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

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