Iowa Seeker Wellness

uniting body~mind~spirit

January 22, 2017
by Rachel
2 Comments

What’s Magic Got to Do with It?

“If you feel you don’t have enough, you hold on to things. . . . But if you feel you have enough, you let go of things.” – Garth Stein, A Sudden Light (Simon & Schuster 2014).

One of my intentions after quitting my job in December 2015 was to declutter my house. So after throwing myself a party and spending the following week consuming party leftovers and rereading Harry Potter, it was time to declutter. Except I was stumped on how to tackle this monumental task. My friend and coworker Nan saved the day by giving me a copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press 2014). Here was someone who could tell me how to go about this. I spent a couple days reading the book and then began.

First, Kondo instructs you to think about how you want to feel in your home and why. She says, “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.” I thought about it, then wrote:

I want to simplify my life – less clutter, fewer choices, more time and more freedom, less to clean and worry about. I want to live a life I don’t want to escape from. I want my home to feel simple and light, easy to move through because there’s space. Why? So I have more time to do things I enjoy, so I don’t feel weighed down by so much stuff. So I can feel free.

Next, Kondo says you must work by category, not by room, and begin with things most people have a lot of: clothes and books. I draped all my clothes on the living room furniture and made a huge pile on the floor of those clothes that didn’t “spark joy.” Although Kondo says discerning what sparks joy and what doesn’t is easy, I found that not to be true. My head got into the game and I overthought things. But what I knew was that I was tired of having to swap the contents of the closets in my house or haul up clothes from bins in the basement when the seasons changed, and that I no longer needed all those suits I’d worn as an attorney. The reality is that I wore very few of my clothes and that my change in lifestyle, as well as my intention for simplicity and freedom, dictated that all my clothes fit in the dresser and closet in my bedroom.

Two of Kondo’s ideas that I fell in love with were that our things have energy and want to be used; if we are not using them, best to pass them on to someone who will, and that we should ask our things where they want to be placed. When I finished sorting through the books stashed haphazardly on the bookshelf in my office (while still doing battle with the illusive “spark of joy”), I asked the remaining books where they wanted to be placed. I was surprised to learn they had no desire to be returned to the bookshelf and wanted to be housed in the cabinet of the built-in hutch in my dining room. The hutch contained many dishes that I only occasionally – or never – used. Before I could put the books away, I had to go through the cabinets, which was quite easy to do as none of the dishes held any sentimental value for me. I had intended, with all the zeal of someone who has lived a compartmentalized life, to place the books on one side and the dishes on the other side of the cabinet, until my friend Becky suggested I intermingle them. My word! “First I quit my job as an attorney to go to massage school, and now I let my books and dishes fraternize, what will happen next?” I quipped. The effect was surprisingly pleasing and makes me smile whenever I look at the hutch.

What about the energy of things? One thing I possessed that I knew I could no longer hang onto was the baby blanket made upon my birth by a friend of my grandparents. It sat atop a shelf in my office closet, unused and unwanted. I have no children, nor do I want any, and the same goes for my siblings. But it felt wrong to just drop this handmade blanket in another bag for Goodwill, so when a dear friend announced she was expecting her first baby, I washed the blanket and gave it to her to celebrate this new life. (And I dearly hope that if she doesn’t use it and is reading this that she passes it on without a bit of guilt!)

Kondo cautions that you shouldn’t let your family interfere with the process because they will try to keep things or talk you out of getting rid of them. As the only human in my household, you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem, but it turns out my cat Bonnie has hoarder tendencies. I kept a bag in the basement of pet-related items I planned to donate to a local shelter, but Bonnie dug through the bag and brought things back up to the main level. One by one she brought 4 toy balls back up from the basement, yowling all the way; when I put them in a baggie and returned them to the basement, she carried the whole baggie back up. And so it went with other items she apparently objected to donating. We reached a compromise: she could keep the balls but the rest had to go.

Another caution: resist the urge to foist your unwanted stuff onto your loved ones. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, Surely so-and-so would want this! Maybe. Or maybe I was just relieving my guilt about discarding an item by passing it on to someone else. Only last week, another friend and Kondo devotee offered me something she didn’t want and thought I might like. I politely declined because it was something I didn’t want or need.

