5 Lessons From the Forest

I could have easily made this 100 Lessons From the Forest because nature isn’t one to skimp, but I do realize ain’t nobody got time for all that, so I’ve limited myself to five. Without further ado…

1. Things change. Often faster than you think.

I can walk the same trail everyday for a month, and it will never be the same. Just this morning, I was walking on one of my regular trails, and I paused to take in what had become a favorite view over the past few months.

The view was gone.

Or, I should say, it was entirely different. Shrubs had exploded in height with seemingly preternatural speed, and what once was a grassy meadow outlook was now a grove twittering with birds.

Everything changes.

This is good to remember when you’re not exactly thrilled with your current situation (it’ll change), but it’s an equally good reminder when things are going along swimmingly (it’ll change).

Accepting this fact can inspire us to be more flexible, less controlling, and more appreciative, because whatever it is…it won’t last. Soak it up, then let it go.

2. Living on autopilot can lead to trouble.

During my last hike, I encountered four different types of snakes. None of them were venomous, but it sure was nice to confirm this before accidentally stepping on snake face. Plus, it was fascinating to watch them, something I would have missed had I been zoned out on my phone or lost in thought.

On hikes, as in life, it’s smart to pay attention lest we go sailing over a real or metaphorical cliff.

While few situations call for hypervigilance, thankfully, most of us could benefit by dialing up the care and attention paid to the life that’s unfolding in and around us.

Our choices create our life, but too often we’re so distracted that we’re unaware we’re actually choosing. Life feels like it’s happening to us, not through us, and then we wake up one day, look around, and wonder–how the hell did I get here?

Why is my health suffering? Why do I feel unsatisfied in my work? My relationships? Where did my spiritual practice go?

Pay attention. Your life is happening right here, right now. You don’t want to miss it.

3. Life (and truth) is complex.

On a forest hike, everywhere you look you see multilayered life and complex interactions that boggle the mind.

Our ego deals in certainties. It doesn’t care if its beliefs are certainly wrong. It just wants to be certain. It will strip away facts with impunity in service of whittling things down to more manageable size. 

Life, on the other hand, is much more complex, which means that, ten times out of ten, we need to take action without knowing the full story. We have to do our best with the information we have access to, and that information is always incomplete.

The good news is that, while the ego flounders in uncertain waters, the soul/higher self/whatever you like to call your inner wisdom, thrives in it.

 The soul understands through and through what Joseph Campbell meant when he said:

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

When we embrace this, we build the courage to take that next step, even when we don’t know where we’re headed.

And we’re less apt to judge our fellow travelers when we understand that truth is never as neat and tidy and as-we’d-like-it-to-be as the ego insists.

4. You are inherently creative.

Life is constantly creating. Flowers bloom, turtles mate right smack dab in the middle of the trail (just saw this today), birds incubate clutches of eggs, and on and on it goes.

You, my friend, are no less a part of this whirling circus of life than the flowers, turtles and birds. You are creative (whether you like it or not).

You create thoughts, which create actions, which lead to the moment-by-moment creation of your life.

I always cringe inwardly when I hear someone say, “Oh, I’m just not that creative.”

To me, this is to deny the very mechanism of existence.

When we begin to see how very creative we are, and we own this, we take responsibility for our life. We see our creative mark on everything we experience, and if the scene before our eyes isn’t quite the masterpiece we’d hoped for, we know it’s up to us to break out the palette of paints, roll back our sleeves, and get messy with the work of creating.

Like painting, practice makes progress, and the “mistakes” are often the most beautiful features of the landscape.

5. Discomfort isn’t the enemy.

We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to get–and stay–comfortable.

We go out of our way to avoid uncomfortable conversations, physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, foods, people, sounds, smells, places, temperatures, and on and on it goes.

In the woods, discomfort abounds. Biting insects seem to love me best of all, thorns scrape, sun bakes, and mud cakes.

But then, just when you’re brushing off the seventh tick and untangling your shirt from a snarl of thorns, you see it. The fawn tucked away in the undergrowth, snow-colored spots and jet-black eyes. The waterfall just ’round the bend that utterly takes your breath away. The owl dozing in a tall oak, lazily swirling its head to lock your gaze.

Life is uncomfortable. It just is. But it’s also absurdly beautiful and abundantly rich.

We can spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to make life less uncomfortable, but we’ll have little to show for it besides spent time and less energy.

And discomfort comes with a gift: The realization that we can be uncomfortable and happy.

We can say yes to that difficult conversation, that annoying physical sensation, that weird smell, and when we give our resilience some space to show up, we learn how to relax. To breathe a sigh of relief that can be heard two states away.

