Living in the Animal World

I just finished teaching a bodywork course I wrote years ago. We focus on soft tissue pain and symptoms, on the confusion it can cause, and on how frequently it’s misunderstood. This journey takes us to looking at our culture – how it both celebrates and ignores the physical body. Anything involving something sexual, something that could “sell,” or any dramatic pathologies can easily get a lot of attention. Focus on simple health care, awareness of the body, and ongoing maintenance of it are often not well understood, or are missed completely. If the focus is more on intensities we can experience in the physical body, what then happens to some of the so-called basics we can experience in life: musculoskeletal pain/dysfunction, pain and stress relief through touch, and maintenance of the physical form via soft tissue work?

Given the pace and pressure of contemporary life for so many, taking basic, balanced, solid care of the body can be frustrating. Here are some great challenges that if enjoyed can sometimes be more easily incorporated into daily life:

  • foam roll the whole body every day and let the sensations take you further into your form; grounding and focusing you, both through discomfort and warm relief
  • stretch even just a few minutes a day, targeting different areas if there’s not enough time and doing another set of areas the next day; breathe deeply and well and enjoy what you feel there – a lightening as muscles slowly elongate
  • use various bodywork tools (tennis balls, lacrosse balls, muscle sticks, Thera Canes, etc.) to explore, acknowledge, and experience the body in a wordless array of sensations 
  • get bodywork on a regular basis as can – we spend so much time in our thoughts and minds, but just being in your body and feeling what is there, is like living in another world – an animal world where language is simply not enough to define or describe

Increased life quality can involve striving for balance, being present and aware, and staying as grounded as can. Coming from these stances, we’re better able to hear our body’s messages and care for it accordingly. We live in an animal form. Acknowledge, cherish, and care for it; we only get the one. It’s valuable, intelligent and as much a miracle as our brains. Do not forget to live in the huge world it presents.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

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Sensory Satisfaction

 

Fingers sinking into the base of the skull/the occiput, just the right level in this dense but sensitive tissue; pushing that tissue back and forth, easing movement back to the muscles and to the skull atop the spine. The taut edge of the upper trapezius firmly gripped, compressed, and slightly pulled back and down, freeing the neck from the often insistent yoke of the upper shoulders. Circular movements exploring around muscle attachments near the top of the thigh bone/the greater trochanter; creating space and freedom of movement at the top of the thigh, flexing, extending, walking, bending, kneeling. Fibrous bands of calf muscle tissue, restricting the flow of walking, receiving friction across and down the muscle fibers; feeling the ankle almost grow warm as it pushes back to a wider range of exploration again.

Short but sweet. Looking at what simply feels good in receiving bodywork and how difficult it can be to address in mere words (great and interesting as language is). Why aren’t there more words in written language to communicate well how incredible the body’s own language is? As I said, short and sweet and more to explore, likely forever. Enjoyment of the human, animal form and self-care to go alongside – cheers to that.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

 

Dust Off, Body and Soul

Layers of life accumulate in our emotions, our thoughts, and our tissues, adding to our experience and depth of character. Conversely, these layers can also create a sense of burden, a narrowing of viewpoint, and a constriction in our physical form. Working on layers of “gummed up” muscle tissue in clients as well as in myself, I’m always reminded of this. Not with a judgement, simply with an acknowledgement – we gather both experience and “dust,” if you will. The former we can be proud of; the latter we can seek to keep brushing off. 

How great does it feel to have that taut edge of the upper trapezius/upper shoulder muscle eased open and back down again? As it rolls forward with gravity, usage, and postural imbalances, pulling up towards our neck in stress and excessive engagement, it harbors both the burdens we carry in life (a literal weight upon the shoulders) and the physical manifestation of those weights in clenched tissue.  I love how it feels, receiving or giving, to rebalance here. As the tissue is cleaned open again, freed from adhesive layers binding it to other muscles, a lightness returns to its movement, its texture, and to our sense of how we feel within the structure. As freer movement is restored to the tissue, even our very mood can feel elevated. A topic I could go on about in so many ways! For now let’s simply say, life accumulates – let’s hope to learn from what we undergo, continue to sweep off what we no longer need, and maintain a healthy flow of movement through all layers of who we are.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

Intention is Everything

 

Bodies don’t lie, so neither does touch. But our minds can confuse, and even lie, to us. I watch my own responses as I work on people and think about this.

