If only we had something to fill the hole

“Breathing is the first act of life and the last.”

– Joseph Pilates

Death and loss are unavoidable and yet it is a topic many of us avoid. It is dark and uncomfortable and filled with sorrow, and yet it is inevitable that we will all feel it at some point and we will eventually all die. Already while writing I am finding myself all kids of distractions and avoidances because it is not a topic most people love to explore. But what if we changed our idea about death and grief. What if we chose to sit with it and its uncomfortable cloud instead of trying to fix and change it into something more pleasurable. My idea of death and grief transformed the most when my ex-boyfriend and father to my child died. The process was long; not sudden. It was the after effect that was most interesting. The inability for some to sit with the pain. Not just their pain but mine. The looks and greeting asking for permission to release them and let them know I would be happy and able to cope without them. Like I had a tangy molasses that would drag them in. In my grief I understood the pain of loss, dreams of what could have been and the movie of what had happened. I allowed myself to feel it and be in it and learned from it.

Death is a process and we all need to go through it, but our relationship to it can change. Each year my daughter’s teacher asks the class to write something about themselves that  the teacher should know. Each year she writes,”My dad died and I hate when people say I’m sorry.” The funny thing about this is she has been writing the same thing since she was 5. The amazing thing is most adults feel the same but can’t express it so clearly.

So what do we do if we can not say” I’m sorry” and remove our sense of awkwardness around those who are grieving. I now don’t really say much. I speak my truth. I say, “I don’t know what to do or say because nothing fills that void and makes it OK.” And then I let them lead. I be there. I crack inappropriate jokes (especially about death). I try to be as normal as possible while also being honest. Death sucks. It is uncomfortable. It is dark and awkward. So let’s not cover it up and try to pretend we will all be OK.

Truthfully we will and do get through it. Often we grow and see the world better. Sometimes we create blessings and positive things from grief. But none of that changes the core pain we felt or feel that still comes in bursts without warning at the stupidest and most inappropriate times. But that is what is beautiful also because we allow ourselves to feel it. The good, the bad and the awkward.

Mind: Grief after loss is normal and healthy, but if it seems to intensify or linger without change it is best to seek out professional help. During the phase of grief often it feels like a dark tunnel or cave and it is difficult to imagine a future where we would feel light or happy. When grief continues without change we may withdraw from people or events, become depressed and isolate ourselves from the world.

Body: Grief will show up most obviously in our chests, more specifically near our hearts. The body may become stiff or concave with the shoulders moving forward in an act of protection. Our thoracic spine and upper back will become weak and overstretched as we curl forward to protect the heart from additional injury.

Spirit: During grief we tend to isolate and go within. It seems that our spirit would also close but in some cases as we go within we also can connect and communicate on a deeper level with our spirit. In these instances we can grow and move forward through grief. Other ways of connection during this time are through music and meditation or breath. Sometimes movement and physical exercises seems daunting and distant but the use of music helps to raise our emotional and spiritual energy while our bodies remain passive.

EXERCISE: Cobra and Swan Pose

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  1.  Lie face down. Bring your hands under your shoulders with bent elbows.
    Place legs together or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your abdominals and keep them engaged and lifted throughout the exercise.
  3. Inhale: Lengthen your spine, as you press your forearms and hands into the mat. Keep upper arms outwardly rotated to allow openness in the chest.
  4. Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as your torso returns to the mat.

Benefits: opens heart, clears the mind, increases flexibility, stimulates circulatory and lymphatic systems.

 

 

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May I Speak Up?…

“The mind, when housed within a healthful body, possesses a glorious sense of power.” 
— Joseph Pilates

I don’t always listen to podcasts, but I have made a point this year of listening to Jenna Zaffino on Pilates Unfiltered. If you have no interest in Pilates it may not be of interest but I find her on point with so much. One of the big things she has repeated this year is that “She has something to say”. Those words ring so true, not just to me but to so many of us. We all have something to say so why are we holding back. What is blocking us from speaking up or speaking our truth?

Major news right now is the #MeToo movement. So many women have posted their hashtag and perhaps shared an experience. It is so important to share and strip away the shame that comes with abuse of power. There have been many days where I was feeling confident and the comments from a male on the street or at work have stripped the confidence away. It feels like a lock in the chest. I recently felt this at my last apartment with my super who abused his power by texting me inappropriately all hours of the day, asking why I was single and commenting on how good I look (in front of my child). It is a struggle we deal with daily. It is common place but it is not OK. I love that so many women are standing up. I think that we also need to support each other as women. The power struggle is not always between men and women sometimes it is also with the same sex. I have also experienced power struggles with women. Sometimes this shows up as jealousy and sometimes it shows up in authority (with a supervisor or teacher). The problem arises when you allow someone to create the feeling of “I am not good enough”.

When you easily give over your power you then become powerless. Sometimes it seems easier than confrontation, sometimes the rage and anger radiating from another person can push us to shut down and become subordinate. This happens. It still happens to me and I am aware of it. But don’t shut yourself down. When it happens, acknowledge it and simply state in your mind I take my power back, you do not have control over me and send their energy back to them. Recently this happened to me and I held onto it longer than needed. Finally at night I was able to sit in meditation and visualize the daggers that I saw coming into my field and I plucked each one out, turned them into daisies and showered them onto the person who through them toward me.  It is a day to day practice. The world as we know it is not established on equality and each day we need to acknowledge when we try to use our Power to control others or when we give it away.

