Rib Basket and the Breath
Encouraging and inviting people to tap into their natural, innate freedom of their breath is one of my favourite parts of my work. Whether it's through bodywork or via movement and self massage to release restrictions surrounding the ribs there's a palpable difference in the way a person moves and feels, their eyes soften and light up and their face softens and glows it's like tapping into a magic stream. I prefer to use Tom Myers term of a rib basket as opposed to a rib cage although when we have soft tissue restrictions around the ribs and in the primary and accessory breathing muscles the ribs very much feel like they are cages clamped down without the ability to move and expand in many directions. So why do the ribs get clamped down? There are often many reasons but some of the main ones are ongoing stress and anxiety, where we develop muscle tension and changes in breath rhythm, if we don't have the opportunity or ability to discharge it can often accumulate over time, if you are an athlete and have a major focus on stabilising the spine without any mobilisation work, asthma or any other respiratory disorders and simply a lack of micro and global movements in this area as there are often postural distortions from modern life that impacts the rib cage positioning, the muscles surrounding it and our breathing capacity. So what can we do about it? It depends on the cause of your restriction but for most people we can all benefit from finding a way of unwinding stress, whether that's dancing, practicing a deep form of relaxation such as yoga nidra or restorative yoga, walking, exercise, a way of discharging the accumulation of stress from your tissues. Everyone could also benefit from mobilising work in this area especially if you are an athlete, the upper back by design has less mobility than the lower back or the neck because of the attachments of the ribs, that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't work to enhance the movement that's available there in fact I've found that enhancing and refining mobility in the upper spine helps shoulder, neck and low back issues. If receiving bodywork isn't an option for you, then using balls, blocks or blankets to enhance the movement of each segment of the spine is a good option, alongside undulating spinal movements.
I live my life in stretchy, comfortable clothes predominantly in leggings or yoga pants. On the rare occasion that I get "dressed up" in skinny jeans or other non stretchy clothing it makes me realise how restrictive general clothing is to movement and breathing. Most work clothes and general day to day clothing and shoes not only limit the WAYS we move but also affects HOW we move. Skinny jeans and other restrictive trousers affect our gait cycles and restricts our hip extension reducing glute engagement. They heavily restrict how we move our hips, pelvis and knees and you can forget about squatting down to pick something up off the floor, we have to change and adapt our movement patterns to fit in with the clothes we are wearing. If the waistband is restrictive around the abdomen, it squishes our abdominal organs, restricts motility and may increase intra-abdominal pressure which could lead to organ prolapse down below and hernias up above. The stuff we squish to get into the jeans has to go somewhere, it doesn't just get sucked in, it either gets pushed up or gets pushed down. I don't think there's anything wrong with the occasional wearing of skinny jeans but I would question how your clothing is restricting movement and breathing on a daily basis. Even things like socks and bras can lead to loss of localised movement in that area, if you've ever seen indentations in the skin after wearing them it means the skin, muscles and fascias are not able to move in an optimal way, bras cause even more havoc as they create a restriction around our rib cage, physically limiting its ability to expand in certain areas. I have some female clients that have such heavy indentations from decades of wearing tight, restrictive bras that the tissue doesn't move in that area at all. Take a moment to see how your clothes are restricting your movement, are you able to breathe fully into all parts of the lungs, are you able to side bend, bend over, squat to pick something up off the floor, are you able to get up and down off the floor? If not what ways do you have to adapt to do these things or do you avoid doing them all together?
