Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Highly Sensitive

Shy, introverted, quiet, sensitive. These are words that have been used to describe me throughout my life. Most often, and quite painfully, the word “too” was added to each of these words—too quiet, too sensitive, too shy. When I was about 10 years old and a gymnast, I recall that my coach implemented a “one word per minute” rule for me because she felt I was too quiet. She thought her rule was funny, and rarely enforced it, but I felt ashamed, different, singled out. There is nothing more terrifying for a quiet person than someone highlighting her quietness. While I am less quiet now, I still find that I am still quite sensitive, and I get over-stimulated easily. And, once in a while, someone will use those dreaded words – “too sensitive” – to describe me.

After having a conversation with
Reality Mom, another sensitive artist-type, I discovered a lovely book by Elaine Aron called The Highly Sensitive Person. While I am apprehensive about the label “HSP,” for labels can feel restrictive and effectively immobilize or pigeon-hole us, I learned so much about the nature of being a sensitive person from this book. What struck me most was how unaware I was about the sensory overload in my life. It rarely occurred to me that perhaps my stress at a party, for example, was due to the noise or the crowded environment. I just thought my shyness was stifling me. Aron writes that “[o]ften we get used to stimulation. But, sometimes we think we have and aren’t being bothered, but suddenly feel exhausted and realize why: We have been putting up with something at a conscious level while it is wearing us down” (8). Ah-ha! Eureka! So, that’s why after a social gathering, I often want to curl up in a dark, quiet room! And, that’s also why some of my clients feel stressed after a “normal” day of work, and retreat to my massage room for a session of quiet relaxation. They want all of their senses to be treated delicately and with healing intention.

Luckily, sensitivity is often considered a gift in my line of work as an artist and a healer. My sensitivity enables me to deeply understand my clients’ issues and concerns, and because I feel so deeply, I often can “read” my clients and intuit what might help them heal the most effectively. And, sensitivity is essential to the art and writing that I do. I need to be able to tap into my innermost feelings in order to create. Over the years I have learned to love my sensitivity, and while feeling deeply sometimes causes pain or overwhelm, I am learning to channel that distress into positive actions like writing and art.

If you are at all interested in learning more about your sensitivity, I recommend reading Aron’s book. I found it affirming and enlightening. And, if you’d like to take the “highly sensitive person” self-test, you can do so
here. While no test is going to define you, it may be insightful and revealing. I scored a 24, which is quite high. What do you score? Do you find that the stress in your life is often a result of your sensitivity? What things cause you to feel over-stimulated? What do you do to care for yourself when you are feeling over-stimulated and overwhelmed?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Relieve Back Pain with Tennis Balls!

I could write a whole chapter on how amazing and effective tennis ball acupressure is...

but I'm sure that someone has already done this!

For the purposes of this entry, I want to focus on the benefits of tennis ball acupressure for the back.

A quick lesson on acupressure first:

I like the definition provided by the Acupressure Institute out of Berkeley, CA: "Acupressure is an ancient healing art developed in Asia over 5,000 years ago, using the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body's natural self-curative abilities. When these acupressure points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body's life force energy to aid healing. Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points and meridians, but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses gentle but firm pressure and integrates bodywork therapies, therapeutic touch, somatic work, healing imagery, energy psychology, and massage therapy techniques."

I often incorporate acupressure into my massage sessions, and clients often feel a rush of energy through the points along the energy meridians, releasing pain and tension. And, the great thing about acupressure is that you can do it yourself using some simple tools.

Here's what you can do: purchase at least two tennis balls at your local sporting goods store, and you'll have all the tools you need. Use tennis balls because they have some give in them (a pool ball, for example, would be quite painful!). Place these two balls on the floor about four inches apart (or the width of your spine). Gently rock yourself back and onto the tennis balls in the area of your tension. For me, the area between my shoulder blades needs the most attention, so I allow the tennis balls to settle on either side of the spine of my upper back. I take deep breaths and feel the firm pressure gradually soften my muscles. I usually move the balls down to my low back and then up to the base of my skull for some added tension release.

Alternative techniques for back acupressure:
  • Sit at your desk chair and lean back against the tennis balls.
  • Lean against a wall, and move your back up and down the wall against the pressure of the tennis balls on either side of your spine.
One caution area to be aware of: the T-12 area of the back, where the kidneys are located. Most people don't place the tennis balls here because it generally feels a little tender and uncomfortable, but be gentle with this area and avoid deep pressure. And, as always, if anything hurts or becomes too sore when you try these ideas, discontinue doing the exercise. Tennis ball acupressure is powerful and transformative, but it isn't for everyone. You want to be sure that the exercise is going to relax you, not effectively tighten all the other muscles in your body due to the pain. This exercise should feel pleasant and ultimately relieving!