Maybe we’re not as fragile as we thought. Hallelujah! Happiness doesn’t depend on micromanaging the discomfort away.

It was there all along, just waiting for us to stop chasing away the discomfort long enough to notice.

The movement secret most people don’t know

Mind Shift is a blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


In a previous post, I talked about the importance of varying up your movement and the fact that most exercise programs only tap into a small subset of the movements your body is capable of (yes, even yoga). You can catch up on that post here.

Moving Without Moving

Today, I want to illustrate how it’s possible to be moving your body as a whole–for example, running or doing yoga–and still have parts of your body that are stuck or otherwise immobile.

The easiest example to look at is your feet. If you’re like most people, you wear shoes. A lot. And unless you’ve sought out shoes specifically designed to allow for more natural movement (“minimalist” or “barefoot” shoes), chances are your feet are hanging out in those shoes, all day every day, barely moving.

To use the words of biomechanist Katy Bowman, your feet have been cast in your shoes, like a broken leg held immobile by a cast.

Your foot has 33 joints–33! That’s a lot of movable parts. And yet, if our shoes have rigid soles that essentially turn the bottom of our foot into a plank of wood whose movement is restricted to hinging at the ankle, and/or our shoes have constricting toe boxes that prevent our toes from moving, most of those 33 joints aren’t being used. We have sedentary feet. (And our ankles are getting seriously overused.)

Why does this matter? Well, for so many reasons that I can’t enumerate them all here, but let me choose three, starting with the most obvious.

1. If your current movement capabilities allow you to move your body from A to B, and you’d like to hang onto this ability, your feet are vital. Without functioning feet, you can’t move yourself around without some sort of added support–cane, walker, chair, etc. So if you’d like to continue moving, take care of your feet.

2. Your feet affect your entire body, so if they’re out of whack, you’re out of whack. Here’s just one example: When you walk, your body relies on sensory information from the feet (among other inputs) to send messages to other parts of the body to help make walking efficient and functional. For instance, when the joints of your metatarsals (the long foot bones connected to your toes) and the tissues between them make contact with the ground, sensory receptors send a message to the quadriceps (front of the thigh) muscles, triggering those muscles to help absorb the forces of walking.

This helps us move without putting undue stress on our joints and tissues, while also allowing us to move with more efficiency (i.e. without expending more energy than necessary and feeling pooped out even by minimal exertion). Here’s the key, though: This communication between feet and quads is limited (and even eliminated) when our shoes prevent our feet from being able to naturally spread out over the terrain. No spread, no communication, less functional walking, more wear and tear on the body.

3. Our cells require movement to stay healthy, starting from our time in the womb (here’s one study demonstrating that reduced movement in utero leads to improper skeletal formation). In an earlier post, I talked about current recent connecting a lack of cellular movement with a host of diseases. Clearly, movement is extremely important, and not merely from a “staying fit” perspective; without movement, our cells die or otherwise go awry. Returning to the feet, if you’re moving about in stiff shoes, there are loads of cells in your feet that are still starving for movement.

It’s Not Just the Shoes

This stuckness can occur in other ways, without a physical constraint like rigid shoes. If you sit for hours at a time, you are casting your body into a specific position. Then, when you stand up and head to yoga after work, parts of your body casted by sitting might have difficulty moving, even in those twisty, bendy poses. What typically happens is the more movable areas have to pick up the slack and move even more, causing undue wear and tear and leading to injury, while allowing the stuck spots to stay stuck.

Here’s a little exercise to see what I mean. If you’re like most people in this culture, you spend a lot of time at a screen or in a car. Your shoulders are likely rounded forward, either a little or a lot, and this limits your shoulder’s ability to move freely.

Reach toward the ceiling with one arm. Now, notice how much your ribcage had to come along for the ride. If you focus on keeping your ribcage down, how much is your shoulder motion limited?

While your body might be different, 99.9% of the clients I see have some degree of forward rounding shoulders limiting their shoulder mobility, and as we talked about above, when one part can’t move well, other parts have to make up for. In this case, that’s demonstrated by the rib cage being hoisted up to compensate for the shoulder’s limitations.

So, what’s a body to do? Well, the simple answer is: Move more, and move more of you when you move.

A more nuanced answer might look like this:

  1. Move more. Get away from seeing movement only as exercise (read this post for tips), as this opens up countless opportunities to move throughout the day, and not just during “exercise” time. Squat down to get pots from the cupboard. Sit on the floor in various positions while watching Netflix instead of adopting one couch pose. Reach up and grab the doorway above your head, etc.
  2. Gradually start to uncast your body so that more of you is actually moving when you move. Two fantastic resources are Move Your DNA and Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman.

