Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is remembered, lives

I promised to write about how posture reflects the way people think. I will, but not today. Today I'm thinking about a family whose 28 year old daughter died yesterday. I'm thinking about the friend who had to euthanize her beloved dog, a client who is trying to make sense of a miscarriage and another friend whose mother is about to pass away.

I'm thinking about what it feels like when someone I love dies, how incomprehensible the news is, and afterwards, the process of grieving which is unmanageable, unpredictable, overwhelming, simultaneously heartening and disheartening.

I'm thinking about rituals of grieving, about how in some places professional grievers are hired to cry and wail because it's believed that the soul needs tears in order to move on. In other places people try not to grieve visibly as it's believed that the tears hold back the soul. No one knows for sure what works best. In Judaism we sit Shiva, a wonderful ritual in which we're allowed to be total wrecks for a week. After a week, nothing much has changed in terms of grieving, but we stand up, take a shower, and re-enter our lives. We sing the Kaddish together and begin the slow swim through the icy waters of grief, back to what we think is "normal."

I love rowdy wakes with lots of food and drinking and toasts to the one who has passed on, and I love memorials in which people take turns telling stories. The standard funeral with the body displayed in front of a congregation, a preacher/minister/priest doing the facilitating, well, that's one grieving ritual I don't understand, though I respect every way in which we honor the dead and their families.

Standard bereavement leave in the United States is three days. My question this morning is, what the hell is a person supposed to do in three days? We are so harsh about taking time away from work. People are supposed to come back full time just 12 weeks after giving birth, three days after the death of a beloved. Here in the U.S. we are terribly heartless, terribly harsh when it comes to these things.

Live well and fully today, ok? L'chaim.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


One of my great teachers suggested that when at the airport, waiting in the queue at the supermarket, or for coffee at the espresso bar, it would behoove we students of anatomy to study the people around us. He was not one of those people who believed there was such a thing as "good posture." Every person's gait, posture and method of moving through the world reflects structure, of course, but also reflects what we do and how often we do it. The truth is, we actually need a few quirks of asymmetrical posture to get through the days of our lives.

He was very smart. The body does indeed work diligently to support whatever it is we do on a daily basis. Instead trying to to "fix" a person with one elevated shoulder, (for instance) he invited us to imagine first and foremost why that shoulder is raised, and proceed from there. In general, the anatomy of acoustic bass players (for instance) reflects the asymmetrical posture needed to play the instrument, which includes an elevated left shoulder that is posterior to the midline, and a right shoulder that hangs a bit lower, anterior to the midline. To imagine these people holding the neck of the bass with the left hand while reaching around to the front of the instrument to pluck or bow with the right helps me understand why their bodies are shaped in this way. It increases my ability to be compassionate and decreases any ambition I might have to "set them straight." I am able to ask myself what else might be tight or contracted as a result of bass playing rather than thinking in terms of what's "wrong." For instance, acoustic bass players often jut their heads forward, probably in an effort to stay focused on the music stand in front of them. So I pay special attention to the base of the skull and the neck - not to fix or change, rather to bring ease to that area.

Have you ever thought about your own habits of posture?

There are characteristic poses I notice when people get on the table, such as the fact that most people habitually turn their heads to face the right. When I gently position their heads so they're looking straight at the ceiling, it feels to them as if they're looking to the left. Also the right leg of many people is rotated laterally compared to the left leg. It's interesting to think about. We're a right handed, right sided kind of culture. We tend to lead with the right side of the body. Not everyone, of course, but many, even left-handed people sometimes.

When the body is placed in a certain posture often enough, it will respond by increasing the number of collagen strings in the muscles that are most engaged. That makes those muscles tougher, denser, which in turn means the muscles do not require as much energy to stay engaged. People who read a lot of books develop, over time, a semi-permanent crick in their cervical vertebrae from looking down so often. This crick, reinforced over time, can appear as a small hump on the back where the neck meets the ribcage. It's not really a hump, of course. It's a cluster of hardened tissue, built up over time to support the posture. People who are always sitting at computers find it difficult to stand up straight. Also it's sometimes not possible for these hard working people to completely straighten their arms.

