Tag Archives: Health

A New Path: Thai Yoga Bodywork

For the last eight days I was in training to learn levels 1 and 2 of Thai Yoga Bodywork (there are six levels to get certified). It was difficult, and gratifying, and purposeful, and I learned so much more than just the curriculum! I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was going down a path that was worth pursuing. Even though it was hard, it felt right to me. I’m excited to share my experience, but first there are a couple things I would like to clear up! The main thing that friends and family have asked when they heard about this pursuit is:

What is Thai Yoga Bodywork?

Often referred to as Thai Massage or “Lazy Man’s Yoga,” it is officially called nuad boaran in the Thai language. It’s kind of difficult to explain until you experience it, but here is a pretty good explanation:

So what is Thai Massage? Well, for one thing, it’s not massage as we know it in the West. In fact, it is unfortunate that the term “Thai massage” has become so popular because that second word, massage, is misleading and inaccurate. Massage tables or oil aren’t used, there is no rubbing on the skin or kneading of the muscles, and the receiver remains clothed. The goal is not to work muscles , fascia, tendons, ligaments, organs and soft tissue, though these anatomical elements are positively affected by the work. Neither is its purpose to simply stretch and apply passive yoga to another person on a floor mat. At its essence, nuad boaran is a balanced blend of physical, energetic, and spiritual healing techniques and concepts. It is the skillful combination of applying both broad and targeted acupressure, finding and dissolving blockages, stimulating energy lines (sen), opening and toning the body with yoga-like stretches, and last but not least, allowing and encouraging the receiver to engage in a process of self healing, deep relaxation, and renewal.

Bob Haddad, Thai Massage & Thai Healing Arts: Practice, Culture and Spirituality

For a little more detail and some photos, check out this page at the Thai Healing Alliance International site.

What the heck made me decide to pursue this?!

Contrary to how it may appear on the surface, I’ve had a long-term interest in natural health and healing. I’ve also had a long-term interest in spirituality. I’ve done a TON of reading and thinking about both, but hadn’t really found a strong application for either interest. Well, I guess maybe it would be more appropriate to say that I hadn’t really applied myself to either interest. At any rate, a lot of this blog has been about me being stuck (it is sad, but true, that the blog is nearly 8 years old. Which means I have been feeling stuck for that long! Yikes! By the way – I deleted most of the old stuff because I’m wanting to refresh). I have just felt kind of dead inside most of the time. Not like I haven’t felt love or happiness at all, but more like I’m just existing: going to work day after day at a job that doesn’t excite me at all, so I can pay bills for things that don’t really mean very much to me, and spend my weekends drinking or watching TV or whatever to drown out the apathy and create a false sense of joy (some of the drinking was fun with friends! But you get the picture – not exactly a healthy hobby!). Life just didn’t seem to have much color.

Over the last seven years I have been making v e r y s l o w progress on getting myself unstuck. There have been many minor epiphanies that have created subtle changes in my thinking/worldview, but no big changes in my behavior. At some point back in February I had a huge babababaBANG kind of epiphany that made me decide to sign up for the Thai Bodywork training. Here is the epiphany: maybe I just don’t want to be a writer. And then: maybe I just really don’t care that much about art anymore. TaDa!

aha momentsI have thought that I wanted to be a writer for my whole life. Because I think I’m pretty good at it. I also thought I wanted to have some kind of path related to visual art. While I was growing up I produced a ton of writing and art, starting at an early age, because I really enjoyed both. But at some point during college I stopped doing both art and writing for the most part. I graduated from college in 2001, which means that I have spent 14 years (not to mention $40,000 on a master’s degree) trying to beat myself into pursuing dreams that had ceased to be dreams. I thought I had a giant fear complex. I thought I was just too insecure. I thought I was lazy and unfocused. I thought so many things that basically amounted to “I’m not good enough.” The truth is that I had built so much of my self-image around those dreams that it never once occurred to me that maybe I just wasn’t interested and didn’t want to do it anymore. You guys, this was completely mind-blowing!

It took me about a month to grieve my old dreams…then I started thinking seriously about what I really DO care about. I asked myself: what are the things that excite you? What are the articles that you actually read? What are the stories that you tune into? What are the conversations about that you most enjoy? They are about lives, spirituality, nature, natural health, environmentalism, and freedom. What do these things have in common? HEALING.

