Like a Shovel Hitting Stone

photo 1 (7)There are times when, by habit or determination, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel (pick your back-breaking metaphor!), we are plugging along in our lives, and then, with a sudden thwack, we hit upon a truth we wish we’d never seen. Or maybe (if we are being honest) we’d been trying to avoid all along.

The first time this happened to me I remember the exact feeling: Like I had put my shovel down in the dirt and hit a giant stone. Gardeners out there know this particular kind of bodily reverberation – you’re moving with the momentum of the swing and then, with a clang and a jarring stop, you can’t go further. The stone is there, perhaps movable, perhaps not, staring you back with its own simple truth: This won’t work for you.

What had actually happened was this: I had taken a job in a southern state and – it wasn’t working. My schedule had me on the clock sometimes 80 hours a week, my boss undermined our team’s efforts, I felt cut off from my creative self. And my body had begun to mutiny, leaving me weaker and more desperate by the day.

But it didn’t occur to me that it could be otherwise. The job was coveted and at a prestigious institution, and furthermore, I had committed. When I beat out all those other applicants I had said yes, I certainly did anticipate being there at least 3-5 years.

Until one day, when I realized I could leave. And the truth hit my body with that jarring clang. Oh no! I thought. I cannot do this. It can’t be true! I promised! I’m not a quitter!

But of course, what I had been quitting was myself. The sine qua non of my life. And there was that big rock in the garden, just not budging. A clear, solid stop.

photo 2 (7)Those rocks can be different sizes, of course. Sometimes, they can be unearthed to make space for us to go deeper. Sometimes, they are just the right size to make the struggle meaningful. But they don’t steer us wrong. And when we honor those stopping places, we include more of ourselves in our lives.

Not that this feels like a party.

This summer I’ve come across another frustrating stone. Many of my clients know that issues in my hands have led me to take a pause in my practice. I tried working through these for some time until I realized the folly in the incongruence – I can’t ask clients to take care of themselves if I’m clearly not! And I can’t insist that the body’s pace demands respect if I don’t stop to actually listen to what my body is saying.

I miss my wonderful clients, but know that this rest imbues my practice with new energy and direction, and allows me to go deeper, to consider what tools to bring forward and what kinds of work strengthen me (and, of course, you!).

I’m looking forward to returning, and in the meanwhile have been leaning into this bit of wisdom from Anne Lamott:

“Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.” 
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Dropping the can’ts, a love letter to a dog.

If you have ever skinned your knee or torn your ACL or woken up with a crick in your neck – that is, if you are human – you know pain. But something funny happens on the way to our brains. Instead of punctuation, pain can begin to feel like a sentence: something we will always have, a nagging reminder of ways we can’t.

I see this in my clients (as well as myself and everyone I know) – how body discomfort narrows the horizon of possibility, and spins us into an irrefutable list of broken: We’re injured, out of shape, pushing 40 (30, 70), we don’t move this or that particular way, our bank account is low. For very good reasons, we feel circumscribed by what we see as the limitations of our bodies.

And then, I take my dog for a walk in the woods, and the whole lie is revealed.

More accurately, I take him on a little cross country ski expedition on the trails behind the dump in our small town and watch him transform into a fluid, joyful form.

Charlie is not a small dog. Or a young dog. He is a long-nosed, constantly shedding, 90 pound, Shepherd Collie mix. Nearly a decade into his life, his muzzle is graying, and when he lumbers across the yard, you can almost hear his joints creaking. Like most of us, he has spent the last few months curled up in a ball by the wood stove, waiting for spring.noname

But once in the woods, there is no lumbering. Charlie careens like a puppy.  He is a streaking blur of movement and limbs. We encounter two other skiers, each with their own off leash dogs. One exclaims, “He’s so big but…so playful!”

We marvel at him together.

He has a beautiful disregard for his size, his age, for mortality or limitation. He is himself – skimming along – a wordless, embodied creature.

… but not a linear one. At night, Charlie circles a million times before he comes to a flop in a big, graceless exhale. He isn’t consistent either – barking wildly at the plastic bag that has blown across the lawn, but oblivious to the scratch scratch scratching of the mouse that wakes me in the night the one time I would like him to bark, to make some kind of exhortation and startle this vermin away and he… sleeps on.

When my daughter was 3 we ended up in the emergency room to treat her small, dislocated elbow. It was an excruciating experience, not being able to take away the pain she felt. But the doctor performed a quick osteopathic maneuver and – within minutes – she was laughing and playing with toys in the waiting room. Over it. The doctor said to me, “Children and animals aren’t stupid like grown ups. They hurt when they hurt and then they don’t when they don’t. None of this trying to be better business, none of this worrying or pretending.”