That last step contains two mini steps. To get more of you moving involves 1) transitioning away from things that are preventing you (or parts of you) from moving, such as poor footwear and hours sitting or standing in one position, and 2) using restorative exercises and bodywork to introduce movement back into areas that, even when freed from their constraints, don’t know how to move anymore.

Again, Bowman’s books mentioned above can help you on both counts (if you’re in CoMO, they’re available at our public library!), and her website is a fantastic resource as well.

Start where you are: What’s one way you can introduce movement to an under-moved part of you today?

Maybe you can slip off your shoes at work and wiggle your toes.

Place items that you reach for frequently behind you, introducing a rotation to the torso and shoulder movements that might not happen otherwise.

Pick one of the movements from this awesome list and work it into your day.

Have fun!

I can’t fix you.

Mind Shift is a blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


One of my bodywork pet peeves is the concept of fixing someone. “Yep, I can fix your shoulder!” “Sure thing–lemme get in there and fix that knee.”

Nope. Not happening. Sorry, folks. 

Here’s why this concept drives me nuts: The way you feel in your body did not happen overnight. Yes, there are exceptions in the form of acute injuries, but even in many of those cases, the injury was made possible by overuse, weakness, or other patterns. The injury is often the straw on the camel’s back, but because it’s the event we’re most aware of, it takes the fall.

The idea of coming in for an hour of bodywork and fixing an issue that might be ten years (or more) in the making is…well, less than realistic.

In that case, what’s the use of bodywork?

I’m glad you asked.

I see bodywork as a powerful way to temporarily disrupt movement and postural patterns. Whether or not that disruption leads to lasting change and healing is up to you. 

While this disruption can happen in a number of ways, here’s a common example. Let’s say that you, like just about everyone else on the planet right now, has a forward-head posture:

Image Source: https://jivanchakra.com/2017/08/14/forward-head-posture/

I purposely chose this image because to most of us, the view on the left probably looks normal, while the one on the right might look forced and unnatural. That’s how common forward-head posture is these days–it’s the new “normal.”

The next image gives us a peek at just a few of the internal structures affected by this posture (in reality, it affects the entire body, head to toe).

Image source: https://learnmuscles.com/blog/2017/08/11/forward-head-posture/

The majority of my clients come in feeling at least some level of tension in the muscles shown above. I could work on those muscles for 90-minutes straight, but if the client hops off the table and goes back into forward-head posture, the tension won’t be far behind.

Any bodyworker who says they can “fix” this, without the active participation of the owner of the neck in question, is overly optimistic and/or misguided.

What bodywork can do is give you a powerful head start in changing patterns like the one above. If your head is constantly hanging out in front of your body, certain muscles (and fascia) are going to be chronically shortened, others will be chronically lengthened, muscles in either camp might be weak/inactive, and your brain/body holds these patterns as your default position.

Bodywork can help lengthen short muscles and stimulate the receptors of lengthened and/or inactive muscles, like a wake-up call to encourage those tissues to return to proper tone and action, all the while reeducating the brain/body that this new posture is safe to adopt (assuming the bodywork isn’t too deep, pushing too far, too fast).

Temporarily.

Bodywork creates a window of opportunity, but what happens in that window is up to you. Whether you return to former postural patterns or mindfully reinforce new ones is your choice.

Of course, massage also just feels great, and that’s a wonderful reason to receive it. This feel-good factor isn’t anything to scoff at, even from the perspective I’ve taken in this post. Being free from pain, even for a short while, is another way to create that window of opportunity. Allowing your nervous system to experience a different relationship to a chronically wonky muscle or to your body as a whole is a potential game changer, if you take advantage of it.

Use bodywork as the amazing tool that it is–and heck, just come in because you want to let go of a stressful week and feel awesome–but please, don’t give your power away to me or anyone else. The key to your health and well being is you.

Is your exercise program missing this important ingredient?

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


In the previous Mind Shift post, we talked about shifting from an exercise mindset to a movement mindset, the first reason being time. Today, we’ll cover the second reason: variety.

An exercise mindset categorizes movement into things like yoga, running, or weight lifting, and within each of these categories exists a subset of movements.

For example, with running, your body experiences a series of movements that get you from Point A to Point B, and those movements are pretty much the same every time you run. Of course, we could get into the micro movements of running over lumpy grass versus running over flat, level pavement, but even taking all of those micro movements into account, we’re still left with a limited subset of movements, given the full range of movements a body is capable of.

You’ve likely seen the headlines, “Sitting Is the New Smoking.” In response, there’s been a big move toward standing work stations. And sure, there are benefits to standing more and sitting less, but the overall problem of being in a static position for hours on end remains; we’re just swapping the static sitting position for the static standing position, resulting in our bodies inhabiting a teeny subset of its potential movements and postures.