Of all the things in my house, it was a set of wooden spoons that stymied me in the early days of this process. I have a set of 5 wooden spoons, 2 of which I use a lot, 1 on occasion, and 2 only to fish out cat treats that roll under the stove. I knew I only needed 2 of them and had parted easily with many other kitchen items. There was no sentimental value whatsoever. But I had quit my job and would be living off savings and the little bit of money coming in from teaching yoga. What if I gave away these spoons but then needed them someday? What a waste of money to go purchase new ones! This is the same thinking that compelled me to keep so many unlikely things like shoestrings, twist ties, empty boxes, plastic bags, free samples of everything. What if I need it someday? was a constant refrain in my head.

I wrangled quite a bit over those damn spoons, trying to reason with myself that a few wooden spoons would not keep me from poverty. I hate to admit it but I held on to them for another year. Maybe more. Kondo explains this phenomenon so well: “[W]hen we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.” I kept the spoons but used the boxes and bags to donate items. And a friend filling purses with items for women in shelters used my free samples.

That point about attachment and fear held true when I returned to decluttering a year later. I had done the easy stuff before I began massage school: clothes, books, music, kitchen items, and paper files. (Oh the paper! Purchase agreements for cars I hadn’t owned for over 15 years, student loan paperwork – all things that had to be shredded – which I happily deposited at a local church that accepted donations in exchange for shredding.) I thought I would return to the other things on the list throughout the year but ended up doing very little, other than jewelry and decorative items. So, 12 months later I had to pick up where I left off: mementos and the stuff in my basement. I finally sat down with my childhood artwork, my high school memorabilia, my Air Force medals. It was not the spark of joy that guided me through these things but my own intention for simplicity and freedom. I winnowed my memories down to one box of memorabilia.

It has helped to realize that a year later I’m still here, in my home, not living out of my car with my pets. I have survived veterinary bills, home and car repairs, yet I’m still not knocking at poverty’s door. When I began talking about this book over a year ago, someone asked me what the magic was? Did you wave a wand and all your stuff disappeared? It’s far more subtle I’m afraid. The magic is in figuring out what you want your home and your life to feel like, what drives you to acquire and hold onto things, and what it takes to let them go.

One of my biggest objections to Kondo’s book is her instruction to throw things out. The thought of all that waste appalls me! Instead, I have done my best to donate and recycle as much as I can. Every load, even the little things – like old eyeglasses – made me smile and whisper, “Thank you,” because it all makes my life and my home simpler and more free while perhaps enhancing the life of another.

“Freedom” is my intention for 2017. It’s the word that will guide my actions this year as “adventure” did last year. Releasing the stuff I no longer need also allows me to make room for new things in my life, like my own yoga and massage business that I will launch next month.

With gratitude,

Rachel

© 2017 Rachel Regenold

Question for reflection: What compels you to hold on to things (or relationships or jobs or anything, really) that you no longer use or need?

November 13, 2016
by Rachel
4 Comments

Coddiwompling

“When you don’t know where you are going every road will take you there.” – Yiddish proverb

Earlier this year I stumbled upon the word coddiwomple; it’s American slang meaning to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination. This silly-sounding word speaks profoundly to my journey this year.

Last month I returned from a week-long training in trauma-sensitive yoga at Kripalu Yoga & Health Center in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Everything about the experience was amazing – the location, the people I met, the food, and the training itself. I came home inspired but exhausted. After I rested, fear set in. What would I do with this training? Where would I offer this much-needed practice? I didn’t have a plan and I always have a plan. As frightening as it was to quit my job last year and walk away from the law, I at least had a plan to attend massage school and teach yoga. To make matters worse, Amos was my true North. If I steered towards him, I chose love and a better way of life. It feels particularly cruel that I must navigate my next steps without him.

Around the bend in the road as the seasons change at Kripalu.

Around the bend in the road as the seasons change at Kripalu.

So, I panicked and tried to cobble together a plan that promptly fell flat. Even though I have known from the beginning that I was likely heading towards starting my own small business so I could be my own boss, set my own schedule, and creatively bring together the things I love most, I thought maybe I wasn’t ready for that. I contacted a local spa owner I know about working for her temporarily. She kindly declined my offer.