As a bodyworker I am not here to interfere with the corporeal intelligence that makes it possible for these people to live their lives. I'm here to remind the body that there are a variety of postures available and to perhaps slightly increase range of motion. Slightly.

Habitual posture also reflects the way people think, believe it or not. It does! You can learn a lot about a person simply by noticing posture and movement. I'll write about that tomorrow.

Will you stand up and do some stretching at some point today? No matter what your body's postural habits, stretching helps move blood and lymph, warms muscle attachments and feels really good. Seriously it is pleasurable.

Have a wonderful Saturday. Shalom.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Power of Prayer

We're wired for it. Even atheists pray when the situation calls for it. Prayer is good.

I could go on and on about how you don't have to follow a spiritual path or believe in anything except mystery to pray. Prayer involves opening the heart and mind to a greater something in order to say please or thanks, ask for guidance or for blessings for the people you love. One of my great teachers always said the only thing you have to do in order to pray "correctly" is to be sincere. If you're just saying the words, that's nice, but not a prayer. It has to be real.

Praying lowers blood pressure, increases deep respiration, furthers digestion and is calming in an overall way. Prayer is good for the heart on many levels. Though I haven't seen reports of any research seeking to "prove" this, I'm sure prayer strengthens the heart physically.

Prayer lifts the spirit and reminds us of our interconnections, helps us see the big picture. What is not to love about prayer?

Here's a prayer I love. May it be so!

May the Source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing,
And let us say: Amen


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Yeah, I'm still thinking about dying. The young woman I mentioned is in 24-hour home hospice care. She is dozing or drifting most of the time, receiving sufficient pain medication to remain comfortable. Who knows what's going on for her?

For her family, though, the gifts of community are many. Here is a link to a blog post written yesterday by this woman's father. This is an incredible piece of writing reflecting clearly the truth that a broken heart is not always a bad thing. People have opened their hearts and homes, made time to help. The generosity and good vibes attending this passing are beyond belief. If you're a cynic, click the link.

I am in awe of the beauty and power surrounding this event. Wow.

The image, above, is one I captured Saturday while walking around. They are headed in the direction of Kirby's house. Reading the blog helped me realize these guys were going to the "awake wake."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to die well

I hope this doesn't seem too morbid. I know a young woman who is about to die of a terrible aggressive cancer. She is much on my mind which reminded me of all the wise things I've heard from people close to death, also from the living teachers who are/were damn smart about these things.

One of my great teachers taught that if possible, leave your body through the crown chakra at the top of your head. In that way, she said, we can take our wisdom with us. Sometimes of course it's not possible. In sudden deaths there's not time to organize our thoughts around an exit strategy.

Another great teacher of a friend here in DC said, shortly before she died, to stop often in life, ".. just stop whatever you're doing," she said. "Smile and wave at whatever is in front of you. If you do, when your life passes before your eyes at death, you'll see yourself waving from many different eras." Ha. It's funny, like a bunch of postcards. But it's also a cheerful call to mindfulness, helps me remember to be here now, and that I won't always be here now. She was a great teacher.

Watching the feet of people near death is really interesting. They often move as if swimming or floating, sometimes it looks like they're pushing off, as if from the bottom of a pool. One man, just as he was dying from AIDS back in the 1990s, told his partner a secret. He said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but ... when the square becomes a circle, you can pass right through."

Intriguing, yet utterly mysterious to the living. A woman who was about to die told me, "They all know you." Twenty minutes later she slipped behind the veil, so I guess I'll never know what she meant. I think in those moments just before death, many things become clear.

