Going Through the Motions

I’m enamored of the Olympics for one reason: humans are amazing. What we can do with our bodies is miraculous. For good or ill, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are a smorgasboard for the philanthropic (“human lovers”).

Watching the women’s ice skating short program, before Gracie Gold took her silver medal-winning turn, the announcers expressed concern as she swooped around the ice, warming up. I think it was Scott Hamilton (one of my all-time favorite skaters) who said this (in paraphrase):

“I’m worried for her. She needs to loosen up for a good performance. She’s wound pretty tightly right now…her body knows what it needs to do, she needs to not over-think this skate. She just needs to relax.”

There is good information here for all of us.

Heaven help the athlete who brings too much to mind while exerting themselves to the utmost…and heaven help the rest of us. When we are “going for the gold” in our lives, it definitely helps to train ourselves to think positively, but in the actual moment it’s crucial to relax and not think at ALL. Commentary doesn’t serve us. (And if you, like me, had quite enough of the announcers when watching the Opening Ceremonies, you know this is true! “Just stop talking and let me watch it” I kept yelling at the screen. Interestingly this could be a good mantra for my life.)

I’d rather have the body wisdom to just correct myself midstream, by instinct, than think “How am I going to…?” and then coming up with an intellectual answer that doesn’t correlate with what is actually happening. In asking the question, valuable time is already lost. Your body is already moving into the how. Best let it do what it needs to do.

I’m fascinated by the power our body has over our minds for a few reasons: personal experience and stuff I’ve been reading. A few weeks ago I spent nearly four days in the grip of flu, and during that time I realized my brain was not working. Tried as I might, i couldn’t think clearly, not for one second. It was as if my organs had a manual override button for my mind that I hitherto had not been made aware.

(Or, you know Doctor Who? When they have to jettison some rooms of the TARDIS if they want to switch into hyperdrive or something like that? Maybe that’s what happens in dire illness, or dire feats of strength: brain firings are considered nonessential.)

Along with it came a blessed quelling of scheming and worrying. I felt moribund, in the abject throes of despair at times, but behind that was no wretched attempts to improve myself, which is, I feel, is not only one of the great deceptions/maladies of our lives as Americans, but actually is a sin, if you consider sin to be a transgression of some sort upon yourself, as well as another.

One of my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, writes of the disservice that we in general (and Christians, in particular…he is a Franciscan priest)  do to ourselves when our body is treated as a second-class citizen, in “The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis“)

“There seems to be some bias against embodiment, against materiality, against physicality and you’d think if there was any religion in the world that would not think that way, you’d think it would be Christianity, ’cause Christianity is the only religion that believes God in Jesus became a body….became a human being.”

When the pressure is greatest, our minds do us the least service. In fact the best place for us to be is in our body, for that’s where our power and ability to be transformed – and to aid the transformation of others – truly reside.

Gerry Pyves wrote in his January 2014 article for Massage Today “The Psychotherapy of Massage: What Makes us Human?

“So many bodyworkers I meet seem to just want to prod and poke and frantically “fix” the body; as if it is an enemy to be controlled. Do we really have to subjugate and control the body? Must we still follow these apparently touch phobic leaders of the massage profession (whether male or female) who seem so very frightened of simple nurturing touch?”

Before I give someone a session, we always talk a little (or a lot) beforehand. Talking things over is essential to establish trust and understanding, the “what” of the session. But the “how” is always figured out in the silence and beauty of the work: in the moment.

In our speech is guessing. There is no speech for when the body finally breaks through and surmounts, or lets go. Also, in our flesh, we can be present with one another. Physicality is best medicine, for most of us. We can talk all we like about getting better, but nothing really heals us until someone gives us a hug or holds our hand.

Or, gives us a massage that truly meets us where we are.

Our best moments – whether we’re an Olympic athlete or an average person just trying to figure it all out – could very well be when we don’t over-think things, and we just relax into what’s happening now…and now….and now.

After the Flu: Who’s In Charge?

One of the first things that clued me in that maybe not all was well within, was my raging fit over a new kitchen appliance. My husband purchased a modern pressure cooker that both of us were eager to try. Between the two of us, he’s more gifted in the kitchen (although I place a strong second); he was having no problem cranking out delicious, quick meals.

I, on the other hand, was still not able to make a recipe without scorching the food. Last Wednesday I was once again making a hash of things, and when he came over to see how I was doing, I unleashed upon him a vituperative spew that I spent the rest of the evening – and well into the next day – apologizing for.

