Natural, Free Neck Tension Relief

I don’t know about you, but neck tension is just the pits. I get it bad. Sometimes it gives me pains all down the lateral side of my neck. Other times my occiput gets this stabby thing. Ugh.

Just about every place in your body, you can get to and stretch. You can roll it out with a roller, or do a yoga pose, or rub it out yourself. Neck tension is hard to get rid of, without someone else to do it for you.

I have a very dear friend who lives far away from me. She has neck tension. If I could get to her neck I would, I would just rub the hooey out of it, but I can’t because there are just too many miles between us and that would be — without a shadow of a doubt — the longest distance I’ve ever traveled for a house call.

She was hoping I could give her some “natural, free” ideas of how to reduce some of her neck tension. I started compiling a list in my head and then I thought, why not share it? So here are some ideas, and if you have one that I’ve missed please add it to the comments below!

(And by the way I’m not going to say anything stupid like “reduce your stress level.” I find it more stress producing to say things like that! The chance of our stress level magically going down is pretty slim, and besides, some of the things that stress us out, when considered, give us pleasure and happiness too. Would we take those things out of our lives? Probably not. You know the only thing I think doesn’t have stress? A bagged potato. So. Here are some ideas of natural, free, and manageable ways to reduce neck tension. And by manageable I mean easy.)

Water. Give it a try. I was gonna get all up in my panties about the necessity of drinking water but then I realized it’s just another thing that can stress us out (“am I drinking enough water? Am I doing it now? NOW??”) and besides there is no clear, unequivocable evidence that drinking a lot of water is going to fix anything. Instead, please read this amazing article by Paul Ingraham from painscience.com: “Chronic Dehydration Fear Mongering.”

One of the best quotes, for me, from this article was this:

Drink your 8 glasses per day (or 10, or 14), and ignore anyone who tries to get you to worried about it … or who tells you it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It just doesn’t matter much! – Paul Ingraham

YOU know how much water you should be drinking. When you have neck tension, and you can feel it ratcheting up, just check in: “have I had a glass or two of water recently?” Go have a little. Or a lot. Follow your thirst. It can help reduce your tension, certainly stave off a headache.

If you have no idea if liquid has passed your lips today, what you drank or even what your day was like, then we go on to…

Soak.  Getting water into your system is a challenge. Soaking in a bubble bath? Are you kidding me? Who has time for that? Plan a treat. Soak your feet.

Pick up a dishpan, big metal bowl, even an 8-quart kettle if you have nothing else. Put in some epsom salts or sudsies or smelly-goody thingies, throw a bunch of hot water in there, grab a towel, and have a soak.

You can soak your feet and: catch up on reading, watch TV, listen to someone sing. Or examine seed catalogs. Whatever. If you are sitting down, even for 10 minutes, you can soak your feet. You can even draw water into your tub, sit on the edge of the tub, and soak your feet there.

Believe it or not this can make a difference for neck tension. Relaxed, warmed feet can relax you, overall, and if you are relaxed overall your neck might also let go.

In lieu of a soak, I also heartily recommend a very hot shower with the water pounding on the top of your head for a spell. Speaking of your head…

Orientation. Where is your head? In time and space? (here I must insert a link to the classic Pixies song Where Is My Mind)

Locate it. For every bit of forward head movement there’s more, more and more weight on your neck. If you don’t believe me, please check out this article from The Washington Post, ” ‘Text neck’ is becoming an epidemic and could wreck your spine.”

“Ahh ha ha,” I hear you retort, a little smugly. “I do not text, you foolish woman. So there!”

To which I counter, well. I believe you could replace the word “text” with any of the following: computer, book, cheffing, Kindle…knitting neck even…any activity where your head is dangling off the front of your body as you focus on what’s in front of you.

Your neck is not designed for this. Bring your head back into alignment with your shoulders. If you can’t see your shoulders in your peripheral vision, then your head is probably too far forward. And, you look a lot more like a turtle than you could possibly imagine.

For the health of your head and neck – and, because, like me, you are just a tiny bit vain (just a tiny bit) – get your head back on top of your body.

SWING. Whatever physical activity you do, is awesome. I encourage it. Even if it’s an energetic blitz from the parking lot into the store, or trying to catch a train. What I am encouraging here is getting your arms going. I mean to the point of dorkitude.