What I'm told is that after death, one should go to the light. More accurately, go INTO the light. The light is all around us even now. In this form, we can't enter the light, but after death we can. Sometimes folks float around in a state of quasi-consciousness before they move forward into the light. We call them ghosts. It might seem to them as if they've only been in this condition for a second, while for us it seems like hundreds of years. My goal, when I pass, is to move into the light asap because it is there that we find peace, healing, and renewal - and reunion with those who went before.

Yeah. That resonates.

But for now, for today, live well, live fully, please? Take a moment or two today to wave into the nowhere. Yes? I say yes. L'chaim!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


In old Norse cosmology, ice was one of the basic elements of life. It makes sense because really, Scandinavia sees a lot of it during their long, cold winters. In fact, according to Norse mythology, it's only when the elements of ice and fire collide that world comes into being. It's a powerful creation myth!

We are dynamic creatures, constantly in flux, always shifting and changing. We are naturally warm, at least on the inside, 98.6 F or thereabouts. Maybe that's why I find ice utterly exotic and fascinating, otherworldly, almost.

They say you can't grasp the river, but when the river is frozen, it's a different story. When the river is frozen, we can walk on water, literally. We skate across the surface. Amazing. Ice can't stop time, but it does slow everything else. Anyone who has ever placed an ice pack on a a bruise or scrape knows that not only does it reduce swelling and bleeding, but it also slows the pain signals associated with that kind of injury. Astonishing! It's just really cold water - but medicinal, definitely.

I attended a birth last fall in which the baby had some problems during delivery. In order to keep her brain from swelling, she was placed on a cooling mat for 48 hours. The impact that had was to slow her body's reaction to the distress. While disturbing to witness, it was kind of miraculous in that she did not suffer any brain damage and is now a beautiful, normal, perfect baby. Ah, the wonders of ice!

Just like ice, the simple process of imagining oneself surrounded by white light slows the psyche in a way that helps calm us when we're anxious or stressed out. It stops psychic swelling and bruising, just like ice but without the brrrrrr factor.

There are folks who constantly surround themselves with white light. I don't recommend it. We are warm, full spectrum, technicolor beings. We need to be passionate sometimes, we benefit from thrashing and flopping around in our hearts and souls. Maybe we need to feel anxious now and again. I asked my great San Francisco healer one time if he could take all the stress out of my body. He said, "Oh, you don't want that. You'd fall down."

Just like every other aspect of good health, balance is the key. Next time you get into a stress loop, stop. Take a deep breath. Then visualize yourself standing in a column of clean white light for a little while, maybe 15 minutes. The better you are at focusing on the image, the more effective the practice will be.

After 15 minutes, allow the world to come back with all its drama, passion, and bright colors. You'll be better able to engage and manage whatever comes at you, I guarantee it.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, stay warm today. It's icy and cold in Washington DC. I will take a cue from the weather and be still today. It feels so nice! Shalom.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Number Crunching

One of the comments on yesterday's post re-affirmed one of my truths, that all healing is faith based. She said a friend of hers swears by the bar of Ivory soap between the sheets method of curing leg cramps at night. She thinks bumping into the soap during the night reminds her to reposition her legs. Hey, more power to her if it works! What I hope is that she has thought about also trying other things to ease her cramps. The soap trick can't work forever, right? Or maybe it can, what do I know?

Speaking of faith-based healing, I heard a story on NPR yesterday about independent medical labs that (they say) eliminate the "middle man." I think that means the doctor. Does this mean that for some of us, test results are now what we believe in, moreso than doctors? Wow. Or should I say whoa?

"From a marketing standpoint it's a good position to be in where you create a service, create a demand," says Rodney Forsman, president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association. "It becomes a consumable like Starbucks or bottled water."

Oh. Lab tests are consumables?

I wonder if the people who partake of this consumable understand every medical test is no more than a measure of a very particular thing that's either within or outside of a set of parameters that exist only because someone decided what's "normal." These tests are not carved on tablets brought down from Mt. Sinai, they are very narrowly defined reports of one tiny aspect of internal chemistry, no more than that. None of these tests are useful out of context. Do you think they know that?

