How long does it take to fix my shoulder?

Last year, I had a student with shoulder tension come to me for a series of lessons. His osteopath had recommended yoga.

We talked a bit and then he pointed to his shoulder and asked ‘How long does it take?’ He wanted to know how long it would take to fix his shoulder.

My answer, after thinking about it for a while was: ‘3-5 years’.

His response: ‘Huh!!?’

Here’s why it can take that long.

Because the change towards resolving the shoulder tension usually isn’t that long. A few lessons should see some progress. But the problem is that tension will come back. That’s because it’s rooted in habit. Not just superficial habit, but patterns of thought attitude and behaviour which have been around a long time and are hard to change.

Because deep change is difficult. It takes time and it takes practice. Both are big challenges, particularly in the beginning.

Because the change that needs to be made is immediate and simple. Simple is not easy. There’s nowhere to hide. You get it or you don’t. And most of the time you don’t. Most of the time I don’t either. That can be very confrontational, particularly if you have a strong thing about being right or about being perfect.

In essence, you practice over and over again to get something that is an overnight success.

So a lot of the 3-5 years is spent being compassionate about not getting it.

About dealing with the frustration and anxiety that brings up. About learning to practice with a strong desire for progress and at the same time letting go of any attachment to results.

Here’s the thing, if you do that, you’ll get results. And those results will be rich, amazing and bring you back to yourself. The practice is something where you can be you, without some expectation of what you can or can’t do. Then there’s a good chance that you’ll fix that shoulder thing.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

February 9th, 2018

How our brains and eyes come together to help us move

It’s around 8am and I just standing on my yoga mat and looking at the world. I do this everything morning if I can manage it. I’m not staring or fixing my gaze on one spot, I’m steadily deliberately moving my gaze around the environment, so I don’t miss anything.

It’s easy to miss something by jumping from one object to another so, I’m keeping the movement smooth.

It’s also easy to have a rigid gaze where the environment is there but I’m missing in action. So; I keep remembering that seeing is an action that happens in my brain and if I’m able to place some awareness in my brain, then I’ll be involved in that act of seeing.

After a bit I start moving so that I’m still moving my gaze but now my whole body is involved in supporting me as a I change my orientation to the environment. On a good day, this is how I do my morning sun salutation. It’s everything being there as a whole thing. And there’s a sequence that comes from my intentions that flows through to my brain, my eyes, my head and then my whole body.

In Yoga, this is called Drishti, which translates as gaze. This way of working was first introduced to me not by a yogi, but by the inventor of the Eyebody Method, Peter Grunwald.

Quite often, the way that we move when we’re whole is deeply buried within our intuition and we have no way of languaging it. It just is. That makes sense when we consider that we learn to very early in our lives and mostly through a simple intention to explore our environment. We try lots of different things; at some point it works and we’re crawling, rolling and finally walking and running.

Here’s a suggestion. Simply intend to include your brain and eyes in the way that your head moves and your body follows. Don’t change anything. Be kind, be generous to yourself, you’re just exploring something new. If you find yourself being too literal about what leads and what follows, think of it as brain and eyes being included your head mediating or influencing your movement.

The point is not to spin up into a critical, judgemental, perfect thing where you’ll never succeed; but to acknowledge that you already know how to see and how to move. Checking things out like this allows you to figure out what you’d like to change.

It’s easy to run into problems by trying to do something right, to end up imposing a fixed idea of movement that doesn’t go with that deeply intuitive way of moving.

The only true freedom we have is where to place our focus and our gaze is the physical embodiment of that focus. Making the decision to consciously transition your gaze without jumping while you’re moving is an act of courage . It’s an act against the habits of a lifetime of a restless gaze that jumps from this thing to that thing without ever discovering what lies within.

I’ll be exploring this and other things when I do my workshop on Yoga and the Alexander Technique on Saturday 24th February 2018. There’s still some spaces left.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

February 1st, 2018

What are you doing about your back pain?

One of my students came to me this week and complained about lower back pain. I did some work with her, but nothing really changed.

Then I asked her about her lower back, what did she think that it did? She gave a long and detailed list. I was impressed with her clarity; most students have to stop and think about that. But I wanted more clarity, so I asked her what was her back’s most important job?

Holding her up was the answer. Her back was not doing a good job according to her.

I asked her: ‘what if your back didn’t need to hold you up. What if the natural design of your back meant that you were always fully supported’.

It didn’t make much difference.

Then I repeated it, this time using my hands for reinforcement. When someone has a core support strategy that’s faulty, it can feel risky to even think of changing. Asking them to change cognitively doesn’t cut it, their mind spins into over-drive, their body resists.

They need the experience of having a real choice. That’s the beauty of Alexander Technique hands on work, it can give you the experience of having another choice. It’s incredibly rewarding for me as a teacher to have this skill to offer. She noticed a definite shift in her lower back. Then the rest is PPP (practice, practice, practice). Practice is still a deal, but it’s easier when you know that you’ve been able to do it at least once.