WALK with PURPOSE. Dance like you’re at a concert – arms up and waving about. Swim, and really dig into the crawl or backstroke. Just stand in the kitchen and flop your arms around for crying out loud. I’ve noticed, when I mobilize my shoulder girdle, I start to feel blood flow up into my neck and my head clears. Try it for yourself.

Speaking of crying…

Cry. Okay, if you’re like me this is not something you want to aim for. But pushing to get through (and, if you consider it, the physical act of pushing through something requires you to tense up, hunch over and lead with your head…hmmm) stuff, we get winched up: physically and emotionally (there’s no barrier between the two, remember).

We fight back our words, instincts, and tears. Pretty soon we are bottling everything and we might not even be aware how restricted we’ve become: in thoughts, words and deeds.

Crying is, actually, not only good for your emotional/mental health but seems to help the physical health of your neck too. Again, I’m speaking experientially here, but if I allow myself some time to feel what I feel – or, if I can’t go there, feel what someone else might be feeling (ergo compassion) – the tears come.

And my head lets go. And my neck muscles let loose.

And here I must post a link to the classic “Free To Be, You and Me” children’s album from the 1970s: dear Rosey Grier singing “It’s Alright To Cry.”

It might make you feel better!

 

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You are a Body. Not a Head.

Winter in Maine is a wonderful time to get familiar with your body: how much you use it, and when it is telling you to stop. I know most people feel themselves most fully in the summer. Well, who wouldn’t?

When we are warm and unencumbered, we struggle not against howling gales nor winch up with the mincing steps of navigating ice. When it is beneficent and redolent all around, we toil and weary but the air supports us, and besides, we are mostly barefoot.

We know our stuffs most certainly when we prevail our squishy flesh upon a few snowdrifts, for example, in below-freezing temperatures. Many things not in our favor. Except our body. Which is quite excellent, when you can feel its health.

I was thinking about it a lot today while putting in a few shifts of excavation. The Blizzard of ’15 gave us everything it promised. Today, it was a game of “Find The ___.” Find the cars – find the gas tanks – the compost pile – the woodpile. Carve paths to each. Throw snow around. Gasp and sweat.

With each heave-ho, I was aware – believe me I was aware – of all the muscle groups working together on my behalf. It is truly amazing, it really is. Do you ever catch yourself in a task and marvel at how it all works?  “Do this,” our will drives our body, and the body says, “Yes,” and it happens. (With varying degrees of success of course.)

I played with centering myself in different parts of my frame. The temptation is to just work with one side of your body – hack away at a pile relentlessly until it vanishes – but this is not an elegant approach. (Plus it just really makes everything hurt after a short period of time.) I switched arms, even for just a few shovelfuls, even though the switch felt non-instinctual and clumsy. It gave the other half of me something new to do and surprised muscles that weren’t very busy until that moment.

I also found things went a lot better if I firmed up my abs and gripped tight into my glutes. Things also went better with taking breaks and going inside for water. This was exercise!

What a gift: to be body aware, and play with what we find. My instincts have been honed by nearly fifteen years of practicing and receiving massage therapy. I have studied, contemplated, touched and been with Body. A day outside mooshing snow around is continuing education, as far as I’m concerned.

Doing massage therapy is a great way to spend your humanity: loving the warm, electrical, water-filled bags that are us. And by love I don’t mean anything more than full attention: but full attention is the most loving thing we can do. Whether we are lying on a massage table or asking the herculean of ourselves with winter labor, it is, therefore, love.

Besides being a massage therapist there is just the benefit of receiving massage, which not all professionals seem to do with the same consistency. There’s a lot of overlap between the restaurant industry and massage therapy, as I see it, and I say a massage therapist who doesn’t receive semi-regular massage is like a chef that does not go out and try other chef’s fare. It’s mostly unheard-of in the restaurant world. It should be in ours.

There are so many benefits to massage therapy, but one of the greatest, and possibly hardest to describe, is the gift it gives us of being in our own bodies and having someone else helping us affirm our existence as a body, not just a head.

I’ve written before about the seduction of our age: the supremacy of mind and inconvenience of our body, as if all we are is a pair of eyes inside a slab of jello-y meat.

