Use Your Body Better, A Listacle
The motto of EveryBodyAlign is "Self-Care is Back in Your Hands." I've chosen this very carefully because it's precisely what I offer you: how to care for your body. It's weird that we have to teach self-care, but that's the state of our collective health at the moment. So let's break it down.
Self-Care is first and foremost a choice. It is an energetic commitment to care enough about yourself to, well, care for yourself. Now you may be saying, "Amanda, I DO take care of myself. I go to the gym three days a week, I drink all of the water, I use natural toothpaste, I eat organic/non-gmo/raw/vegan/cage-free/organic/organic/organic!" I know, my friend. I know. Listen, there are lots of ways to take care of yourself - we've all read the trendy listacles (with lame stock photos) all about how to juice and feng-shui your room and make your own deodorant, but it paints an illusory picture of wellness that may end up doing us more harm than good. True self-care means taking on the role of your own caretaker, like you would for a child or an ailing parent. And it's a full-time gig. It requires your attention in every little moment, not just the hour you spend in the gym after work. You wouldn't allot an hour a day to care for your child and then forget about it the rest of the time, so why subject your body to that kind of half-assed attention? What I'm suggesting sounds daunting, I know - I can hear you getting overwhelmed thinking of all of the things you already don't have time for. But consider that you're worth that kind of devotion. Also consider that if you care for your body in each present moment of life, it will save you time and trouble in the future. Also consider this sort-of listacle (with awesome self-stock photos):
Step 1 - Pay Attention
Self-care starts with awareness. So much of my work is helping people become aware of how they are using their bodies. "Using" your body sounds dirty or something, but I dig it because it sounds dirty. Also because there is an element of personal responsibility in the phrase that is nothing short of revolutionary. If you are largely unaware of the way you use your body, then one must ask the question of who's using who? Is your body walking you around? Who's really wearing the pants, here? Unawareness leads to unconsciously holding tension in the body as a response to stimulus (stress, activity, emotion, etc). Overtime these patterns become habits and since we weren't aware of them in their development, we're not aware of how they're currently dictating our movement. So step one is to hone your spidey-senses by noticing the way you use your body on the daily. The technical term for this is proprioception - the ability to sense the position of your body in space. Once you start tracking the quality of your movements, suddenly, repetitive patterns of tension begin to surface that could be contributing to those nagging pains you've been experiencing. Once you discover that you tend to jut your chin out when rushing to catch the bus, for example, that pattern will no longer wear the pants, so to speak. And perhaps you'll begin to notice other times when you respond by jutting your chin out - stressing at work, driving, pondering paintings at a museum. Then maybe, just maybe, you'll connect the dots between that habit and the pain in your neck and the migraine headaches for which you just filled a prescription. Amiright? This is the progression for many of us today as we age. And by age, I mean, turn 40. Which is not old. I'm suggesting that the pain in our bodies is less a natural part of aging and more a direct result of the way we've been using ourselves over time. The good news is that we can change these damaging habits by discovering them, acknowledging them and finding ways to substitute them for more functional ways of living.
Note: Honing your proprioception demands devotion and objective feedback. You need someone else's well-trained eyes (like mine!) to let you know where your body is in space. Your current way of being in your body feels normal to you - your kinesthetic sense has adapted to your habits so you need someone to help you get used to the feeling of alignment until it becomes the new normal for your brain. Don't go it alone!
Find a full-length mirror and stand in front of it with your eyes closed. Scan your body internally so you get a map for where you feel you are in space. Open your eyes and see if the image before you matches your perception. Now close your eyes and try to stand in alignment, whatever that means to you. Open your eyes - does what you see match what you felt? Turn to the side and repeat.
AND TRY THIS:
Stand with your weight equally in both feet. Shift your weight into your right leg, sinking into the right hip. Now the left. Whichever feels more comfortable is your habit.
AND, YES, THIS TOO:
Now cross your arms in front of you, impatiently. Which arm is on top? Try to cross it the other way - feels RIDICULOUS, eh? We've all got a habits that we've grown quite used to.
Step 2 - Check Yourself
So now that you're all aware-n-sh*t, what are you gonna do about it? I'll tell you. You're going to employ your newfound superpower: inhibition. Used as a medical term, Mirriam-Webster defines inhibition as "a stopping or checking of a bodily action." It basically means you can check yourself before you wreck yourself. Right when you're about to rush around with your chin all out, you can INHIBIT! You can take a moment of pause and choose how you'd like to proceed with the action. With some practice, the moment of inhibition can happen in a split second. But for now, let's take it step by step:
Without trying to be all aligned or thinking too hard, just go do a task. If you want you can raise the stakes by doing said task as if you are running late. Open a window or a door, brush your teeth, wash a dish, grab a book off of a high shelf, pick up your backpack from the floor. Now ask yourself how you accomplished the task with your body: which part of you lead the action? Did you hold tension anywhere in order to accomplish that task? What happened to your neck and your spine? Where did you put your weight? Now go back and use your powers of inhibition. Pause right before you do your task, and decide how you are going to do it. See if you can accomplish it with more ease and efficiency and less tension. Repeat this process for a few different tasks until you get used to it.