So, if you have a realisation that your body is working way too hard and it doesn’t need to because you have a faulty idea about how your body works, is it all over unless you can get to a teacher who can guide you with your hands?

No, there’s another option. That is about creating an environment where your body has no option but to let go. And that is restorative yoga, the art of using props to restore ease in the way you deal with the world.

I’m covering all the options (body mapping, hands on guidance and using props) in creating ease in Yoga using the Alexander Technique workshop on February 24th 2018. There’s still space if you want to sign up.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

January 26th, 2018

Calming down, waking up, Alexander Technique and Yoga

A couple of years ago one of my students showed up to his lesson visibly stressed and tense. He was really upset at the political situation and the angry rhetoric that was going on at the time.

He had come to me for a series of 5 lessons to help him to resolve a hip problem. One hip was noticeably tighter and more restricted than the other.

10 minutes after starting the lesson he was much calmer. And he was really surprised at the difference and the speed at which it had happened.

So, what was up? 

Well, I had taken a bit of time to remind him that his nervous system was out of sync. When you’re in fight / flight mode, your nervous system goes in sympathetic dominance. It’s the mode that gives you a boost when you need to take immediate action to save your life.

Trouble is we confuse what is really dangerous and what is just annoying or uncomfortable. In this case, the political situation was annoying but not actually life threatening.

I reminded him that his feet were in contact with the earth, that his sitz bones at the bottom of his pelvis were in contact with the chair. That gave him some ground support. But ground support on its own isn’t enough to turn a tense person into a calm one.

For that I needed to add in his natural ability for tensegrity support. The ability to be in contact with the earth and flow upwards away from the earth. This opposition produces a balancing effect on the nervous system. You calm down and wake up at the same time.

That comes about from a small movement of your head nodding a little forward at the top of your spine.

Then your nervous system turns on a dime, going from tension and misery in one moment to calm alertness in the next. It’s simple, but not easy because we often overdo /underdo it.

It takes practice, sometimes years of practice: repeating it again and again until it becomes the default way of dealing with stress.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

January 19th, 2018

Does your head really lead all movement?

In the Alexander world, letting your head lead and your body follow is one of the key principles to, well, pretty much everything. Everything you do has a body involved. The device you’re using to read this was built by other people and the software written by yet more people. Each person had a body. So getting a set of principles that lets you have a life AND a body must a good thing right?

Well, it is. But there are some subtle gotchas that get in the way. Daniel Kahneman, an Economics Nobel Prize winner and a renowned psychologist wrote an essay with the title:
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

It’s one of the key problems about being human and being conscious. The moment we start to think about something, even as great as ‘head leading’, we start to over do. To interfere. That’s why it often takes years of practice before an Alexander teacher can effectively teach. We’re all overdoers – but only on what it is we’re thinking about.

So what might lead us to overdo the thought ‘head leads, body follows’?

We’re hardwired to belong to a social group. So, in our efforts to be part of the Alexander tribe, we might over do. Or the opposite, we’re so into being independent, we resist or rebel
For most people, paying attention to their body is fraught with anxiety. We have scary stories about our body. That little niggle? Oh no! It’s definitely the start of something serious. So we over compensate.
Then there are sensations, feeling and thoughts that arise after we have the intention to let our head lead and our body follow. We are sensation addicts, constantly looking for the next body high and desperately trying to avoid any feeling we might find difficult. Being in neutral place with regards to feelings is something that takes practice.

So, bear in mind: head leading and body following is the best idea ever – except that it might not be as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it!

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

December 17th, 2017

Workshop report: The art of yoga practice, November 2017

We covered a lot of ground in the workshop. We did some body-mapping games to get head / spine connection and then to play around with different ways of pelvises relate to legs.

Then we started a very leisurely sun salutation, using some of the movements to do further mapping of how legs and arms worked. I modified the forward bend to include a mini squat (called monkey in the Alexander technique) as a way of practicing an important life movement. It’s a movement that really helps our spine when we need to change levels but most people over use their spines and under use their legs.

We played around with putting weight through our hands. One of the participants had usually experienced pain in her wrist when she did downward dog. I used this an opportunity to see how wrist bones worked, how force and energy are transmitted through our hands, into our wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulder girdles, ribs and then spine.

We did some work with upward dog / cobra. In particular, the under-valued role of pelvis and legs in this pose in support our heads to lead the movement. We looked at the real shape of a spine in back bends as opposed to a fantasy spine shape (it’s not an even curve, your lower spine and neck curve more than your upper spine)

After a long restorative Savasana, we did some individual work where the participants brought their own issues to the class and asked how to do some work with them. A sample of this included a person who wanted to work on spinal rotation within lunges as a yoga pose. Another wanted to work on rising to her feet after she had been sitting on the floor.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

December 1st, 2017

Raising fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue awareness

I’ve been asked to provide a link to articles on fibromyalgia to help promote awareness of this condition.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are serious conditions which can severely reduce the quality of life of the people who suffer from them. These conditions often present with a range of symptoms that are frequently mistaken for something else.

