This will not be a three-sentence post like the other Creativity Break posts.
I cannot believe I already couldn't maintain a daily practice past a week. If I'm honest, I didn't even get past the full week. I counted movement on Day 8 that is part of my normal day as my practice because I did a bit more of it. Yeah, no.
Let me give you an idea of what my days look like, movement-wise, and how it's easy to think I've practiced when I really haven't:
I am increasingly teaching about all those ways in which movement throughout the day matters as much if not MORE than a specified period of daily exercise with the remainder spent sitting at a desk or behind the wheel or on the couch. I believe in the vital importance of moving more of your parts in more ways throughout more of the day. And in that respect, I practice what I preach.
So why do I want so badly to get back on my mat?
Getting on the mat is physical work. It's a chance to really inhabit this body that I've spent a lifetime moving. I've moved onstage and in private. I've moved to tell stories and to teach others. I feel intelligent in my body. I feel graceful. I feel powerful.
I learn on the mat and through my body. Getting on the mat has given me insight into injuries (ankle, pelvis, shoulder) and helped me heal them. Getting on the mat can be playful or challenging or calming. It is inward work.
I spent my first three decades sweating in dance classes and exercise classes. Movement up until then had either been performance or otherwise externally driven. I got serious about yoga in my late 20s and immediately understood its therapeutic benefits. When running hurt my knees, I got on my mat and figured out at least one of the problems. In my mid-40s, I ran a 10K with my sights set on a half-marathon. The damage to my ankle joint over decades of dance injuries barely survived that 10K. It took the next four years of slow, diligent work on the mat to unwind my movement patterns and re-train my leg, ankle, foot so that I could walk without pain again. Only after all that effort on the mat could I know that running or skipping wouldn't hurt my joints (though I have not tried to run a mile even still).
I've spent the past four years using my body knowledge on the mat again, this time to recover from a frozen shoulder. I still don't have full range of motion. And I'm again in the process of unwinding the habits of decades to relearn how to use an even more complicated joint.
I have all this experience of utilizing my yoga and body knowledge for my own betterment. I used to inspire my personal practice by studying with my teachers (one now deceased, one far away) and colleagues (all far away since I moved). I used to have a set time of day. I used to have local peers, students who didn't need me to guide them but appreciated sharing space while we all practiced.
I'm starting to wonder if all my (necessary) therapeutic use of yoga has removed play and fun from getting on the mat. I don't have peers to practice with here, which I had before I moved to MN. In Michigan, colleagues and students and I would get together and practice individually in the same space. Maybe I have to create that somehow here. It wouldn't be daily, but it might be enough to motivate me to do it on my own between times.
Just sitting with this today, sitting with my unwillingness, digging through why I have and have not practiced during periods of my life, makes it clear that it isn't outer accountability I need. Even declaring a 40-day commitment publicly didn't do it. I lied to myself and to the public by Day 8.
The motivation is going to have to come from me.
I have looked at my calendar. Rather than writing "Practice" on each day, I carefully chose specific times each weekday and wrote the actual time down. An appointment with myself. Some appointments are 30 minutes, some 45, some 20. I tell my students, it doesn't need to be 90 minutes to be a practice. Time to listen to my own teaching.
I do not know if this will work any better than what I've been doing. But I am done with my rebellious, "I won't" attitude.
I keep thinking of something a friend shared with me. "Paint until you feel like painting."
Yep. I'm going to practice until I feel like practicing.
Getting refocused with the Creativity Break. Day 1.
[And in case you read the first day of the Creativity Break, here is a photo of the broken Sarasvati that gave me the impulse to do this in the first place.]
Recognizing (yet again) how my active end range of motion isn't anywhere near my passive end range. Arm and shoulder work trying to unwind some fiercely held movement habits. Taught my husband how to help with one of those.
It's been an office, email, phone call day. I won't call it a practice, but I made a concerted effort to move my arms and shoulders frequently today to counter all that desk work. I plan to do more active end-range work all weekend.
Creativity Break - Day 6
Found myself with a bonus 45 minutes. Treated myself to Free Movement with Movement Parallels Life reinforcing that my ROM (range of motion) ends way sooner than most people's. Ended with some hip and leg work on the floor.
I'm exhausted, run-down, and hoping I'm not getting a cold. My practice tonight is short, but challenging. I've been watching folks play with blankets and sliding and thought I'd give it a try.
