of what we are doing from someone elses touch.  Investing in more experiences that encourage us to physically connect and listen to our body is priceless because the experience alone communicates and sheds light on so much more than just words could say.

The body is always talking to us and is constantly giving us signals to what is happening inside of us.  When we take time to feel and process what ‘that’ is through human experiences/touch we are able to make sense and understand more of what we may need on a greater level than just words and/or devices would be able to communicate.  Children can sometimes be great teachers for us adults as they do not have the words yet and rely on touching and listening to their own inner knowing to make sense of what they need or do not need.  They feel a lot and listen to what these feelings are telling them:).  Although sometimes their actions may be a bit overly dramatic, at least they are using their intuition, being instinctual, and releasing any stress that they may have in that moment instead of just doing something because something or someone tells them to act a certain way.

As adults, creating better habits while exercising or simply moving out of stress and into a state of calm takes work, and unfortunately throwing a tantrum isn’t the best way for us to achieve a better awareness and/or release an unwanted state.  However, with more human touch and human heartbeats to help us along the way, I believe we would drop inside ourselves quicker to both feel our inner body and then to consciously change our habits and release certain stress.  With all practice… the more you do it the easier it gets!

I, personally, was not raised to value ‘touch’ and my own inner feelings.  (I am not blaming ANYONE for this as there is always a unique dynamic situation at had and we do the best we can do…i strongly believe this).    In fact, I learned quickly that one’s feelings did not “really” matter.  This is one of the many paradoxes of being raised Catholic:)> .  My upbringing and catholic school environment, for example, did not allow excuses nor make exceptions for people when they did not do what they were supposed to do and ‘be.’ This narrow-minded, sometimes unforgiving attitude influenced me for several of my earlier years.  As a teen I could be pretty stubborn and proud and would hold my emotions inside.  Instead of seeking help I would isolate myself as I did not want to appear lesser than, not be accepted, or ‘weak. ’  I turned to drugs and alcohol at an early age I believe to numb these inner feelings.  I expected the same ‘unfortunate’ behavior of my peers.  For example, when I would witness someone else not responding to the disposition of my upbringing, I would often look down on them and think to myself, “Get a grip people!.”  Although, I can still be pretty stubborn and still catch myself saying this time to time in the back of my mind, I have definitely had many experiences and life lessons that thankfully have changed my view and have infused me with more compassion and empathy for not only myself but also people that are struggling and or going through challenges in their own lives.   

I believe the consequence of holding emotions inside, is unnecessary suffering/emotional tension in your body.   In fact there is more and more evidence that says our fascia or the webbing that holds everything together under our skin, is in fact a sensory organ and this intellectual organ can in fact hold emotion inside its structure.  Our emotions therefore can be stuck in your bodies tissues and create unnecessary blockages unless we are able to actively and consciously allow this held emotion to flow through us in a healthy way.  This is the very reason why I believe it is so important to forgive ourselves and others and to be compassionate and loving.  We simply cannot have a healthy free body if we are holding our emotional trauma and inner drama!  I feel that my own inability to forgive myself and others fully continuously have most definitely contributed to my own painful sensations I have been dealing with over the past 2 years.  Although I am doing so much better and I do have some physical issues which I have talked about in my previous posts, my healing is as much linked to my emotions as it is linked to my own physical state.   Paradoxically, touch plain and simple, I believe can help unlock tension and emotions in my body and support ones own connections and inner healing.

In fact, when I was just learning the practice of Yoga and Pilates, I was so drawn to both practices because of the sensations I would feel in my body.  I felt so alive and free practicing both disciplines, and especially when I had the support of touch cues from my teachers.  It was essential for me to not only visibly ‘see’ how a certain posture was carried out, but also, to be guided through the exercise usually with supportive touch cues from an experienced, knowledgeable instructor.   Even now, after practicing Yoga and Pilates for 20 years I have much benefit from not only seeing others practice, but having supportive touch cues to help me go deeper and experience more openings and spaciousness in my body.    In fact I love getting hands on assist from instructors! 