If you’ve been having symptoms like chronic pain or tiredness that never seems to go away, this is well worth a look:

https://www.verywell.com/fibromyalgia-and-chronic-fatigue-4014724

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

December 1st, 2017

Are you being honest in your yoga practice?

I went and had a massage recently with someone who is also a craniosacral therapist. We talked in the beginning and agreed that there would be a little bit of cranio to help a particular issue. The massage part went well. The cranio, not so much.

The problem was that I wasn’t completely honest. Me and cranio don’t really get along. But, I sometimes think that I should make use of it because it-is-a-really-good-thing. And a few of my friends are cranio people. So, instant recipe for failure. I agreed to have something I don’t really want.

So here’s a revolutionary idea when it comes to practice. Do you really want to do that pose? Or are you doing because … you don’t know which poses to do, you want to fit in, you don’t want to upset someone, you think you should like it.

Practice is optional. So, practice what is really you. There’s no simple formula for figuring out what is going to really work, you’ll just have to come along to my workshop next week and figure it out. And of course, I’ll be there to ask you interesting questions and give you support. Or holding your hand while you have a tantrum/sulk/fears. All of which are part of the joys and sorrows of practice.

Check out the workshop here

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

November 16th, 2017

Yoga poses, working our bodies natural design

I’m standing on the beautiful beach in New Zealand. It’s 2010, and I’ve finished Donna Farhi’s yoga teacher training course.

I’ve signed up for four day walk in New Zealand’s South Island. With me on the walk is a group of American tourists. One of them is trying to do Warrior II. He’s trying hard to get the perfect pose. I can see him visibly making an effort and probably straining himself in the process. Thing is it looks really uncomfortable for his body.

He’s put his left foot at 90° to the other foot and he’s trying to put his pelvis so that he’s in one line with his body. And the problem is that our bodies are just not designed to do that. The average external rotation of the hip joint is 45°, he was trying for a full 90°, twice as much as the average range. Someone told him to do this and he was trying his best to do it.

No criticism or judgment about this, I often find myself doing things that other people have told me to do without really thinking them through. And the result is often discomfort or sometimes even strain. I’m getting a little better at stopping that kind of getting-myself-into-a-panice-trying-to-fit-into-the-class-movement thing because, well, it just hurts too much.

Some of the problem is just simple view point. Take a look at Warrior II from the side and it looks like the pelvis is completely flat.

Vector image from pixabay


But take a look from another perspective and it’s obvious that the pelvis is at an angle.

Warrior II, image from Flickr

 

And that’s the main theme of the workshop in 2 weeks, figuring out how to practice in a way that suits your body. There are still spaces in the workshop why not come along and just see how it works for you?

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

November 9th, 2017

Stiff people don’t exist, they’re a figment of yoga teachers’ imagination

I’m sitting in Paul Grilley’s class about 10 years ago. He’s famous for debunking a lot of myths about flexibility by going back to looking at the surprisingly large variations in bone and joints.

Up to that point, I was convinced that I had very stiff hips and if only I did all the hip openers enough, I would have ‘open’ hip joints. He started talking about the variations in hip joint movement, that some people are naturally good at internal rotation, some at external rotation. Something about it clicked in my body and I went from an experience of stiff hips to hips that were moving easily.

My hips hadn’t changed in that moment, so what did? Well, what changed is that for a moment I was working with my structure and not the story about the structure I thought I should have, if only I did enough yoga. It was my first step into mapping my own structure.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the mechanism that comes into play when we try and move from a faulty sense of how our body is.

I had miss-mapped where the joint was, I thought it was further back than it was. So when I wanted to move my legs, I was telling my muscles to move an area that couldn’t move in that way. So, my muscles tried to work to stop the actual joint moving in order for the phantom joint to move. And since the only movement possible was in the actual joint, that was where the movement happened. So my muscles were trying to hold the joint and move it at the same time. I had a belief my hips were stiff and my faulty mapping of the joint was making that happen.

From Paul Grilley (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

From Paul Grilley (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

There’s another way to be stiff. Even if I have a good map of my hip joint, if I ask it to move beyond what it’s capable of doing, muscles will fire to protect my joint.

And then there’s the last way to be stiff, which is not to move enough for your body. If you don’t move enough, your muscles start gluing themselves together. (What is enough movement is a highly individual thing). This is genuine stiffness but is easily cured by movement. The final way is because you’re ill or coming down with something.

So, I’ve need to map my hip joints as a shape in my body. And I’ve also needed to have a sense of where the absolute limits to movement in that joint are. The absolute limits are when bone meets bone.

What would it be like to let go of the cultural story about stiffness? What would it be like to have an accurate map of our internal shape and range of movement AND then pick a practice that works from that knowledge?

Wish I’d known this earlier, it would have saved me many years of not understanding my structure and then trying to retrofit movements on my structure that later proved to be not a good idea!

Want to figure out how to do this for yourself? There’s still some spaces in my workshop in a few week’s time.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

November 3rd, 2017