Recently, I worked on a colleague with many old injuries. Daredevil stunts in child and teen years, dog-piling into the gum-in-your-hair effect of scar tissue, old stress fractures, compensatory movement patterns, and muscle imbalances. Picturing the impact injuries she’d described so well, understanding what might happen in the anatomy from her injuries, and palpably feeling the tissue imbalances around the area, I “felt sorry” for the sacral bone, a primary area of injury for her. So many old stress fractures and so much scar tissue creating chronic dysfunction in the glutes and low back muscles over the years. I did light touch and movement on the surface of the area in starting, just to say “I’m sorry” to the skeletal structure. My colleague understood and made positive comment on. Both of us on the same page helps.

So it’s funny to me that after so many years full-time in this field, I can still feel hesitant in maintaining prolonged, stationary, empathetic touch. In working, my body responds with an innate, animal instinct human beings have for touch and giving aid, but my mind tells me other things:  don’t act out of ego; they might misunderstand; this won’t do much; and so-on. I completely believe in the healing effect of simple touch, yet I was raised in a culture that varies from not believing in the value of touch, to sexualizing most touch, to being suspicious of it. Many people can relate to this and feel trapped by it. 

So how to get out of this trap? Maybe everyone must answer this for themselves. For me, I like to know my intentions, stay grounded, communicate clearly, and act out of compassion. Whether actual healing happens is not up to us in offering it anyway. It has to be processed by the person receiving. A tightrope walk, to recognize the freedom of all individuals in life, to believe in the power of genuine caring, and to hope for positive results without demanding them. Keep balancing –

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

Sciatica, Piriformis Syndrome, Gluteus Minimus, or…?

 

Pain in the low back, gluteus/buttock muscles, low limbs, even to the feet, possibly including pins and needles or numbing. Who’s the culprit for all this physical discomfort? Once it starts interrupting our ability to find a comfortable sleeping position, we all want to know. Lower lumbar vertebrae impinging on the sciatic nerve (sciatica), or the piriformis muscle under the glutes compressing that same nerve? First off, wise to get things assessed properly. A good physical therapist or orthopedic doctor are solid professionals for covering musculoskeletal pain and imbalances. Second, keep in mind sciatica and piriformis syndrome are very often composite problems, meaning there are several influences creating the issue. As I focus continually on in this blog, other soft tissue imbalances can be adding to the problem, sometimes even the sole cause. 

Segue to gluteus minimus, a key player in creating mid-lower body pain patterns (though not the only one, sorry ;). Find this muscle on a nice, basic anatomy drawing. Found in the posterior to lateral portion of the hip, it is the deepest of the three glute muscles, attaching in at the front and top of the femur/upper leg bone. If it’s hypertonic/too tight, a large referral pattern of pain, weakness, pins and needles, and/or numbing can present from the hips all the way to the feet. A tennis or lacrosse ball is a great tool to start easing the tissue out of excessive tension, breaking down adhesions and interrupting pain signals from the tissue. Best to stay off the tendon attachment to avoid irritating a bursa/”cushion” located there, or the tendon itself. Stay about an inch away from the head of the femur bone, keeping in the belly of the soft tissue encircling that greater trochanter/top of the femur. This will all make more sense after glancing at an anatomy drawing – maps of the body are interesting, just try!

The area can be surprisingly tender or sharp feeling. Using a sports ball and having massage done will reveal these sensations, often recreating familiar pain patterns. No need for torture! A dark laugh at how sore it may be will keep the breath going if needed, but if the breathing stops and the swearing escalates, best to lighten the pressure or address another time. Let the physical sensations be the guide. Follow the tension in the tissue – coax and ease it open, backtracking it out of dysfunction and discomfort. Trouble sleeping on that side? Try using the sports ball right before bed, follow with a couple of gentle stretches to the glutes. Getting good bodywork done to the area really feels so relieving. Sensing pain and imbalance being led out of an area leaves us all feeling so much lighter, in spirit as well as in form.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2018

Life in the Face of Death

A difficult topic that we generally skirt around is ever present while living in a physical form – the death of that form. It’s a major driving force behind the anxiety any one of us can feel when bodies exhibit pain, dysfunction, or chronic problems. Questions of, will I ever feel better again, is this the new normal, am I breaking down, how do I resolve this, all arise. Death is not going away, so how do we take care of our bodies with this reality staring at us ongoing?

First off, stare back. Different from obsessing over, it is resolutely acknowledging, deeply feeling, and actually accepting. That can be very grounding right there. It also keeps the pendulum of our reactions from swinging too wide. Meaning, we don’t need to drop all health measure, stop moving, and refuse responsibility for health; nor need we become fanatical without focus. Instead, keep it steady and basic with good intention:  honor and love the physical body you came in with; know and accept that it requires more attentive care ongoing than anyone ever taught you; and stay responsible, aware, and genuinely interested in that care as able.