Back to square one.

That night I recalled that after graduation from high school, college, and law school I had a plan. I knew exactly what I was going to do. Yet, exactly none of those plans worked out. Some of those dreams were deferred and some were demolished. All of them were tough life lessons. I laughed to myself and thought, maybe it’s better if I don’t have a plan.

Instead, I’ve been accomplishing the next task in front of me. Last week I completed the student massage clinic hours that are part of the graduation requirement.  A few days later I passed the massage licensing exam. Later this month I’ll complete the CPR and first aid training required for my massage license, and then I’ll attend my last couple classes to graduate in mid-December.

In the short time since I gave up planning, I have marveled at the number of possibilities that have come up. All year long I have been reminded of how supported I am on this journey. During my first massage class in January, a friend offered to sell me her old massage table and accessories for $200, rather than the hundreds I would’ve spent on a new one. The week the owner of the yoga studio I was teaching at announced the closure of the studio, another teacher told me of an opportunity to teach that fit so perfectly with my school schedule that I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. The trauma-sensitive yoga training came up on a Google search one night and also fit perfectly into my schedule, falling into place with little effort on my part.

And so, I’m practicing resting into the abundant support of the universe. Meanwhile, I’m taking advantage of the luxury of this time because that has been one of the greatest gifts this year – time to rest, heal, be with my loved ones, learn, and better know myself and my path. One step at a time.

With gratitude,

Rachel

Question for reflection: What would happen if you relaxed your hold on any plans you might have?

Copyright 2016 Rachel Regenold

October 16, 2016
by Rachel
5 Comments

One of My Greatest Teachers, part 3

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger A. Caras

Part 3. The final act. If you are one of those people who cannot read a story where a dog dies, I commiserate with you, and caution you that this is one of those tales. I’ve written about my pets throughout this blog, and about Amos in particular in part one, part two, and a guest blog post. He died on October 4, at the age of 13. It hardly seems possible that I’ve lived without him for nearly 2 weeks.

I moved into my first and current home at the beginning of May 2008. The following week I applied to adopt a dog from Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota. I’d had my eye on Amos and a couple other dogs for weeks, but once I had a home visit and was approved to begin meeting dogs, I had second thoughts about Amos. He was under socialized, morbidly obese, and just finishing treatment for heartworm disease. He was a wreck of a dog and I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of helping him. But his foster mom called me and asked me to just come meet him and see. So I did.

Never having adopted or even owned a dog, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one of the adolescent daughters in the foster home answered the door and escorted me to the master bedroom, where Ann, Amos’s foster mom, sat leaning against her bed with her golden retriever, Logan, next to her. She was a very experienced foster mom who later told me she wondered what I would think of having to come to her bedroom to meet Amos but he was too scared to be anywhere else. He was lying on a dog bed against the wall – obese at 109 pounds, panting heavily, and with a beautiful coat except for his shaved back. He was so overweight the veterinarian had to shave him to find the correct spot to inject treatment for heartworm disease. Not knowing what else to do after introducing myself to the family, I sat down cross-legged on the floor a couple feet from Amos. He heaved himself to his feet and lumbered over to me, placed his nose against mine and licked my chin. Then he plopped back down on his dog bed as Ann began to cry, telling me, “He doesn’t do that to just anybody.” We talked for an hour as I petted Amos and he fell asleep, drooling on my leg.

The following morning, I was in court waiting in the hall for my next hearing when my friend and coworker Jason sat down next to me. He had heard about my meeting with Amos from our friend Jill. “So it’s a love match?” he asked.

I hemmed and hawed. I was scared as hell this dog would require too much of me, but the rest, as they say, is history.

At the end of May 2008, Amos moved into my home and Jason came to visit. Really, his visit was also our meeting for trial preparation, which normally would have been held in our office, but he agreed to come to my house so I wouldn’t have to leave Amos alone that first weekend before an intense week of trial. So we finalized our strategy and discussed witnesses as I fed Amos peanut butter on a spoon in an attempt to lure him out of the corner of my living room where he was hunkered down. We knew our case was a loser – sexual abuse where our client left his DNA behind – but we fought like hell. Jason and I talked by phone one night that week about the next day’s witnesses.

“I hope Amos turns out a lot better than this case will,” I told Jason.

