The Human Body – Ever-Changing Garden

We only have the one body. When it’s injured, living in it can be a major test of patience, and one of life’s humbling lessons. Soft tissue injuries can be more exhausting and patience-pushing than bone breaks. It’s easier to determine when bones are healed; soft tissue healing has subtle stages of repair, can feel healed and not actually be so, can easily have set-backs, and can take anywhere from many weeks to several months. A maddening to sometimes depressing experience.

Looking at the body as a garden, always growing, changing, and in-flux, can help change how we view injury, healing, and self-care. And why not look for the enjoyment in what actually is? Rubbing arnica onto bruises to expedite healing in the tissue feels so soothing, both in the simple touch and the intention. Applying needed ointments to wounds from either injury or surgery requires patience and regular attendance, and can feel good in this kind of “mindless,” primal, animal way that’s a part of our very human existence. Moving our muscles in simple exercises during rehabilitation prompts a range of sensations we can dive into and fully experience, from uncomfortable to interesting to relieving.  Just slowing down to notice, completely feel, and be present in all these sensations becomes a fascinating, wordless world – a very human-animal world that requires our attention.

Making this switch in perspective can increase compassion for ourselves and others, deepen our patience, raise our present moment awareness, and can help us revalue the physical aspects of life, living, and being human.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Lara Stillo

Advertisements

The Measure of Energy Work

Energy work is ever interesting to me, though I don’t technically practice it. When it comes to the physical body, I’m mainly drawn by substance and tangibility; guided by practicality, animal instinct, and understanding form and function. Recognizing that we are solid matter, yet that matter is also made up of energy (refraining from a physics discussion here), how do we feel energy work as an experience in the moment, or notice what it’s effecting for us individually in the results?

I notice something over and again in receiving bodywork regularly, teaching it for 13 years, practicing it for 18:  there are many wonderful techniques out there in energy work, but the most powerful one to me is the intention and presence of the person via their touch, whether it’s on the physical body or outside of it. I cannot find words lovely enough to describe the communication relayed from one person to another via pure kindness of intention, all techniques aside. The focus of caring, compassion, love, and humanity that can be conveyed is beyond language, with depths probably beyond my human understanding. And each person’s touch is unique because every individual is unique. A beautiful, wordless world of communication in endless variety.

Whether giving or receiving bodywork, enjoy noticing what’s being communicated and shared, what is being given, and how much we can actually feel without any need for meaning, explanation, or comprehension – simply sensing, feeling, and expanding into a larger, wordless language.

Copyright © 2019 by Lara Stillo

 

 

Bodies: Endless “Art” Projects

An interesting benefit of physical self-care, you’ll never be bored with it. Consider it darkly humorous, but it’s a practical point of view: bodies are constantly changing, require ongoing care and maintenance, and are endlessly complex. So why not find ways to enjoy the self-care? 

In either self-work or receiving bodywork from a therapist, noticing and sinking into sensations felt is always informative and usually just wonderful, even if moderate discomfort arises. The latter is not about “no pain, no gain.” I’m not suggesting that for soft tissue work. You should be able to breathe or even sometimes laughingly swear, and that tolerance range varies per person and per the work in the moment. It is about feeling, awareness, learning, changing, grounding, and definitely about enjoying. 

Consider what it feels like having tight upper shoulders worked open. We usually feel tightness or even pain in upper shoulders much of the time; upper shoulders being workhorses and stress carriers for most. As different muscle tissue is addressed, any small area can give quite different feedback sensations to us. Aching, sharpness, relief like a sigh, discomfort that surprises and educates – all bring us into our bodies, more present, aware, and awake. We can also feel emotions attached to the different physical sensations. Sometimes anger, sadness, fear, gratitude, appreciation, pleasure, warmth and more can be there. Ever interesting to notice emotions and physical sensations appear as the soft tissue is manipulated and coaxed open. Good changes are happening; things are transforming. 

Allowing ourselves to be brought back into the physical body, feeling what’s there, honoring and taking care of what is, is a sometimes challenging journey we all take in this life, but it can be a loving, engaging, transformative one, too.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2019

With Gratitude!