Make inhibition part of your daily movement and, congratulations, you are on your way to wearing the pants in this relationship.
3. Use Your Body Better
OK, so you've got awareness of your habits of tension and the power to inhibit, now it's time to make some moves. Some better moves than you've been making. You've got to direct your body to move better. This is where you've got to be diligent. It's one thing to notice that you're walking without mindfulness, it's another thing to engage your consciousness in the action, and another thing entirely to actually change the way you're walking. But in order to create new habits of efficient, pain-free movement, you've got to interrupt your gnarly habits and make changes on the regular. Be rigorous because the little imp of self-sabotage will try to make you cheat. If you notice that you've been using your chin to view the paintings in the museum, for example, you inhibit and then gently release the tension so that the back of your neck can lengthen. Good for you! Wow, you can actually see Frida Kahlo's paintings when your chin isn't trying so hard to look at them. Aaand ten minutes later, your chin has crept back into the equation. This is the moment you will get annoyed - and this is the moment when it counts the most! Repeat the process - applaud yourself for noticing your chin again, take your moment of inhibition, and then drop your chin, letting go of that neck tension. Play the game with yourself and have a sense of humor, for Pete's sake! (Who exactly is Pete? Oh, St. Peter? Probably.) Oh look, I took your mind off things and the old chin tried to run the show again. Fine! Have a laugh and do your practice. The more you stick with it, the less and less frequently you'll need to go through it. Oh, by the way, you now have a complete practice for moment-to-moment self-care. You can now use your body better. Sweet.
"Busy, busy, busy." (Name that book without googling and I will MARRY you.) Busy, busy, busy.
As you walk around your life, try slowing it down. Your walk, not your life. Well, slowing your walk will also slow your life. When we are rushing through the streets (especially us city dwellers - here's lookin' at you NYC) it's so easy to lose your mindfulness and let your body take the brunt of your hurry. Before you know it your knees are aching and your dogs are barking. So slowwww it down a bit. Slow your walk enough so that you can bring some awareness to your gait. How are you walking? Are you able to roll through your whole foot from your heel to your ball and push off with your toes? If not, you are walking too fast. Shifting that one simple thing about my walk - the ability to roll through my whole foot with each step - has changed my entire experience of getting from point A to point B. I also leave the house earlier. I also stop and smell flowers, sometimes. I also no longer step in dog crap because I'm walking with enough awareness to notice it. Win.
4. Take the Next Step
That was some life-changing kinda pie I just served you. Eat it daily with some patience. It is at times a tedious practice but an absolutely essential one. And when you're ready to take it to the next level and learn a larger practice of self-care, come see me for some YogAlign. This yoga-based practice gives you a daily routine to help strengthen your postural muscles (using the breath!) so that you can remain effortlessly upright and you won't have to use this process of inhibition so much. In fact...
I'm hosting an all-day Self-Care for Bodyworkers workshop on August 22nd at the Reiki School + Clinic in Philadelphia. This work is absolutely essential for bodyworkers, like Reiki Practitioners & Massage Therapists, who spend their days caring for others often at the expense of their own bodies. We will work on the above practice of inhibition, but we'll have the time to go way deeper. I'll show you a focused breathing technique to bring your body upright from the inside-out. I'll give you some of the fitness routines we do in YogAlign to open the front of the body and strengthen the postural muscles. I'll also give you some practical, functional movement techniques for working with clients - how to stand for an hour or more without pain, how to employ your healing hands to release other's tension without perpetuating tension of your own, and how to keep your own energy intact while offering care to someone else. You will walk away with a Before & After Posture Screening, a summary packet for continuing the work at home, and a renewed sense of confidence in your ability to take care of yourself!
This is a 6-hour workshop, from 11am-5pm, an investment of $150. Register with firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot - the space is intimate and therefore limited!
AND TRY THIS:
This whole practice of awareness, inhibition & direction was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Aussie actor who founded The Alexander Technique after discovering his own cure for his hoarse voice. The technique is commonly taught to actors today as a tool for physical performance onstage and I had the privilege to study it in grad school. It has changed the way I move through life on and off-stage, which is why I pass it on to everyone who will listen. If you'd like to learn more, visit alexandertechnique.com and you can also check out The Alexander Technique Workbook: Your Personal System for Health, Poise & Fitness by Richard Brennan.
Best of luck to you on your self-care journey. Let me know how it's going! And be sure to follow me around on...