“Our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done.
"And that’s what our country is like. And you may not want to go into that basement, but if you really don’t go into that basement, it’s at your own peril. And I think that whatever you are ignoring is not going to go away. Whatever you’re ignoring is only going to get worse. Whatever you’re ignoring will be there to be reckoned with until you reckon with it. And I think that that’s what we’re called upon to do where we are right now.” Isabel Wilkerson
“Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.” Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom
May we all do our part to be kind to one another and to ourselves
This is a continuation of last month’s newsletter, "Motivation". I am not sure whether Action precedes motivation, or motivation precedes action. I don’t really care. What I do care about is after motivation, then what? As Tom Robbins wrote in Still Life with Woodpecker, “How to make love stay”? So, you tried some yoga at home or following an exercise video a couple of times. What are you doing now?
The other day I had a very hard time doing my planned workout. It was a supreme mental, emotional and physical effort for me that did not let up the entire time. I thought of those of you who have shared with me your challenges of practice with out a class to attend as I talked myself through my workout plan. I wanted most to tell you that there are sometimes days when I really, really do not want to work out or do yoga. And yet, I carry through, the best I am able. Here’s why and how.
Okay, that was a bunch of whys. Here now for some hows:
The stuff that tries to get in the way:
I have never once finished a workout or yoga practice and thought, “Well I should have just stayed on the couch”. I usually come away with feeling better, if not telling myself, “Good job, Michelle, you did it.” Being able to move is a blessing too easily lost.
Please take good care of yourself and your fellow beings.
From Latin, moveō (“I move”).
I thought long and hard whether to continue efforts of encouraging practice or exercise without a live, in-person class. I read other trainers’ and teachers’ writings on this subject and reflected back on what it was in my life that got me to finally do it. To those of you who are practicing yoga or exercising- please set aside what is not of use and carry on knowing that I bow to your diligence. Others of you already know this story, but it’s the only one I’ve lived.
A long, long time ago, (well 1994-95-ish) I was having a really hard time getting through a 40 hour work week because my boyfriend at the time was having a hard time not getting caught drinking and driving. My co-worker kept reminding me that when his wife was having the same problem I did (in love with an active alcoholic), she found a lot of help by going to Al-Anon. He just wouldn’t stop, asking me, “did you go yet?”, for about 6 months. Finally, I did. Partly it was out of shear desperation, partly because I would finally be able to shut him up by saying “Yes, I went to a meeting.”
Fast forward to 2001. Going to those meetings created in me the understanding that I was not a victim of my circumstances and conditions. I could change, I could be different. I joined Weight Watchers. Over the months, the meeting leader and the program kept saying over and over and over, “You have to move, do exercise, be active.” Now I had tried exercise off and on. But I had never felt comfortable in a class or gym. Just walking 20 minutes straight was a huge deal for me. Then, only to finally be able to say I was doing it, I signed up for a yoga class at the local community center.
It was flippin hard! Downward dog my head would be yelling “This is too hard- I HATE THIS!” Warrior 2 my front thigh would be burning with seemingly unbearable fire. Yet, there was something in me that knew this was the kind of exercise I could do, just as I was at that moment. I didn’t have to be in better shape, I didn’t have to have a different body. I didn’t have to fit in with the normal people. I didn’t need to be liked by others. Yoga was a good fit for me.
At the end of every class the teacher would beg, “Please practice at home, just even for 20 minutes!” She would bring books of yoga poses to show us, always with the implied “there’s nothing preventing you from doing this but you”.
I finally gave in- just like the previous times. I borrowed one of her books for a week. And it worked. I had to put up baby gates to keep the dogs out from under me. I had to plan around and negotiate with the (different by then) boyfriend who found it inconvenient to him and inconsiderately pushed hard on my boundaries for a while. But it worked. I was doing it- practicing at home on my own. I was in a whole new kind of living I had absolutely no previous experience with. I was 36 years old.
“How do you define motivation? Think about that. Once you have a definition, can you write it down? Speak it out loud?” (Lisa Lewis, EdD, CADC-II)
I define motivation as that which puts me into motion.
“There are those who will gain awakening even if they don’t hear the teaching, those who will gain awakening only if they hear the teaching, and those who won’t gain awakening even if they do hear the teaching. It’s because the second group exists that he teaches everyone who comes to him.” Ajaan Geoff, Karma Q & A : A Study Guide, (pdf) pp. 23-24.
I don’t know which of you reading this will, like me, eventually be motivated by the incessant plea to practice yoga or exercise. Perhaps you are moved, inspired, by this story. Perhaps you are disturbed or concerned that you are not doing something. Perhaps you are tired of being tormented by your aches or thoughts or that I constantly write about it.
As I tell my (not one of those above mentioned boyfriends) husband, I will continue to bring it up until you report back that you are doing it. If you don’t know how or where to begin, I am more than happy to help you find a way.
