Your Mind on Leash

There are an awful lot of dogs everywhere, have you noticed? You don’t notice the cats because 1) those who try to walk their cats on a leash experience new and meaningful definitions for the word “recalcitrant” 2) they are muy pequeño 3) cats don’t need a walk. They need a lie down, a stretch, a pounce, but they don’t need “a walk.” Don’t be insulting.

Anyway, I take walks in our neighborhood and 90% of the time when I encounter another person, they have a pooch tethered to them. These animals have all varying degrees of behavior, from lollygagging to ferocious. I admire people who have well-behaved dogs, because it takes a lot of discipline, on the part of both the doggie and the owner.

The other morning I was striding with purpose past a modest trailer park. Even in chichi Bayside Maine we have a trailer park: which i love: nobody should be allowed to come vacation by the sea in their $2500-per-week cottage rentals with cocktail parties and lobster bakes on the beach and extremely intelligent, articulate, ballsy children running amok without also seeing a trailer park. Bottom line: if you’re in Maine and you’re on vacation, you really need to see how 88% of the other half live. So you get it in your mind this is no utopia. (Although it is pretty damn close, for about 3 weeks out of the year, which is when you’re here, which is really not fair. Please come visit in February. Please.)

As I walked past, I saw a nice looking gentleman with his nice looking dog. I don’t know dog breeds on sight, I think this one might have been a white lab, if such a thing exists. We were about 25 yds away from each other. And the man put his hands in a different position on the leash, and looked at his dog. The dog looked at her owner, put her butt down on the ground. Both of them them turned to watch me pass.

I suddenly realized *I* was the test. Me, walking past them, was part of today’s discipline. In the body language of both owner and dog, this was not a problem necessarily: it was a bit of a game, perhaps. But I was a tasty morsel, something to lunge after: and the owner, with his fresh grip on the leash and his stance, was basically telling his dog, “Don’t lunge.” And she was staring at me, but with her stolid gaze she was basically responding, “I shall not lunge.”

I had admiration for the man — like i said I have a lot of respect for dog owners with well-behaved dogs – but as I moved past them, and caught a look at the dog’s face, I melted inside. Here was an animal: large, dignified, perhaps of some age, whose every instinct is to bark and defend. To protect with teeth and claw. Or, less dramatically, to aggressively sniff  or slather affection on the approaching species. She wasn’t doing what felt natural, what felt called for: she held her ground and merely observed me come and go. You gotta really respect a dog — as an individual! in its own right! — when it can do that.

Who taught her how to do that? Her owner: the dude holding the leash. He can’t prevent her from choosing to barkbarkbarkBARK or breaking away from him, without having his arm ripped out of its socket. But there’s enough symbiosis in their relationship that she knows there’s a reward for “good behavior” i.e. not doing what feels normal.

Part of the reward might be a biscuit. But maybe the other part of the reward is the relationship: the way both of them feel when there is peace. Suddenly dog and owner have mutual experience: we watch things come and go, we observe together the world around us together. It becomes less punishment-&-reward and more exploration, gentle adventure.

Also there’s trust, established from probably years of training between this man and pooch. He loves her and knows her every instinct. She loves him and trusts his guidance. There’s intuition, respect and practice, all rolled into one here.

I’m not a dog person per se, but in this moment I became one, because for the first time I had an inkling of what it might be like to be a dog. Left to my own devices, I go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, striving, scheming, reacting, defending, barkbarkbarkBARKING at the world.

The driver in the seat is my crazy mind: the thing that starts up the minute I awake and the last thing to quiet down before I sleep. It catches a whiff of something and — off it goes! My mind is like an untrained dog loose in the streets: hugely entertaining at first, then a nuisance, then frightening. I’ve come to realize there’s nothing I can do to stop it from doing whatever it wants, and if I don’t manage it, I end up chasing after it fruitlessly.

Massage therapy is hugely helpful in helping us put our minds on leash. As we lie in gentle repose in session, our beatific countenance could belie the raging turmoil within. There we are: all relaxed and stuff, and meanwhile we’re counting up errands, or reviewing some horrible conversation we had last week, or planning what to do on the weekend. It’s exhausting. And we’re supposed to be relaxing!

What saves us? Presence. The massage therapist is there, their hands shifting in response to what he or she perceives in our frame. Over and over again, as the minutes tick by in session, both the massage therapist and the client acknowledge their instinct: to check out, to lunge at whatever our mind purveys, to escape. Over and over again, your massage therapist says in his touch, “don’t lunge.” And as the client, you are learning how not to lunge.

The reward is the peace that exists in session: that we long for, all week, that we crave for a month or 3 months until our next appointment. Here is safety. Here is repose. Good dog. Stay.

Stay.

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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!

 

Take Good Care

Even an “easy” day in the life can be fraught, if I’m not cognizant of details. For example, last Tuesday I had two 90-minute clients booked. Ah, piece of cake: walk in the park. Both long-term clients: needs understood, preferences noted. Presence adored. Can’t wait.