I remember this as I watch Charlie fly through the woods. There is something in that unpredictable, take-it-as-it comes careen that is a revelation. Given the chance to be outside, to be moving, to be with his people – the dog almost visibly hums with the joy of it all. True, the other 98% of the time he’s laid out on his side by the fire, showing age in the way he moves. But he seems to say something else: Yes, I am achey and older, but also resilient. Perhaps this is the trick to health: to drop so fully into the present that the can’t stories fall away.

Now if I could just get him to scare off that mouse.

In the Thick


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One perfect cardinal perched on the bird feeder this morning. He was luminous crimson against absurdly deep snow, a red assault to temperatures cold enough to freeze my boots to the mudroom floor. But there he was, breast glowing, a miracle of winter.

It’s easy to miss things like this, when the whole joke of winter has gone on too long.  The novelty is over, we’ve heard this one before. February, for me, can bring on a kind of impetuous, can’t-we-move-on-already feeling. But we can’t. Not yet. The season asks us to move more slowly than that, to notice the slightly longer light, the single cardinal.photo 4

And that cardinal can come in many forms. Last week, navigating the snow-covered and icy roads, I had to come to a hard, skidding stop when a car pulled out suddenly into the center of the road. Now, you can find yourself thinking a lot of really very impolite thoughts when someone cuts you off like this, thoughts you might even say out loud, in the privacy of your car. But the other driver, an older man, simply waved and slowly continued on his way. He paid no mind, and – just like that – all my sudden indignation rushed away.

In this climate, we may be itching with winter, cold, buried up to our shoulders in snow. But we are also  – each one of us – in it. Making our way the best we can. And each of us knows that somewhere, beneath this impossibly thick blanket, bulbs and seeds and future possibilities are waiting. And that perhaps something in us is waiting too.

A practitioner friend once told me, “if it’s not a resounding yes, it’s a no.” Over the years, I’ve come back to this when I’m trying to make a decision. What do I truly, resoundingly, want to say yes to? But it also helps to turn the question outward: Where do I notice a resounding yes? Certainly in that red bird, and even in the moment after the not-accident when I realized the silliness of my own hot air. This is the gift of winter: The spare sleeping earth quiets the noise and lets us tune into those resounding yeses. We begin to notice where we encounter that small spark, how we listen, and what we want to invite into our lives.

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Please note! This month I’ve added a new feature that allows you to purchase gift certificates online. You can select the type of massage you’d like, as well as whether you’d like to have the gift certificate emailed to the recipient or sent by regular mail. Massage makes a great gift for Valentine’s Day… or for anyone who’s been doing lots of shoveling! Learn more on the gift certificates page.

 

 

Kite Strings

photo 1There is a little thing that happens to many of us, especially right around now. Things seem to be humming along just fine – we’re working or cooking dinner or vacuuming the kitchen – feeling we have something of a handle on our lives. And then somehow, inexplicably, without our even noticing, the needle slides off the record.

It may have been the cough. Or the state of the world. Or forgetting to dress warmly that time. Or perhaps accidentally scheduling just a few weekends to resemble carnivals rather than rest time. But it is suddenly All Too Much. The Land of Fine feels lost in the rearview mirror, and we question whether it was really ever there to begin with.photo 3

Back when I was struggling with a long term illness that would flare up willy nilly, leaving me bewildered and bereft, my husband Jon would say, “You just lost your kite strings.”  I would want to find some sort of pattern to explain why I had so suddenly, so thoroughly been waylaid, but he offered this gentle, story-less explanation. “They just slipped from your fingers, those kite strings.”

“I’ll hold them for you,” he said, “I’ll keep them safe until you want them back.”

This was one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered. Because, at that moment, there was really nothing I could hold to, and feeling that someone else could mind those threads while I curled up and rested was exactly what I needed.

I’ve said this to friends too over the years, when inexplicable rough patches send them hurtling. Once in a while, we need someone else to hold the kite.  But the truth is that those strings can also be held by pets, and walks alone, and time that gives us permission to give up a little, because there isn’t energy for more.

In our house, we use kite strings now as a kind of short hand for suddenly-don’t-have-it-quite-together. It also means: Please be a little softer with me. I may need a little space, a little time. I have some tending to do.

In this season, wishing you permission to set those strings down for a bit, and know that we will hold them for you for as long as you need.photo 2

 

The Foundational Extras


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Recently, a friend asked me if I had any new hobbies. “Hobbies?” I stammered.

“Yes,” he said, “like macrame or jigsaw puzzles or beading. Hobbies.” I was stumped – was he joking? Making funny small talk?