“Me, too,” he replied. “Amos has you so he has a chance. Our client was lost a long time ago.”

I knew Amos was getting closer to the end this past month. For a big dog and his breed, 13 is a very respectable age. Still, watching him struggle to get up the steps and groan in pain when he laid down or rolled over, was hard to endure. He had bad hips, exacerbated by excess weight and years of inactivity as a backyard breeder’s stud dog in his early years. All the walks, supplements, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, massage, essential oils, and pain medicine I gave him over the years couldn’t change his history. And then one night right before bedtime, his back legs simply gave out and he couldn’t walk. As calmly as possible, I pulled the car out of the garage and knocked on my neighbor’s door to ask for help because I couldn’t lift all 85 pounds of Amos by myself. My neighbors kindly helped put him in the car and drove me to the emergency vet, which was very busy, but quickly made a room available for me and Amos.

My neighbors came in to say their goodbyes with tears in their eyes. They had grown to love Amos, too. “He sure did love his walks. And his treats,” Tom said.

I smiled because in the last couple years Amos did love his walks. But the entire year it took to teach Amos how to walk on a leash was probably the most frustrating experience of my life. Somehow, though, he came to look forward to our short jaunts around the neighborhood, peeing on the neighbors’ lawns, saying hello to other dogs, resting his hips with a short sit, and nudging my hand to prompt quicker treat delivery.

Tom and Jenny offered to stay but I said we’d be okay alone. I wanted time to be with Amos and say goodbye. As we sat on the floor of the exam room, Amos panting and me petting him as I reminded him of the story of how we met, he rested one of his big paws on my leg. Even in his own anxiety he was comforting me. It reminded me of the time several years ago when we had a wicked thunderstorm. Amos was terrified of storms, usually panting and pacing until he hunkered down into a safe spot. That evening was no different. I laid down on the floor nearby in the dark; the storm was raging and had knocked out the power. I reached out my right hand to rest on him to offer him comfort. As I did so, he reached out his front right paw and rested it on my shoulder. Always thinking of me.

After he was gone, one of the hardest things was knowing I would never touch him again. I have come to understand this year in massage school how much I enjoy touch, both giving and receiving. Some part of me had known it for years but directed it into my pets. Never again will I feel Amos’s soft curls, silky ears, and inordinately large paws. It was so hard to leave him in that room.

The next day I wrote Amos’s obituary to share with friends:

AMOS LEE REGENOLD 2003-2016

Amos spent his early years in a kennel as a neglected stud dog of a backyard-breeding operation. Upon surrender at age 4.5, he was morbidly obese and sick with heartworm disease and nearly died. But his foster family nursed him back to health with love and patience. In May 2008 he was adopted into the Regenold family, where he slowly learned how to be a dog – playing fetch, walking on a leash, and barking at noises. A year later his sister Charlotte joined the family and taught him the joy of squirrel and rabbit chasing. Amos became an avid snuggler, ball chaser, and crotch sniffer. In his later years, he came to love his walks, rolling around in the grass, and barking to announce his arrival in the backyard. He tried to befriend every dog he met. Being a golden retriever, Amos loved all food, but especially apples, peanut butter, and hot dogs. In the end, his spirit was still strong but his back legs were not, and he left this earth with his mother at his side on October 4.

Amos leaves behind 2 sisters, 2 brothers, and a mother, as well as many friends and neighbors. The family asks that the next time you are adding a four-legged member to your own family, consider the ones who may take a little more work but will lovingly transform your life one tail wag at a time.

Rest in peace, my beloved boy. An eternity with you would not have been long enough.

And the day after that, I created a photo collage to celebrate Amos’s life:

amos-collage

Photographic celebration of Amos’s life.

When I texted Jason about Amos’s death, he responded, “The two of you were quite a pair when you met. Mutual salvation…and devotion.”

Oh God, yes. Exactly that. Somehow Amos and I healed each other’s broken places. He didn’t know how to be a dog and I didn’t know how to be a human being. Somehow he lost weight, learned to love walks and fetch, people and dogs. And I went from a lawyer with no life outside work to a woman who walked away from the law to build a new life, supported by a community of friends.

