*For now I'm doing away with affiliate links on "book reports". I love books and reading...and supporting my local library whenever possible...and sharing books with friends. I encourage you to do the same. However, I most certainly made room for An Unspoken Hunger on my bookshelf. I purchased the ebook version of Whole Body Barefoot.
In April, I came across a book and author that both quickly became favorites. I'd actually hoped to read Being Mortal first. Atul Gawande has a knack for exploring and sharing medical narratives in a way that stimulates compassion and introspection. Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance is a collection of fascinating stories of diligence, ingenuity, and doing right. His insight goes beyond benefiting medical professionals only; this book is relevant and inspiring to anyone striving to improve performance and "do better." TAKE AWAYS: (1) amazing innovations on the battle field mean soldiers are surviving wounds considered fatal in the past; I can't help but think about what the day to day life will look like for these soldiers though...and what this means in terms of the evolution of physical therapy and rehabilitation. (2) the difference 99.95% daily success, versus 99.5% success, makes in the long run. (3) the best have a capacity to learn and change, and to do so more quickly than the rest. (4) the camaraderie of Nanded surgeons making time in the afternoon to exchange case stories over chai. (5) complaining is boring: it doesn't solve anything and only brings us down.
When I was offered a review copy of HomeFront: Design for Modern Living, my initial reaction was to say "no thank you...that's not really my thing...doesn't seem like a fit". It only took a quick research of Windsor Smith and this book to become immediately intrigued by her vision though. Her call to reclaim neglected/unused/single-use spaces and to use design to foster togetherness in the home clicked. We might lack much in the way of "design elements" - or even curtains - in our home, but we do enjoy cultivating rituals out of the ordinary and creating space in our day to be together more honestly and meaningfully. This togetherness is reflected in the hobbies we share, in taking time in the kitchen together, in sitting face to face over drinks, even in the way we choose to greet one another. I like the idea of filling in "design" gaps with the intention of enhancing - rather than simply reflecting - our lives. The waste-not part of me also wants to make better use of every space in our home. Gorgeous photos fill the pages, making it a nice coffee table option, but some of the descriptions can feel a bit pretentious. This book could easily be aimed at...well, those who can identify with a foyer inspired by hotels along the French Riviera...and the like. This is kind of a shame, because Smith's perspective has value for those of us without a foyer or huge décor budget. The average family can still use design to do more than create a pretty room; we can change the way we live in these room. TAKE AWAYS: (1) interesting correlation between creating separateness in our literal spaces and separateness in our relationships. (2) noticing how the light changes throughout the home during the day...make use of the best morning light, evening light, etc. (3) letting go of intended uses or "shoehorning" our lifestyles into outdated layouts determined by architects and builders; reclaim spaces and design them around how they are actually used. (4) creating all-embracing spaces.
*this post includes affiliate links, click here to learn more about my take on such links.
This week I met a friend for a little outdoor workout. I thought I'd be sharing it with you, but it wasn't much of a workout. This isn't because we didn't challenge our strength; it isn't to say there won't be some degree of soreness (hello, negative chin ups). Our time at the playground simply wasn't regimented. Rather than perform sets and reps or time ourselves - or even follow through with the MovNat-inspired drill I'd come up with - we got creative. We used the time to catch up and see how many different "exercises" we could come up with using what was available at the playground: ball throws, ball smashes, push ups, dead hangs, chin ups, balancing, step ups, step downs, split squats, twirling on a twirly thing...
My analytical mind budged in at times, urging me to think in terms of sets. How could this possibly be effective if you don't do a third set? Instead I listened to my body, knowing whatever number of slow, negative chin ups I'd done would help address the pain in my right tricep tendon (without overdoing it). I moved on to the next movement and thought in terms of variability. What else could we do: squats, kneel to squat, single leg dead lifts, handstands, hanging toe touches...
I needed to be outside. It felt good to move my body after sitting at a computer a good portion of the day. Maybe best of all is the fact that at 30 years old, I have a friend who is happy to go play at the park.
*photo credit: David Finch
I wouldn't send most people to a yoga class to address shoulder issues, but that's exactly what brought me to my mat over five years ago. As climbing became a bigger part of my life, I started to feel weakness and signs that often precede a shoulder injury. I thought pressing actions might help balance all the pulling I was doing while climbing, so I started going to yoga classes at a local rec center.
Building strength and stability were certainly part of my intentions. Primarily, yoga was my time during the week to mindfully connect with my body and cue into what was going on. Around this time, I had an amazing mentor, Emma Maaranen, who taught me a lot about assessing range of motion in others and recognizing common "cheats." When I came to my mat with this in mind, I could be brutally honest about how I was actually moving at the shoulder joints. Much of my initial focus was "simply" on how my arms were sweeping overhead during sun salutations. Learning to stabilize well in downward-facing dog and plank took precedence over arm balances or intense stretching.
My knowledge of compensatory patterns may have been basic, but it armed me with the ability to decide whether it was safe for me to advance in - or even attempt - certain postures. Knowing how to modify poses to suit my body and current goals meant awkwardly turning down offers from teachers who wanted to help me "get deeper." I disregarded certain cues**. Honestly, this initially came with judgement, but eventually I coaxed myself to only focus on what my body needed to heal and strengthen (as well as admit I couldn't possibly know the teachers' intentions or backgrounds).