Mind: It is important to explore your connection to shame. Shame is not real – it is our perception of real events that we interpret on an emotional and physical level to mean something significant. What one person finds shameful will not always be the same from person to person. As children we begin to build our associations to the world and what is “right” or “wrong” and it is at this point that we begin to be taught what is shameful (to be hidden) and what is acceptable. For some people showing off the nude body is beautiful and acceptable and to many in the Western world it is something we are taught to hide. It is important that we first start with acknowledging what we find shameful in our own lives and then begin to strip the stigma by speaking out. For instance if you are ashamed of being naked in front of people (or even in a swim suit in public) I am not saying to strip down and walk the streets of NYC but perhaps simply saying out loud that you are afraid. Begin to explore where these ideas of covering up came from and speak about them. Some culture believe in fully covering their body but the difference is this is not done out of shame it is done out of respect. It is important to understand your own ideas and not project judgement onto others that you perceive may be like you.

Body: There are two areas of the body at play with issues of Power. One is near the Solar Plexus. This is where you may feel like you were kicked in the gut, sick to your stomach, or even sensitivity if someone has scolded or dominated you. You may also feel pain or discomfort in your throat or neck if you held back from speaking up for yourself or others. “I wish I had said…” I should have said…”. In both instances you have blocked your energy and diminished your Power.

Spirit: The spirit is most free when we are honest. If you do resonate with holding blocks in your body either your throat or solar plexus simply acknowledging this and being truthful to yourself, honoring yourself is freeing for the spirit. I love visualization but any form of release will work to release some of these strings thrown at us in a Power struggle. Writing and movement can also be powerful.

Exercises:

Belly Breathing

  1. Inhale through your nose feeling a full expansion in your abdomen. Having one hand on your stomach will help as you will feel it move outward.
  2. On your exhale, tighten your stomach muscles feeling your hand contract in toward your spine
  3. I also find it helpful to practice this lying down on the floor with your knees bent or with your back against a wall in a sitting position.
  4. Continue this exercise for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Sun Salutation Series

  1. Mountain pose: stand aligned with both feet flat on floor, abdominals engaged, and eyes focused forward
  2. Raise arms to your side bringing them over head with palms together
  3. Forward Fold: Reach arms away from each other and toward your side as you hinge at hips (bending knees if needed) bringing your torso toward your thighs
  4. Reach torso halfway up
  5. Plank pose: Step feet back to come to plank pose, hands under shoulders, abdominals engaged, legs straight, eyes focused forward with a long neck
  6. Chaturanga: (option always to bend knees in this pose) Shift forward to toes, bend elbows while keeping wrists and elbow aligned
  7. Upward Facing Dog: Tops of your feet will press into the floor, lifting your thighs off the floor (or option to keep thighs active but on the floor). Bring your chest forward and straighten your arms continue to engage your abdominals lifting the navel upward. Keep your collar bone wide, chest forward, neck long and eyes focused upward.
  8. Downward Facing Dog: Lift your hips and work to press the soles of your feet into the floor (your heels may be off the floor). Press down through your hands and the soles of your feet as you lengthen your spine (sometimes it helps to bend the knees to feel more length in the spine. Open your chest toward the feet and focus your eyes between your feet.

Pilates Version of above on the Reformer: PlankUpstretch and Downstretch series

 

 

The man behind the mask

“Decide to remain true to yourself.”   Joseph Pilates

Each week I wake up expecting the world to be put right and some hope to shine through, but each day seems to be another natural or human created catastrophe. The world is like the mother we look to who mirrors what we should feel. In this case the mother is falling apart. So how do we as the children interpret life and move forward safely finding the freedom to explore and play with who we are and who we want to be?

When my child was in 2nd grade the school continuously mentioned the end of childhood was near. The notion of childhood coming to an end at age 7 was preposterous, and it boggled my mind. Looking at this in a bigger perspective it makes sense and mirrors out world right now. At age 7 a child begins to move away from the parent and more toward their peers. They mirror those around them and begin to internalize the judgements of those children around them. As parents we no longer are their center of strength and reason. It is in this new place of uncertainty with a new sense of independence that we begin to learn if we are important to others in our Universe. Are we seen? Are we funny? Do we fit in? Are we judged? Are we accepted? Rarely can we stand securely in our authentic self with certainty of who we are. The normal child begins to try on masks and see which one feels best.

As adults hopefully, we are secure enough to finally take off that mask and stand in our true Power. What I have found so far is it is a process of hiding, uncovering, discovering, hiding and re-appearing. Slowly pealing away the masks of our childhood.

Mind: Speaking our truth is our basic right. Our truth is just that – ours. And yet we are so quick to allow others to judge and insert doubt causing us to lose faith in our own opinions and ideas. When we build masks and hide from our authentic self or hide our true self from other people we become inhibited and slowly dull our light.

Body: When we restrict our truth and our voices from speaking out due to fear of being judged or harmed we hold this energy in our body. It shows up as stress in the throat, neck, shoulders, and mouth. We can either talk too much or not at all, either way we are not being heard.

Spirit: Sound is a vibration of energy that can not be seen but we know exists. Similar to this there is a energetic field surrounding each of us. Our goal in seeking our truth is finding harmony or resonance. We need to learn to communicate with the energetic vibration in and outside of our bodies as well as each other and the world. We also need to remember that communication is both speaking and being heard while also listening without judgement. It is an open flow and not one direction.

Exercises

  • The best way to move energy in the throat is through sound, singing, OM chanting, humming, and breath
  • Front Splits on the reformer (can also be done on the mat as Crescent Lunge)

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Why? The lunge when done with arms extended upward or behind the head will open the chest while also keeping the abdominals engaged and alignment in place. This exercise is a great stretch for the front of the body and can also help align the neck and shoulders.

Other Exercises for opening the throat, neck and shoulders

Swan

Bridge Pose

Camel Pose

Short Spine