So combine the epiphany, my interests (including my love of yoga), and the business that my husband just started (bodywork), and Thai yoga bodywork seemed like a natural place to start in a new direction!

AND THEN, lo and behold…once I figured out that writing isn’t my Path (with a capital P), and am doing something that feels right for me, suddenly I feel like writing again! Go figure.

An Unintentional 10 Miles

One of the many amazing things about living on the farm is that it is 2 miles away from the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area (SRA). That means that David and I have a lot of options for hiking, which is one of our favorite things. But this is not one of my hiking posts. I will do some more of that in the Summer (I totally just capitalized summer without thinking. Because in Minnesota summer is important and precious enough to be a proper noun!).

One of our favorite hikes is a 5-mile loop in the Louisville Swamp unit of the SRA. We had a rare no-plans day off on Saturday, so we headed out despite the balmy 23 degree weather. It’s not a very difficult hike, but I hadn’t done it since October, and my fitness level has plummeted over the winter (possibly the worst plummet in the history of my life, which is saying a lot because I’ve been pretty bad before), so I was damned tired by the end. At mile 4 there is a land bridge across the swamp. A land bridge that had been plowed through to allow for spring melt. What. The. Shit. Why was there nothing posted about this painful reality somewhere along the trail? There was no way around it.

Since we are somewhat experienced hikers who clearly feel that at some point we should be able to trust our instincts, we made the same mistake that we have made many times before. We thought that there must be a shorter way than walking back around on the same trail we had just traveled. Why choose the path of least resistance, right? No. Instead we added at least an additional 2 miles on new trails by trying to read the most non-helpful trail maps in the universe (if the “you are here” marker is so big it covers up the options for turning, that can create quite a problem), and eventually ended up back on the original trail anyway.

I had been in an obnoxiously chipper mood for the first four miles, while my husband had been a bit cranky (he wasn’t feeling the activity that day due to general winter malaise). As soon as we realized that crossing the swamp was not an option for getting back to our car, my mood quickly swung to “do not talk to me. Or look at me, for that matter.” The extra mileage didn’t improve matters. In other words: barely containing my rage. David has a history of choosing moments such as these to suddenly become wildly optimistic and Clark-Griswoldesque:

Source: brainguidance.com

Source: brainguidance.com

He literally says things, non-sarcastically, like “look at that! Are ya taking this all in?!,” while flinging out his arms as if to embrace the world. I can never tell in those moments whether he’s actually trying to cheer me up, or if he has a death wish.

Also, of course, the elastic waistband on my yoga pants chose to fail as we were on our trek back to the car, requiring me to tug upward on my pants and underwear every 15 feet or so. Because the tiredness, wind-burn, and Clark Griswold weren’t enough.

Needless to say, we did make it to the end mostly-intact. By the time we reached the parking lot, the dogs were looking at us reproachfully (that says a lot, since usually hiking is the best thing besides tennis balls and bacon), and we were very red-faced, hungry and dehydrated. A 10 mile hike is usually a fun thing when that’s what we plan on.

I suppose in the end it’s a lesson in being prepared and being able to be in the moment without getting all pissy when your plans take a turn. I seem to stumble into endless opportunities to learn that lesson…

Wind burn

Wind burn

An Unusual Time for New Awareness

David and I are now nearing the end of phase one of the detox/elimination diet. If I would have been thinking carefully about timing, I might have considered that I was still going to be in the most difficult phase of the diet on the one day each month (well, the one reliable day, anyhow!) that I go batshit crazy. A day that has been known for years in our household as “Crazy Thursday,” though this time it arrived one day early. In case you haven’t figured it out: “Crazy Thursday” ushers in my “time of the month.” Don’t worry, Gents, this isn’t going to be terribly graphic (unless you are one of those guys that likes to pretend that periods don’t happen at all).