When I shared the photographs of Amos with friends, one said, “Oh my goodness how he loved you!” while another said, “Amos was gaga over you.” Amos loved me extravagantly. His chocolate brown eyes were always gooey with love for me. He enjoyed other people, but for him, I was the sun, the moon, and the stars. A few days after Amos died, I was reminded of a friend saying to me once, “You don’t deserve Amos.” She was referring to her opinion that dogs are really too good for us human beings.

For the first time I thought to myself, What if I did deserve Amos? What if I did deserve to be loved so extravagantly?

I loved Amos lavishly, in my own turn. I couldn’t pass by him without touching him, petting his big head. Every morning I rested my heart against his for just a moment to feel that exchange of love between us. Before each walk, I looked into his eyes and told him, “You’re so famous ‘cause you’re Amos.” (You know the silly things we say to our pets.) And after each walk, I kissed him and told him how wonderful he was and that I would love him until the end of time. Sometimes I would hug Amos, and while I fervently agree that you shouldn’t hug most dogs because the gesture doesn’t translate well, Amos was an exception. He leaned into my hugs, or if he was lying down, he would wrap one foreleg around my neck to hug me in return as he delivered sloppy kisses.

I’m beginning to believe it is possible to deserve to not only love, but be loved, so extravagantly and devotedly. For me and for you.

Amos taught me that.

With gratitude,

Rachel

Question for reflection: When you allow yourself to feel how much you love someone (anyone) in your life, what would it feel like to allow yourself to be loved that way in return?

© 2016 Rachel Regenold

September 17, 2016
by Rachel
12 Comments

Success Dressed in Failure’s Clothing

“Often we see a couple who has separated or divorced and look with sadness at the ‘failure’ of their relationship. But if both people learned what they were meant to learn, then that relationship was a success. Now it may be time for physical separation so that more can be learned in other ways. That not only means learning elsewhere, from other people; it also means learning the lessons of pure love that come from having to release the form of an existing relationship.” – Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love (HarperOne 1992).

Invariably, when people learn I was an attorney at the public defender’s office, they will ask some variation of, “Was it difficult to represent guilty people?” Early in my career a woman at a party asked, “How do you sleep at night?” when I told her my profession. I was so startled by her rudeness and ignorance that I couldn’t formulate a response. (I came up with one later that I’ve never had to use because no one has been that rude again.) Truthfully, it was sometimes hard to represent the guilty. Not always and not necessarily for the reasons you may think. Nobody has ever asked how hard it was to represent the ones I believed were not guilty. Those are the ones that keep you lying awake nights, the ones that tear you up inside, leaving invisible scars that settle into your tissues.

Early in my massage training at the beginning of this year, an instructor reached over to massage my shoulders as I sat on a stool in class. “Oh, public defender shoulders!” she said. I laughed and asked what that meant. “Well, shoulders are usually about responsibility and you carried a lot of responsibility in that job.”

My shoulders slumped in agreement.

“Public defender shoulders” became my excuse and a classroom joke. When fellow students asked me to relax my shoulders, I replied, “This IS relaxed. I have public defender shoulders.”

My career as a public defender ended in 2015. The year before that I was appointed to represent a man on appeal who had been convicted of second-degree murder after returning from war and killing his best friend. My client and I spoke regularly via phone about his case and I came to be very fond of him and his family, and I also came to believe that a serious injustice had occurred in his trial. Somehow his case felt connected to my yoga journey. The weekend prior to arguing his case before the Iowa Court of Appeals, I had my first weekend of yoga teacher training.

We won in the court of appeals but the State requested, and was granted, review by the Iowa Supreme Court. While we waited for that next phase of the appeal, I sent my client information on yoga for veterans with PTSD from the Veterans Yoga Project. He began practicing yoga every day in prison. I continued with my teacher training.

In the early spring of 2015, right before my last training weekend, I traveled to northeast Iowa to argue this case before the Iowa Supreme Court and 350 members of the community. Due to a mistake by the court, a second case of mine was scheduled as well and so I argued two cases back-to-back. Normally nervous on such an occasion, particularly with such an unusually large audience (maybe a dozen or so people usually attend oral arguments when they are held in the judicial building in Des Moines), a steely calm had settled over me that week as I worked out my fears on my yoga mat. At the community reception after the argument, I was startled by the number of citizens who came up to speak to me about my cases or the law or just to say hello. When I looked around at the end of the night, both attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office and all the members of the Court were gone. I alone remained talking to the public.