Massage therapy is a subversive act. It says “hush now” to our mind, which like a spoiled child insists it’s king. Our attention, if we allow it, trickles out of the confines of mind and into the glorious vistas and uncharted waters of our frame.

We become aware of the strangest places: the underside of our upper arm. The webbing between our toes. The very top of our head. Behind our knee.

Body awareness in session gives rise to few words (thank God) but these are the top 3 phrases I’ve heard:

“I had no idea that was sore.”
“Oh my God that feels so good.”
“That’s the spot.”

To be in our bodies and notice what was quiet but aching; to be there when we’re consumed with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing; to have another person acknowledge – with their hands – what’s been bugging us for days. That. Spot. It’s been confirmed and now it’s already starting to feel better because someone who not only cares but has the knack for professional kneading is very keen on helping.

When we are aware of our bodies, we experiment with what works. We play with how we move, lift, respond. We’re more apt to listen when it’s tired, we’re more inclined to notice when we feel good.

Massage therapy gives us ground substance against which everything else is measured, and gives us refuge when we’re feeling stressed. We know how it feels to not be stressed: we’ve had massage! We can go there again, either by recreating it on our own through self care, or, hey, better yet, calling up our massage therapist and making an appointment.

We’ve tasted the good stuff. We know how to make it happen again, how useful it can be.

Even – maybe and especially – when thrusting about amid ponderous snowdrifts.

“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage — it is called Self; it dwells in your body, it is your body.”
David Lauterstein, quoting Nietzsche in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page

 

Wounded But Serving

I think it’s a good thing to talk about self-care and how we can optimize ourselves for being the best practitioners we can be, but we need to get real: individually and as a profession. There’s self care because you need to be a little physically stronger, a little less sleepy in the afternoon: then there’s the self care of the truly wracked, anxious, woebegone and frightened.

Trying to get a toehold on sanity, and working that line, hour by hour, minute by minute, and also seeing clients.

I am writing this blog post now because I couldn’t write in August.  A situation with mental illness and addiction in my family reached new crisis levels. This person was rushed to the ER and admitted to a psychiatric and addiction center, for the second time this year.

 

There is, as of this writing, 30 days of sobriety, good prescriptions, and a will to live. But it has been rough. I became ill, too. The name they give it is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which feels pretty weird for someone who spends 8-10 hours a day helping people reduce theirs.

I was doing all the good stuff (more salads. Less caffeine. More sleep. Less sugar.) but a lot of it wasn’t working, when I desperately wanted it to. It just didn’t. There for a while I had a small bag I carried, along with my purse, holding all the tinctures, supplements, flower essences and powders I’d collected so I could dose myself all day.

I’m doing better (due to many kinds of support, which I won’t get into here), but there were plenty of moments when I walked into a session, hoping to help others, but feeling utterly broken and full of despair inside. This was a deeply painful place to find myself.

I felt guilty for barely holding it together and still seeing others in a therapeutic setting. Is there room in our profession for those, like me, hoofing it on the edge of darkness?

 

Consider your stereotype of massage therapists. We see a practitioner who is happy, relaxed, completely absorbed in the needs of the client, serene, centered, thoughtful…quite possibly the embodiment of health and sanity. (I mean, when I go get a massage, that’s kind of what I hope to experience, even just a little bit.)

There are massage therapists like me who have a loved one up to their gullets in mental illness and addiction and who, themselves, are in real danger of becoming sick and/or addicted themselves.

There are massage therapists with mental health issues.

There are massage therapists who are addicts.

There are massage therapists whose children are in jail or who have gone missing: whose loved ones are battling cancer or HIV, ALS, PTSD: who are facing foreclosure or eviction.

There are massage therapists who feel maligned or weak or increasingly concerned by a physical ailment or a state of mind: whose might have family members threatened with violence, deportation or incarceration: who feel endangered or misunderstood where they live.

How do I know this? I don’t, for sure. But a lot of humans have lives like this. Lots of people, navigating terrifying swells in a boat that is taking on water. Massage therapists are human: ergo, there are probably more of us working our hearts out to give to others, and doing so from a fragile place, than most of us realize or want to acknowledge.