And this brings us back to running. Or yoga. Or [insert exercise program here]. These exercises aren’t bad—not at all. They’re just a small subset of the possible movements your body can–and needs to–make. Yes, even yoga with its bendy, twisty postures. If you were to break down various poses into movements like hip flexion, ankle dorsiflexion, etc., the average class consists of a subset of movements performed over and over.

Let me repeat: This doesn’t make these exercise programs bad. I love yoga; it feels amazing, and I don’t plan to stop doing it anytime soon, but I do recognize that only doing yoga (or running, or cycling, or…) is the movement equivalent of only eating kale. Kale’s awesome, but on its own it’s not enough for a healthy life.

Shifting from the exercise mindset to the movement mindset allows us to tap into the fuller range of our bodies’ capabilities. When we think outside of the exercise box, we can grab onto a doorway and hang. We can start with our hands on the doorway at hip level, up a bit higher, a little higher still, hands above our head–each position adding a new movement variation.

While we’re at our spiffy standing work station, we can extend our foot behind us, top of the foot on the floor, stretching our ankle and foot in a way that it probably doesn’t experience very often. While we’re watching Netflix, we can sit on the floor and shift our arms, legs, pelvis, and torso into different positions, instead of letting the couch cast us into one or two predictable configurations.

Again, when we’re stuck looking at “valuable movement” only as working up a sweat while exercising, these smaller movements might seem insignificant, but so many of the issues we experience in our bodies are caused or exacerbated because we’re only moving our body in a limited number of ways and in a repetitive fashion.

In the next Mind Shift post, we’ll look at why this variety is so important, down to the cellular level. We’ll also see how areas of your body can stay stuck and unmoving even while your body as a whole is moving (e.g. while you’re running or doing yoga), and what to do about it.

The (surprising) downside to exercise

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


The start of a new year is a time when many of us dust off our workout gear and head to the gym, so it’s the perfect time to talk about a very important distinction: exercise versus movement.

They’re the same, right?

Nope. And the difference holds the key to creating a healthier life, so let’s get into it.

When we think of exercise, we’re typically referring to specific activities done for the purpose of improving our physical health—perhaps lifting weights to build more muscle mass or jogging to enhance cardiovascular fitness. This creates a distinction between the movements your body does, say, during a fitness run or a yoga class versus the movements your body does throughout the rest of the day.

Why should you care? In this post, we’ll cover Reason Number One: time. Unless you’re an athlete or fitness professional, exercise usually takes up a relatively small portion of your waking hours. Even if you exercise for one hour, seven days a week—something many of us would consider to be a high level of physical activity–that’s a small percentage of your life spent moving.

Let’s do the math: Assuming you sleep eight hours a night, that leaves you with 16 waking hours a day, or 112 hours in a week. If seven of those hours are spent exercising, that’s 6% of your waking time. Scientists have coined a term, “active sedentarism,” to describe this scenario that many of us are living in.

When we look at the numbers, I’m not sure many of us would consider moving 6% of our waking time to be sufficient for health, although we’re so embedded in our sedentary culture, it’s sometimes tricky to really see things for what they are, so compare it with this: If someone told you that they ate a healthy diet 6% of the time, and then ate McDonalds the other 94%, would you consider that to be a “healthy diet”? I doubt it.

When we equate “valuable movement” with “exercise,” we’re then in the position of trying to find more time in our already jam-packed days to get to the gym or go for a run, because we’ve decided that those are the only kinds of movement that “count” in terms of our health.

When we shift from trying to get more exercise to trying to get more movement, we begin to see all the different ways that we are—or are not—moving throughout the entire day, and we can make tiny changes that really add up, much more so than the 6% of time we’re able to make it to the gym.

Outside of our exercise time, we tend to think in terms of conserving our energy, and thus, minimizing movements. For example, our kitchens might be arranged to minimize how much stooping, bending, reaching, or squatting we have to do to prepare food, because how many of us consider squatting down to get something from a low cupboard important to our health?  And then when it’s time to eat, we reflexively sit down in a chair.

When we view exercise as the only means of getting valuable movement into the day, we mentally check out the other 94% of the time, missing numerous opportunities to move our bodies and increase our wellbeing.

Starting right now, how can you sneak more movement into your day by doing things that you’d be doing anyway, just a little differently?

Can you put your coffee grounds on the top shelf and your mugs on the bottom, creating opportunities for reaching and stretching and squatting? Free CrossFit in the comfort of your own kitchen!