Power of Touch
I'm fascinated by the power of touch, how some touch can be healing and some touch can be abusive, how one persons touch can literally take your breath away and someone else's can turn your stomach, how you can yearn for a special someone's touch and yet inappropriate touch by somebody can feel like an invasion on the deepest level. Out of all the five senses touch is essential for life, we can't survive or thrive without it. As a massage therapist I'm endlessly intrigued as to what affect my touch is having upon any one specific client, what is happening to the skin and the layers underneath that I'm touching and what deeper effects are occurring because of my touch. When we say we are touched by something it goes beyond the level of the physical. Touch is similar to a fingerprint each persons is unique and holds a certain quality. Depending on the intention of the person doing the touching it can feel beautiful or it can feel creepy or anything in between. On training courses it always amazes me how each individual persons touch is completely unique like a signature, we will all be learning the same technique but each persons touch will all be so different. On one training course we did a round robin where we got to experience working on lots of different bodies and later on that day one of the ladies came up to me and said "that was you who massaged my thigh wasn't it, I could tell it was your touch." Touch can be such a beautiful, transformative experience but it all comes down to intention. A hug, a hand being held, a massage, stroking a dog, holding a newborn baby or child close to your chest, being in the arms of a loved one, a reassuring hand on your arm and skin to skin contact all create a sense of intimacy, a bond, fosters trust and joy and deepens connections with those around us.
Our guts hold so much more potential than sporting aesthetically pleasing six pack abs. Also known as the second brain or the enteric nervous system, it is filled with a multitude of neurons and neurotransmitters and is thought that 95% of our serotonin is found in the bowels. So many people have trouble releasing tension in this area of the body, they may have been told to hold in their abs to protect their low back or have tried to appear slimmer by sucking it in but for a strong and stable core it needs to be able to be reflexive but it can't be reflexive if it's on all the time. If you want to calm anxiety, stimulate down regulation, unwind physical and emotional tension, improve the depth of your breath and tap into your emotional centre then get on a soft and squishy ball (or a towel) and roll and move and breathe and be amazed at how your physiology changes within minutes. For further information I have a video tutorial on my Facebook page
Resiliency. I love that word! It's defined as the power or ability to be able to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed or stretched. Life can sometimes bend us out of shape, or can feel compressive in extreme grief or like we are being stretched in a million different directions from external demands and responsibilities. The only thing we can guarantee in life is change and the way we can greet change is with a resilient spirit, heart and mind. We are going to suffer loss, fear, sadness, grief and heartbreak at some point in our life so our ability to be resilient is going to be put to the test. I'm sure we have all experienced times in our lives where it felt like we would never bounce back to our old selves, where it felt like we would never again experience the sweetness that life has to offer, where it felt like the world only had suffering and sadness to taste. The truth is when we bounce back we get to bounce into the sweetness and the nectar, we experience joy like we've never experienced it before because we have tasted life's darkness. If the only flavour on offer was sweetness would we be able to appreciate the bitter, salty, sour and pungent? We can only ever become resilient by being bent out of shape, by feeling like the world is colliding in on us and being challenged beyond what we feel we are capable of. Our resiliency muscles don't have the opportunity to become strengthened when life is sweet, juicy and ease filled but when we have experienced some of the other flavours on offer at the buffet of life we can then choose to hold a whole new appreciation of the sweetness and truly soak it in.
Savasana or Corpse Pose
Savasana or corpse pose. I went to my first yoga class when I was around 12 years old with my mum and totally didn't get it, I fidgeted and looked around at everyone else in their strange contorted positions wondering why anyone would do that to themselves. When I was 18 I met a beautiful woman that changed the course of my life forever, she invited me to attend her yoga classes for free and it turned out to be the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. I can remember laying in savasana at the end overwhelmed with emotion as to why I had never experienced anything else quite like it in my life. It was the first time I had experienced true relaxation, the first time I realised I am not my thoughts, that I am more than my body and heard the concept of the witness or observer, it totally blew my mind and got me hooked. I love teaching movement but my heart is in teaching people relaxation. Learning to relax changed my life and I believe it can change everyone else's too. Creativity, insight, wisdom, gut instinct, healing, intuition, tapping into the flow all occur during states of relaxation. All of the greats have had the greatest inventions and insights when they have tapped into these relaxed states. What happens during this relaxed state is our brain waves change frequency, we travel from beta waves which are emitted when we are consciously alert, with a heightened state of logic and critical reasoning. These brain waves are important for effective functioning throughout the day but can translate to stress, anxiety and restlessness. We then travel to alpha which is where we are physically and mentally relaxed. It's where we slip into a lovely daydream or light meditation. It heightens your learning, memory and visualisation and is where we access the voice of intuition. We then travel into theta waves where we experience deep meditation or light sleep, this where we access deep creativity and spiritual insight. Which then leads to delta waves which is experienced in deep, dreamless sleep and is where healing and regeneration occurs. Experiencing the different brain waves and the insight gained from each is vital for health and wellbeing. How often do you go from high frequency on the go to comatose each and every day. Experiencing true relaxation is being able to attune to these brain rhythms more intimately and is truly magical as you feel yourself flowing from one state to the next, into the next, until you feel like you're in another dimension altogether. Relaxation is an art and science and I find it doesn't always come easy as we are so socially conditioned to be busy all the time, but once you have tapped into those states just once you'll be yearning for more.
