The Mind-Body Connection Is for Real: When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles

When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles - the mind-body connectionOh it was just your average Friday. Crying in yoga class for absolutely no apparent reason. NBD …

Towards the beginning of a yoga class I took last week, the instructor had us in rag doll. She spoke of letting the head hang heavy to release the neck and mentioned that if we tend to hold tension there, fully releasing can feel a bit unsafe.

I checked in with myself. The back of my neck felt really tight, as if it were under a heavy pressure. The thought of relaxing the muscles did feel a little (physically) unsafe. I took a deep breath in anyway and on the exhale fully released the muscle tension in my neck as best I could. That’s when it hit me.

Emotion swelled up in my chest and I felt intensely upset. Agitated, sad, angry–I was extremely emotionally and physically uncomfortable. Tears started to rim my eyelids, everything felt “off” and I wanted out of the pose, out of class, out of my own skin.

Then, just as suddenly as I was overcome with these negative emotions, they seemed to wash away. I felt fine. Great, actually. I could have stayed in that forward fold for the entire duration of class.

Whoa what the hell was that?!

When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles - the mind-body connection

WEARING | Fabletics bra (<–currently doing a Labor Day sale and giving you your first outfit for only $15!) + Alo Yoga Goddess Leggings c/o Amazon (also obsessed with the high-waisted moto legging from Alo)

A seemingly rudimentary yoga pose triggered a complete catharsis. Weird, unexpected, but the more I thought about the experience, the more it started to make sense to me. I don’t have great posture by any means. My shoulders roll forward and my neck looks permanently craned. Anatomically, it makes sense that I’d feel muscular tightness in the back of my neck due to this poor postural alignment. And on a deeper level–this is where the post gets a little “new age” and a few of you might roll your eyes haha–I see an interesting emotional connection as well.

Why do I have poor posture? Sitting at a computer all day doesn’t help, but it started all the way back in middle school when I started to become painfully self-conscious about my above-average height. Today I LOVE being tall, but being a solid six inches higher than every boy in the 6th grade is a true struggle for a pubescent girl (it was for me anyway). I would stand with a wide stance, stick one hip out, slouch downward, hunch my shoulders–anything to seem shorter next to my classmates. And that pretty much continued all throughout high school as well.

So in a way, that area of physical tightness also represents a lot of insecurities and less-than-pleasant emotions for me. Could it be that these past couple years of regular yoga practice have not only helped release the tight muscles, but the emotions onto which they were tightly clenching?

I’ve had this physical trigger of an emotional release happen once before when I was a kid. My mom brought me to an acupuncturist (not for any specific reason, just to get me on her patient roster) and when I left the appointment, I started sobbing in the car. I was agitated, uncomfortable, intensely upset for no apparent reason and just remember saying over and over again to my mom, “I hated that, I’m never doing acupuncture again, I hate it, I hate it, why’d you make me do that?!” But even then I didn’t really think the unexpected wave of negative emotions was really directed at the acupuncture. Rather the acupuncture had somehow released pent-up, unresolved sadness and anger that my body had been holding.

This was a bit of a random post, but I keep thinking about how cool it was to experience such an intense moment of connection between mind and body. As I physically let go of the tension in my neck, I emotionally let go of some junk as well.

Or, maybe I’m making something out of nothing and I just had a surge of PMS. I’m open to that, too. 😉

Have you had an experience like this before? Was it in yoga class? At a chiropractor? Where? So interested to hear from you guys on the topic–would love for you to share in the comments section!

P.S. Just realized that the title of this post makes it totally sound like I’m talking about farting. L. O. L.

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Pride in Ability vs. Pride in Appearance: Why Sports & Fitness Matter

Pride in Appearance vs. Pride in Ability : Why Sports & Fitness Are ImportantThe other day in a yoga class, I did 10 inverted push ups in wheel pose with ease and was amazed at what my body had just done. I felt strong, flexible and capable. I was filled with a sense of pride and kept thinking about how cool it was that I could now do things like that. I strutted out of that yoga studio like I was in a mothaf***in’ Beyoncé music video. In my (humbly deluded) mind, everyone I walked by on the street was throwing up their hands and yelling YASSSS QUEEN!

beyonce-crazy-in-love-meme beyonce-strut beyonce-walking

And I’ve had countless moments like this since fitness has become a part of my everyday life: crossing the finish line of my first half marathon; my first push up not on my knees; nailing my first unassisted headstand; getting through an entire ab block on the megaformers without taking a break—the list goes on.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the significance of these types of accomplishments: They’re all things my body did. I’m taking pride in my body’s ability. What a far cry from my college years when the focus was 110% on my body’s appearance—and my God what a healthy shift!