Can you sit on the floor while eating breakfast, and let your body indicate when it’s time to shift positions, perhaps sitting cross legged, then legs out in front, knees bent underneath you, etc? And if sitting on the floor isn’t comfortable yet, can you sit on a cushion (or cushions) of a different height than your usual chair, changing the geometry of your sitting position slightly?

While you’re talking on the phone at work, can you roll the soles of your feet on a tennis ball, introducing different movements to the many joints and tissues in your foot?

All of these actions are movements, and they’re just as valuable to your health as hitting the gym.

Now, to be clear I’m not advocating that you ditch your exercise program. But I am suggesting that you see your exercise time as just one part of an entire day of movement opportunities.

In the next Mind Shift post, we’ll talk about a second reason for shifting our perspective from exercise to movement. In the meantime, happy moving!

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Can massage alter your genes?

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


I offer a type of massage utilizing a technique known as myofascial release. “Myo” means muscle, but what the heck is fascia?

Fascia is a type of connective tissue in your body (other types include bone and, surprisingly, blood). If you’ve ever made chicken for dinner, the silvery white membrane covering the meat (muscle) is an example of fascia, but far from being just a covering for muscles, fascia is everywhere in your body. Fascia surrounds and interpenetrates all of your organs, your muscles, your bones, and even your nerves.

Let’s look more closely at fascia’s relationship with muscles to see just how amazing it is, and we’ll focus on one of your quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris. For starters, fascia wraps around the entire  muscle like a wet suit, turning what would otherwise be just a pile of muscle fibers (aka muscles cells) into what we know as the rectus femoris. This “wet suit” is known as epimysium (“epi” = above, outer, over; “mysium” = muscle).

But the fascia doesn’t stop there: The muscle as a whole is organized into little bundles of muscle fibers, called fascicles, and each of these fascicles is wrapped up in–you guessed it–fascia. And then, like a Russian nesting doll, each of the muscle fibers (cells) contained within the fascicles is wrapped up in its own little fascial wet suit.

Source: Pearson Education

Check out the similarities between the above image and this diagram of a spinal nerve, which is also packaged in a series of fascial wet suits:

Unknown Source

Returning to the rectus femoris, this muscle is then anchored to your bones–specifically your pelvis (at a bony landmark called the AIIS) and one of your lower leg bones, the tibia–by tendons. The fascial wet suit surrounding your rectus femoris muscle extends beyond the ends of the muscle like the twisted ends of a Tootsie Roll wrapper and forms these tendons.

Source: orthopaedicsports.com

The key is that all of these fascial structures are continuous with each other. While science has divided them into separate structures and given them names, like tendons and epimysium, your entire bodywide network of fascia is continuous. The image above of a spinal nerve wrapped in fascia? That nerve fascia is connected, via this bodywide web, to the fascia forming your rectus femoris tendons, to the fascia surrounding your small intestines, and so on.

Even more interesting is recent research in the area of mechanotransduction. That’s quite a mouthful, but it refers to your cells’ ability to transform a mechanical input, like the pressure of the therapist’s hand during a massage, into electrical and chemical (electrochemical) signals within the cell. Hearing is another example of mechanotransduction, whereby the vibrational pressure of sound waves is relayed into signals that our brain interprets as sound.

What does this have to do with fascia? Well, more than we could cover in this post, but here’s one very cool example: Your cells have a special type of receptor called an integrin, and these integrins are anchored into the cell membrane. Think of the membrane as the little baggie containing all of the contents of the cell.

The integrins span across this cell membrane, and you can imagine them like a rubber band with one end dangling outside of the cell and the other end sticking into the inside of the cell. The end dangling outside of the cell is “plugged into” your fascia.

Let’s say you’re reaching to get a coffee mug from the cupboard, stretching your fascia as you move. As the fascia stretches, the “rubber band” of the integrin gets stretched, too, and it relays this mechanical information inside the cell, where it is then transformed into electrochemical signals. Why should you care? Well, these electrochemical signals have the ability to activate or deactivate your genes. 

This is huge, and it supports the growing field of research1 into the connections between faulty mechanotransduction and a host of diseases. It also begs the question: Is our sedentary culture leading to so many health issues, in part, because our cells aren’t getting the necessary stretching, squishing, vibration, and other movements that are vital to their–and our–health?

The next time you get a massage, think on this: So much more is happening than “just” the release of stress and muscle tension. You could be altering the very function of your genes.

Book Now on MassageBook.com!


1Ingber, D. E. (2003). Mechanobiology and diseases of mechanotransduction. Annals of Medicine, 564-577. Retrieved January 22, 2018.

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Life Lessons From My Sewing Machine

I try to stay open to wisdom from a variety of sources, but it isn’t often that I receive it from inanimate objects. Last weekend, I was working on a sewing project when–bingo! Lightning bolt of clarity.