The Court usually takes several months to decide a case. By early June I knew that I had to make a life-changing decision about quitting my job before the Court made its own decision about my case. Several years before I had lost a murder case as a trial attorney and the blow was emotionally crippling. A year and a half later, I transferred to the appellate office, thinking appeals would give me the emotional distance I needed to do my work without being personally devastated. By 2014 I knew the “problem” was really me. I took my cases too personally. I invested in my clients too deeply. Whether I was in the trial courtroom or rifling through pages of trial transcripts, safely ensconced in a cubicle as an appellate attorney, mattered not. I decided, win or lose my veteran-client’s case, I would quit my job at the end of the year.

In the middle of June 2015 the Iowa Public Defender Office held its annual conference in Des Moines, at which we could earn our continuing education credits, and at which I had volunteered to teach a couple free yoga classes to relieve stress and the ache of sitting in chairs all day. It was also with bittersweet feelings that I was honored as Attorney of the Year for 2015. The very next day, I lost my case. I pulled up the decision on my home computer, waiting breathlessly at 8:30 when the Court issues decisions online each Friday. My cat Louie refused to get off my chair, so I knelt in front of the computer. I remember feeling incredibly grateful that I was already on my knees because scrolling down to the words that indicated we lost would have brought me to my knees anyway. When I called my client at the prison that morning to tell him we lost, I burst into tears.

The very next day, a weight seemed to settle upon me. It was as if someone had draped a cloak over me that was weighed down by stones. I was incredibly frightened. How was I going to do everyday things, let alone put everything into place so I could resign? Not by coincidence, I’m sure, a friend had given me a free session with his healing touch practitioner and I had scheduled it for a week or so after the Court’s decision. The healing touch practitioner was able to lift that depressive weight from me, and without even knowing about the case, she said, “There is some case, some client you care deeply about. You need to know there is nothing more you could have done to change the outcome.” I burst into tears again. After the case had ended, I anonymously sent my client a book about yoga from the Prisoners Yoga Project. He knew it was from me.

Every time I’ve had bodywork in massage school this year, grief has oozed out of me as I drove home thinking about this case. This failure. The fact that my client is parted from his family for 35 ½ years. And then came Acupressure class in June of this year, a subtle modality using fingers or thumbs to press points along the meridians of the body, much like acupuncture but minus the needles. Receiving acupressure had a strange effect on me; I was waking at 4:00 AM and didn’t care about food. (I have NEVER not cared about food.) I was stressed because my car was in the shop for 3 days, only to come out with the same problem it had going in, and my home air conditioner had to be replaced. It was also the one-year anniversary of the loss of this case, and I was feeling it keenly, crying each night as I went home. Until one night I was crying on the table in class; my partner continued to quietly work on me as tears puddled in my ears. My instructors came to work on me as well, pressing points on my head and feet. I hated the vulnerability of it, the crying in front of others. My armor was failing me.

As I was lying in bed that night, I remembered something I read that day in Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. That week I had also been adding to the misery by thinking of my romantic failures over the years. So I pulled out Williamson’s book to stop the self-flagellation and stumbled on the quote at the top of this post. This case was a loss, no doubt, but maybe it wasn’t a failure? My client has moved onto the next stage of the process with a new attorney to continue to seek justice, and I still hold out hope that he will walk outside the prison walls one day and return to his family. Yet, if that doesn’t happen, perhaps he will find a different kind of freedom through yoga, even within prison walls. I know, without question, that he made me a better person and a better lawyer, and it is because of him that my yoga journey has changed. Next month I’ll be attending training in trauma-sensitive yoga at Kripalu in Massachusetts so that I can work with others to release old traumas held within their tissues.

What about my shoulders, you ask? To that, I’ve added my stubborn and mistrustful neck, which I blogged about last time, and gluteal amnesia. Yes, you read that right. It turns out my gluteal muscles don’t fire like they’re supposed to, so other muscles are compensating. And the term for that is gluteal amnesia. I swear I didn’t make that up. When I told a classmate about my public defender shoulders AND amnesiac glutes, she quipped, “So your shoulders want to save the world but your ass just can’t be bothered?” Perhaps that will be the title of my memoir!

