Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Art of Transformation

I just purchased Thich Nhat Hanh's book Peace is Every Step: The Path to Mindfulness in Everyday Life, and I want to share an excerpt about the power of transforming both physical and emotional issues that reside inside us.

In his section called "Non-Surgery, " Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

"Western medicine emphasizes surgery too much. Doctors want to take out the things that are not wanted. When we have something irregular in our body, too often they advise us to have an operation. The same seems to be true in psychotherapy. Therapists want to help us throw out what is not wanted and keep only what is wanted. But what is left may not be very much. If we try to throw away what we don't want, we may throw away most of ourselves.

Instead of acting as if we can dispose of parts of ourselves, we should learn the art of transformation. We can transform our anger, for example, into something more wholesome, like understanding. We do not need surgery to remove our anger. If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time. We only have to observe it with love and attention. If we take care of our anger in this way, without trying to run away from it, it will transform itself. This is peacemaking. If we are peaceful in ourselves, we can make peace with our anger. We can deal with depression, anxiety, fear, or any unpleasant feeling in the same way."

I love his line, "If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time." I call this the "double-whammy," and this is so easy to do to ourselves. During a particularly difficult time in my life, I was sad about my sadness, angry about my anger, and depressed about my depression. After duking it out with my melancholy too many times -- and feeling exhausted from the process -- I decided to try and sit with it. What did I have to lose? It took a lot of sitting and listening and being with myself to see that melancholy was not the enemy; in fact, it was trying to tell me something important about my beliefs and perceptions, the true causes of my feelings.

Hanh's idea of "non-surgery" for our emotions can also apply to our bodies. We can transform our feelings about our physical discomfort in a similar manner. When in pain, it is hard to just be with the pain and see what it has to tell us. This is particularly difficult when the pain is chronic and we are so tired of it. It's easy to feel pained by our pain. Again, the "double-whammy" shows its teeth. Below is a method I have used to deal with both physical and emotional discomfort.

Try this:

Feel what you feel. If your neck tension has been bothering you, feel this pain from the inside, as if you could travel inside your body and actually see and touch this place of pain. If you feel sad, feel the sadness wash over you; if tears come, let them flow freely. Imagine that your pain is another person who has come to you for comfort. Listen to her. Ask her why she feels this pain; ask her if she understands the root of her sadness. Remember to tell her to breathe. Remember to tell her that she is safe.

See if it makes a difference to view your pain in this manner -- as if it is a close friend or loved one who needs your support and guidance. See if your body's tension transforms into something softer, lighter. See if your sadness becomes something powerful and poignant.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Egoscue: Health Through Motion

Over the past several months, a massage colleague and friend of mine has been introducing me to Egoscue, a form of stretching and movement based in postural therapy, which allows the body to become stronger, to be more flexible, and to be free of pain. In exchange for massage or Reiki sessions, my colleague gives me sets of exercises which address the concerns of my body. I find these exercises tremendously helpful, and the task of completing my exercises every day -- yes, every day -- is no small feat! But, I've noticed, among many wonderful changes, decreased pain and increased range of motion and strength in my shoulders, chest, and upper back.

I thought I'd share an egoscue stretch that I find particularly helpful to open up the chest and give a good stretch to the spine. It's called the Upper Spinal Floor Twist. Sometimes I do this stretch two to three times a day.

Click here for a video demonstration of the stretch. Enjoy!