In machine sewing, you use your hands to guide the fabric through the machine, and when I first started sewing I was what I would call an “overly agro sewer” (if your bro-speak is rusty, agro=aggressive). With my leading hand, I would actively tug the fabric forward, and with my guiding hand, I would push the fabric toward the needle. (Accomplished sewers are probably shaking their heads as they read this.)

What’s the big deal? Well, my stitches looked like crap, because most fabrics will feed into the machine just fine by themselves, thank you very much; they just need a little guidance to ensure that they don’t go veering off to the left or right.

In a similar fashion, when we’re overly pushy or pull-y in life, the seams and stitches of our days start to feel (and possibly look) like crap. For me, this manifests most often in one of two ways:

  1. “Pulling on the fabric” equates to trying to drag other people along on my plans, overriding their natural direction and rhythm. I can also drag myself along, overriding my natural direction and rhythm. (If you hear yourself using the word “should” a lot, pause and check for fabric pulling.)
  2. “Pushing on the fabric” happens when I’m trying to force situations to unfold in a way or at a pace that doesn’t feel natural.

Does this mean I need to just sit back and do nothing? Not at all, but my role is more about guiding the fabric of my life than it is about pulling or pushing it through. If I completely removed my hands from the fabric, the seam would likely start swerving and eventually get completely off track, but through the choices I make, I can guide the fabric along.

When I’m trying to decide the next step, I can be wary of options characterized by “pulling on the fabric:” trying to bring people along who either don’t want to come or who wish to travel at their own pace, as well as subjecting myself to rigid timetables or to-dos that trigger procrastination or resentment.

I can also be on the lookout for options characterized by “pushing on the fabric”: forcing events in non-organic ways. Pushing is sometimes more tricky to detect than pulling, so what do I mean by “non-organic ways”? If you’ve taken action and it’s met with continual resistance, a slow-as-molasses pace, or a rising tension in your body-mind-soul, that’s often a red flag that fabric-pushing territory is up ahead. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw in the towel (fabric pun!), but it could mean that:

  1. The timing is off. This could refer to “not right now–try again later” or that the pace is going to move slower than you anticipated and trying to speed things up will only create bunched seams, aka suffering.
  2. The method is off. Maybe you’ve got the right idea but you’re approaching it in a way that isn’t working. Experiment; try a different angle. Still meeting resistance? Refer back to Point 1.

Of course, there is the third possibility: This just ain’t the way to go. Not now, maybe not ever, and pushing the fabric through will only leave you with a bunched up seam (can we draw a parallel with bunched up, tense muscles?).

Guiding, as opposed to pulling or pushing, requires a flexible, responsive approach. We might set out with an idea, but as the fabric of our days moves along and we meet resistance, we have the choice to start yanking, start pushing…or adjust.

Resistance can be a very helpful reminder to pause, check in, and see if we’re forcing things, people, or ourselves to do things that don’t feel organic. When we notice this, we always have the option to return to guiding the fabric through and allowing the natural flow of life to provide the momentum, a momentum that we can then shape with our choices.

When we try to create the force of Universal Momentum on our own, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. And more to the point, it isn’t necessary, nor does it help. It just leaves us with bunched seams.

So, leave the generation of Universal Momentum to, well, the Universe, and focus your precious energy on guiding that momentum with empowered choices–choices that don’t come from a place of pushing or pulling.

The hidden messages of physical tension

In my own life and in working with massage clients, I’ve noticed a pattern: When we don’t create and maintain healthy boundaries in our relationships, it seems that our bodies try to compensate by creating physical “boundaries,” which we then experience as tension, constriction, or illness.

Here are just a few examples:

  • We say yes to plans that we don’t want to do, and then we get sick and can’t go.
  • We don’t speak our truth, we agree to things we don’t actually agree with, say things we don’t mean, and we lose our voice or feel tension in our neck and jaw.
  • We feel like we have to do everything ourselves or it won’t get done, so we take on other people’s stuff and our back starts to hurt.
  • We repeatedly ignore our intuition and walk into situations we know aren’t good for us, and our knees and feet start acting up.

Our bodies are wonderfully unique, so the ways in which your body compensates could be quite different from this list, but the basic concept remains: We need healthy boundaries to exist in this world, and if we’re not setting them in our relationships, our bodies will pick up the slack.

This might sound bizarre, but you are likely familiar with a more extreme example of this: trauma. Whether it be in your own life or someone you know, it’s all too easy to see the link between a traumatic boundary violation and the body’s ability to remember and “record” this violation in the form of tension, illness, hypersensitivity to touch, and so forth.

