Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tummy Love

This may sound a bit odd, but I've been thinking quite a bit about my stomach lately. And more specifically, I've been reflecting on how little attention it gets.

The lack of attention to my stomach became very clear to me when, two weeks ago, I received a wonderful Ayurvedic massage from my friend and massage colleague, Bethanie Sand. In her Ayurvedic massage sequence, Bethanie uses a lot of oil (a quality of this ancient Indian form of bodywork) and makes therapeutic contact with each area of the body, including the abdomen. Now, I've given and received abdominal massage many, many times, mostly in massage school, but it had been quite a long time since I'd experienced the calming, soothing, and therapeutic benefits of attention to this area of my body.

I had forgotten how abdominal massage relaxes my diaphragm and allows me to breathe big, full breaths; how I feel a 3-D awareness of my whole body when my stomach is touched; how my organs feel soothed and attended to; how any release of tension in my stomach muscles also releases tension in my back and other areas of my body; and how massage reflexively facilitates peristalsis, helping my body in its process of digestion and elimination.

Most importantly, though, this attention to my tummy enabled me to love it just a bit more. We live in a culture which teaches us to hold in our breath and stomachs tightly, to sculpt flat, hard muscles, and to cinch in our waists. It is relatively impossible to do any of those things during an abdominal massage. Instead, the stomach is praised for it's curves and bulges and expansiveness.

I have given perhaps two to three abdominal massages in the last year-and-a-half of my practice. So, why don't more clients ask for abdominal massage? For one thing, it can feel a wee bit vulnerable. We're not used to baring our tummies to one another. And, we're not used to touching our stomachs ourselves, let alone having someone else knead our tummies like dough. The therapeutic effects of tummy attention, however, seem, at least to me, to override any self-consciousness I initially feel.

So take a deep breath into your belly and give it some love and thanks. You may even surprise yourself and consider asking for abdominal massage at your next appointment. Until then, here's an exercise you can do yourself:

"Sun and Moon" Self-Massage

Imagine that your left hand is the sun and your right is the moon. Place your left "sun hand" on your belly and circle your belly button in a clockwise direction. Place your right "moon" hand on your belly and follow the sun in the circle, moving over it when the hands cross. Move slowly and with light to medium pressure, depending on your comfort level. This stroke reflexively reinforces peristalsis and aids in the sensory and energetic awareness of your body.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Our Choices

This week I attended the Western Literature Conference in Tacoma, WA. I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with the poignant and powerful poet Tess Gallagher.

I want to share one of her short poems with you, as I just cannot stop thinking about it:


I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to the snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

-Tess Gallagher, Dear Ghosts,

I think of the choices we have in this life. We can choose to treat ourselves well or poorly; we can choose to see what is in front of us this very moment or ignore it; we can see people and ideas through one narrow lens or through a kaleidoscope of different angles and perspectives. How many nests (literal or figurative) have been removed for the sake of a better view?

Try this:
Write about what choices you have made in your life that you feel have been mindful, thoughtful, and filled with integrity. What event or moment allowed you to see something clearly for the first time? What happens when you feel you have no choice, when you feel stuck or trapped?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Autumn Newsletter

I am pleased to share another "Healing Nest" newsletter with you.

This issue goes especially well with a cup of tea or cocoa and a fuzzy blanket.

In this issue:
  • New to my practice: Hot Stone Massage!
  • S.A.D.: ways to find the sunshine within
  • Autumn Special: "Inner Stream"
  • Client artistic contributions & new creative prompts
  • Updated sessions and rates
Click on the following link to view/download the .PDF newsletter:



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rock Love

I will admit it: I have a deep and insatiable love for rocks. My favorite place to commune with rocks is in the Naches River, which runs through the Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington State. My family has a cabin near the Naches and my favorite time to visit is in the summer when I can immerse my sun-heated body into the glacial-cold waters of the river. I spend hours (yes, literally hours) making rock pools in the river. My arms and legs become numb from the cold, but I don’t mind this. (This is great for shin splints and tendinitis, by the way!)

A friend once remarked to me as I was building, “I’ve never seen anyone take so much pleasure in stacking rocks.” It’s true! The rocks feel smooth and supple in my hands and I feel so strong lifting them in order to build the walls of my pool--even as the current threatens to knock my creation over. That’s the beauty of it, though: my pools are not stagnant entities, but rather art pieces for nature to do with as she pleases.

So, why all of this talk of rock love? Well, as it so happens, I have added rocks to my practice, but this time they are not as cold as glacial waters or as heavy as those from the Naches. These rocks are basalt stones, heated to about 120 degrees and used in massage. This healing modality is most often called Hot Stone Massage, but is sometimes also called Healing Stone Massage. In either case, the purpose is the same: to warm the body, to soothe the nervous system, and to aid in relaxation and healing.

Basalt is a “fine-grained rock of volcanic origin, dark gray, dark green, brown, reddish, or black in color. Basalt is an igneous rock, i.e., one that has congealed from a molten state.” Due to their high iron content, basalt stones retain heat for long periods of time, penetrating your muscles deeply and evenly, and helping to soften your tissues and to calm your nervous system. These stones have been smoothed naturally by the waters from which they came, so the shape, consistency, and texture of each stone is unique. I have small, thin stones to place in between your toes, as well larger stones for your back, which can retain their heat for the length of a massage. And I have many more sizes in between for the legs, arms, chest, stomach, shoulders and face.

Hot stones may be used to provide deep, soothing heat to your tired or tense muscles. The treatment is a combination of using stones stationary on the body to promote relaxation and to soften muscle tissue as well as used as part of the massage itself, providing warmth and aiding in the release of tight muscles by using the contours of the stones for some deeper work. Heated stones may also be used for energetic healing by placing hot stones on the seven major chakras.

When my own massage practitioner uses hot stones during my massage treatments, I always seem to go to a deeper level in my relaxation. The penetrating heat softens my muscles, and I am able to let my guard down. The weight of the stones is comforting to me, rather like the nurturing feeling I get when my cat sleeps on my belly or chest.

So, it pleases me to be able to “stack rocks” in my practice now, even if I am not immersed in 40-degree water, listening to that soothing rush of the river. My nature CD with the sound of rushing water will have to do until next summer when I can start building my rock pools all over again.