Standing and serving in the midst of profound confusion and pain is okay. If we think we have to have it all together to work, that’s something we need to examine. We have compassion for our clients in the midst of their trouble: it’s the least we can do for ourselves.

Also, some days the best part of being massage therapist was leaving my self outside the treatment room:  stowing my fears for a few hours while I worked to make a difference for someone, anyone. For all my technical skills, essential oils, good intentions, I could do nothing in my family. But at work: there was hope.

In your life, a bomb will go off. I promise you. Everything you thought about yourself and your world will melt like late winter snow. Who are you, then, as you stand in the wreckage, and also wish to work? Watch your illusions of control dissolve, one by one, until you’re seeing clearly, and wishing you didn’t. Until, one day, you don’t mind.

There is a moment, in the chrysalis, where the goo inside is not caterpillar, not butterfly. It’s an amorphous gel of who-knows-what. The entity that knew itself as Caterpillar no longer exists. The promise of Butterfly is too much to hope for.

There’s where you work from, as a practitioner, and in the midst of the life you’ve been given. This is what anyone, groping for a way, knows. Don’t be fooled by the nice smells, pretty colors and soothing music: massage therapists are right there too.

Caterpillar to chrysalis: for your encouragement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gsm_ZyJz_s)

I feel it’s important to have boundaries about a lot of things but I’m equally convinced it’s important to share what you know, when you can, especially if it will help someone else, maybe remove stigma. So: I’m a member of Al-Anon. It has changed my life and saved my sanity.

Good Words for Minding the Harrow

Yes, we love our work, but there are times when the well runs dry, weariness settles in the bones, or there’s an ache in the heart. In case you had an August (and July…and June…and, oh hell, year) like me, you might, also like me, rely heavily on other writers who know the score to ease your troubles and give you courage to keep working. These are teachers, authors, colleagues, friends, and maybe even a saint or two, that have helped me get by.

I’m sure you’ll benefit.

C’mon, there’s a schedule to keep and people to help. Chin up. And:

“None of us are completely present. So don’t feel guilty. This is the ideal, the enlightened moments that come now and then. But we do know that when we are manipulating, changing, controlling, and fixing, we are not there yet. The calculating mind is the opposite of the contemplative mind. The first is thought by the system, the second by the Spirit.”
Richard Rohr, from “Everything Belongs

“When I was in a craptastic, humiliating, vulnerable position I said ‘I can’t get cold cocked again. I am entirely out of resilience.’ And I meant it. I got the mercy I needed. I don’t miss my pride.”
— Allissa Haines, from Writing a Blue Streak, “Well, hello 39.”

“We have to learn that healing is not a function of the therapist or any external agent like a vitamin or an antibiotic. Healing and control are with the client and are functions of the client-therapist relationship. Knowing that, knowing I don’t control the process, I avoid efforting. And knowing the client also cannot force change at a deep level, I encourage the client to drop efforting.”
— Ron Kurtz, courtesy of D. Lauterstein’s “Deep Massage Book” FaceBook page

“If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” — Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

“We don’t take care of each other. Half of what’s wrong with us human beings, I sometimes think, could be headed off if we just still hunkered down together picking lice, imaginary or real, out of each other’s hair, of an evening, the way all the other primates do: just touching each other kindly, huddling close, and tending to each other.”
— Dale Favier, from “Body in the Parking Lot

“A wry sense of humor helps a lot when things get hard. So does a great affection for oneself…Throughout all this worry, I reassured myself with Simon Gray’s words: “Worry is just love in its worst form. But it’s still love.”
— Tracy Walton, Teaching and the Worst Form of Love

“I got used to saying ‘I have depression.’  Although I did catch myself averting my eyes a bit when I told someone new recently. Probably gotta work on that a bit still.”
— again, Allissa, again, “Well, hello 39.”