While this is a massive topic, too wide ranging to completely cover here, let’s talk about a couple ways to explore this concept in your own life and in your own body.

Find the tension

For starters, get in touch with where in your body you feel tension or discomfort. Quite often, we’re so used to feeling, say, constriction in our jaw or a dull ache in our knees that we don’t even notice it anymore.

Take some time to sit, stand, or lay down, and do a body scan, slowly moving your awareness from your head to your toes, sensing any tension or pain. If this feels difficult, try tensing each part of your body individually, and notice what it feels like when you release this tension. Can you sense that your body isn’t fully releasing in any areas?

To see what hidden tension feels like, try this simple exercise. If you spend a good amount of time sitting (like most of us do these days), you might be surprised by what you find in this pose. Lay on the floor, either on carpet or some other cushioning, like a yoga mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, heels about a foot away from your butt. An easy way to measure this is to start with your feet directly below your knees, then scooch them another 3-4″ away from your hips.

Rest your hands on your belly or down by your sides, palms facing down (don’t bring your arms above your head or up by your shoulders as this changes the stretch). Take some time to get in touch with your breathing, slowing down the inhales and exhales for at least ten rounds of breath.

Now, shift your awareness to your hips. Do you notice any tension there, any sense that something is holding on to keep your legs locked in position?

Then, try this: move your awareness to your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs), noticing the length from the backs of your knees all the way to your glutes. If you imagine letting this length elongate or soften, like a wet noodle, do you feel any resistance, maybe tension kicking in to keep your knees from falling open or collapsing inward?

Play with this for a few more rounds of breath, and when you’re ready to come out, roll onto your side and rest in fetal position for a few breaths before slowly moving up to a seated position.

Bonus: In doing this exercise, you also gave your psoas muscle a chance to release.

Play with symbolism

Once you’ve located at least one area of tension, focus your awareness there. For example, if your shoulders are tense, you might choose to close your eyes and bring your attention to your shoulders. What does tension feel like in this area–how would you describe it? Do any phrases or images come to mind, even if they don’t make sense?

Start to play with any words or phrases, any images that arise in a more figurative way. For example, if you described your shoulder tension as “shrugging,” perhaps as you turn it over in your mind, you associate this with shrugging in indecision, which then leads you to the awareness that you’ve become disconnected from what you want, think, and feel because you’re overly focused on what other people want, think and feel.

You see yourself in a situation where someone is asking you to do something, and while you don’t feel excited about it you find yourself shrugging and agreeing: “Sure, why not?”

This leads you to the realization that you don’t feel like you have a right to assert your own wants and needs, that it’s rude or selfish to do so, and you start to see how every denial of your own experience creates a little more stress, a little more tension in your shoulders until you can’t remember what it felt like to have shoulders that weren’t creeping up towards your ears, aching for a massage.

Help a body out

Of course, finding the tension and uncovering the emotional and energetic layers is just the beginning. To release that tension, you’ll need to combine physical efforts, such as bodywork and stretching, with creating boundaries in healthier ways so your body doesn’t have to do that for you.

If you continue to rely on your body to create relationship boundaries, tension will persist, regardless of how many massages or yoga classes you’ve had this month. To deepen the healing, you might try reading books about boundary setting, codependence, and healthy communication. This is a great place to start.

But like any change, you have to actually practice it and live it, not just read and think about it. Therapy is an excellent tool for unlearning unhelpful boundary patterns and learning new ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you notice that trying to set boundaries feels uncomfortable–perhaps you feel guilty or selfish when you say no–therapy can help you uncover the “rules” you learned, likely as a child, that it feels like you’re violating by setting healthy boundaries. It can help you rewrite your life rules on your own terms in a way that allows you the space to express yourself authentically.

And the more space you create in your life through healthy boundaries, the more spaciousness you will feel in your body. It’s a win-win.

The Upside to Not Having a F#&*ing Clue

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Dervish and the Mermaid, and Pace Smith, the show’s co-host, was recounting her and her wife’s six-month adventure of living in an RV, and specifically, what came up when they changed their minds and decided they were done living on the road. Pace struggled with a fear of looking flaky and inconsistent simply because life had changed and their minds had changed with it.

I’ve written in the past about the power of changing your mind (and the difference between that and being a flake), but here I want to focus on another aspect of mind changing: When we embark on a path, we don’t know where it will lead. We might think we know, but really, anything beyond the present is pure conjecture.

Hands down, the most common reason I hear when someone (myself included) is hesitant to take action is that they don’t know where it’ll lead. Yet, if we acknowledge that, in reality, we never know the future, this reason doesn’t hold much water. Not knowing how things will turn out is not a convincing reason for staying put.