Coming home after a weekend retreat is a good reminder of all the ways it's hard to get on the mat in daily life. Mondays have four clients, two classes, one school pick-up, lots of driving, plus laundry and dog walks. I spent some time tonight after all that with a little wall dancing courtesy of @movementfluency (Instagram) and her #unprops challenge which led me to some flowing, calming, ground work.
A long drive home today, unloading, unpacking, laundry, spending time with my son home from college, meeting one of his best friends, and dinner with my in-laws. I still have work to do to prep for this week and catch up from last week. So my hands are getting to work it out: in the car, sitting and visiting, at dinner, and during computer breaks.
Lots of short videos from colleagues for inspiration led to a lot of ground work. Then a lot of standing poses as prep for teaching two workshops. Last, I gave myself the opportunity to take a class, wherein I realized yet again it's time for me to own the title Master Teacher.
I have been feeling creatively stuck when it comes to getting on my mat, and it has recently prevented me from doing so more often than I care to admit. This morning, I discovered a small figurine of mine was broken. It was a representation of Sarasvati that I had received as a gift. Sarasvati is a the Indian goddess of music, passion, and protector of creative energy. And she was broken. Actually, she was still in one piece but she had come apart from her base and from the beautiful, broken lattice work she sat in front of. I was surprised how sad I was to discover her there, on her back amongst the collection of stones and personal and spiritual tokens I've been given or have collected over the years.
As someone who loves to use metaphor for a doorway into healing, I immediately made the connection to my feeling of being stuck creatively in my body. And here was Sarasvati, broken free of her base. Clearly, it is time for me to break free from a personal movement practice that felt lacking in creativity.
With that in mind, and with a couple suggestions to refine the experience, I am declaring myself on a 40-day movement challenge. I need accountability so I'm declaring it publicly including here on my blog. Every day, for 40 days, I intend to explore on my mat. Sometimes that will be a long practice led by a teacher or movement specialist I follow. Sometimes, it will be an exploration of a body part or a pose or a limitation I'm working through.
What does it mean for you, dear reader?
It means a daily three-sentence blog post. I will share them here on my website, and on Instagram (@healingandbalance). I don't know how that restricted form will color what I share, but I will share it daily from now until November 20th. (There will still be regular, longer format, Deep Thoughts kinds of posts here and there.)
Now that you know the why and wherefore ...
... Day One
Think back to childhood. Remember who you were then. Playtime Yoga!
My children started off their educational lives in a Waldorf school. Educating head, heart, and hands is at the center of everything they do there. Music and rhythm are used to teach math, knitting to teach reading, using the whole body to form letters as they learn the alphabet, reverence for all kinds of transitions and occasions. I'm a big fan. I could go on, but that's not the actual topic of this post.
I recently had a Skype session with my friend, Patty, who, among other things, taught handwork at my children's Waldorf school in Michigan. Our session was about foot health. I mentioned just how many muscles are in the feet (25% of your muscles are below your ankles) and why it's so important to move all those muscles more than we do. Because Patty's always making art with her hands (knitting, felting, sculpting, painting), I mentioned that there about as many muscles from the wrist to the fingers. Fifty percent of your muscles are in your hands and feet!
I then went on to explain how using those muscles more is what pumps blood out of those parts and back to your heart. Yep. It's not your heart vacuuming the blood back up from your extremities. It's muscles being pushed and pulled via movement that presses on the multitude of arterioles, the teeny tiny blood vessels in your muscles. That pressure pushes blood back to the heart. It also helps remove cellular waste from the area. So we're talking lymphatic health AND heart health, all by moving your hand and fingers, feet and toes in more ways.
Patty loved this information because, of course, she knows all kinds of benefits that come from using your hands. Handwork is so important to your mental, spiritual, and physical health. This particular bit of of heart health education was a fun addition to all her knowledge.
You know how if you're doing something that requires long periods of time spent with your hands in one position (typing, chopping, knitting, name your activity), you'll stop and periodically shake your hands out? Moving them deliberately and slowly is a better way to address that stiffness and soreness, and promote healing and balance.
Next time you're at your computer for hours (or working on knitting that sweater or fixing the deck or painting a bedroom), take a movement break. Try holding your hands in front of you, palms up. Slowly, moving all your fingers at the same time, curl your fingers in until you make a fist. Slowly uncurl them and spread the fingers wide. It should take several seconds to curl them in and several seconds to uncurl them. Make sure to keep your hand in line with your wrist; don't bend at the wrist. Repeat this process 5 - 10 times. Turn your hands so the palms face each other and do the same thing 5 - 10 times. Now turn your hands to face palms toward the floor. Repeat the same movement 5 - 10 times. Your fingers, hands and forearms will be warm from the increased muscle use and increased circulation. And I'll bet you'll return to your work for longer than you might have if you'd just stopped to quickly shake out your hands.