Typically on my day of PMS, I am a cryer, not a fighter. I don’t get irritable (unless some jackass is foolish enough to say “whatsa matter, that time a the month?”) I have meltdowns. Like, everything that I have been frustrated, sad, or angry about for the last month wells up and I just have to cry it all out for about two hours. This is best done by myself. In fact, David doesn’t even react to it anymore (we’ve been together nine years – I give him a pass. After it’s over, of course. While it’s happening he is a total asshat in my head for not trying to comfort me!).

When the sadness hit me on Wednesday, I thought “uh oh. Without any of my usual self-soothers, am I going to go totally nuclear?” Strangely, I did not. Rather than having an epic meltdown, I just maintained a certain level of blue all day. I didn’t even shed any tears! So weird! I almost felt robbed! “WHERE IS MY MELTDOWN?!”

Then it hit me. My obsessive thought is gone. I haven’t been turning and turning the same thoughts over in my mind for a few days. Without the obsessive thought, there’s nothing to fuel a meltdown. The reasons for being sad or angry or frustrated occur to me, and I feel down, but I’m not beating them to death enough to sit and cry for two hours. Reason sets in at a normal enough pace so that my brain is going “huh, that sucks, but your whole life doesn’t suck.” Wow.

So, I guess that’s positive detox result #1! Of course, I have no idea what it was that was contributing to my racing mind. I won’t know that for several weeks (if ever I can get that specific – elimination diets are a limited tool of measurement)! But it’s pretty cool to check in on my brain and find that it’s thinking about whatever it is I’m doing at the moment, instead of obsessing about a million things I can’t do anything about!

A Time of Preparation

Although I frequently allude to spirituality here, it’s pretty rare for me to talk much about religion. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not big on organized religion at all. I’m not into dogma; though I believe religion can do very good things for people, I don’t think that any particular religion has the golden key to “salvation.”  That being said, I have no problem still self-identifying as what is perceived to be one of the most dogmatic faiths around: Catholic. There’s some further clarification in this post, if you care to know more about my perspective on the topic!

Anyhow, today is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 6 week time of preparation before Easter (the resurrection of Christ, and for a lot of Christians and our not-so-subtly-hidden pagan histories, the official start of spring). It is meant to be a time of contemplation, and a time of penitence. I am fine with contemplation part, but penitence (which essentially means deep remorse and shame for what a rotten person you are) doesn’t really jive with me so much. Personally I feel like Jesus would be more down with me spending this preparation time getting ready to be a better person than beating the crap out of myself. So, contemplation of where I’ve gone wrong and where I can improve is fine.  Self-punishment: not so much.

Since I’m not into penitence, I haven’t really given anything up for Lent since I moved out of my parents’ house.  Even when I did live at home, my parents weren’t that big on it either. We did not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that was about it. However, this year it has dawned on me, in relation to Lent, that giving things up doesn’t necessarily have to be self-punishment. It can be an exercise in contemplation and preparation as well. Duh. Fasting has been used in all sorts of spiritual practices for a billion years.

Accordingly, I have chosen this time to do an elimination diet. This means that I am giving up a lot of stuff. However, rather than punishing myself, I look at this as a a time to face some demons (physical addictions as well as emotional struggles) and come out with better clarity of mind and vitality of spirit. Seems like a perfect Lenten practice for me!

I will be posting about the diet, and lots of other wellness-related things, in more detail on my BRAND NEW health and wellness blog, The Cranky Hippie (more tomorrow about the decision to start a new blog on top of this one that I haven’t been consistent with)!

Finally, on top of the elimination diet and being a more consistent blogger, I might try to delve back into The Artist’s Way as a means to kind of jump-start my spirit/intellect a bit.The hubby and I have made a point of keeping our social calendars pretty clear during this time so we can rest and have down time to recharge our batteries for spring. But I will have to see how I’m feeling with the other changes.  Elimination diets (also somewhat of a “cleanse”) can be kind of difficult and draining at times, so I want to be sure to not press myself too hard. We’ll see how it goes!

Is “Ridiculous” kind of like “Crazy”?

Like, if you’re aware enough to know you’re ridiculous, you’re probably not that ridiculous? I hope so! Because:

Recently I gave everyone in a five block radius downtown a dirty look. Especially the ones that looked too cheerful. Maybe there’s no hope for me anymore. Maybe I will never be able to “bring back the love” again. Or, maybe I’m just a person who gets frustrated by the same things as everyone else, but just happens to have a bit of a dramatic flair when expressing displeasure! The jury is still out.

