Posts Tagged self-help books

Spontaneous myofascial release

I experienced a minor miracle the other night, one that not only affected my body, but may change the way I work with massage clients. I am also wondering if any one out there has had a similar experience. Please share! Maybe it wasn’t as weird as I think.

You can see that way the flute is played can lead to a tilted head position after a while. This sketch is by me.

I’ve had neck issues for years. Between being stressed and tense, having a lot of curvature in my spine (think hunchback, turtle neck and swayback all at once), and playing the flute, it’s amazing that my neck is as good as it is. That said, bad posture is one reason people experience pain, so I have had pain off and on. I’ve written in previous blogs about some of the things I have done over the years to straighten my posture and calm my nervous system. It’s worked to a large extent, but I still have a lot of tightness in the soft tissues of my neck, and a compressed disk on the right side.

To help with this, lately I’ve been spending a little time when I first go to bed lying on my stomach with my head turned to the left and pressing into the pillow to stretch out the right side of my neck. I usually stay there for a minute or so. The other night, when I was doing this stretch, I started to feel some softening in my upper chest. That’s great, I’ve been getting some softening as my torso straightens.  But then it turned into a huge wave that moved into my neck, up to my jaw, back down my neck, up around my ear, and down again into the back of the right side of my neck. It felt like someone was lifting a piece of plastic wrap off of me.

If I didn’t know something about the myofascial planes in the body, and the visco-elastic nature of that tissue, I would have been alarmed. Instead, I was delighted. You see, we have sheets of connective tissue that are much like plastic wrap, in that they wrap parts of the body. And, like plastic wrap, they can become stuck to the underlying tissues. They can also form thick hard areas. But when you pull on them with the right amount of pressure, they either will become unstuck and slip, or they will soften in a wave (rather than ripping). So I was pretty sure that my fascia (connective tissue) was either softening or slipping free and moving to where it needs to be.

My neck is by no means healed, but it does seem a little better. And the wave got me thinking. What if one reason my clients have these hard trouble areas is that their sheets are stuck? What if we could pull on them just right and they would send a wave of change through their whole body? This isn’t a novel idea. There are techniques which attempt to do just that, and I’ve even studied a couple of them and experienced even more. But I’ve never experienced anything like that rush, almost like being pulled down a waterfall.

Was that a fluke? The result of my dogged pursuit over many years of better posture? Or is it something that could be transferred to my clients? Are there people who just will never improve unless something like that happens to them? A particular older man comes to mind. His torso is hard as steel and his legs are about as bad. Is this what he needs? Am I wasting my time with him unless I figure out a way to pull on his tissues like I pulled on my neck, and I hold his tissues for a long time, like I did my own? I really don’t know.

Certainly, I’ve done this stretch a bunch of times before, but this is the first time it let go like that. Why was that night the magic night? I have way more questions than answers right now. Any ideas? Know anyone who has had this kind of spontaneous (nearly) healing?

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Exploring indigenous healing and spiritual traditions

I wonder how many of you have done exactly what my title says? Why? What do these other cultures have to teach us that we cannot learn from allopathic or Chinese (or even Ayurvedic) medicine, when it comes to health, or one of the major religions of the world when it comes to spirituality.

Today, I thought I’d share a little bit about some of the books I’ve read on the subject. I know a surprising number of people who have asked the questions in the first paragraph (see, for example, my friend Michael Drake’s Website on Shamanic Drumming). Some of them have left their former lives to follow a teacher, while others have spent most of their money taking courses. There must be something to these traditions to draw so many to them. One reason they are so appealing, I think, is that they do not separate physical and mental health from the spiritual. They incorporate centuries or millennia of wisdom, and a keen knowledge of the varieties of human experience. Another draw seems to be the way they rely upon primary experience, rather than knowledge gained from books and years of study. By that, I mean that they rely upon visions, upon honing the kinesthetic sense to the point that one can feel what is going on in one’s own or another’s body (see The Body has a Mind of its Own), and upon paying attention to the natural world.

Urarina shaman in the Peruvian Amazon, 1988

Urarina shaman in the Peruvian Amazon, 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I am an outsider, because I don’t really feel compelled to study indigenous healing. I have only dabbled a little – a handful of sweat lodges, a few workshops, a few Shipibo ceremonies, and two soul retrievals. I’ve enjoyed all of these experiences (well, mostly, but that is another story), and gotten something out of them, but not enough to pursue them further. However, a couple of years ago I found myself reading about them to flesh out the shaman in my novel. And, well, I’ll admit, because I was curious. Here I want to highlight three writers who entertained me with their stories about their journeys into indigenous healing land.

I was seriously entranced by Kay Cordell Whitaker’s The Reluctant Shaman, so much so that I briefly considered trying to train with her. Then I came to my senses and realized that this is not my path. But I certainly followed up with her second book: Sacred Link. I love her story of being called to study with two shamans from Peru, and the lessons she learned about our Song and our Masks, and meeting the spirits of the water, wind, and so on. No matter what you might think about the truth of some of what happened to her, it’s hard to deny that we would all be better off if we learned what our masks are and also what gives us the greatest joy in life (for me, it’s writing). I subscribe to her blog, where she posts the sweetest advice about following our song, love, and caring for the earth.

English: Maya priest performing a healing cerm...

English: Maya priest performing a healing cermony at the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Attribute to: “Bob Makransky –” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Satsun, My Appreticeship with a Maya Healer, by Rosita Arvigo with Nadine Epstein, is also about learning from an indigenous healer. It’s knowledge that westerners might more easily relate to than Ms. Whitaker’s; although there are prayers and Spirits here, too, it focuses more on her experience learning about herbal medicine and Mayan Abdominal massage. Her story is almost the opposite of Kay Cordell Whittaker’s: instead of being chosen, and almost forced against her will to learn shamanism, she was eager to learn, but had to convince her teacher. Ms. Arvigo teaches workshops in the United States. Her book also talks a good bit about the Westernization of Belize, and the loss of many healing traditions. Ms. Arvigo convinced Don Elijio Panti to teach her, an outsider, because she wouldn’t give up, no one in his own community wanted to apprentice with him, and he wanted his tradition continued.

Cover of "Coyote Medicine: Lessons from N...

Cover via Amazon

Taking a different, but also fascinating, path, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D. details his journey through medical school and the world of residencies and clinical practice, and his growing disillusionment with some aspects of traditional western medicine in Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American Healing. While he was becoming an allopathic doctor, and doing residencies in a number of specialties, he was invited to a number of Native ceremonies. These led him to memories of his Cherokee grandmother, who was a healer, and into a different approach to life. Eventually, he began seeking out various indigenous healers to learn their ways and then to merge western and indigenous healing. Like Kay Cordell Whittaker, his tale is full of painful personal growth through mistakes and ego, from which he learned to be a better human being.

There are many more books to choose from, but I will stop with these three which particularly entranced me. As I write this, I realize that it was their mistakes and insights which particularly draw me to their stories. I’ve tried to get through a few how-to books on shamanism and never gotten very far. I don’t want to become an indigenous healer like my friends, just a better and happier human being. How about you?

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