Easily said, right? People are complicated in their emotions and viewpoints which gets inextricably interwoven with physical self-care. So think on this – if we under-water a plant, it dies; if we over-water a plant, it dies. If we apply this simple example to our own bodies, it can be awakening and calming, with a more detached though caring perspective. How about, do what’s naturally indicated or more commonly understood: drink water, get enough sleep, eat for nutrition as well as enjoyment, keep moving, exercising, stretching. And so key, enjoy how that makes you feel better on many levels. Notice it, pay attention to it, respect it, apply it. There are many topics I could branch into here from the aforementioned; lack of resources and environmental pollution are truly grievous ones. Without any disrespect for these realities, I’m staying simple for now, suggesting being in your body, hearing its messages, knowing it’s not your vehicle forever, and loving, cherishing, and be interested in it as a part of who you are, with best intentions and as able. If we mind the messages the physical body sends, flowing on an even keel in responding to its well-being, there can be endless room to grow.

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017

Healing Old Scars

 

It interests me endlessly how the body reflects so much of what we’ve undergone and undergo in life, mirroring many aspects of who we are or have become. The tissue itself is filled with stories from our lives and experiences. Some things are more apparent, and some are hidden from view, but the physical body is a walking novel in its own way. While we cannot rewrite the past our body speaks of, we can amend some of how it presents today. Looking at how scar tissue easily piles up in the body from injuries, surgeries, and just ongoing usage, I marvel at how scar tissue can always be worked on and lessened, even if it’s been in place many years. Formed from collagen to bind an area together like a band-aid, scar tissue shortens the tissues, restricting movement both locally and along a chain of movement spreading away from the original location. We get used to our scars, their restrictions, and the change in how we move and feel, adapting while often feeling nagging discomfort. When scar tissue is worked on, it can feel intensely relieving or very uncomfortable, but it generally always feels freeing, on more than one level.

My thoughts here are not about how to work scar tissue (which can be covered another time). Instead, I wanted to present how wonderful it is that clearing restrictions from the tissue often times coincides with moving restrictions we actually feel in the mind and/or emotions; in clearing up the tissue, the mind and emotions can usually follow more easily. Rereading the first paragraph above with this perspective, it could translate as doing either emotional work or physical work. Not a new concept, of course – all relates to the idea of body/mind/spirit being inextricably interwoven. Excluding congenital issues and viewpoints on physical aesthetics, this instead highlights how things we experience and react to throughout our lives have a strong residual impact on our minds, hearts, and bodies, each of the three reflecting the other two.  Viewed from a place free from judgement, this way of interpreting then paints a beautiful, sad, human, inspirational, organic-animal, fragile, hope-filled reality. Old scars can be healed, on many levels of who we are, and we can continue to flow towards and through that all our lives.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017

The “Language” of Our Senses

I was recently approached to teach a workshop solely on soft tissue techniques, versus teaching touch while learning anatomy. Mulling over the idea brought up much of what I try to explore in this blog: what is the tactile feel as you explore an area of soft tissue; what is the intuition of touch as you work with any given individual; how years of experience gained compile and strengthen said intuitive feel; and how to describe in words what is felt, in giving and receiving through touch, when there doesn’t seem to be enough words in spoken language to define the feelings? 

Muscle tissue has many stories to share. A client of mine some years ago had their Achilles tendon surgically repaired, leaving scar tissue that thick, it creates a line of tensile pull all the way up to the sacrum on that same side. It’s subtle, but that pulling is visible in how she lies on the table and can be felt in observing it. We’re all roaming around living in a human body. Looking at any given story in a body, we can often feel it in our own; staying centered in our physical self and in touch with our physical sensory responses. Touching the scar tissue on the achilles and exploring its unique thickness, noticing the restriction and how it spills slightly out into surrounding areas and structures, having acceptance that the structure is different now yet still functional and can have some ease brought in though it’s already healed – perceptions and sensations so interesting to experience in communicating with the tissue.

Then always there is more – more stories, more to explore, more to experience, more to understand. Our bodies communicate to us constantly through many kinds of signals. We communicate with each other constantly through body language. The communications are real, often loud, and all without wordsI actually love language and the creative use of words, yet the array of communications a physical body can give astounds me. It’s a seemingly endless capacity, it is beautiful, and I remain lovingly in awe. 

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017