special event {6/18}: 18th annual allied media conference

amc16

On June 18th, I’ll lead a healing session at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. This opportunity has given me pause to pick up an old thread + follow it back to the faded memory of my former life as a graduate student at NYU, where I studied media through a sociological lens — examining race, gender, culture, representation + impact — and earned my M.A. from the Tisch School of Arts/GSAS.

Now, I have the deep honor of helping to cultivate a healing justice practice space for artists, educators, activists, and radical media-makers + offer them an immersion in mindfulness to foster compassion, skillful understanding + authentic connection.

Learn more about the AMC Conference: http://www.alliedmedia.org/amc

embodied wisdom: commentary on “Choosing the Right Running Shoes – NYTimes.com”

“Perhaps most unexpected, running shoes designed to somehow “fix” someone’s running form turned out often to be ineffective and even counter-productive.”

~ Gretchen Reynolds | NYTimes.com

Shin splints, patellofemoral syndrome (aka runner’s knee), a broken toe, stress fracture of the foot, a sprained ankle, a strained piriformis, sciatica, chronic hip and sacroiliac pain…and this list only covers my lower half!

Mine is a body that has sustained and, thankfully, recovered from numerous injuries.

With the exception of fracturing my foot after jumping cross-legged off a cement post when I was 8 (and apparently crazy), I can trace all of my physical dysfunctions and subsequent recurring pain back to the three years I spent on my high school track team hurling a shotput and discus across fields. I suffered the consequences of overuse and repetitive stress from being under-coached and under-conditioned (the inequities in girls’ training and conditioning in sports is a topic for another post) well into my 30s.

No single pair of shoes or orthotics — whether those prescribed and specially-designed for my feet by two different podiatrists as well as the “over-the-counter” from a footwear store — successfully resolved my bouts with pain. I’d get temporary relief then the pain would resurface and continue migrate between my traumatized body parts (shoulder, hip, sacrum, leg) with varying levels of intensity and duration. Finally, two years after pregnancy, childbirth, and the ensuing exertions of parenting had magnified these strains, I could no longer live with short-term fixes that only addressed the afflicted area of the moment.

I needed and ultimately benefited from a holistic approach to rehabbing my body. I worked on realigning my pelvis; strengthening and stabilizing my deep core muscles, hips, shoulders, and feet; mobilizing strained tissues with massage; and maintaining/returning to a neutral posture throughout my day.

I’m not saying that shoes aren’t a factor at all. But I don’t think it’s a wise practice to focus so much on what we put on our feet while neglecting to pay attention to how we take care of our feet and the rest of our body.

Full disclosure. I’m a skeptical/mindful consumer and am fully aware that shoe companies have a vested interest in our buying new shoes every few months. So I challenged my own rehab doctors with questions about the validity of the commonly circulated advice to swap our running shoes out after 300 – 500 miles. The response was non-committal — it may be more of an individual choice based on one’s biomechanics and how quickly they wear down shoes.

My bottom line.
Be the expert of your own body! Become fluent in the messages it relays through sensations of pain, fatigue and imbalance as well as those of strength, freedom of movement, stamina, and well-being. Keep testing out what’s true for you!

Read more about the research on biomechanics and running shoes via the NYTimes.com: Choosing The Right Running Shoes.

movement as meditation: learning to walk in peace (when sitting is not an option)

walking is always, always a good choice.
we were built to walk.
every location of every muscle and every shape of every bone
offers perfection in walking…
our bodies want to walk.
and with the body as in life,
we will find that what attracts us is in our own best interest.

~joy colangelo

It’s walk where you are 3been almost 15 years since I discovered that walking meditation was actually a thing! It happened quite spontaneously through the normal course of my day, trooping around New York City.

One moment I was mapping out errands and very likely puzzling out the “issue-of-the-day” related to grad school, work or relationships; and the next: I could only hear the sound of my breath and the rhythm of my boots on the pavement.