We think we have time...
We think we have time. We think we can wait until the circumstances are just right, when we have more time or more money, we think we can wait until the kids have grown up, or wait until we have the confidence or when all of the other parts of our lives align so it becomes easy, we think we can wait until opportunities come knocking on our door. The truth is time isn't guaranteed...for any of us. You have to make the time to pursue your passions and dreams, life and problems will carry on around you and you have to create your own opportunities. For many of us it takes a big life changing event to recognise that our time is limited and fragile. Perhaps it's a heartbreak, a divorce, a death or in my case a diagnosis. A diagnosis ten years ago turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I was forced to question my mortality, to ask all of the big questions of who am I, why am I here, what's my purpose and I developed a real sense of urgency in fulfilling all of the things that I had buried deep inside because I felt I had plenty of time. After going through a brief dark night of the soul, I made a conscious choice to be an active participant in my life, I began to listen to my urges and even though it pushed me out of my comfort zone and I had to face many fears, nothing is as scary to me than living an unfulfilled life. What are you waiting for? This is a gentle reminder that time won't wait for you. We need more trail blazers, setting the world on fire with their dreams and passions. We need more people with an inner spark igniting other little sparks in the people around them giving them permission to do the same. I'm sure we've all been around people that have sparked something inside of us but it's up to is to ignite that spark into a roaring fire that nothing and nobody can dampen.
I heard the phrase "she's a real yogi" this morning and I felt myself cringe inside. I can remember a time when I used to aspire to be a "real yogi". A time when I felt I had to rise above my emotions because spiritual people don't get involved in such earthly experiences as feeling pleasure and pain. When I was constantly feeling shame for not being spiritual enough, not kind enough, not open enough, that I didn't dedicate enough time to my practice, that I wasn't perfect in every aspect of my life, that I wasn't enough. Nowadays I'm much more interested in being a real human with all my humanness and messiness. Being a real yogi often doesn't give freedom for mistakes, for messy emotions, for being the realist version of yourself as you're often too busy with your veil of spirituality wrapped over you, an aura of superiority over mere mortals that don't have a spiritual practice, that don't drink green juice and talk chakras, energy and crystals. I've been around enough teachers and "spiritual" people to realise that once you're elevated up on that pedestal it's a long way to fall down...and they do, every.single.time. Give me being a real human where I can experience the full experience of a human life of irritation, anger, jealousy, joy, sadness, elation, anxiety and happiness without it being frowned upon because you're "spiritual" and you should "rise above it" (whatever that means). Give me a real, juicy, messy human experience, totally grounded in reality, with no pretences and no airs, where I can acknowledge the whispers of my emotions as the important messengers that they are. Where I can mess up sometime because I'm human not some highly enlightened spiritual master. That I can have an off day and not be the most kindest version of myself possible and it's not the end of the world because it is all a part of the human experience, where we fail and we experiment and we learn and we grow and we fail again and experiment some more and hopefully learn and grow some more.
Can you imagine a life devoid of positive touch....horrid right?