Reader Alert: This post/email newsletter contains anatomical drawings of the male and female pelvises—male and female private parts. If you are averse to such images, please close this page and remove this email newsletter from your inbox. Thank you for understanding.
To paraphrase Richard Feynman, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” Yet, to then paraphrase Temple Grandin, I think in pictures.
This provides a bit of a challenge to write about what I have learned this month. I can start off with sometimes generalizations and colloquialisms are not useful. Take the term I have been using for years, “pelvic floor”.
"Some sources do not consider "pelvic floor" and "pelvic diaphragm" to be identical, with the "diaphragm" consisting of only the levator ani and coccygeus, while the "floor" also includes the perineal membrane and deep perineal pouch. However, other sources include the fascia as part of the diaphragm. In practice, the two terms are often used interchangeably." - Wikipedia
I learned there is a difference between the pelvic floor and the pelvic diaphragm! I learned that what I had thought to be the skill of “pulling the blueberry up the straw, exhaling with the exertion” isn’t the whole story for most of us. I learned that frequently other muscles in the neighborhood are activating instead of the pelvic diaphragm and, in the process, preventing full range of motion of the body.
Why should you care about all this anatomy geek stuff? Because not a single one of you came to Aspiration Community Yoga for a playdate in the sandbox. To a person, you came with a complaint of something bugging you- usually physical body, a few emotional or mental processes that you heard yoga would help with, and some even recognizing the three are of one in your being.
Because with our current state of social distancing you need to practice on your own. As Denise Benitez once said during one of my teacher trainings, “in the privacy of your own pants”, this is a strength, breath and mental practice you can do LITERALLY anywhere, anytime. Well, maybe except when you’re asleep, unless you are really good at Yoga Nidra.
Although Kegel exercises themselves are simple, finding the right muscles to exercises isn't. One-third or more of women and men who do Kegels are actually working their abdominal, buttock, or inner thigh muscles. They don't reap the benefits of the exercises. – Health.Harvard.edu
In an effort to meet Feynman’s measure of understanding, I will use Grandin’s process with the intent of making corrections and refinements to what I’ve been teaching these past several years. Here are some pictures and specifics:
To paraphrase Anna B Hammond, PT and co-teacher of the course I am taking:
Do you feel like you bear down with that inhale? You want to make sure that only about 10% of your inhale is going down and the rest is going into your back and sides. If you feel too much breath going down into your pelvic diaphragm and not enough on your sides/back then you need to focus more on work to release sides/back to create a more balanced inhale. You can also feel the insides of your hip bones and try to direct the air out to the sides there rather than all down. If you don't feel your breath go down at all and have fear of breathing down, then it could be that you're actually constantly clenching your pelvic diaphragm to protect it which would put you in the tight but weak camp where you'll need to learn to let go first.
Even when we are breathing under a brace your belly will extend a little just like pelvic diaphragm will lengthen some but most of the breath going into back and sides. That’s when it’s fun to apply deep breathing to a plank and feel the quiver like you never have before.
Being able to breath under a brace which is our eventual goal. So, you will be eccentrically loading abs as they inhale to help make sure you don't let it all go and lose your support. Cueing to aim more breath into the back is great. If you don't get the 360 breath and send the breath down then, you will fall into a shallow breathing pattern which isn't sustainable or dynamic.
“The action of slowing or stopping the flow of urine may be used as a test of correct pelvic” floor exercise technique.”
For me what was most surprising and illuminating was the news that yes, this is nominally a Kegel exercise, whether you are male or female. I was surprised that done correctly allows the glutes to soften and lengthen, allows the hip flexors to soften and bend. Not surprising, is the activation does not happen in isolation. When the levator ani moves, the “abdominals” (ugh — using a general term here in the interest of not losing you in anatomy speak) also move, as do the shoulder blade stabilizers and the vertebral stabilizers. They, in turn…. You get the idea, I hope.
Under load– meaning when you are bent halfway over, lowering your body onto a chair or car seat, walking up or down stairs, lifting a heavy bag, placing a jar on the high shelf, being pulled by a critter at the other end of a line or leash, could you “stop the flow of urine” in all these activities?
You may sense that the pelvic diaphragm doesn’t move at all, or not much. It may be in a constant contraction– always tight. It may be super relaxed. It may even just be right in the middle, reluctant to either relax or tighten.
In the privacy of your own pants, get to know the sensation of activating those muscles with out any load, without needing to go pee. Then sense around the glutes, the hip flexors, the area below the belly button and above the pubic bone, from hip crests to the center, and from the lower front ribs to the hip crests. What else do you sense engaging and letting go? What doesn’t engage or let go?
There’s no magic yoga wand or fairy godmother that’s going to tap you and make your troubles go away. The something bugging you– whether the physical body, emotional or mental processes that you heard yoga would help with, will only get different by building awareness of what is currently happening in there. After that you can decide whether this offering was of benefit and to be pursued further or whether to set it aside. Let me know how it goes.