Everything else dropped away. The cacophony of the bustling neighborhood became a low humming in the background — alerting me of my surroundings but no longer as intrusive or overwhelming as it could be.

In the midst of the relentless “madness,” I felt surprisingly centered, clear and relaxed!

But it would still be years before I even stumbled across mention of walking (along with standing, lying down, and, of course the most commonly-known posture, sitting) as a form of meditation. “Ahhhh,” I thought. “So that’s what was happening?!”

Many moons later, I was introduced to the formal practice of walking meditation when I began studying the dharma with my root sangha. Those 20 minutes that we devoted to silently circumambulating the temple helped us transition from the hustle of the day into the quiet refuge of practice. Physically, it also helped to ease tension and to pbig sky mind.constellation2repare us to sit steadily in meditation for 20 minutes.

Beyond the temple walls, I’ve enjoyed walking meditation in yoga studios, at a labyrinth, on a park trail….and lately: around the rug in my living room!

So walk where you are to invite mindfulness and cultivate peace.

embodied wisdom: 15-mile meditation

My foot, poised for motion, rests upon solid Earth.

My lungs balloon open to capture Air. An expansion that readies my heart for the journey.

Oxygen combusts into compassion. Fueled, I step into Wind’s welcoming arms.

Blade-sharp chill cuts through illusion.
Clear comprehension arises.

Movement is my refuge: those sensations, vibrating upward from sole to soul, become a massage that awakens equanimity.

Steady footfalls, rhythmic and soothing, lull mind inward.

Penetrating deeply but gently. Flushed through arteries to appendages. Aligned. Attuned.

The course (my design) landmarked by old injuries and hard-won victories in self-understanding.

A training in awareness: an inside-out, 360 degree study of my body gliding through space, covering distances immeasurable by miles.

No striving. No pursuing. (No race, no finish line, no medal.)

Simply abiding.

Cheered on by the thrumming of heart and the rejoicing of cells and muscle fibers.

Spirit soars. Boundless.

In call and response, I am guided by the synergistic conversation between my lungs and legs.

Who will lead? Walk now? Or run? They negotiate in whispers with the lumbar.

Adjustments are made to pace and posture. Muscles contract and relax in a reassuring hug.

My complex weave of supple tissues and resilient fibers, in harness, I am anchored–

Head to heart, hip to heel–as shoulder blades kiss my spine to bolster each vertebrae toward open Sky.

By my stride: 30,000 steps or so.

By my breath: a fusion of body, mind and heart.

Reclaimed. Reconciled. I am solid, steady, free. In this body. As it is.

embodied wisdom: lessons on chronic pain + yoga postures (with tips via Sequence Wiz)

As a yoga practitioner + teacher who has experienced chronic pain off and on for over 20 years due to a sports-related injury in high school, I know firsthand how vital it is to have an intimate understanding of our pelvis and sacrum. Yoga therapist Olga Kabel of Sequence Wiz  (whose vision statement “every yoga practice must have purpose, order and meaning” resonates deeply with my own approach) explains it clearly here: Too many asymmetrical poses can create sacroiliac joint issues. I can attest that the simple and functional exercises I learned from a friend (also a yoga therapist in the viniyoga tradition like the author of the blog linked above) have been an enormous help to me in maintaining pelvic/sacral stability.

Embodied Wisdom: A Twenty-Year Lesson on Chronic Pain + Rehabilitative Therapies + Yoga

Back in 2006, I remember being baffled when a physical therapy assistant told me to stop practicing yoga even though the stretches for my super tight iliopsoas muscles (deemed the culprit for my back pain) were similar to the asanas (like lunges and pigeon pose) that seemed to help relieve the tension in that area. She offered no further explanation that I can recall, so I was hardly convinced it was problematic. I loved how my body felt in postures and appreciated the skill with which my teacher instructed.