On further examination however, I know I’m in for it: my first is a house-call to my young client with muscular dystrophy. Packing up and traveling, wending my way through a variety of animals (she lives on a beautiful horse farm),  getting set up (there is a massage table there, but still, where to put what) and then doing a long session, is work. She needs deep tissue massage, yet I’m always cautious as I plow around her back: there’s a lot of tension here that’s chronic, unexercised, fatigued, dry…and getting worse. Checking in becomes part of the art.

My second 90-min. session is my longest-term client, whose body and stories and predilections are as familiar to me as episodes of Blackadder, a BBC comedy we both have vast portions of committed to memory. On the one hand, he’s my frequent flier, my regular, and I don’t have to convince him of the benefits of regular massage: he’s devoted.

On the other hand, having a ton of time with a client is equally perk and privilege, so I don’t take his loyalty for granted. There’s always an opportunity to learn more about him, and what I can do for him now…and now…and now.  I live to hear him say, as he often does, “That was the best yet.” How many “best yet”s will I earn in the years to come? Will I earn one today?

These two 90-min. sessions can suddenly feel like a burden. But I got into this line of work because I wanted to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, not so that I could further entrench my perfectionism. Over the years I’ve learned that how I treat myself has everything to do with how well I work, and how good I feel, bringing forth the “ahhh” in massage, for both myself and my clients.

How to take on the burden/blessing of bodywork? Self care.

Everything you long to do holds the key. It’s whatever you tell yourself you don’t have time for. It might be a discipline, but it might also be a past-time. If, when you’re doing it, you hear a soft knock on the door of your heart, and you can hear the door swing open and happy animal noises ensuing, you might have found one of many fine ways in which to take good care of yourself. Including:

3 legs to the triumvirate of self care:  journaling, walking, resting.

3 legs to the triumvirate of self care:
journaling, walking, resting.

Here’s what else self-care looks like to me:

Time. Time and I are not close. There are two genes in my family, the chronically on time, with hot indignation sprayed on those who can’t manage the same. The other, the chronically late, sometimes breath-takingly so, filled with profuse apology and repeated offense. Guess which one I have.

Having my own office and being responsible for getting the whole thing rolling first thing has, if nothing else, taught me to respect time. And it takes immense focus for me to get out the door every morning, which means I have to keep on top of myself to make sure I do. There is only one task: leave.  Move it, Burkholder.

Phone. It gets turned off. Sometimes at 7 p.m., sometimes 9. If I think someone can reach me, I’m not completely at ease. Never a phan of the phone, I am happy when it’s phlipped shut.

Little Me. Hearing my need for daily supplements and doses. There are herbs, vitamins, minerals and tinctures I take to keep myself feeling good and able to work with stamina for every person, no matter when they’re booked. I’ve also added Emerita’s Pro-Gest, as I find I’m trundling down the trails of peri-menopause already, and a little dab of this in the a.m. and p.m. has made a big difference for me. So has Avena Botanical’s Restorative Root Powder.

Being accountable to myself: listening to the little me inside who hopes the big me is listening: planning ahead enough so that I have my pills and potions, meals and snacks, green tea and gum for the ten-hour, sometimes twelve-hour, day ahead. Very much “what do you need, honey?” in my tone. Yes, speaking tenderly to myself: this is self care.

Consciousness. I’m not a natal MT. You? It’s not in me to spend vast tracts of time in meditative silence, massaging. I am a daydreamer, an entertainer, a giggler. A good part of my early years of practicing massage therapy was learning how to not to do too much of any of those 3 things while working.

Everyone has their own way of being present to clients, maintaining a high level of consciousness. Myself, I have relied heavily on the application of Reiki in my massages, something I can’t recommend highly enough. This sweet, powerful energy work gives me Source, something to channel when I feel lost or depleted, something to lean into for insight. I also call it prayer.

This enables me to bring loving attention, but not so much attention that I start to drift into hypervigilance, which makes for excellent business acumen, but lousy mental health. At a certain point: it’s good. It’s good enough. The client will pick up where I left off. Healing will flow when my hands stop moving. I don’t matter, and as Dale Favier says, that is a “radical blessing.”

Thoroughness is a curse. Leaving some things up to the Great Mystery is essential, otherwise there I am vacuuming again, or taking copious notes, when I could be unwinding and making time for the things I really want to do (like read, doodle, brush my cat, and watch the Mighty Boosh) which is what I encourage my clients to do…for their own self care.

Many thanks to the ABMP’s Jul/Aug 2013 edition “Take Care of Yourself, So You Can Take Care of Clients”  for the inspiration.

Ah, the ol' pink ball trick! That's a happy ped, because I roll this lil' dude around under both feet while doing client intake. A real waker-upper.

Ah, the ol’ pink ball trick! That’s a happy ped, because I roll this lil’ dude around under both feet while doing client intake. A real waker-upper. And so good for – well, everything.