What do these people do with the results of their tests? Do they tune in to Web M.D. or other sites that claim to be accurate? (Please don't. If you must consult over the internet, go to the Mayo Clinic website which is reliable.) Remember, anyone can post anything they want on the internet. It doesn't make the information true.

I find it alarming that people can't listen to their own bodies, their own sensations and feelings of wellness or illness. I'm sad we no longer trust our doctors (I don't trust western doctors either - they are sleep deprived, their attention spans are fractured, and they depend far too often on a number that appears on a piece of paper rather than on the body and being of the individual, when diagnosing a problem.)

I don't blame anyone for wanting to take control of their own health care. God knows the medical "industry" is falling to pieces before our very eyes. But I don't believe independent medical testing is the most useful way to be proactive. Instead, find a doctor who has time to sit with you and talk, someone who cares about you, someone who still has enough of an attention span to put 2 and 2 together. When you explain how you're feeling, you want to see their eyes light up. Find a doctor who is curious and attentive. Please take care of yourself, eat well, sleep, get outside, have some fun sometimes. Receive therapeutic massage, acupuncture, go see a therapist and talk about whatever bugs you. Take care of your teeth. Please pay attention to the richness of ongoing sensation that's a part of being a living being. You are the person best suited to monitoring your health and well being. When something is off, seek some help. OK?

Forget independent testing labs. Please? And be well. Shalom.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Restless Leg Syndrome"

I put the term in quotes because it really is not a syndrome. When a person is sleep deprived, over-caffeinated, and stressed out, their nervous system gets caught in a loop in which it gets stuck, hence the jumpy legs or feet or arms of the poor suffering person.

You can take the drugs and oh my the pharmeceuticals will love you for doing so, or you can drink a lot more water, a lot less coffee, get good sleep as often as you can, and go get a vigorious therapeutic massage. I have several clients who have cured themselves of the "syndrome" in this way.

Exercise helps, too.

Someone on Facebook suggested that putting a bar of Ivory soap between the sheets before going to sleep will cure "restless leg syndrome."

And people think I'm superstitious! Whoa.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remedy for winter doldrums: light and sky

If you live in the northern hemisphere, January can be a month of low-level (or not so low-level) depression. Part of that has to do with a rather prolonged detox from the festivities that accompany the holiday season. It's also true that by mid-January, we haven't seen a lot of daylight for months. Seasonal Affective Disorder is cumulative. If you work in an office, it's possible you go to work before it gets light, don't head home again until dusk.

If you've been feeling sluggish, apathetic or bored, or depressed, by all means go see the acupuncturist, get a vigorous massage to get your blood moving, call the therapist for a session of the talking cure. It always helps.

Also, try to get outside during the middle of the day whenever it's sunny, even if just for a few minutes. Stand in sunlight, exposing as much bare skin as you can comfortably manage. Even five minutes of sunlight can help your body produce vitamin D, which really helps ease depression. Try, too, to gaze at the blue sky for at least a little while. If you must wear sunglasses, wear ones with grey lenses that don't distort the color. In Tibetan medicine, the cure for depression is to swallow tiny spoonfuls of ground turquoise and gaze for hours at the clear blue sky. It's like taking the sky into the body medicinally as well as visually. I really love the sky cure for depression. Brilliant!

During the dark quarter of the year, it really helps to fill your brain with natural light when possible. Try this: on a sunny day go outside. CLOSE YOUR EYES! Then face the sun. Let your eyelids absorb some sunlight. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.

Natural light is something we need in order to be healthy and happy. Spring will come soon enough, with longer days and brighter sunshine. Until then it helps to make sure you catch at least a little sunshine whenever you can. Light is good, let there be light. Shalom.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What's important?

What is your first priority? Is it your health? My guess is probably not, unless you aren't very healthy. Even for unhealthy people, as often as not in my culture, other things outrank good health.