Skin hunger...ever have that craving where you just need to be touched, where you want someone to wrap their arms around you in a beautiful embrace, where someone has held your hand and in that gesture you know everything is going to be okay or where at the end of a stressful day stroking your dog or cat begins to melt your tension away? We need touch, like we need food and water we can't live fully without it.
We can live without sight, hearing, taste and smell but we can't live without touch.
Babies deprived of touch have been found to have behavioural and developmental delays, people recover quicker from illness when receiving positive touch and the elderly have better health when touched regularly.
The power of touch has always amazed me from when I was small and my mum would hold me when I was upset and everything would seem so much better, like in that moment she was holding all my troubles for me or when I would get a headache and my dad would hold my head and how something would shift. My journey of learning about touch began when I was 20 years old as I embarked on my massage journey and has never ended.
When you slowly sink down through the layers of skin, muscles and connective tissue, you are touching much deeper than those layers, we are multi faceted beings and we carry around all our experiences in our body's and minds.
Every day I see the power of touch unravel those deep places of holding, feel their breath deepening and their eyes begin to stop fluttering as their mind begins to still and you can literally feel the change under your hands and that's before you add any fancy techniques for pain relief etc it's the simple power of touch.
You can't force your way into someone's body, you create an invitation...you pause and wait and if the invitation is accepted you can sink through the layers a little deeper. The more you use force or try to control the tissue the more that tissue will fight back. You just have to let the body guide you.
The power in the power of touch is that it's not a solo act (unless it's abhyanga) and that's where the beauty is...in the exchange, you are both the giver and the receiver...how cool is that?!
You can't touch without being touched...
So for today satisfy your craving for touch through a big embrace of a hug with a loved one, book yourself a massage, spend time stroking your dog or cat or borrow one to stroke, receive your daily quota of recommended touch for health.
Recruit Your Glutes
We are sitting more than ever, even people who class themselves as fit and active and who participate in sports regularly can't escape the long commutes, the never ending computer work and the sofa at the end of a long day.
When we sit we are putting our glutes in a stretched position. Research has suggested that stretching prior to exercise can impede performance, so what effect does stretching our glutes for 8 hours during the day and then going straight to training or a workout have on our performance?
If we are sitting more than ever and putting our glutes in a stretched position for hours at a time why then when coming to a yoga class would we stretch them even more? Pain is complicated but it sounds like a recipe for "instability" and could potentially increase the likelihood of injury.
The last training I attended it was emphasised that you have to earn the right to stretch and I think the lumbo-pelvic area is an area of the body that this is especially pertinent to.
The gluteus maximus which names sounds reminiscent of a gladiator in the arena is the muscle that gives shape to our derrière, I don't think it's a coincidence that it has a mighty name as it's the largest muscle in the body and should be strong and be able to fire appropriately. Sitting for long periods may inhibit its ability to fire appropriately and then something along the posterior chain will have to overwork in response, so if you get calf, hamstring or low back "tightness" your glutes may not be firing appropriately or in the correct order.
There are two other gluteal muscles along with the gluteus maximus which are positioned more on the lateral side of the hip and provide dynamic stabilisation to the pelvis and lower extremity. These are especially important when walking, running, squatting, waking up stairs and single leg activities such as kicking a ball...so essentially all physical activities.
So what to do about this? Not only do we want our butts to be aesthetically pleasing we want a well functioning body that has glutes that are able to respond appropriately to the activity that we are performing without pain, dysfunction and compensation. We can't all give up the commute and give up our day job but we can take steps to ensure our glutes don't develop amnesia. We can start by limiting our stretching (outside of sitting) to after we've earned the right to stretch. We can do simple glute activating exercises prior to working out, training and exercising. We can start working on doing simple strength training for the whole lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Want to learn more keep an eye on this page as I'm working on a workshop called Recruit Your Glutes where we'll be exploring this in more detail and exploring creative ways to enable your booty to be more bootylicious.
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.