Things started out well that day: I got up and got to work early enough so I could make it to my favorite Yoga class at 4:00. The day was a pretty easy work day. I felt generally peaceful, and find that my mood has been greatly improved by my upgrade to a window cubicle at work (totally bragging! I get lots of sunshine now during the day and it has been SO AWESOME!). Anyhow, everything was going down according to plan. I left work on time, walked across downtown to catch my bus, and got to the bus stop right as my bus was pulling away.

I figured, “no big deal.” It’s a high-traffic bus, so I thought that there would be another one in about 5 minutes. I looked at the schedule and I was wrong. There wouldn’t be another one for 20 minutes. Having to wait for 20 minutes would be DISASTROUS! Not because I would miss class, but because I wouldn’t get there early enough to secure a spot in the back of the room, and avoid any possible judgements about my yoga form or less than tiny ass (yoga is supposed to be non-judgmental, but frankly, in Uptown, I have my doubts).

Rather than doing what any sensible public transit user knows to do, and just waiting for the next bus, I foolishly tried to take matters into my own hands and ran to try to catch a different bus. Ya know that quote from The Princess Bride, “never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”? Well, this is like that, except something to the effect of: “Never go in against Metro Transit when timeliness is on the line.” Unlike Westley in The PB, you will never, EVER win. And thus, I fell into the dreaded “bus void.”

I spent the next twenty minutes running back and forth between bus stops trying to catch a bus, and missing them every time. The entire time I was cursing god in my head, because there was a strong and absolutely frigid wind that day: “Really? Really, god? I’m already mad, and stuck in some kind of transportation vortex, why don’t you go ahead and freeze my face off too!” Anyone that I saw who looked cheerful (why wouldn’t people look cheerful? It was Friday afternoon!) automatically got the look of death. I might as well have been shaking my fist at people. I’m sure I looked insane.

Obviously, I should have just waited for the original bus. At least I would have made it to Yoga. Instead, I was just shit outta luck all round. This is what happens when I try to grab too much control. The universe just kicks me in the teeth. So, having missed my class, and having already learned my yogic lesson for the day (let go!), and not wanting to subject my husband to the mood I was in, I did surrender. To the bar. Where I drank two Leinenkugels and wrote in my journal. I guess there’s more than one way to find your bliss!

Chaos Backstory: The Wonder Years

I started writing this post in August. I promised to post it in November. And now, as the year is drawing to a close, I’m finally ready to put it up. Because as I wrote in this post, I think it’s important to know the backstory when attempting to frame up the future.

I have never, at any point in my life, been what people would have considered “dangerously” thin. I have been slightly underweight, but nothing that anyone would have seen as cause for concern. More of my life has been spent being overweight.  Nobody could ever see that there was anything wrong with me (aside from being “fat”); and therefore, as people gradually learned about the eating disorder (ED) that I was actually treated for, they tended to write it off as a phase. In their eyes, my ED didn’t go on long enough to constitute a major life event.  I was never at death’s door. And “obviously” they couldn’t have been that serious, since I “allowed” myself to get fat again. The truth in reality is that I have had eating disorders in one direction or the other for almost my entire life, and for me they have always been a serious issue, despite what may or may not have been perceivable to others.

When I was in grade-school, I was painfully shy, but it’s hard to say which came first: the shyness, or the bullying. I was never a skinny kid; I was always a little bit rounded. But I was never overweight until I was seven.  My family moved to a new neighborhood that year. It was the year that intensive attention began being paid to my little brother and his special needs for getting through school. By default, or by virtue of not having any problems, I was on my own. Unfortunately, that was also the year that I was first allowed free reign in the kitchen. Since my eating was no longer being monitored, I did what any depressed seven-year-old would do: I ate a ton of junk food. It wasn’t lost on my classmates that I was getting bigger. The teasing started, and it didn’t stop until I decided to switch to public school for junior high, instead of going on to private high school with the rest of my classmates. It didn’t stop, even though I did actually lose a lot of the weight between dieting (I started dieting at age nine) and growth spurts before I left.