Thanks out to all the lovely folks who have read and responded to this blog – very grateful! While there will always be things to work on improving, saving, and supporting in life, remembering to appreciate the beauty of what is around us, in us, and in others gives the uplift to continue on and to thrive. Happy New Year “) – Lara

 

Copyright © 2019 by Lara Stillo

Do I Want a Golf Ball Pressed into My Muscles?

A busy time of year, so I’m sharing again a post I wrote a couple years ago. I chose one covering simple self-care routines, since this can all drop away during crazy holiday times! Lara:)

Seemingly contradictory: I am in a health care field – I am not 100% perfect with my health. Don’t misunderstand; I definitely look after my health daily, ongoing, and with awareness. I’m just more of an 80/20 rule person. 80% of the time covers eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and being responsible in general about self-care, even to enjoying the discipline around it. That leaves 20% to cover my love of strong, rich coffee and dark, deep chocolate; chewy chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and the occasional dense, sweet donut; saying yes to more joyous social activities than I can actually do; and inadvertently waxing sometimes too dark and deep, needing to then pull myself back out and up. Yet, as I’ve told students in my massage classes many times before, I’m not a “guru” with all the answers, nor am I seeking to be. I seek to walk my talk and live by example. 

Being in the midst of winter rains storms and subsequent flooding here in the Bay Area, with sharper temperature drops and less daylight, self-care can fall away more quickly. I love having all the tools I use for support near at hand and pulled together. Right beside my tv sits a basket with bands and tubes for muscle resistance and strengthening; two different foam rollers and three different exercise balls for working the muscle tissue open; and a yoga mat and yoga block to support stretching the muscles back out. The visual reminder of this basket of tools, along with all being in one place, makes it hard to ignore, easy to use.

In using any of the aforementioned tools, much can be found on the net, in books, or often in any brief manuals that come with some of these supplies. Because I’m licensed as a massage therapist and focus on opening up and/or resolving soft tissue dysfunction and pain, I focus on the use of the foam roller and sports balls (lacrosse ball, golf ball, tennis ball) when talking to clients about self-care at home and defer to the physical therapists I work with for strength rehabilitation and training. I would say the same here that I tell clients: Know your own musculoskeletal health before going deeply with any of these tools; injuries old or new, the integrity of the skeletal system, any imbalances that may exist, etc.  It’s always good to start small and gentle no matter, so each individual can experience how these things feel and where modifications need to happen either direction (i.e., using a harder tool or a softer tool, which muscles to focus more time on, and so forth). The more you get used to using them, the more information you receive from your body, and the more you learn about your body. Small steps continually taken bring us to our goals well, versus dramatic leaps done in fits and starts. Meaning, try to consistently use one or more of these tools daily. I use the foam roller daily for a broad opening of the muscles, followed by one of the small sports balls for specific work. Stretching afterwards is ideal because the muscles are more open post-use of these tools.

Working the anterior, lateral, and posterior muscles is important as most of us feel discomfort in the posterior muscles from postural over-stretching and will be drawn to focus there. But since life is all about being flexed too far forward, the anterior muscles are often the offenders in tightest-of-the-tight without actually feeling sore; they need addressing. And it can feel great: Easing pressure into a sore, tight muscle – letting it sink in slowly with static pressure, or rolling in small 1/2 inch increments into the tissue, a couple different directions – following where these paths of tightness lead you, exploring your musculature in various areas – breathing with measured stretching after, opening different muscles, feeling how much more room there can be, how much more movement and flexibility. 

Humans are organic, not robotic. We’re all each our own, ongoing process; a garden constantly needing weeding, tilling, watering, and nutrients. It does not stop, it is ever-changing, but it’s rewarding and interesting if you can see it this way. Bodies are also shockingly resilient. That doesn’t mean waste what you have and burn it out, of course, but it does mean keep tending to it. There are ways to feel better. Life has intense, often grievous challenges, yet it also offers gifts, always. Here’s to taking care of ourselves in growing gratitude, which still can, I believe, include some type of “cookies” in there.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017

Resiliency

I’m amazed by human resilience. Absolutely when it presents in spirit, but also how it can show in the body. Healing takes time and effort, don’t mistake me. Seems like watching grass grow, living in an off-balance body trying to right itself again; uncomfortable to painful, depending. Specifically I’m talking about the beauty of how apparently “simple” touch applied to the body can have profound effects in supporting a natural resiliency our bodies carry.