Before I go any further into this random-stream-of-thought post, I want to clarify that I do care about my appearance. I’m not trying to come across as preachy or condescending to those who workout to change their appearance. A desire to look good is one of the reasons why I stay motivated to workout and eat well, and it probably always will be. And that’s ok! I mean who doesn’t want to feel confident in a bathing suit?? The shift in mindset I’m discussing in this post is taking that tunnel-vision focus on appearance and broadening it to include other performance and ability-based goals. By doing that, “looking good” becomes a bi-product of the other accomplishments, rather than the only end goal.

Ok so now that we’re all on the same page and are crystal clear that I’m just as shallow as the next twenty-something… 😉

Bringing Ability Back into Focus

I think my life’s arch of fitness is one a lot of people probably relate to. Growing up, the concepts of “fitness” and “working out” didn’t really exist—because they didn’t have to. I was active playing outside in the woods or at the beach with my brother, neighbors, cousins, friends; I always played sports in youth leagues and then for my high school; I danced from third or fourth grade on through college. Without realizing it, sports and dance were my workouts. And with these activities, you take pride in performance and set goals based on ability. You practice so that you can do better. You take pride in hitting home runs, beating your PR, hitting all your free throws, perfecting your triple time step and one-footed wing.

Then comes college. I was decent at the sports I played in high school, but by no means was I good enough to play on a college team (especially UNC Division 1—sweet lord, no). I did join a student-run tap dance team, but soon lost interest. The activities I’d been doing as my unintentional workouts all my life were suddenly gone, and when you add to that lots of alcohol consumption, being away from my mom’s healthy pantry, and stress from schoolwork … hello, Freshman 15. Except it was actually a Freshman 20 for me.

My pants wouldn’t button, my boobs were being suffocated by my bras, and to my sheer horror, my belly would jiggle a little if I went over bumps in the car or even brushed my teeth too vigorously. Aw hellllll to the nah (said as Whitney Houston … R.I.P.). I realized I would now have to put thought into this whole fitness thing, and I couldn’t just rely on sports—I had to go to the gym. Talk about a buzzkill.

eastbound-down-real-sports-memeAt this point, I really didn’t know the first thing about how to effectively workout, but my sole mission was to lose weight. I wanted to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Had to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. So, ya know, I had a very realistic, obtainable, healthy goal in mind.

Woof.

Those college years of killing myself with cardio to try to look thin and struggling with horrible body image issues, depression and a wildly unhealthy relationship with food probably deserve a blog post/series/400-page novel of their own. The bottom line is I was working out for the wrong reasons, beating myself up trying to reach unattainable appearance goals, and as a result was never satisfied.

The shift for me back to ability was unintentional and gradual. After college, I mended my body image issues and, for lack of better words, got my sh*t together. I had started to get into at-home HIIT workouts, and as I became more knowledgeable about how to effectively workout, I continued to enjoy it more and more. Working out made me feel good, so even though I was happy with my body, and the weight I’d gained and yo-yo’d with throughout college was gone, fitness continued to be a part of my everyday life.

Little things would happen that would give me a sense of pride and keep me motivated. It sounds silly, but seriously guys I couldn’t do a push up from my feet all my life. The first time I did one, I think I may have cried. I contemplated ordering one of those little plastic trophies you get as a kid in tee ball off of Amazon as a reward. I felt like Xena Warrior Princess. Before I knew it, the things I was taking pride in were ability-based again. Crushing a workout had become my new no-hitter softball game. I wasn’t a pitcher in high school, but whatever, you get what I mean.

And don’t get me wrong, noticing muscle definition in places I’d never before also gave me a major sense of accomplishment, but the pride sources were healthily balanced. The beauty of fitness is that improved ability tends to go hand-in-hand with improved appearance.

The Problem with Making Appearance the Only Goal

There are the obvious problems with relying on appearance for self worth: Aging is inevitable; Our genetics and body type can make certain aesthetics unachievable; It’ll stunt the growth of your personality if you allow it to consume you. But I actually want to focus on something else. Oftentimes our appearance goals are (unintentionally) unrealistic because they don’t align with the lifestyle that makes us happy. We often want some ridiculous lingerie model body without realizing that the lifestyle required to achieve that appearance is actually the last thing we want.