On the flip side, when I was enrolled in “the Work”,  a Pilates graduate program  in 2017, under the tutelage of Jay Grimes, we were instructed, NOT  TO TOUCH, (except for some very specific exercises, as the method is exercise!! Not therapy or massage!).  Some reasons why I believe touch cues were not encouraged, 1) – touch cues done several times a day is hard on the teachers bodies, 2) –  it can make the student too dependent on the teacher, etc etc, and 3) – sometimes when the intention behind the touch is not thoughtful and purposeful it can be too much and even confuse the client.   “The Work” was all about feeling and trusting.  We had to do the work, feel the work, and decide whether or not it was right for us.  Although a great program in theory, the instructors of the work, still did have and voice their own opinions and as a student of the Work , although you were instructed to listen to your own intuition, we were also fed the teachers insight, usually without the support of their touch which was confusing at times.  Reflecting back, I wish they also supported us with more hands-on assists so we could have better understood how to relate their verbal feedback to our own inner experience and contemplate for ourselves if their opinions carried much weight for us or not. 

Considering the negatives with touch cues, I still believe that actions ‘speak ‘ and resonate louder than words.   Furthermore, purposeful touch from someone or even ourselves can help bring more awareness and possibly unlock held unconscious tension that may be causing blockages.  As a teacher myself, I still benefit immensely from touch  cues as I am still exploring, learning and desire more continued growth, expansion, and inner awareness in my own body.  I am constantly growing and changing in my own body, so there is always something more to explore, and learn from:).

I would like to encourage us all to recognize and understand that our bodies are constantly transforming and communicating to us!  Our bodies are also directly connected to our emotional well being and vice-versa.  Lastly, the right touch, in my experience, can resonate deeper and give one much clarity and freedom.   “What are some practices we could both add and let go of to make our emotional and physical bodies live more harmoniously?”   Perhaps we will all be our own best observer, listener, and do things with more kind gentle awareness. 

Thank you to all who continue to take agency and ownership of your own life and body. 

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

ON DEMAND PRENATAL PILATES

On Demand Prenatal Pilates Mat classes, available to view at Community Fitness

Introducing “Sideways Pilates”

Feel good Pilates flow targeting opening up the sides of our body to unravel and relieve our low back.  Pilates class that empathizes strengthening and opening the side of the body, working our transverse and oblique abdominal muscles!   This Pilates class will still include several “classical moves,” however, limiting the amount of time spent on our backs and also lying prone, therefore making this class suitable for individuals with stiffer upper backs and prenatal women!

Below shows the DATE & the FOCUS of  each class:

5/12 – “Sideways Pilates” – prenatal  CLASS #1, week 22

Standing warm up is 15 minutes, followed by an additional 10 minute ‘plank variation’ warm up on the mat.  Expect a Mat Pilates sequence that accents more work and fresh variations on side planks and lying on your side.

5/19 – ”Sideways Pilates” – prenatal  CLASS #2, week 23

Standing warm up is about 10 minutes, followed by a 20 minutes of plank and forearm quadruped work.  Expect to feel your whole posterior chain as I will feature small deliberate movements that create serious heat targeting our upper back, glutes, and hamstrings. 

5/26 – “Sideways Pilates” – prenatal Class #3 week 24

Standing warm is 20 minutes.  this warm up opens up the chest as we stretch strong through the arm bones, shoulders and wrists as well as the lower body with some nice low lunges and stretches to open up the sides of our body.  The mat work included the hundred, series of 5, side lying kicks, kneeling side kicks, and planks to close the workout.  Feel more supple and spacious  after completing this balanced practice.

6/2 – “Sideways Pilates” – prenatal CLASS #4 week 25 

In this class, I do not do the hundred!!!  I do a light warm up, strong standing arm sequence, followed by some single leg lunges and squats.  On the mat I present a challenging quadruped sequence, followed by a  side lying sequence, leg pull front, modified STAR on knees, and end with some forearm side planks, before coming back to standing.