“I used to walk around thinking I knew how other people could be happy: now I know that I don’t. I don’t know that. Oh, I can see it clearly enough: ‘you are locked into your suffering’ — as Leonard Cohen crooned it — ‘and your pleasures are the seal.’ But diagnosing is one thing: curing quite another. It’s probably good that I no longer think I have anything to offer people.”
— mole (again, Dale) “Dangerously Full

“I am not a hero; I cannot fix you. I am not strong; I cannot save you. I am weak; I cannot melt the frozen, broken places in you. I am insufficient; I cannot heal your pain. But I have hope, because I can do much more than that. I can love you.’
— Kate Bartolotta from “We Are Not Here to Fix Each Other

“What do we pray for?…Finally, alchemy. It is NOT up to you. I wish it was, but it’s not…the body contains all of the healing substances it needs already. The person contains all the healing substances it needs, they just don’t notice it. We are there to just help them become aware. I want people to realize they’re miraculous.”
— paraphrased from David Lauterstein’s Deep Massage class, Oct. 2013

“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted – i.e., keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk — don’t keep on looking at it.”
— C.S. Lewis, from The Collected Letters Volume III

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
— Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:10

 

Curve with a Name

“But I never would have guessed you have scoliosis.”

I do have it, I hide it well, although lately I have to say it has not hid itself from me. My lower left lumbars are aching in a deep way, confused, sending little unhappy bleats down my left leg all the way to my toes. You might not really understand the immediacy and power of your nervous system until you injure or pinch a nerve, even slightly. The messages are varied, yet continuous.

CurveTypesMy left hip seizes up when I get out of a chair, and currently I’m enjoying a slumbering right psoas: one of the strongest muscles in the body. When it’s strained, lifting your leg becomes either impossible or fills you with stabbing pain, like someone jabbing an ice pick into your hip joint. It slumbers and then when roused – like, when I want to move in and out of my car – behaves like a hornet hive that’s been poked with a flaming torch.

I would never have guessed I had scoliosis until I injured my back two weeks ago, and now my scoliosis is all I think about. Ever since I was diagnosed with it when I was 11 years old, I’ve seen chiropractors (waaay back when they were quack status) and received massage, done yoga and powerwalking, and in the past four years added in Pilates and a little moderate weightlifting. Nothing regularly unfortunately, and nothing with vigor.

I blame my current constant pain and inability to move with ease, as is my custom, on my twisted spine, which seemed to be bearing up under sporadic attention just fine until now. Is it fair, to be peeved at a body part when it says, “Enough’s enough”? Aren’t our bodies allowed to speak out, set boundaries, communicate directly and try to resolve conflict with us, just like we feel we are entitled to do with other people?

What does it mean to be not curved from front to back, but side to side? Our spine is meant to roll fore and aft, thoracics to lumbars, not severely but gently, to cushion the blow of living and act as a spring, boinging finely at the center of our being. You can go deep into a body and the deepest place there’s bone, doing its glistening slick oseous job.

Deepest and most profound in its construct is our spine. We ask so much of it: sitting for hours hunched, sleeping splayed or curled, jerking it around lifting heavy things that sheer will deems doable. (“I can lift that.”) And our spine not so much. (“Well that was a bad idea.”)

It would be a lot better for us, wouldn’t it, if we wouldn’t just assume everything we feel like doing and want to do with our bodies is OK with our body. We would be accused of behaving selfishly, carelessly, if we constantly dealt with friends and associates with the sometimes breath-taking lack of sensitivity we show our own frame.

What we take for granted! Whole systems working tirelessly, painlessly, and then when injured, begin to let us know. “How annoying,” we say with disgust, and throw painkiller or hydrotherapy at it, hoping it goes away. The mendicant at our gate is body, and rather than feed it, we take the other way out of the city.

The first chiropractor I saw when I was 11 was a large, soft, dusky grey man in a poorly lit room who talked sweetly to me and my mother, and touched my back with big meaty hands that felt like giant warm paws. I remember looking up at him and my mother, like a bunny in the woods, waiting to see what the big animals would do.

He did some acupressure points in my ears (a sensation I’ve never forgotten, maybe why I love doing auricular massage to this day) with a metal stylus, told me everything that would happen, helped me onto his electronic table, and adjusted me. I was not afraid, not for a minute: I was just as curious as he was about what he could do to help me.

My mother did not do the surgery on me everyone said I should have, or the body cast: she chose hands-on healing. I wasn’t fixed by this man’s hands: but I had a strong sense that he understood me. He did not look at my malformations as something to be conquered, but something to be kindly spoken to.