And yes, I realize that the same thing could be said for someone who wants to win a gold in the Olympics–it has nothing to do with appearance, everything to do with ability, and still the lifestyle required to achieve it is definitely not for everyone. For the sake of my very thoughtfully written blog post, let’s just focus on my side of the discussion. That’s how these things work, right? Right?! 😉 Ok, back to it …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor me, I’m a huge fan of cheap beer on the beach with friends; cozying up with a bottle of wine and a good Netflix marathon; and drinking a silly amount of mimosas with my girlfriends over weekend brunch. While all these indulgences are only done in moderation, it’s still an 80:20 balance that I need in order to be happy. That healthy-to-splurge ratio would have to be like 98:2 for me to have washboard abs (that’s in part due to my body type–I tend to hold weight in my low belly). Some people can live with that regiment happily and healthily, but I personally would not be able to. You just have to understand where your own individual priorities lie in order to be happy. And coming from someone who has struggled with depression in the past, trust me: Happiness is one of—if not THE—most important component to a healthy lifestyle.

My (invisible) six pack used to bother me a lot and was always something I was striving to “fix” in the back of my mind, but shifting my focus to what my core can do has helped me find a lot of peace with it. My abs are strong. I can hold a plank for, like, ever. I can stabilize my body in a headstand. My core has great ability, regardless of its appearance. Eating especially clean and drinking a ton of water and no booze can certainly make my abs look better, but at the same time, drinking a few beers on the weekend with my friends is not going to weaken my core strength. It’s all about balance!

I do love the way my body looks (most of the time), but my goals are no longer defined by it and my happiness is no longer solely dependent on it. I wish that same inner peace to everyone, and that’s why I encourage you to find a sport or activity that you enjoy and stick to it. Yoga, basketball, CrossFit, Pilates–doesn’t matter. Incorporate an activity (or multiple activities) regularly into your life that makes you appreciate what your body can do in addition to how it looks. It’s so empowering!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole pride in ability vs. appearance topic! From which do you tend to draw the most satisfaction and motivation? Have you had any big performance-based accomplishments recently?

Sorry for the super long post and scarcity of pictures–I know no one wants to read these days haha. Sometimes I can’t help myself once I get writing!

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Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy: My First Session

My first hypnosis sessionLast Friday I talked about the theories behind quantum healing hypnosis therapy (check out the post HERE if you missed it), and, as promised, I wanted to share all about my first session. In short, it was awesome. I loved it, it was emotionally cathartic, and I gained so much insight from it.

I should stat by reiterating that everyone has a different experience with hypnosis—some people are easily hypnotized; for others, it’s a lot harder to access that subconscious. I mentioned in my last post that you visit three past lives to gain insight into your issue, but some people just see images from their current life, others only see one or two past lives—it totally varies by session.

Having practiced with 10 different people, my mom said that I definitely got “into it” more easily and deeply than most of the other people. This could be because I’m a very visual person—I’ve always been able to vividly picture things in my head and recall memories in acute detail. It could also be that growing up with such a spiritual mom, I’ve always been surrounded by alternative healing and am more open to these types of things as a result. Hey, it could also just be that I’m a total weirdo with an overactive imagination. Regardless of why it worked so well for me, it did, and I am now a huge supporter of hypnosis as a healing method.

The Topic of My Hypnosis Session

As I mentioned in last week’s post, you go into a hypnosis session with a question you’d like answered or an issue in your life you’d like help with. Personally, I had difficulty coming up with a question because I’m in a place in my life where I feel very happy, healthy and fulfilled. So I decided to go a different route, asking to understand a certain personality trait of mine: Being identified as part of a group of girls makes me extremely uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always had lots of close girlfriends and valued these friendships beyond words, but something about that group identity really bothers me, and sometimes I avoid frequent group activities with the same set of girls as a result.

Getting in “The Zone”

I didn’t know what to expect when my mom started—would I be totally under her control? Would I blackout? Would it not work? Would she trick me into admitting to all those parties I threw at our house in high school when she was gone?

It was surprising because although I was very much “in it,” I was also aware of my surroundings. I knew throughout the whole session that I was laying on my couch in Southie. But at the same time, I was seeing moments from my supposed past lives with extreme vividness, and feeling intense emotions as if I were right there experiencing each moment. It was like being two places at once.