Pace says:

If we had all the information up front we might not have made the same decision, but I think that would have been a shame because it was such an enriching experience. We might not have been bold enough to face up to the known dangers, but we were bold enough to face up to the unknown dangers. And I’m glad that we experienced them, and it was definitely the right choice.

This brings to mind the tarot’s Fool card, that necessary energy of curiosity and naïveté that allows us to take healthy risks and go with the flow rather than holing up in our house because we can’t anticipate and control every conceivable step.

This also ties into guidance. I have found that when we receive guidance from our Wise Self, spirit guides, etc. rarely are we given more than the next one, maybe two steps…and this can feel frustrating, to put it mildly. But while we might think we want the entire map, if we had it spread out in front of us it might be so daunting that we’d choose to stay in and watch Netflix instead.

When we’re only given the next step or two, we can take life in more manageable, bite-sized chunks, and this process is wildly effective if we take action on the one or two steps we’re privy to right now. But if we’re holding out, waiting for the entire map to appear before we take a single step, we’re likely to stay stuck and unsure.

Being okay with changing our minds is our secret weapon in this process. It helps ease some of the ego’s rising panic that every misstep will spell permanent doom and destruction. In reality, if something doesn’t work out we can pause, reevaluate, change our minds, and try something else.

And beyond the ability to change our mind, we will also benefit from the ability to not judge ourselves when we do. If we accept that the future is unknown, that we can only get information by interacting with life (and not by staying home thinking about what might happen if we were to interact with life), then there’s no getting around it: We will make choices, some of those will turn out differently than we thought, and we’ll change our minds.

It really doesn’t have to be any more epic than that, folks. We’re not expected to know the future. We’re not expected to stay and think and be the same from now until the day we die.

We’re here to learn, to grow, to experiment, to adapt, to change course, and to change course again.

While our culture might prize being consistent cogs delivering predictable, day-in-and-day-out performance, life has other plans, and we will be far happier, healthier, wiser, more creative, and more fulfilled if we give ourselves the freedom to evolve.

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Life Advice From a Demon

In a fantastic graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, the main character is having a chat with a demon who gives her a piece of profoundly useful advice. The demon says:

It’s perfectly normal to bury a thing that you’d rather not admit…We–in my profession–definitely encourage humans to keep secrets from themselves. Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!

So, let’s cut to the chase. Many of us spend a massive amount of energy trying to distance ourselves from what we’re experiencing—our emotions, feelings, needs, wants, sensations, you name it. We might say, “Not true! I get together every Friday to hash out the week with friends over wine.” But I would argue that hashing out, while potentially useful, is not the same as being present with our experience.

Being present means sitting with the experience as it arises. It doesn’t mean texting a friend about it. Or posting on Facebook. Or creating a story in our minds about why we’re having this experience. We don’t have to “figure anything out” in these moments; we just have to be and allow whatever our experience is to just be, too.

Feeling angry? Be present with the anger. Feeling anxious? Ditto. Feeling elated? Ditto.

When we choose to be present, we are choosing not to engage in the multitude of distractions available to help us check out: shopping, eating, whipping out our phone, Instagramming, zoning out, complaining, criticizing ourselves, and the list goes on. We aren’t narrating our experience through thoughts or words, we’re just being with it.

When we practice in this way, we might become aware of just how much energy was previously being thrown at distractions. Spoiler alert: This could amount to nearly all of our daily energy that’s not being used for basic metabolic function. Seriously. We live in a culture of distraction.

The good news? When we choose presence over distraction, we suddenly have access to this previously tied-up energy. Ever wish you had more time and energy to do the things you want to do? Start making deposits in the bank of Being Present, and you will likely be surprised by just how much energy you actually have.

[Cue infomercial voice over.] But that’s not all!

Remember what the demon said about keeping secrets from ourselves: “Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!” When we choose distraction, we create secrets. Instead of being conscious of our experience, we shove it away and add it to the Bank of Secrets, where it acts like a toxic sludge to our system.

All of those emotions, feelings, needs, and wants don’t simply go away because we’re not consciously aware of them. Oh my, no. Instead, they build and expand in our unconscious, and they dictate our lives from beyond our awareness, yanking us around like a puppet on a string. To paraphrase Jung, when we fail to make the unconscious conscious, we project it onto the world around us and we call it fate.

Today, what can you remain present for? Can you allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, want what you want, need what you need?

Each moment you have a choice: You can be present, or you can choose distraction.

Your experience is valuable. It deserves the space to just be. And the more you allow yourself to be, the more energy you will have, the less secrets you’ll keep, and the less you will feel yanked around by factors beyond your control.

Not too shabby a return for simply allowing what already is to exist.

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