Money, good looks, being thin, success/fame, true love, recognition and achievement - all these goals supercede good health for many people, not everyone of course. That crack from the film The Devil Wears Prada, "I'm just one stomach flu away from my ideal weight," says it all, doesn't it? Wow. Or should I say whoa?

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? At least it makes me wonder. Happy Saturday and Shalom.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I saw a woman in the subway yesterday who was clearly VERY ill. Her eyes were running, nose, too, and she was coughing so violently I worried she was about to cough up one of her lungs at any moment.

Clearly she was not headed to or from any ordinary type of work situation; she was wearing sweats, reading a book. And she must have known she was ill because she covered her mouth when she coughed which was basically all the time between Metro Center and Eastern Market where I was relieved to get off the train. (Between Metro Center and Eastern Market, there are five stops.)

Maybe she was headed to or from the doctor's office - I hope so! Maybe she doesn't have a car, though if I were that sick I would take a cab rather than public transportation, but maybe the thought didn't occur to her.

Though most of us sharing space with her were either staring or glaring, or both, she was unapologetic, She kept her gaze fixed, as best she could, on the book she was reading. I do hope she wiped that book carefully with Mrs. Meyers cleaner when she got home.

Sometimes I wonder if people, in general, feel unwell most the time, hence getting very sick isn't that much worse. Eat food that doesn't agree with you or is not nutritious, become sleep deprived, overwork 24/7 without taking time for fresh air or fun, and you'll feel like hell, too.

I almost said, "Get in bed and drink warm liquids!" before I exited the train, but then I remembered the co-independence course I took a few years ago. I kept my mouth shut.

May you be well! My goodness. Shalom.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You are what you eat

Just as nation-states have different kinds of relationships among themselves, some adversarial, some very friendly, so goes our relationships with the plants and animals we call "food." I don't for one second believe there is any food that's good for everyone. That's quite a naive point of view. Look around at other humans - we are very different from one another! Think of the variety of landscapes on which we live, on which very different plants and animals flourish. Why would it make sense for all of us to eat exactly the same foods? I don't understand how anyone could believe that.

Consider the indigenous people of the far north who never ever touch a green vegetable. They live on whale blubber and other seriously fatty foods. Those people are extremely healthy, by and large. Recently I read that the original hunter/gatherers who lived mostly on raw or almost raw meat and the milk of horses, cattle and goats, sometimes fermented so they could, when they felt like it, get stinking drunk - those people were hearty and healthy. When agriculture began in earnest, that's when human teeth began decaying and many different illnesses became normal for humans. It flies in the faces of all those folks who believe plant based diets are the best for EVERYONE. Mark Bittman, are you listening?

I'm not advocating a diet of almost raw meat and horse milk, by the way. At least it wouldn't work for me!

If you don't know which foods are most nutritious for you, there's an easy way to find out. For one day, drink only water and clear juices. The next day choose one very simple food - such as rice, for instance. Eat one serving. Does it smell and taste good? Does it feel "right" in your mouth? How it makes you feel? Energetic, cheerful, hot, cold, damp, dry? How does it sit in your stomach? Does it "stick to your ribs" or are you hungry soon after eating it? Become a mad scientist, curious and attentive. Try another food, notice the difference in the way these two foods make you feel. Pay attention to your emotional reactions as well as the way you feel physically. By trial and error, you can build a diet of feel-good foods.

The foods that create congestion or make you queasy or tired, give you a headache or whatever, these foods are not your friends, no matter what the experts tell you. Doesn't it make sense to build a diet around the foods that are easy to digest and help you feel cheerful and energetic rather than following someone else's idea of what's good to eat? You can not go wrong if you eat what suits your particular, individual, unique physiology.