Working on scar tissue that’s several years old and seeing it soften, break down, and allow for renewed flexibility and movement, both locally and to surrounding joints and muscles, I feel that wonderment:  look at how positive change can happen, even years later, with an immediate effect. Or simply working on clients with fairly normal restrictions and pain accrued in muscle tissue over the years:  feeling tissue begin to respond as you coax it back towards whatever balance it can hold – seeing a client bent over in postural restrictions able to regain improved posture and start to do physical therapy exercises again – noticing how the tissue itself feels different to your touch because it’s responding to that care and attention. Truly, I love this.

Bodies accrue wear and tear and require attendance ongoing. Tending to the organic “garden” of the body shows us that resilience is often there, even if it seems hidden, and it inspires us to nurture that trait further along, with appreciation, wonder, and gratitude.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

 

What Do Your Senses Tell You?

I love and value my work. I can see the difference it makes, and it keeps me in my career. When I’m in pain myself, I won’t lie, it can be rough to the point of tears. You look down a lot doing bodywork – a set up for neck muscles. This posture, atop of an already injured neck/shoulder, has sent me into intense flare-ups (stabbing muscle pain, inflammation, shoulder instability, nausea). As a slightly stubborn, work-driven Taurus, I generally say nothing about it, keep working, and figure out a healthy way to do my work, even if I’m about to start crawling. Bodies can be both beautiful and seemingly terrible, but I will say, I learn from these experiences, every time.

As I worked this week in a flare-up, one of my wonderful physical therapist co-workers reminded me to keep my head position at eye-level; a posture sadly easy to fall out of. With slightly less ability to use visual clues in a client’s posturing and see changes being made as I worked, my sense of touch definitely increased. As did my humor, which I thankfully have enough of. Ironic that it takes pain’s reminder to stay body aware and to trust my sense of touch that much more. It was a switching of gears, as I slightly changed how I took information in about the client and the session. And did it work? It worked better in some ways. Another irony:  trust your body, trust your senses – all of your senses. In a culture where we rely more heavily on our eyes combined with the processing power of our brains, again the question comes up of how do we recognize, hear, and value some of our more instinctive senses, including touch and the wordless information it can report back to us; a world I’ve set out to explore in this blog. So while not advocating working in pain, via my aforementioned examples I’m again entranced by this huge world of information to be explored and gained when we allow the wordless realm of the physical body to “speak” and to be heard.

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

Get Grounded, Replenish, Start Up Again

 

Bodies take a lot of work. It seems like they’re never in balance, they always need care, and they seem to “betray” us with too many stories accrued over time. Definitely, they’re humbling. Whether there are imbalances we’re born with, or things that happen over time, bodies can often seem scary and terrible, like true harbingers of mortality.

As with all in life, there are multiple sides to things.  Our drive to do, move, and create does have its opposite – our need to slow down, turn inward, replenish and be still. Bodies require both movement and replenishment, and while our minds often fight against the latter, it is through physical needs, limitations, and pain that we are forced to slow down. So what if we remind ourselves at these times as best can, to fall into what is before us? Settle back into the muscles and bones, letting the over-drive of thoughts slip into the background, and be in a kind of wordless state; body over mind, sensations over thoughts.

Consider how the following examples actually feel, versus what they mean. Be a silent, “dumb” animal and simply experience:   working lotion carefully through dry skin – rolling the tissue open area by area throughout the body – slowly stretching through taut muscle fibers – rubbing arnica into small muscle strains, coaxing healing – using exercise bands on muscles thinned out from injury, promoting tissue to gradually grow back to balance again. The pace is steady, the intention caring, and the mindset committed and patient. Sensations over thoughts in this case really are not “dumb,” but they definitely are animal. And as long as we live in a body, the animal part is there and should be accepted and respected. So while bodies can be demanding, needy, pain producing, and seemingly unforgiving, remember to turn that coin and also see that they’re stabilizing, grounding, pleasurable, necessary, and quite forgiving in many ways. Slow down and accept replenishment, to start moving and strike forward again.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo