Awakening, Habit Change, Health & Fitness, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Mindset, Pain, Yoga

Letting People Be Who They Are (and letting You be Who You Are)

Have you ever heard of the book “Codependent No More:  How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself”?  I think anyone who has grown up around addiction (overdrinking, overeating, any compulsive disorder), anyone who is an empath or highly sensitive person, or anyone who grew up within an oppressive religion would find this book fascinating. I’m only about ½ the way through, and it’s already brought so much light to many of my unconscious behaviors.
 
What is codependency?  Essentially, to quote the book, it’s “losing oneself in the name of helping another.”  Does that sound familiar?  For all my “healer” friends out there – what do you make of that??
 
Here are a few of the quotes that had me (a woman who has done a LOT of self-examination, therapy, shadow work, and coaching) squirming:

  •  Note: In these quotes, the author, Melody Beattie, is describing the people she worked with in a support group for wives of addicts (interestingly, Ms. Beattie recognized many of these behaviors in herself too, and all of this was written without judgement):
  • “In my group, I saw people who felt responsible for the entire world, but they refused to take responsibility for leading and living their own lives.”
  • “I saw people who constantly gave to others but didn’t know how to receive.”
  • “Yet these codependents who had such great insight into others couldn’t see themselves.  They didn’t know what they were feeling.  They weren’t sure what they thought.”
  • “I saw people who manipulated because manipulation appeared to be the only way to get anything done.  I worked with people who were indirect because the systems they lived in seemed incapable of tolerating honesty.”
  • “The codependents felt responsible for so much because the people around them felt responsible for so little; they were just taking up the slack.”
  • And here’s a quote that might strike home to fellow empaths or highly sensitive persons, “If my husband is happy, and I feel responsible for that, then I’m happy.  If he’s upset, I feel responsible for that too.  I’m anxious, uncomfortable, and upset until he feels better.  I try to MAKE him feel better.”
  • “This book is about your most important and probably most neglected responsibility; taking care of yourself.  It’s about what you can do to start feeling better.”

And it’s that last sentence that holds so much promise – even people who have lost themselves in taking care of others can feel joy and pleasure, they can find meaning and purpose, and they can reconnect with Self again. We need to start taking care of ourselves to find ourselves again.  And how do we do that?
 
Here are a few concepts that struck me:

  • Let others to BE WHO THEY ARE (stop trying to control others – even if it’s with people-pleasing and niceness).
  • Let yourself be who YOU are.
  • I am responsible for myself.
  • I am responsible for identifying and meeting my needs.
  • Don’t say Yes when you mean No.
  • Trust your feelings.
  • Build awareness around codependent behaviors, accept them without judgement (they helped you survive!), then you can work on letting go of the ones that aren’t in your best interests anymore.
  • Have gratitude for that which is good.

I’m a massage therapist.  So why I am writing about codependency?  Because of this:
“We may have started reacting and responding urgently and compulsively in patterns that hurt us.  Just feeling urgent and compulsive is enough to hurt us.  We keep ourselves in a crisis state – adrenaline flowing and muscles tensed, ready to react to emergencies that usually aren’t emergencies.”

TENSION IN THE MUSCLES CAN BE A DIRECT RESULT OF HABITUAL PATTERNS OF THINKING, REACTING, BEHAVING.

Since, as a codependent-in-recovery, I found this info so helpful, I wanted to share it with others.  There IS hope for us!  We can give ourselves more space and grace and in the process start to enjoy life again!  We can start to disentangle ourselves and let others be who they are, and LET OURSELVES BE WHO WE ARE.  That latter concept is what really grabs my attention.  This is what so many of the wisdom traditions teach – the secret to a well-lived life is authenticity – saying what we mean, meaning what we say, doing what lights us up instead of what we think we “should” do.

Learning to get to know ourselves – our true Self – is one of the foundational goals of Somatic Experiencing.  To help myself practice what I preach, I recently started working with Ariel Kiley, who is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.  Embodying this work is SO different than intellectualizing it.  I’ve read so many books and listened to so many experts on trauma, but in two sessions with Ariel, I can FEEL what the books were trying SAY.

Last week we did a boundary exercise where Ariel had me tell her how close or how far away to get from the camera.  I assumed I would like her to be closer to me, so I had her walk towards the camera.  Then, just to experiment, I had her walk to one side, back to center, and then backwards.  As she backed away, I noticed a palpable shift.  I felt more calm, more at ease when she was a bit further away from the camera.  It surprised the hell out of me – 1) That I actually FELT a somatic response to her distance in my body and 2) That my body had a different story to tell than my mind.  She guided me to explore the sensations I was feeling – how did I KNOW that I was more comfortable with her at that distance?  As I slowed down and let myself settle into my somatic experience, I noted a subtle pulsing around my solar plexus – the seat of power in the body. 

Whoa.  I’ve never felt that before.  I felt power WITHIN MYSELF.  Instead of searching outward to see what the situation or the other person needs from me, I was able to settle in myself and see what I need.

It blew me away that such a simple exercise could be so powerful.

This story is just to show you that you CAN discover yourself. It takes work. It’s uncomfortable.  You won’t be good at it to start.  But it’s worth it!

And every time you get bodywork, or you meditate, or you stay with a feeling or a sensation and don’t numb it, you are doing that hard work.  You are embarking on the journey of rediscovering who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you desire, and what you need.  And when you get those little pings – “Hmm, I feel like I need to take a break and put my feet in the grass for 2 minutes,” honor that ping and see what happens.  When you feel yourself reaching for some distraction, ask yourself, “What do I really need right now?”  And just see what comes up, if anything.

I hope you have STUPENDOUS SUNDAY!  We have visitors next week, so I won’t be sending a newsletter.  If you miss me terribly though, you can always find messages from me here. 😛

Space to be Human Lab

  • I’ve updated the description of my services on my booking site.  What used to be called “Massage Therapy/NST” is now called “Bodywork Session.”  A bodywork session can include massage therapy/NST, but it can also include yoga, mindful movement, self-massage, breath work, meditation.  All of these tools can help reduce pain and tension.  If any of these tools strikes your fancy, let me know, and during your next session, we can explore them. 

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Habit Change, Health & Fitness, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Mindset, Pain, Yoga

Are you a Creator?

I listened to a really fascinating podcast yesterday with Bruce Lipton.  Bruce Lipton is a stem cell biologist, who around the age of 40, realized that we are not determined by our DNA.  In his research, he noted that stem cells would become muscles cells if placed in one culture medium, bone cells if placed in a different culture medium, or skin cells if placed in a different medium.  The cells themselves were all the same thing; they had all the exact same DNA, but they expressed themselves differently based on the solution they were put into.
 
From this observation, Dr. Lipton realized that we are not victims of the DNA we carry.  The soup that our cells sit in affects how our genes express themselves (a concept called epi-genetics).  And we do have quite a bit of control over the soup in which our cells swim.  Our brains are constantly thinking thoughts that release different chemicals into the petri dish within our skin.
 
Try this experiment:

  • Think about your first crush. Or your most recent crush. Think back to that time when your heart started to pound when your object of affection entered the room.  Remember how you couldn’t take your eyes off of him or her.  What happened when that person came close to you – maybe even just brushing lightly against or shoulder? Remember how it felt to catch their eye, and your heart just utterly stops.

What is going on inside your body right now?  Are you suddenly warmer?  A bit breathless maybe?  Feeling some tingles?
 
 Ok. 

  • Now think about a project you’ve been putting off – something you really, really don’t want to do, but you have to do it.  But UGH. You SO don’t want to. 

What are you feeling now?  What happened to the state of tension in your body?  What happened to your breath?
 
Can you see how your internal environment completely changed, but NOTHING CHANGED IN YOUR EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT?!  With your mind you were changing the hormones cascading through your blood, you were altering the PH of your blood by changing your breath, you were modifying the forces on your cells by changing the level of tension in your muscles.  You created a completely altered inner world just by changing where you focused your attention.
 
Whoa.
 
How does this factor in to our pain experience? 
 
I recently started physical therapy to help with some chronic low back pain.  In the first session, the PT ran me through several assessments and noted that according to his testing, I don’t have any disc issues.  I IMMEDIATELY felt a sense of relief and a lessening of pain.  Absolutely nothing in my physical structure changed, yet my pain experience changed, because my thoughts changed. 
 
Not to say that thoughts are the only input into our experience of pain or sickness.  The external environment (what we breathe and eat) has an impact, as does the quality of our relationships.  Our belief in a higher power, doing work we find meaningful, being active and moving our bodies – all these things contribute to the experience of pain in our body.  But those pesky thoughts are pretty darn influential.
 
But what can we do about our thoughts?
 
First of all, you can just start to notice them.  Build awareness of your thoughts.  You can start to map out what’s going on in your head by breaking down your stories.  I recently took a class on Emotional Intelligence, and it reiterated that the first step in developing your emotional intelligence is self-awareness.  I thought I was pretty self-aware, but I utterly failed the pre-test.  Feelings/emotions/moods were all jumbled up in my awareness. 
 
So, if you’re like me and don’t really understand what you are thinking and feeling, you can experiment with breaking down what’s going on in your head into the following categories:
 
Event
Something that happens.
“It hurts when I try to bend over and put my socks on.”
Interpretation
Your thought about the thing that happened.
“Shit.  My back is a hot mess, and I might need surgery.”
Feeling
Physiological sensations in your body.
“My heart is racing.  I feel a bit shaky.  My shoulders are tense.” 
Emotion
Name the emotion you are feeling.
“I am doing Anxiety.”
 
Mapping out your thoughts like this can help you start to build awareness around them. And then eventually you can start working with that Interpretation section and start to explore possible other stories that might create a more positive “soup” for your cells to live in.  Like, when I bend over and my back hurts, I can think, “Thanks for the reminder to do my exercises to strengthen my back.” And then I feel a sense of openness and warmth, and the emotion of calmness.
 
What stories could you notice today? What happens when you start to slow them down, pick them apart, and name the sensations you are feeling and the emotion you are experiencing?  Here’s a sheet that will give you some language for describing sensations.
 
And with that, I’m signing off.  Happy Sunday from soggy and chilly Iowa.  AUTUMN IS COMING!!
 
Space to be Human Lab

  • Do you want to feel more relaxed, more present, more aware and appreciative of the beauty around you?  When we are in this state (called the parasympathetic state), our body can heal and renew itself, leading to decreased pain and improved performance.  You can book a therapy session with me here; we can work together (aka co-create!) to find what tools and techniques you need to feel better in your body. 

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Habit Change, Health & Fitness, Massage Therapy, Mindset, Pain

A message from my butt…

Pain is weird. 

We often think that the cause of pain is due to something “wrong” with our bodies.  We blew out that knee in a skiing accident in high school.  We have “horrible posture” while we sit at our desks all day.  My dad had a bad back; his dad had a bad back; I therefore have a bad back.

All these things could be true.

And they could all be contributing to the experience of pain in your knee, your shoulders, your back.

But what else could be true?

Could you have knee pain because when you went to the doctor back in high school, he told you, “Someday you’ll get arthritis in there”?  Would you have pain if that thought seed had never been planted by a trusted authority figure?

Could it be true that you thinking all day, “Ugh, my posture is horrible.  I really should sit up straight” is causing unnecessary tension in your traps and jaw and gut, thereby increasing your pain?

Could it be true that since your lineage is riddled with back pain, at the first twinge of something… interesting… in your back, you start to restrict your movements, start to baby your back, and start to become hyperaware of any possibly dangerous sensations in your back?  You move less (and therefore lose out on the amazing benefits of exercise) and train your system to get really, really good at noticing pain.

Pain is weird! 

I had a first-hand experience with how weird pain can be a couple of weeks ago.  I am in a 3-year Somatic Experiencing Trauma Resolution training program, and as part of that program, I have to do several sessions with trained practitioner.  During my last session, with a woman named Erin Diedling, I asked if we could work on the pain in my low back.  As Erin helped me stay present with the sensations in that area, I noticed that while, at that exact moment, I wasn’t noticing anything in my back, I DID notice a slight area of discomfort at the tip of my tailbone.  We spent some time noticing the sensation, describing it (it feel like brown sludge), and then Erin asked something like, “What do you hear, what message do you get when you focus on this sensation?”

Well, first of all, I had to tell her that when I work with therapists, I have this huge impulse to try to figure out what they WANT me to say.  It’s SO hard to figure out how I really feel, what I really think.  I just want to make the therapist happy and give them the RIGHT answer – the RIGHT answer about how I am feeling and what I am thinking.  Yes, I know it sounds nuts, but well, that’s me. J

I told this to Erin and she assuaged my anxiety by telling me that wanting to please the therapist is actually a pretty common thing.  She added (and I’m paraphrasing), “If you DID know the right answer (and you do).  What would the answer be?  And remember, whatever answer you give is perfect and is 100% correct.” 

Well, that helped me dive under the shell of people-pleasing and become more open to what my body had to say.  And the message I heard was “Get off your ass.”

We spent the next few minutes talking about how “getting off my ass” by excelling in school, by being the good girl, and by doing what I was told and making my parents and the authority figures in my congregation proud of me served me well as a youth, and how that action-orientation helped me differentiate myself from the beautiful and talented group of ladies I hung out with. 

So, this Part of me served a vital purpose in my life – it got me attention and love.  But do I still need it?  Erin asked if I wanted to retire this part of me, and I noticed I was reluctant to let it go away completely. I decided to put it on the shelf, so I can bring it out again when needed – when I really need to get some Sh*t done!

And you know what?

At the end of the session my tailbone pain was gone.

I haven’t felt it again since that session on 6/8.

Pain is weird. 

What is your pain trying to tell you?  Why is it trying to get your attention?  What stories are you telling yourself about your pain that might not be true?  What would happen if you took a pause and opened a non-judgmental, open-hearted chat with your pain?  You might find out something interesting!

Space to be Human Lab

  • If you would like some help in figuring out what might be contributing to your pain, you can book a session with me here

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Habit Change, Health & Fitness, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Mindset, Yoga

A bad case of The Clench.

Hello There!  If you are in the Quad Cities today, you are experiencing probably the MOST beautiful day we’ve had this year.  Nature is a great reset for our minds and bodies, and as I am feeling very…sucked up inside myself (just breathe, Heather!), I am going to take massive advantage of it today.  So, today’s post will be short, so that all of us can go outside and play.  Also, I am going to be on vacation (South Dakota, here we come!) starting next weekend, so you will be newsletter-free. 😛
 
Since today I need to hear some advice on how to regulate a spun-up nervous system, that is precisely what I am going to share with you.
 
Side note:  Why am I wound up today?  WHO KNOWS?!  It could be hormones.  It could be what I ate and/or drank yesterday.  It could be dehydration.  It could be indecision about a decision.  It could be all the things I want to/need to get done before we leave for our trip.  Maybe it’s contemplating the cost of gas and food and fun whilst on vacation.  It could be the 60 to 80,000 thoughts, stories, and internal narratives assaulting me daily.  And it’s most likely a combination of all of the above.  But I guess The Why really isn’t the important thing. The Important thing is, I’ve noticed I’m feeling a bit tense, wound up, and fast.  So.  What next?

  1. Spend 90 seconds just sitting and noticing the sensations I feel in my body.  According to Dr. Joan Rosenberg, the vibrations associated with an emotion last just 90 seconds.
  2. Locate the sensations (I feel it in my throat and belly) and see what happens if I inhale and exhale through the area.
  3. Acknowledge that I am feeling anxiety.  Ask myself, “Is that a problem?”  What happens if I just allow it to be there instead of fighting it and pushing it away (which adds a layer of suffering on top of the layer of anxiety)?
  4. Lay on my back in Constructive Rest and take some long, slow smooth breaths.
  5. Write.  Get all the thoughts out of my head and on paper and look at them objectively.  Preferably this should be done in a Moleskine journal with a nice pen.  Just sayin.
  6. Take a walk, encourage the furrow between my brow to relax.  Open up my peripheral vision.  Notice all the shades of green.  Notice the sounds of the birds and the wind in the leaves. Notice the smell of the lilacs.
  7. Take an Epsom salt bath (FYI – my sister-in-law’s sister told me that taking a hot bath with ½ cup of Epsom salts, ½ cup of baking soda, and ½ a cup of kosher salt can be a mind-opening experience.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to tonight!).
  8. Pet Huehuetenango Schneiderjohns.  Here is a picture of him playing with his new Chewbacca toy. 
  9. Roll my abdomen with the Coregeous ball (this would also help that pesky low back pain).
  10. Do something fun!  Tim and I plan to bike over the new I-74 bridge this afternoon.

There’s my top 10 list of self-advice.  Oh shoot. I just thought of another one.

11. If I’m forbidden to call what I am feeling “anxiety”, what would I call it?  Anxiety can be a “cover” emotion that hides something deeper going on. What emotion am I hiding from by saying I feel anxious?  (This also comes from the podcast linked in #1).

Ok.  Now I’m really done.  Hopefully if you struggle with that fast/spinny/unable to exhale sensation, this list will give you some ideas to experiment with.  And I’ll remind both of us that:  MAYBE FEELING ANXIETY IS NOT A PROBLEM THAT NEEDS TO BE SOLVED.

Space to be Human Lab

  • The Lab will be closed 5/28 to 6/5.
  • Don’t let your self-care suffer during the busy summer months!  You can purchase a 3 pack of 60 or 90 minute sessions and save $10 per session!  Link here (click on Products and Packages link at the top).

Happy Sunday!  I look forward to regaling you with stories from South Dakota when I write again on the 5th. 😛
 
<3

Hlo
 
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Habit Change, Mindset

I’m lazy, and you should be lazy too

When you want to make a change in your life, do you have a tendency to go balls-out? For example, going from not lifting weights at all to going to “I’m going to start lifting weights 4 days a week for an hour each day.”  Or “Starting this week I am going to plan, prep, and cook ALL of my meals at home!” (when you typically eat out 3-4 times per week).
 
I am one of the aforementioned humans.  I have a tendency to overestimate my motivation and drive, and as a result, I go like gang busters for a few days, or even maybe a few months, and then I peter out and return to my original set point.
 
My friend and teacher Dinneen Viggiano had a great newsletter about “MVA”  Minimum Viable Amount.  She verbalized something I have noticed but ignored when it comes to my own life – even though I know “X” is super good for me and will help me become the person I want to be, if “X” is hard, boring and/or time-consuming, I will do it for a bit and then give up.  And then I will feel bad about giving up. And that will make me even LESS motivated to do ANYTHING – even something small – to improve my wellbeing.  And thus begins a pity party that ends with me wondering who do I think I am and why do I think I am qualified to help ANYONE improve their life.  Things get dark pretty quickly in Heather-Head-Land.
 
Dineen offers a solution to this nip this negativity spiral in the bud:

  1. Start out doing something that you seriously think you would honestly really do.
  2. Do it regularly for a while and see how you feel (see how your pain responds).
  3. Start to pare it back a bit and see if you still feel benefits while doing the smaller amount.
  4. If you get to a tipping point where the pain starts to return, titrate back to the slightly higher dose.

Here is how I am implementing this advice in my own life:

  • I am working on getting my low back feeling better, and I know that working on my breathing would help.
  • I worked with an Athletic Trainer awhile back who gave me several breathing exercises to do.  I was supposed to do them 2-3 times a day, and they take about 15 minutes each time.  I kinda did them for a while, and then, well, you know.  I humaned and stopped.
  • SO, I am starting with doing 2 minutes of Constructive Rest whilst breathing from my diaphragm every night before I go to bed.  Two minutes is so easy that I have a hard time convincing myself that it’s a burden.
  • I’m finding that at the end of the 2 minutes, I often have started to relax and breathe more deeply and I want to go longer, but I’m not!  I’m just doing 2 minutes until I feel as if the habit is ingrained.

Now that I type it all out, I’m kind of following Dineen’s advice backwards.  I am using a “tiny little action step” to build the habit, and then assessing the effects, so I can potentially do more, but the overall gist is the same:


FIND THE DOSAGE THAT YOU WILL ACTUALLY DO AND THAT ACTUALLY EFFECTS SOME CHANGE IN YOUR SYSTEM, AND DO IT CONSISTENTLY.


If you are overwhelmed, bored, or frustrated with your exercise plan, maybe you could experiment with doing a little less and see if a smaller dose will get you the same results.  I think it’s a universal truth that doing less and doing it mindfully and consistently is better for our mindbodies.

Lastly, I want to put in a little plug for a fundraiser for the QC Yoga Foundation.  This is a local non-profit organization that is trying to bring yoga to as many people in our community as possible.  They (or maybe I should say “we” because I’m on the Board) are hosting a super fun event on 7/9/22 called Fireflies and Flowers.  Music, tasty food, flowers, mid-summer vibes, picnic, and connection to your community – what more could you ask for??

If you are interested, you can “Buy a Blanket” of 8 tickets here or individual tickets here.  I would love to see you there!  I am trying to put together a group of 8, so we can get a blanket.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Space to be Human Lab

  • If you have a family member, friend, or coworker who has been sidelined by pain or tension, I would be so grateful if you refer them to me, so we can see how massage, meditation, and movement can get them back to doing what they love.  For every Referral who books with me, you get a coupon for $10 off your next session!  Your friend can find more information about Space to be Human here.

I hope you are having a delightful Sunday and can find some space to do nothing and be okay with it.  🙂
 
<3

Hlo
 
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