When I moved on to junior high, even though I was starting with a clean social slate, I had two major problems to contend with: 1. I had stopped growing at age 11, and my body was already fully developed, 2. Thanks to the previous seven years, it was already deeply ingrained in my head that I was fat, and therefore did not deserve love, kindness, sympathy, respect, or pretty much anything good. Obviously, the latter was to be the bigger problem.  The chip on my shoulder ensured that I still got targeted. Some of the more harrowing experiences happened during those years (being picked on while undressing in the locker room, having to file an on-campus restraining order because one of the few bullies from grade school that also switched to public school was still following me around the hall in high school yelling fat-based slurs).

Throughout jr. high and high school, I did make many good friends. A good core group of friends was something that I had been lacking before, and it was such a relief to finally feel like I wasn’t all alone. But I still always saw myself as the ugly duckling, and in hindsight, that warped vision of myself had already begun to create a much different internal world for me than what others saw on the outside. The body dismorphia aspect of an ED was definitely in full effect by the time high school rolled around.

I was always bracing for the next emotional hit,  and had therefore developed a bit of a sharp edge. I cringe when I think about some early attempts that boys made at asking me out. I was incapable of seeing myself as attractive, and completely used to being defensive about my appearance. One clear incident was a boy who was perfectly nice and not at all the type to be cruel, that attempted to ask me out and was met with an incredulous “no!” simply because I couldn’t believe that he was asking me out. I thought that he was being sarcastic and just teasing. He never spoke to me again – for good reason! I had unknowingly totally mortified him! Sadly, this would become a bit of a pattern in my early romantic life. I often didn’t realize until it was completely too late that my behavior , based on my own reality that others had no idea about, would seem totally bizarre and confusing to normal people who thought that I was a normal person.

Tomorrow: As if College Wasn’t Crazy Enough.

Just Start

It’s beginning to be very clear that I started a progression in May when I began trying to take off the excessive weight I had gained. I guess that somewhere in me I knew that if I just started to reach for one piece of one goal (good health) and actually stuck with it for awhile, believed in it, that the path to the others would naturally unfold in front of me.  I just needed to have a little help and a little faith that it wouldn’t be as hard as it seemed. I mean, people get over heroin addictions, right? Or Meth.  Or alcoholism. Or smoking cigs for 33 years (seriously, if my mom can quit smoking after that long, I should be able to, right?!).

It has been amazing how one piece of one goal leads to another piece. When I haven’t been trying to do everything all at once, and have just been focusing on one thing at a time, it has been so much easier to move right from one thing to another. I started with weight-loss and food issues because that is the hardest and most long-term health issue I’ve had. I have had an eating disorder of one kind or another for my entire life.

After five months of having my eating issues under control, the decision to quit drinking came very naturally to me. I didn’t need to force it because I had learned through dealing with my eating issues that alcohol is escapism for me. It was also a major contributor to the weight gain, and a major detractor from spending my time in a meaningful manner. Alcohol was a much more minor addiction for me than food. In fact, I think that alcohol itself isn’t an addiction for me at all; it is a secondary addiction (which I’ll go deeper into in a later post).

After six months of having my eating issues under control, and three weeks of being a non-drinker, continuing to smoke cigarettes was just seeming silly. There was nothing really satisfying about it anymore. It was just putting a dimmer on my other accomplishments.  By all accounts my body should have been feeling a lot better minus the bad eating habits and the drinking. But I still felt like crap thanks to smoking: swollen sinuses, shortness of breath, fatigue, etc.  I realized that I was only continuing to do it out of fear. If I was able to stop using food like a drug, and to stop drinking as escapism, what was I scared of? I know I can do this. I am doing it.

It is true that elements of all the health changes I’ve made have been difficult (I plan to write about some of my challenges, learnings, and experiences here over the next week or so). But they haven’t been nearly as bad as I made them in my mind during the years (years! Sad.) when I had so much trouble just getting started. The surprising part is that the gains from making one change have been so exponential. Once you start to feel good again (or, maybe even for the first time!), you actually want to do more stuff that will make you feel better – even if it’s stuff that seemed impossible before. Weird, right?

I know this sounds so cliché. It sounded that way to me for a long time. But seriously: just start. It does get easy eventually!