Of course there are probably some foods that taste good but do not enhance the way you feel. For me, that would include cheese. I love it, but within five minutes of eating it, I have to clear my throat and blow my nose. It feels cold and heavy in my stomach, makes me queasy. What that means is that I have to pick and choose carefully the times when I eat cheese, or decide it's worth feeling heavy, cold and sniffly.

Have you ever thought about it? The digestive system is a crucial element of our immune systems. You ARE what you eat. Choose mindfully yes? I say yes.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Soften, release and move onwards, yes?

According to Mr. Webster, a grudge is: A feeling of deep seated resentmentment or ill will.

A grudge is a kind of stuckness, it's a form of energetic scar tissue that congeals around an event or events. Initially, a grudge protects an emotional wound, like a band aid or scab, but over time actually prevents healing. Grudges held over time become rock solid and impenetrable. Sometimes these grudges crystallize into huge formations in which entire clans and even larger groups of people become mired, frozen, paralyzed within the paradigm. Hatfields vs. McCoys, Montagues vs. Capulets, Republicans vs. Democrats, etc.

Grudges take a lot of energy. They bind energy for everyone involved. Ironically they bind the grudger very tightly to the grudgee. Over time, they are literally exhausting, and may I say, absurd. The bitterness that accompanies a grudge can make you sick as a dog, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It's really not worth the effort. Should say also that grudges are neither noble nor valiant, or a sign of loyalty.

Are you holding any grudges right now? My advice: forgive and forget. Let it go.

May the knots loosen, may you release whatever it is you might be holding against someone or someones, may you claim all your energy for more interesting, productive, creative endeavors. May it be so!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Right about now, if you're like many people, it comes as somewhat of a shock to realize that we're already a week into the new year. There is a sense, from my clients and within myself, that somehow we should be busy doing something. Time's a-wastin!

For some that means intensifying their efforts to "be healthy" or "live healthy" (a phrase I've seen in print that I believe is grammatically incorrect). May I say first and foremost that we're really lucky to have this choice, to be able to choose what we will or will not eat, what kind of exercise we engage in, and such. Throughout most of human history, for most people, living healthy was/is not an option.

All that said, try not to get too zealous about whatever you're doing to be healthier. There's an article in the New York Times about some of the injuries a too strenuous yoga practice can cause. Some of these injuries are quite serious, such as Horner's Syndrome. I know a yoga teacher who sustained this cervical injury doing head stands, and this guy is not a big, hulkin dude. He is slender and in great shape.

Whatever you're doing to clear the haze left over from the holiday season, take it slow, please? Thank you and Shalom.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What matters?

What would I do without my friends?

When a new year rolls around, many people get contemplative, reflect on the year just ending and begin to conjure what they would like to manifest in the year ahead. It's a damn shame this practice turns punitive so often, as if people feel a need to scold and punish themselves. Of course a part of that approach has to do with the massive de-tox that's inevitable after the end of the feast season. Another aspect of self-blaming behavior can be the result of cultural and/or religious values that teach the benefits of being humble. Humility is a wonderful thing that, when taken too far, lowers self-esteem. That never helps anything if you ask me. Also we're an ambitious, hard-working species, similar to ants or bees. When January 1 rolls around, we're hell-bent for leather to achieve, to fix old mistakes and such.

Rather than think of terms of what went wrong, what was derailed, how did I screw up, I prefer to ask myself what mattered in the year just past. What enhanced my existence, what felt "right"? My work felt right, and the decisions I made around a change in my work environment were spot on. All the things I do to enhance my good health mattered.

Reflecting on 2011, it occurs to me that more than anything, friends, neighbors, clients and family mattered. Cultivating relationships, making sure the people I care about know how much I cherish those connections, mattered. Feeling and expressing love is healthy, humane and an essential part of who we are as a species. One of my resolutions for 2012 revolves around remembering to appreciate how healing love is. When love moves through my heart, I feel plumped up with life force.

Will you spend time with someone you love today? Hope so. Hope you'll remember to tell them, too. Yes? I say yes.

Happy new year and Shalom!