To start, you get comfortable (I laid down on my couch under a blanket), close your eyes, and listen as the hypnotherapist talks to you in a calming, rhythmic voice and asks you to picture certain things (a beautiful place, a dog, a tree, etc.). She then guides you to “travel” to a significant time and place and asks you to describe what you see. For me, this was the first past life I saw. I didn’t go through every moment and detail of the life, but instead just saw a handful of significant moments. I would compare it to seeing short video clips of scenes from different parts of a movie.

Past Life 1

past life 1This one was the most emotional for me—before I even got a clear image in my mind, I was inexplicably fighting back tears. To summarize, I was a young Middle Eastern woman and involved with a secret, underground organization or group of people on some sort of dangerous mission. I was a very important asset to this group, and was trusted with executing some part of the mission that was life-threatening, if not suicidal.

Before leaving for it, I had to say goodbye to the love of my life—and when I saw this image, I started SOBBING. It was bizarre—I actually could feel the love that I felt for this boy in my past life, and seeing Past Life Me say goodbye to him made Current Life Me literally bawl my eyes out and choke on my own snot. Super awkward.

Welp, turns out I died on that oh-so-important mission of mine. The last image I saw was at my funeral, with my boyfriend standing off to the side all alone. It was devastating.

Sound ridiculous? I know. Had the hypnosis session ended here (and had it not been for how strongly heartbroken I felt when seeing that boyfriend of mine), I would have been like “Ok, Mom, clearly I’ve just been watching too many James Bond movies.” But my other two lives were a little more “normal”… 

Past Life 2

past life 2Unlike the first life, in which I really only saw scenes from the last few months or days of that life, I saw clips from the entire span of this life. I was a little (white) boy growing up in a small town down South during the abolition of slavery with a single mom and dog. It was a super simple upbringing, but a happy one. We were against slavery, and my mom even aided in helping a few who escaped from slavery (before its abolition) by letting them hide in a small shed we had.

In my late teens, I was somewhat forced into taking a job driving a carriage that transported African Americans to an auction block in our small town square. I hated it, felt morally disturbed by it—but there was this pressure from the town to continue it.

Because I wouldn’t be able to show my face around town if I quit, I decided to leave the town altogether, and traveled up North to live in a city (I think it was New York). Here I got into journalism and was very successful, but also lonely and unfulfilled. At some point during my time up North, slavery must have been abolished.

Eventually, I returned to my small town down South as a young adult. I started a small local newspaper and got the whole community involved and excited about it. I spent the rest of my life in that same little town, an active member of the community, totally fulfilled and content, had a big family of my own, and died at an old age surrounded by friends and family, utterly satisfied with my simple, but happy life.

Past Life 3

past life 3I saw bits and pieces from this life totally out of order—first me as an old woman, then me as a small child—it jumped around. But this is the story it composed:

I lived in a city somewhere in Asia and was very close to my father growing up. As a small child, however, I witnessed him getting taken away (arrested? kidnapped?) in a very traumatic way. Men came barging into our home and grabbed him while my mom held my sister and I in a corner and tried to cover our eyes. I tried to run out of the house after my dad, but he’d already disappeared, and I’d never see him again. (Seeing this part brought on another burst of awkward couch crying.)

I went through the rest of my life alone—by choice. Guys would ask me on dates and I’d be totally uninterested and just want to do my own thing. I never married, never had a family, and lived a very plain, lonely life. I would die alone as well, an elderly woman quietly passing away in a hospital bed, barely even noticed by the nurses.

I know…depressing.

My Takeaways from These Lives

So how do these past lives pertain to my original question about feeling uncomfortable being labeled as part of a group? In the first and third lives that I saw, I was very much alone and independent—even choosing this solo mission over the relationship with that boy I loved so much. And these were both very sad for me to relive. In the second life, although it was simple, I felt so happy and fulfilled being part of that small community—I felt so loved, and loved my family and neighbors and town in return.

So it wasn’t so much a clear answer as to why I’m uncomfortable being identified as part of a group, but more so a reminder of how important relationships and friendships are in living a happy life. You can still be a unique individual while also belonging to a group or community, and I think I need a little reminder of that from time to time.

In a way, I feel like the hypnosis session made me value my friendships more and want to put extra effort into being a good friend (not that I was a bad friend before the session!). It’s hard to explain, but I just felt really good after hypnosis. Happy, calm, refreshed—it was like a little weight was lifted from my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there to begin with. I loved it!

Photo credit: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Ok, now on to the comments—I can’t wait to hear about how batshit crazy you all think I am after reading this haha.

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