I was so engrossed in my neck and my ass this summer that I had completely forgotten about my shoulders until I was in Chair Massage in late June when a classmate working on me said, “Wow, you have great shoulders. So soft, hardly any knots.”

“What????” I asked, pulling my head off the face cradle, thinking I must’ve heard wrong. I didn’t. Other classmates have made the same remark since June. My public defender shoulders have melted, releasing over a decade of responsibility on the tables at massage school.

With gratitude,

Rachel

Question for reflection: What relationship has ended, or is ending, that you could view as a success instead of a failure?

©2016 Rachel Regenold

July 28, 2016
by Rachel
2 Comments

Two for One Special

“Mindful touch and movement grounds people and allows them to discover tensions that they may have held for so long that they are no longer even aware of them.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Viking 2014).

Who doesn’t love a bargain? I know I do. Still, when licensed massage therapists I know told me that not only would I learn new skills in massage school but I would find healing for myself as well, I was skeptical. Not that I didn’t believe them, but I was arrogant enough to think I had done so much work what more could be left?

It’s ok to laugh here. Guffaw even.

Earlier this year when I was emotionally wrung out by yet another bodywork class, I asked a friend, “How much more old stuff can be stored in my body?”

“A lot,” she replied.

“Fine!” I huffed, and we both laughed.

Thus, in May I began the first 50 hours of Traditional Thai Massage on the Mat with some trepidation. I had never heard of Thai massage until I began looking at massage school but I was immediately intrigued because of its connection to yoga. The therapist works on a large, cushioned mat, using compression and massage strokes, while moving the client through yoga poses. Even though the client is clothed, this modality sounded so much more intimate because the therapist uses her body to move the client passively through stretches. Plus, there were only 4 students signed up for the class, so it would be small and intimate. Nowhere to hide. Still, I was determined to try it and knew the group would be dedicated.

I found myself preparing for the 6 full days of class like I did when I was an attorney preparing for trial or oral argument – cleaning the house, stocking up on groceries, doing laundry up until the evening before the first class when I practiced yoga to calm myself. I had to be battle ready.

The first few days we did a lot of work opening up each other’s hips as we practiced Thai massage on each other’s lower body. By the third or fourth day, I was more than happy to move on to the upper body because my hips were sore. Bridget had me lie on my back on the Thai mat so she could demonstrate how to pull a client up to a seated position. She bent down, asking me to take her forearms, as she squatted and slowly pulled me into sitting. She asked me to stop helping along the way. This wasn’t the first time I heard that. A number of times one of my classmates would ask me to “relax” or “let go” as they worked on me because I have a tendency to try to control the movement even when I’m playing the part of the client.

After the third demonstration, Bridget sighed, “You’re still helping.” I was baffled by what she meant. I had consciously relaxed my limbs so the only part of me that was working were my hands connecting to her forearms, I thought. At her direction we partnered up to practice the move; Bridget stood nearby as my classmate asked me to reach for his forearms.

“Relax your neck,” Bridget admonished while my partner gently pulled my upper body off the mat.

“What?” I asked.

“Here,” Bridget said, tapping gently on my forehead with her index finger. “Let your head fall back while he pulls you up.”

“That is so annoying,” I replied through gritted teeth as she continued to tap. Grudgingly I let my head fall back as I relaxed my neck. “I feel like a newborn! YUUUUUCCCKKKK!”

Bridget told us to practice the move again.  Hating every minute of it, I practiced again with my head hanging back.  I told myself this was a lawyer thing – a consequence of being so cerebral and having spent my life on intellectual pursuits. “My head goes with me everywhere!” I protested to Bridget. To prove my point, for the last day of our class in May we invited friends to practice a 2-hour Thai Massage; I invited a lawyer friend of mine, certain she would also hold her head up during this pose. Imagine my dismay when I slowly pulled her to sitting at the end of our session and her head lolled back in a relaxed manner. My friend and I were similar in many respects – only a few years apart in age, we both practiced the same type of law for nearly the same amount of years, and we both held a deep love for animals and reading. But I knew one of the deepest differences between us was a starkly different childhood experience.