Now the adult who must tend my inner child, I am both big bear and the small rabbit: and it’s my job to talk sweetly to the injury I have, and the torqued, tense mass of my lower left lumbars. Good luck has run out. Now it’s my turn to pay attention, and explain everything that’s going to happen, and not conquer my frame, but speak gently.

Should come easily, you know. I do it for a living. Ahhh, but who can do it for themselves? It is hard. To be that “wounded healer,” and give as generously to myself – in attention, exhortation, encouragement and affection – as I would a client? As my first chiropractor gave to me? That which I received, I give. That which I give: I must now receive.

 

Caring – With a Rebel Yell

“You know, it’s more than just a massage, isn’t it?” My longest-term client had finished blowing his nose and was settling in from prone to supine. I was getting his bolster situated, and preparing the warm towel roll for his neck.

“It’s about being cared for. And, as I get older, I need more and more of that. You are about the most caring-est person in my life.” He relayed all of this to me through closed eyes.

I considered how many massages I’ve given him. Probably around 500, over the course of 12 years. He started seeing me when I was fresh into my practice, and kept with me all this time. I thought it was just ’cause he was gradually more and more impressed with my expertise, but he was very frank with me a few months ago as to why he’s seen me so long.

“Habit.”

When my face clearly registered my unhappiness at being mere routine, he added hastily:

“But it’s the quality of your touch. It’s always been there.”

How lucky I am, I thought to myself then, that he has made a habit of the good will he feels from my heart.

“Being Cared For” is hardwired into the massage therapy profession and while sometimes it’s challenging to reach those wells of empathy and affection (depending on what I’ve got going on personally) caring for another is my touchstone, my calling card. I know that makes me a softie. So be it.

Why is it so hard for us to bring tenderness into our lives? Do we think we’re above it? Often we feel we don’t deserve it or need it. Which is a lie: look how quickly disease or dis-ease – physical, emotional, mental or spiritual – blooms when we keep charging ahead without regard for nurture or nourishment. Addictions take the place of regular loving self-regard.

Heaven forbid that we wait, listen, go with the flow or slow down for anything. Whatever our bodily needs might be – sleep, exercise, food, rest, cleaning, or touch – they are at best secondary and often last, as we bow to our List or Agenda or Goals, or other intellectual but questionable pursuits, such as hours of diddling in social media (guilty) or watching TV (guilty…especially since I discovered HuluPlus has a full catalog of Brit Coms.)

How can we bring more caring into our lives?

In what ways have I brought “being cared for” into my own life?

It surprises me, the list I come up with:

1) Treating evening with respect. Not insisting my day continue up until I sleep. And going to bed when I’m tired. If that’s 7:30, that is fine.
2) Taking the proper amount of time it takes to plan, shop for and cook a homemade meal. I do this once a week and I can tell you it’s a 5-hour endeavor, from the minute I crack open the cookbook to when Nate and I sit down to eat. The time to do this does not magically appear. I’ve made it a priority.
3) Damn the agenda, go for a walk.
4) Damn the paperwork, get a massage.
5)  Snuggle. Get close to a person or animal and linger, linger, linger. Physical proximity is great, powerful medicine. (Sitting in sangha, taking communion or being in a crowded bar watching an exciting baseball game are in the same vein.)
6)  Stop striving. Stop improving.  See what’s difficult, uncomfortable, unbearable – and, perhaps even more difficult, see what’s boring, mundane and average – and accept it utterly. At a certain point fighting the reality of your life not only makes you miss the life you’re actually having, but creates unnecessary exhaustion and colors everything you do and how you treat others with a faint aroma of distaste. Care enough about yourself and who you are, and what’s happening for you, to welcome all the imperfection without judgement.
7)  Make a difference when you can. This is the wisdom inherent in Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” : “Grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can.”  Notice your inner weeping, kvetching, sulking or raging and decide to make a little change in yourself and see if that helps.

For me, this list breaks the mold of societal expectation, and has an almost rebellious, anti-establishment energy to it. I think of the locavore, slow food movements. I consider how many people I know are working hard to get farms going, home schooling their kids or keep local businesses not only afloat but thriving. Lots of us want the good life, and the good life is not what they tell us it is.