“I honestly do NOT know what got into me,” I said to him, wholly contrite.

In less than 48 hours, I did.

We are relatively healthy, here: we eat home-cooked meals, do fresh juices and smoothies, buy local as much as possible. We exercise, and I don’t mean the gym: I feel strongly that shoveling snow, constant stacking and restacking of the woodpile, walks along country roads and the physical labor we both do for our jobs equates regular exercise, and that’s enough for us (for now). We take a few supplements.

Basically, after my evening of explosive anger, within 48 hours I was overcome by a deep mucousy cough (which I never get) and unrelenting body aches, chills, sweats, and pains for over 3 days. Someone swopped my brain with a bowl of gummy bears. I did a lot of sitting and staring, morose and unwashed.

A nice big fat juicy virus. In extreme close-up.

A nice big juicy virus. In extreme close-up. It wants entry to your cells, in a big juicy way.

As I slowly regained some strength, my husband started to tank, so there for a while both of us were wrapped in blankets, holding hands over the top of our quilts, mouths hanging open, playing game after game of Angry Birds (the irony doesn’t escape me).

And totally blowing up at each other, and then apologizing. Seventy-two hours of this.

“Oh yeah, it’s a cough, it’s terrible body aches and headache, and crushing crankiness,” said my friend when I inquired as to his health and found out he too had been ill for nearly a week. (It’s that time of year! And we’ve got it bad here in Maine.) I was relieved when he mentioned the bad mood, for it was our fits of anger that really bewildered me the most.

Certain emotions seem to welcome illness. But what comes first? The virus, or the emotion? Can the presence of an alien in our system – such as a virus, which is keen on setting up shop and replicating ASAP – create nearly alien emotional states in us as well?

Does it sap our immune system and also our bonhomie; our willingness to be egalitarian? When invaded, the body senses a threat and it doesn’t try to negotiate with the virus, see both sides of the issue, willing to let bygones be bygones: the body does not look at an invader and hope negotiations and treaties will result in a mutually beneficial resolution. It’s WAR.

I am wondering, then, if the war-like state of our 100 trillion cells might, just possibly, change our mood. Color our outlook. I know there is no real boundary between the body and our mind – the two are one – but I don’t think I’m alone, here, when I say that I sort-of assume my mind’s more in charge of things than my body?

But it’s not! Of course it’s not! All I have to do is look at the pleasurable outcome of body overriding mind: my own profession, massage therapy. This is precisely why massage therapy is unmatched at reducing anxiety and tension. After an effective session, stressful thoughts don’t chance a snowball’s chance in Fresno.

I have tried worrying after I’ve had a massage. I can’t do it, which makes me giggle with glee because I am a homegrown worrywart. (Another reason I’m so glad I found massage, and it found me.)

We put a lot of emphasis on personal efforts at mastering our own minds, but the body is the mind’s ultimate master. Whether through the discomfort of illness, or the bliss of massage, it picks up our mind in its gorgeous arms and says, “Shuuuuuuuush.”

David Lauterstein just posted this today on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page: “The body is our teacher. Will this knowledge become common? Will the misplaced worship of the mind alone end as an embarrassingly long historical era?” Amen brother.

Two other things:

1) Being ill really reminds me the fallacy of “hurry up and get better.” Whether it’s the flu, or a persistent low back ache, or recovery from surgery: it takes the time it takes. There is no hurry. It’s the body. It has its own time-clock, and will slow you down to itself, if it has to, for you to get with its program.

2) I know, as a profession, massage therapists usually attempt (if not succeed) at modeling health and wellness, but if you’re never sick how are you going to understand someone who is? If you never suffer, how can you understand another’s suffering? Depression? Anger, sorrow? I’m not suggesting you go out there and intentionally invite disaster upon your person, but there’s nothing like a strong dose of it to help you open your heart afresh.

“I know, honey,” is all I’ve been saying to my husband for the past few days, “I know. I know, it really hurts. You feel awful. I’m so sorry.” And I’m looking forward to sharing this newly kindled compassion, personally won, with my clients too.

When you or someone you know gets the flu: “Your cold and flu symptoms, explained” — Courtesy of CNN and RealSimple.com. Why you feel the way you do: with remedies too!

Also, a very cool (if not slightly alarming) animation: “Flu Attack! How a virus invades your body” — Courtesy of NPR.org