When the first half of Thai massage concluded, I had to admit to myself once again the great lengths to which I have gone to in my life to avoid letting others do anything for me. I am extraordinarily good at doing things for myself. Only last year I began seeing an energy healer recommended by a friend. During one session we talked about the faith it would take for me to make the leap from a stable income in a job I no long had passion for to teaching yoga and attending massage school. On paper, to my rational self, the leap didn’t make one bit of sense. It was not well planned and carefully controlled like so much of my adult life. My healer told me softly, “You’ve been thinking and planning ahead since you were 4 to 6 years old. You’re safe now. You don’t need to do that any longer.” I wept at the thought of a child so young feeling the need to do that. And then, all rational thinking aside, I took the leap and quit my job.

Just as I acknowledged my unwillingness to let others help me, the universe gave me the opportunity to do just that. At the beginning of June as I started a course in Acupressure, my car broke down and spent 3 days in the shop. Gritting my teeth, I asked friends for rides to the mechanic, to school, and to a meeting. They rose to the occasion marvelously, helping me without a second thought, even as I felt guilty for needing help. “I should be able to do it on my own” – the resounding theme of my life – played endlessly in my head.

A couple weeks later, one of my Thai massage classmates and I got together to practice before the second half of our class began because Bridget had encouraged us to do so and we didn’t want to forget how to do this new modality we loved so much. When my classmate suggested we try a pose from a Thai massage book, where the model’s head was relaxed back as the therapist pulled her up, he said, “Your head will be sticking straight out.” I laughed. I really did try to relax my neck, but as he pulled me up, he said, “Relax, let your head go.”

I was stumped. “I thought I was!” I said.

“Nope, sticking straight out,” he replied, and we both laughed.

Later in June, as I walked my dogs, I was pondering the fact that I have completed half of my massage training already. For the first time it hit me how much I enjoy touch, both giving and receiving. This came as a surprise to me since I was well into my 30s before I even liked for people to hug me. I had known massage school was a gamble for me since I did not come from a touchy-feely family. So enjoying touch seemed very new to me. But as I let that feeling sink in I realized this enjoyment of touch is actually very old. It’s a part of me I suspect I suppressed very early on so I could fit in to a family that valued intellect and strength but not emotional displays.

As July and the second half of Thai massage rolled around, I began relaxing into myself as a yoga teacher and student massage therapist. So one day in class when Bridget demonstrated a sequence on me, she pulled me up from the mat a number of times as my head dangled. “Way to go, Rach!” one of my classmates called. It had been a conscious effort to relax my neck, but only a momentary one. I knew I could trust Bridget. I knew that I was safe.

Practicing Thai massage, July 2016. Photo by Bridget Ryan.

Practicing Thai massage, July 2016. Photo by Bridget Ryan.

That night as I was lying in bed pondering the day’s events, an old memory surfaced that I hadn’t thought about in years. Events transpired in my home that caused me to run away and land in a youth shelter for a week when I was 12 years old. I had shared that memory with close friends and a therapist over the years, but for the first time I could stand back and see it not with anger, fear, or resentment but with compassion for my girl-self and the difficult choices I made at such a young age. I believe bodywork brought that memory to the surface so it could finally be healed, nearly 30 years later.

My mother invited me to lunch the weekend after I completed the 100-hour course in Thai massage. After we shared what was new in our lives she told me that she had caught up on my old blog posts and she read the one where I described my parents as unreliable and asked what that meant. I winced. I knew she and my dad might read that and it wasn’t my intention to hurt them, but it was my truth. Over the years my mother has approached the subject of my childhood a number of times and each time has been met with my barely-suppressed rage and rapid departure. For the first time I was able to respond instead of react. At the end of our conversation I told her, “I have shamed and blamed you for years but I don’t anymore. I don’t want you to feel bad about my childhood. You don’t need to worry about me, I’m fine – I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Plus, the flipside is that I’m grateful. I have friends who had great childhoods but are too scared to leave a way of life that makes them unhappy. The way we lived gave me the courage to make this leap and know I’ll be just fine.”

With gratitude,

Rachel

Questions for reflection: How has bodywork or movement been healing for you?

Copyright 2016 Rachel Regenold