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

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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

Present in the Moment to Achieve the Future

 

Often really challenging, right? To be completely present in any given moment. Doing so takes us more into our emotions, our awareness, and our physical body; things we’re often trying to avoid. But striving to hold that present moment awareness makes such a world of difference when doing a bodywork session. It’s amazing how much more you feel, notice, and connect with in the soft tissue as you work. Consider sinking your thumbs, knuckles, or fists into the usually tense upper trapezius muscles; staying absolutely present and letting nothing but the feeling of the physical guide your attention. It becomes its own purposeful meditation – the tissue guiding you into what needs to be done. Staying as present as possible, soft tissue will “speak” volumes to you, and your client will feel this work deeply, usually on many levels.

It’s hard for us to let go of our minds, in most cases. And clearly keeping all your senses awake and aware is important in life. So this isn’t about “spacing out” and drifting off while doing soft tissue work (though that can be great for the client to do). Rather, it’s about that state of being totally present, relaxed into the moment but awake and aware, and allowing the information that may be at hand in the tissue to come forth as you work. Staying open, curbing impatience, listening to information without words, and letting that body to body communication occur with the goal of creating movement and change. We simultaneously hone the great skill of listening when no words are spoken, while also promoting positive change for the future. Sometimes in doing the opposite of what we’re pulled to do to create change (ruminate, worry, project), is how we actually achieve that which we were seeking all along.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

 

One Touch, Countless Meanings

This topic of touch, of expression and communication through the physical form, is a huge world to me. With the recent passing of an uncle, I’m remembering my grandfather’s death several years ago – how I just made it in time to spend the last thirty minutes of his life talking to him, touching his arm and his forehead, hoping it made any difference. His pain level was too clear, though he was unable to communicate back in any words; only his face and his body movements spoke, but they said much.

After flying, busing, and renting a car to make it, there was little time to check in with my grandmother and brother. My brother had been there for weeks helping to care for him. He just had time to tell me a few quick things, like how it soothed our grandfather to stroke the forehead area between his brows. Even in the angst of that moment, I loved how my brother knew this specific touch was soothing to our grandfather. Often this light touching between the brows is used to end massage sessions because it seems to calm our spirits, yet this was definitely not something we had ever done in our grandfather’s life. In his altered physical state, this very simple, instinctive gesture did seem to calm his pain, or his spirit – hopefully both.   

The smallest, lightest touch can convey volumes of meaning and feeling. And in the actual absence of words, of spoken communication, these gestures are more powerful because there are no words strong enough, deep enough, or broad enough to cover what meaning is held there. The beauty and breadth of this world captivates me – it is human, it is animal, it is vast and it is magical. 

With gratitude to all loved ones in our lives –

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lara Stillo

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