But he was serious – and strategizing. This summer, he explained, he played baseball.  And it was amazing. Every week, he saw friends, got outside, skinned his knees. There was so much good that came from that weekly routine. And with summer over, he was  looking for something to fill the gap. “I’m thinking of taking up sewing,” he said.

Which got me thinking. There are those activities that, from the outside, look like extras. Whether it’s baseball or dance, writing or running, these things might seem superfluous. When we say “hobby,” we’re not usually talking about Something Important. But it is often these activities that are the foundation of our balance. They are competitive or playful or sweat-inducing or relaxing, and they bring us back to simply doing what we’re doing: no long term goal, no need-to-complete, just a bit of ease and focus.

Call them hobbies, or practice, or lifelines, we commit to these activities because it’s time that feeds us. Even when we’re tired. Even when there are other more important things to do. Consider how you feel at the end of the run/massage/writing/bowling game. You might even catch yourself smiling.

In my work as a massage therapist, I get to witness how those clients that have committed to regular massage sessions reap profound benefits simply by showing up, consistently and intentionally.  They’ve found one activity in which practice helps them feel balance. But there are so many different kinds of hobby commitment.

You may have noticed this too: During the busiest times, we drop the “extras.”  When it doesn’t feel like there’s enough to go around, and it’s more important to get the [thing designated important] done, we simply don’t show up.  We skip class or practice or don’t make time. And in the absence of those things that bring us real joy or play or release, the needle spikes into that intolerable place we know as overwhelm.

It’s something I find often with my clients (and, ahem, myself). Those things that seem extraneous often reveal themselves to be the golden thread that’s actually holding it all together.  

So, as summer turns to fall, I wonder, what’s your hobby? I’m ready to commit to some new ones.

Maybe I’ll take up macrame.

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Vacationland…for Non-Vacationers

photo 1In Maine, we wait about 10 months of the year for just this spot: The zenith of summer, the beach days and campfire nights, the sweetness of porch sitting without a jacket (or at least not for warmth – mosquitoes, though, that’s another story). The truth is, most people come here for just this sweet time. All those Vacationland license plates don’t lie. What this means for many of us is visitors. People we love. People we wait all year to see. People we take to the beach, and to the ice cream stand and down to the lobster shack. We talk late into the night, cook giant meals, we wash sheets and pick flowers. This is – as I’ve written about elsewhere – the season of yang. Active and abundant, and sometimes so much so that we can forget about that most fundamental of rhythms: our own.  photo 2 I was thinking about this the other day, relishing time spent with friends from far away, when I realized I needed to do an almost-nothing-something, just for myself. And it was surprisingly simple. I made chicken noodle soup. I picked and dried calendula (with a cup of bulletproof coffee on the side). I worked on a sewing project with my four-year-old. I went to bed early. With that – order restored, inner-animal fed. So long as we truly include ourselves, we can find beauty and nourishment in most anything. Even the dishes.

I’m looking forward to the next batch of visitors. photo (29)

3 Health Trends for the Trend-Averse

 

Favorite spa... the back garden.

Favorite spa… the back garden.

My sisters could vouch that I am many things, but trendy isn’t really one of them. In the third grade, I found what I thought was the perfect shirt – blue, with a wide red stripe in the middle – and wore it for the entire year.  In high school, during the grunge-rich 90s, I honestly listened to Bulgarian folk music and questionable 70s bands that included Steve Winwood (yes… I did). I would generally rather talk physics than fashion, will happily read tomes on soil science, and can laugh at the same dumb joke, regardless of how many times you tell it. I am, as many can attest, a nerd.

So when it comes to trends, I’m more of a bringing-up-the-rear sort than an early adopter. Still, lately I’ve come across a few newish notions that – despite by natural skepticism – actually seem compelling. Friends, I give you Three Health Trends for the Trend-Averse:

  • Low-FODMAPS Diet – An acronym for (get ready!) Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols, FODMAPS describe a group of short chain carbohydrates that even healthy people have difficulty digesting. For those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Disease, symptoms of these unabsorbed sugars can run from uncomfortable to debilitating. The good news: Many of my clients say they feel dramatically better when they reduce FODMAP intake. The bad news: It requires commitment! And limiting fructose is…limiting. A recommended food list is here  (and this is what to avoid).
  • Yamuna Body Rolling – Developed by Yamuna Zake, the technique uses rubber balls to stretch the fascia, helping free joints and loosen muscle tightness. It’s a lovely self-care tool for bringing mobility into the tissue, and there are some great classes in and around Portland to get you started.
  • Bulletproof Coffee – I’m not sure if I’d consider this a health trend, but… when clients ask about coffee, I confess this is my preferred style. The concoction involves blending butter, coconut oil and coffee (and maple syrup, if you like), and while there is some debate about the actual health benefits… it’s low-FODMAP and tasty!

Feel free to try any of these this summer – or not! Above all, I’d encourage you to listen to your body, the one true expert on what is best for you.

Accessorizing 2014: Lupines.

2014 Accessorizing Trends: Lupines.

 

 

Yin Time

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A few years ago, I went through a period of waking up every morning at 3 a.m. I was overextended and desperately  needed the rest, but lay there, awake and lucid, unable to fall asleep again until about 5 a.m. Has this happened to you? No amount of cajoling or chamomile tea or daily exercise convinces your internal rhythm to let you sleep through the night, and – if we’re maybe a little bit alike – leaves you feeling cranky and irritable the next day.

I was utterly frustrated: Didn’t my body know this was a very stressful time and what I needed was not insomnia but actual REST?

In fact, that’s precisely (and paradoxically!) what my body knew.

When I told an acupuncturist friend about this habit, she suggested something I never would have considered. My body, she said, was claiming its yin time.  Yin time? Was that even a thing? Yes, she said, and evidence of a foundational principle in traditional Chinese medicine.

She explained that when we are busy, stressed, filling every moment – operating in the yang, you might say – our body feels the absence of time spent not doing. Whether we are daydreaming or walking without destination, those “unproductive” spaces where time lies fallow also feed us.  Yin is quiet, heavy and dark. It is a balancing force to all that heat and movement.  In waking hours, my body was so busy that it never had time to experience stillness. And so, at 3 a.m., I was forced to.

Yin is the winter to yang’s summer, so it might seem a little funny to bring up this phenomenon at just the moment when we see spring bursting forth. The thing is, we still need pauses.  Out breaths follow in breaths, music beats wait until the next – even when the sun comes back and we are outside and moving, our bodies crave yin time. It may even help us sleep.
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Increments of Change: Trying Something Different

photo 5There are days – particularly when the thermometer in the kitchen says three degrees, as it does today – when the idea of movement and change feels like just too much. Take your yoga class, we think, your trips, your enlightenment – I’ll be here under the ugly red blanket watching The Bachelor.

It isn’t only that the effort feels demanding, but the stakes feel high. What if, we wonder, change jeopardizes all this? What if the battleship of the small manageable now gets sunk by opening, by unwinding? No, thank you. Pass the popcorn.

The thing is, there may be something between the small curled up ball on the couch and the running-through-the-field fantasy of freedom. The increments of change we invite can fan out over time – that tiny angle of difference becoming (in hindsight) a wide ray of change.photo 2

One of the reasons this work is endlessly interesting to me is that I get to witness this kind of change at the level of tissue. As muscles release I see how my clients’ shoulders open, how they breathe more deeply. It takes courage to allow movement back in, but the return is bountiful: They get more information from their own bodies.  That is, they get more of themselves and their own aliveness.

A question I often hear from clients at the end of the session is, “How do I stay open when I’m off the table? How do I stop from tightening up all over again?” And my usual answer is, try something a little different. Stretching is good. Water too. But small things that move us out of habit and into attention – that’s movement too. You can still watch bad shows and eat popcorn, but becoming aware of patterns – places where we’ve forgotten choice – is a lovely way to stay open.

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Here are 5 Ways to Step Out Of Habit – but I bet you could come up with 11 more:

1. Do you habitually cross one leg over the other? Switch it up.

2. Take a different route home.

3. Eat / make / order  a food that surprises you – one that you normally overlook

4. Introduce pauses in your day. A few minutes in your car before you head into the grocery store? Totally okay.

5. Slow your gait. Just a little. Notice how your arms swing, your feet fall, where your eyes are.

Habit can take so many forms – movement, talking (to ourselves and others), silence, belief. And it can become so much like that old crack in the ceiling: We stop seeing it. Friends, you are so brave with your selves – why not change things up a bit, just to notice how far you’ve come?

Self care / care care

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Norway maples behind Root Therapy studio

As I sat down to write this, I thought of the many (many!) ways that we can invite self care into our lives.

But then I hit a snag.

Because I’ve always had a hard time with the concept of “self care” and “pampering” and “extreme self care” and any number of phrases that connote taking care of ourselves.  Call it a semantic hang up, but each of these  sounds too… special.  Because what I actually want to cultivate is a supremely ordinary, everyday habit of attending to that which brings us joy. Care care? Ordinary care? Pamper normal?

Let’s make cultivating abundance and laughter just part of what we do.  Are you with me? Slow walks with toddlers. Music enjoyed with friends. Spontaneous dance parties. Regular massage (you knew that would make the list, right?). Art-making. Star gazing.  Add your own ordinary, extraordinary favorites.