Even before starting my teacher’s training with her that summer, I came to experience the potential of yoga as a lifelong journey of self study and refinement. Coupled with my study and practice of Zen Buddhism, I knew that it had less to do with what happened physically on a mat and far more to do with generating compassion, equanimity and resilience of heart and mind in order to nourish skillful understanding of ourselves and skillful relationships with others. Asana can be used as a skillful means of clearing tension in body, heart and mind. However, what has become clear to me over the years about asana is that, if not practiced or taught with a skillful understanding of the interplay between movement, muscles, connective tissues and bones, it can be incompleteineffective and dangerous. This may be what the PTA meant but failed to articulate.

I’ve been treated by athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, osteopaths and podiatrists since my high school sports injury. None have quite made a deep and thorough connection between my various symptoms (broken toe bone, strain in my arches, tightness in Achilles and calf, shin splints, runner’s knee, frozen shoulder, SI issues–a spiraling line of dysfunction from my left foot, leg and hip wrapping around to the right side of my sacrum and continuing upward to my right shoulder and, sometimes, down to my right elbow and wrist—all arising from a brief stint running track followed by 3 years of shot putting + discus throwing) and the root cause: pelvic and sacral instability.

During my last trimester of pregnancy in 2010, nearly every footstep would bring searing pain to my pelvis because of pubic symphysis diastasis  (PT treatment #3). The pain diminished post-partum as my ligaments tightened and knitted my pubic bones back together but returned with a vengeance in the form of sciatica and SI pain, making it difficult to sleep and even to walk when getting out of bed in the morning. For a mom, on little sleep, who uses her body for a living to teach yoga, this was madness!

Over the past two years, I’ve seen an osteopath and undergone a fourth round of physical therapy. I found that going to an osteopath was a waste of time and insurance money for such fleeting relief. I would feel better after the manual manipulation but then, because of my daily activities, would run the risk of throwing myself back into misalignment and require readjustment again…Um, no thanks! I asked numerous questions about caring for my body’s unique structural alignment as well as the impact of yoga poses and running on my problematic areas. According to them: no restrictions, limitations or modifications were needed. Hmmm, really?!  And, of course, the pain returned.

So back to physical therapy for what I proclaimed would be the last time. During my initial assessment with the PT, I rattled off my history of injuries/symptoms dating back to the stress fracture in my foot from a stunt I performed (jumped off a cement post and crossed my legs as I hit the ground) when I was 8 years old! I absolutely did not care that the PT was taken aback by my onslaught of information. She actually told me she didn’t need to know all of that (meaning, insurance only covers the current, localized issue — my sacrum). But I wasn’t having it and promptly insisted that she help me to understand and to correct the chain of dysfunction, explaining that I could not keep coming back to physical therapy every few years for “Band-Aid” treatments.

Even though I asked the same questions about maintenance and self-care, I had no illusions that I would get all the answers from physical therapy. Indeed, I got the same “you’re-free-to-move-without-restrictions” prescription. (To their credit, I realize that in some ways these therapists deferred to my experience as a yoga teacher, as well as my healthy range of motion in my joints–figuring I knew how to take care of myself.) But overall I did receive a better treatment plan this time because I advocated for it. More important, in deciding to be fully responsible for my own healing and care, I diligently tested the validity of the recommendations from these healthcare practitioners alongside the knowledge of my body I had acquired through my training, practicing and teaching of asana. I continue to seek new perspectives on anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and exercise to refresh my understanding and application of relevant principles and tips to my practice and teaching.

Treating every movement as an act and extension of yoga has been key to healing and realigning my body. Through the union of purposeful asana with running, walking, strength training, and self-applied myofascial release with foam rollers and balls (see links below), I have gained more stability and a considerable sense of freedom from pain and tension in my body. I continuously share this journey with my students and encourage them to trust their bodies’ wisdom (particularly when it shows up as pain) and to develop a collaborative relationship with their care providers. They may be experts in their fields, but we must reclaim our role as experts of our own bodies.

Related:

Learn more about the role of connective tissue plays in creating and maintaining stability, postural integrity, and balancing out or holding “stuck” tension.

Anatomy Trains

MELT Method