My practice didn't look like most I came across, but it helped me avoid shoulder injuries and heal my wrists. I had been plagued by carpel tunnel syndrome in the past. Though I didn't know this is what I was doing at the time, progressively loading my wrists in plank helped rid me of this pain and increase my wrist extension over the years. Yoga made me stronger everywhere, connected me with my breath, and taught me to move with greater control and ease. Many of these benefits came about simply because of preferences I had. I enjoyed holding poses for longer and with intentional muscle engagement because it was challenging. I tried to move slowly and with control because graceful strength is one of the aspects I find most beautiful in movement arts. Other benefits derived from a basic understanding of anatomy, my own body awareness, and trusting my instinct on poses and postures that just didn't make sense (for my body at that time).
When I set out to pursue physical therapy as my future profession, I knew yoga could be integrated into a therapeutic setting. A mindful practice like yoga can create all manner of change, help people heal, and encourage them to better inhabit their bodies. As I met more and more people with yoga-related injuries and physical therapists who "hated" yoga, I felt less confident expressing my ideas. I lacked adequate knowledge to fully explain my experience on a physiological level. Recently this shifted as I began to better understand the science and mechanisms to back up some of the intuitive practices I had originally brought to my mat.
I've noticed a disconnect between the movement sciences and movement modalities, whether in a yoga class or within the fitness world in general. It ranges from the language used, to common misconceptions, to the flexibility bias, to a hyper-focus on alignment without a better understanding of biomechanics.
Are we actually doing what we think we are doing?
A need to explore questions and concerns, flesh out my own ideas, and deepen my understanding lead me to experts who are doing exciting work in the bodywork and movement realm: Jules Mitchell, Jill Miller, Matthew Remski, Katy Bowman, Brooke Thomas... Learning from innovative individuals is helping me develop my personal practice and clarify my future goals as a therapist. I'm filling in the gaps of my own understanding and learning to better explain and apply "the science." Scientific research isn't without its shortcomings. I'm not claiming it to be the end-all-be-all, but it's an important perspective from which to expand.
Ultimately I want to help people feel better in their bodies. The path my yoga practice has taken isn't better or worse than any other. It's just another way to approach this movement modality.
Turns out, I'm a _____________*** nerd. This is the angle that fires up my passion and makes me excited to continue working.
*Dave took these photos of me back in 2012!
** some of the most common: "tuck/lengthen tailbone," "lift the chest," "let go/relax fully" (in pigeon), creating a "double chin"
***insert any or all of the following: body, movement, science...
Last fall we thought I had whooping cough. It very well may have been, though the specific strain of bacteria responsible for WC is not what came back positive on the culture test. Violent coughing fits strained my breathing and caused me to vomit. Nothing stopped or dulled the coughing; being out in the cold and exerting myself at all - like walking - made it worse. My appetite vanished. Everything was more difficult, even rest, which is what I needed most. Sleep was limited to a couple hours each night in an upright position because, of course, lying down elicited a violent coughing fit. I was miserable. We finally turned to an antibiotic prescribed by my naturopathic doctor to kick it out after three long weeks.
It was wonderful to finally eat again and simply walk around the block with David and Eisley; but what I relished in most was finally being able to sleep - it was beautiful - even though my normal sleep cycle was skewed. The disruption, combined with winter travel and then a new semester schedule, left it skewed. It's been months, and yet I haven't fully recovered the sleep debt this illness brought on. The reason is because I haven't put focused intention into doing so. First, I was simply happy to be sleeping at all again; then, feeling slightly more rested was such an improvement over the previous weeks, fostering better sleep habits didn't take precedence. I know I would feel better if I slept for more hours; I know I should go to bed earlier.
I have a problem with the word "should." I don't like placing it on other people, and I don't like placing it on myself. "Should" perpetuates our tendency to shame ourselves and others into changing. When pushed onto others, it defines our perception of reality, or ideals, for them; when placed on ourselves, it layers perfectionist pressures on top of unrealistic standards. I tend to revolt against "shoulds."
The problem isn't knowing what I should do, knowing what would help, setting a reminder to do so, or creating the right environment. The challenge is in shifting the desire: to want to unwind in the evenings...to head toward bed...to embrace me time...to feel rested...more than I want the distractions that keep me from these.
I write all of this out as a gentle self nudge to reestablish ritual enjoyment out of the necessary - sleep isn't optional - and I know my mood, short-term memory, energy levels, athletic performance, life enjoyment...will all improve. I do this for myself not because I should, but because I care about myself and my health.
Fostering my bedtime rituals:
> I've noticed the benefits of having a magnesium drink in the evenings, but I think I'll treat myself to calming teas once in awhile.
> Breathing exercises and feel good mobilizations before bed played a major role in healing my digestion, but these practices also contribute to many other aspects of my well-being. I'll play with some variations here and experiment with restorative poses as well.
> I delight in burning essential oils. Sometimes I do a little of this (lavender, bergamot), plus a couple drops of that (ylang ylang, jasmine); but currently, I'm burning this mellow mix in the evenings.
> Awhile back I decided to turn off my analytical, academic (and passionate) mind right before bed, using a "for fun" novel or book to do so. Studying anatomy and biomechanics is fun for me though, so I easily forgot this decision as a couple movement-related and self-care manuals flowed into my bedtime reading. I'll be more mindful of this.
Please feel free to share some of your bedtime rituals in the comments!
Thank you for stopping by - I'm so glad you did!