If we’re constantly distracted, we’re right where they want us. Being cared for – caring for ourselves – equals presence. From this presence comes strength and wisdom, and then we’re not pawns in the game, but we are the piece movers: we reclaim our lives and take steady, conscious steps ahead.

Cracked, But Not Completely

The sun is at a low angle nowadays. As we shuttle fast, ever faster, towards winter solstice, the sun shines its starlight with blinding force, only to suddenly drop away and leave us in darkness, once again. Even from nearly 93million miles away, its atomic power breaks your trend, stalls your gears and shuffles your deck.

A massage therapist filled with equanimity and ease will not be millimeters from flying into a rage when the sun shoves itself into her eyeballs, but I have not been filled with equanimity and so I tolerate my crazy fuming over the sun, but just.

I seem to be entering the troubled lands of peri-menopause, and managing it with progesterone cream, herbs, tinctures and moderate exercise only works up to a point. Eventually a girl realizes that vast discomfort with oneself and the tendency to be hot under the collar at any perceived slight is like being in a time warp: the 13-year-old you, all over again, and just like then, there’s not much to cure it except time.

It’s ironic, really: here I am, in the best decade of my life, at the top of my game, and experiencing some of the bottom-most moods I ever had.

On Tuesday I was out of control. Small events turned into fantastic stories, woven ever more steadily in the silence between breaths. Seeing clients was a relief, however temporary: focusing wholly on them, working at interface, helped me feel less insane, but all of my anger and fear kept resurfacing and coming at me from weird angles. I felt like I was beating back dark birds, session after session.

I prayed a lot, first with calm request, then bordering on hysteria.

A challenging email from my sister-in-law sent me over the edge. In the brief amount of time I had before my last client showed up, I flailed, collapsed, foamed, and left a gibbering and incredibly unhelpful voicemail on my husband’s phone. Gathering myself together from the pieces I’d left all over the room, I prayed she wouldn’t ask me how I was doing, because I was rather sure I would unfortunately spill my beans.

“How ARE you?” There it was. I wanted, desperately, to segue neatly from pre-session check-in right into the work, but I was battle weary. My officemate Jean had been out most of the afternoon, and so reliable moments of decompressing with her between clients hadn’t happened.

Maintaining facade with this wonderful client required more hormonal fortitude than I had. So I told her.

“Hmmm,” she said after a brief silence, after I explained as succinctly and powerfully as I could what I had been feeling all day. “You know, I hadn’t thought about that. I mean here you are, in a profession where you kind of have to emanate all this love and caring. It’s your job. And you do it so well, I mean everyone is like ‘Oh I can’t wait to go see Kristen,’ you know?”

The compliment took me off guard completely, and I was suddenly aware that this was the other vital piece to why I’d felt so wretched: on top of everything else, I’d put a heaping pile of guilt, for not feeling nicer. I was afraid of feeling so bad, because I took it as a sign that I wasn’t being a good practitioner.

Massage therapists are trained to work with personal emotion and move past it, continuously, using meditation, visualization, breathing techniques, but because I’ve been tortured by perfectionism my whole life, I threw “does not freak out or get overwhelmed” into my list of things to accomplish. Not realistic, even for a good day, but especially on a day when I could barely cope.

“If I’m having a bad day, I just take it out on my students,” she said, with a touch of a wink and smile. “You can’t really do that here, can you.”

“You weren’t here when I was kicking the table!” I said, as we both started to laugh. “I did have an eye on the parking lot the whole time so I could see if you were coming in. I threw a few things too: a towel, I think. I might have said some bad words.”

“The phrase ‘raging hyena’ comes to mind,” she said, and conversation lapsed because we were laughing ourselves purple. (This is something we’ve done before.)

Like a couple thirteen-year-olds, I thought to myself, and while I didn’t find anything attractive about the huge mood swings I’d been experiencing, there was redemption in knowing the cracking sound I was hearing wasn’t the sound of me losing my mind, but my heart melting: towards my day, and my awful awful self. “That’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen sang, and the bells rang that still could ring.

In this line of work, you meet, sole to soul. Doubtless it’s good to try and bring your best self to every client, but sometimes the best self you have to offer is the one that’s honest, and willing, albeit messy. Our presence with one another is the greatest help, especially as it’s unclear who or what else will save us in the growing dark.