I'm including a video I made some time ago that has a couple more ideas for ways to engage your fingers, hands, and forearms. Give it a go.
Do it for your hands.
And for your heart.
In recent years, I've begun teaching more and more about foot health and the problems of most shoes we wear. One of the most common topics of concern is arch support. Whether it's flat feet, high arches, plantar fasciitis, or some other foot malady, "good arch support" seems to be the answer. But what if it's not?
Don't get me wrong, arch supports may be absolutely necessary in your world right now, but they most likely aren't necessary for the long term.
[Note from The Management: I am NOT advocating throwing away your supportive shoes and custom orthotics. Read on for my complete thoughts on the matter.]
If you break your foot, you will likely have it put in a cast. The cast is there to keep your foot immobilized while the bones heal. When your foot has healed and the cast is removed, your foot will be weak, the muscles atrophied, the joints stiff. Do you therefore put your foot back in a cast because it's weak and stiff? Of course not. You start physical therapy and work to restore mobility and strength to your foot.
Plantar fasciitis, collapsed arches, high arches and the like are certainly not a broken foot, but they can cause considerable pain and they most certainly are accompanied by weak muscles and tight joints. (Just a reminder, there are 33 joints in each foot. THIRTY-THREE! And they need to function fro your feet to be healthy.) Your orthopedist may well recommend "good," stiff, supportive shoes while you are in acute pain. You may be given arch supports to put in your current shoes. Either way, you are putting your foot in a cast. Arch support may not look like the cast you have for a broken foot, but it does the same thing. It splints your foot so the joints and muscles can't move fully while the inflammation goes down and the pain lessens. But once the pain has receded, do you really need to use them for the rest of your life? That is the common answer most orthopedists give: wear these forever; never go barefoot again; never buy shoes without good, solid arch support.
Why do we readily work to regain strength and mobility after wearing a plaster cast or boot, but we don't even consider physical therapy after wearing orthotics or stiff shoes?
(I don't have an answer to that question. I'd love to discuss it with some orthopedists some time.)
Having worked with numerous students and clients over the years, I have watched as feet become stronger doing simple restorative work on a daily basis. I do NOT tell those students to get rid of their arch supports (supportive shoes or orthotics). What happens instead is that over many months of foot restorative work, my students start to notice that the stiff shoes, the external support starts to interfere with the function of the feet. They start to wear the orthotics less or rediscover shoes with less support.
This does not happen quickly.
Let me repeat that: THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN QUICKLY.
I used to wear Converse a lot in my 20s. In my 30s, I started buying "good supportive shoes" and wearing them more often. I gradually found I couldn't wear the Converse anymore without my feet hurting. I thought this was a natural part of aging, needing better support in my shoes. But it was actually the stiff, supportive shoes that were causing the problem. As my feet no longer had to work to support themselves, they stopped being able to.
Two years ago, shortly before I turned 50, I started doing truly restorative work for my feet, their joints, muscles, arches. After about six months, I was back in Converse and could walk several miles in them with no problem. Six months of daily work on feet that weren't in any kind of daily pain, though I did have the occasional bout of plantar fasciitis. Six months for feet that are not in shoes when I teach or when I'm at home. Six months from a pretty strong starting point. Six. Months.
If your starting point is always wearing shoes, always wearing orthotics, already in pain, think well beyond six months. You are looking at a year or more, at a MINIMUM. Wear the orthotics. Wear the shoes you have. But if you really want healthier feet, you need to work to make them stronger and more mobile. You need to do the work BEFORE you change the external support, and for as long as you intend to have healthy feet.
I did a whole series of videos about a year ago called Sit Less Move More Foot Week. (I've linked to the first video in the series. There are four in total.) They are a good resource for general restorative work you can do for your feet. They are also a good source of info about shoes and some of the problems with what we think of as good shoes. If you're truly serious about your foot health (which directly leads to overall health), I'd love to meet with you, in person or online, to help you create a practice for your particular foot issues.
So ... do you need arch supports? If you're using them currently, yes, stick with them. But consider that with better function of your feet, you might not need them forever. Start where you are. Begin to move your feet more as you are able. And in time, those feet will move more for you.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.