Singers, can you feel your way through?

I read a great article talking about the importance of singers relying on feeling over hearing when it comes to performing well.

Author Arden Kaywin says,

But there is another kind of listening: listening to your body.

Listening in this way means being present to the sensations your body—your instrument—in any given moment. It’s focused in on our internal experience, rather than out. 

Your job as a singer is to pay attention to the sensation of good singing, not the sound of it. Every time you have that specific sensation in your body (in your support, in your resonance), you will know it’s the good sound merely by the way it feels. You won’t even have to hear it.

In this way, your awareness shifts from being an outward-focused experience overwhelmed by attachments to expectations and outcomes to a more internal experience rooted in the present moment of the body. When singers shift their mindset from listening to the sounds they’re making to “listening” to the feelings and sensations in their body when they sing, it’s the first step to reaching their full singing potential.

When you sing, don’t go on autopilot. Get present to the sensations in your body. Witness what you feel in the lower muscles of support, in the ribs, in your neck, jaw, tongue, and soft palate. Start listening to your body. Observe what it’s doing (or not doing) without judgment. Learn to be a witness to what’s happening.

I wanted to holler a good solid AMEN! After reading that. This is, in essence what I do when a singer comes to me for my VoiceBody work.

*************BUT****************

You knew there was a but coming, right?

It is easy to write and tell singers they should feel the body and notice the sensations and quite another thing to actually be able to do that.

Many of the more advanced singers that I see are more attuned to how things feel in their face and throat, but the rest of the body is a black hole. In almost every session when I ask someone ‘how does that feel’ after they’ve moved and sung, the response is ‘I don’t know’. I usually follow that up with ‘ok, let’s sing it again and at the end just tell me what you notice.’

Putting the whole body together with the voice is a big task.

Younger singers often have little sense of their body – especially teens who have just gone through puberty and the corresponding growth spurts that leave them feeling like they are living in a foreign nation.

There is often a lack of vocabulary because we have a lack of connection to our bodies. We are not raised in a culture that promotes awareness of our emotions and our bodies in ways that open the door to sensing.

Think back, when you were a child and had an emotional reaction, did anyone ever ask “where do you feel that emotion in your body?” Probably not. Rather, you were probably told “you’re fine…knock it off…stop crying…shhhhh” or something similar.

Many times when we experience pain in our body we disconnect from that place as a protective mechanism. For example, that means when your low back hurts, it can be harder to sense it. That means when you try to move it’s hard to connect with that part of your body.

Trauma is another element that can cause us to disconnect or dissociate from our body. Like physical pain, emotional pain can cause us to close ourselves off from our physical form. Reconnecting to our body after trauma takes time and a gentle approach.

There are also strong cultural messages delivered to us about our bodies, and I find many of us have nearly combative relationships with their physical form. The messaging we receive about the lack of enough-ness of our bodies is deafening and shuts down the ability to actually LIVE in our instruments in a way that we can feel them.

Wherever you are on your sensing-singing journey, it takes time to cultivate the type of awareness this article talks about, and we all need to start somewhere.

I find movement, in the right doses, at the right pace, worked on in an environment where we feel safe, is a powerful tool in beginning to feel our body and develop body awareness.

Lessons from the Mat: Less isn’t just better…less is more.

“Just because you can go 100%, should you?”

“What if 80% gets you the same result, but you’ve preserved 20% of your energy?”

Those questions, asked of me in a yoga therapy session several years ago when I was working to rehab my torn labrum in my hip, stopped me in my tracks.

“What do you mean?” I wanted to holler back. “Of course I have to give 100%, how else does anything ever get done?”

Instead, I sat there silently, knowing there was so much freaking truth in those questions.

Damnit. I hate those moments. The cruel reminder of my default state of going all out and all in at all times. That state that never ends well for me.

When I’m about to take it to 11 (bonus points if you get the Spinal Tap reference!), in movement it shows up as bracing. It runs throughout my torso, head and neck. There’s the set, the grip and finally, the muscling through the motion.

I found myself in this state again because I was working on going from 6 points on the floor: toes, knees and hands, to 4 points on the floor: toes and hands.

To get my knees off the ground, I set my jaw, gripped my abs and tensed my shoulders.

To the outward eye, I looked like I was moving with ease. You couldn’t see the difference. In that state I could go in and out of the pose many times.

But, inside is another story. It’s so very subtle, yet the grip is like steel. I moved that way for years without catching it myself. The anticipatory engagement happens a split second before I lift, but it’s there. And it makes everything harder.

It took slowing waaaaayyyy down to find the pattern. Jaw. Belly. Shoulders. So much effort. So much work.

“What if? What if?” I asked myself.

“What if I just softened 20% before moving?”

Lightness. Ease. Fluidity. A lift with less effort and better outcome.

Less isn’t just better. Less is more.

It made me pause and reflect. It’s a moment where my lesson learned on the mat is absolutely representative of life off the mat too. Isn’t that always the way?

Where are the other places I grip, brace and move with force in order to give 100% where outwardly the effort and results appear good, but my inner experience would improve if I just softened 20%?

The answer? Everywhere.

I’m still working on it. Life changes a lot when there’s just 20% less effort. It’s less hard. It’s less frustrating.

For me it will probably be a lifetime of noticing and pausing and softening to counter my inclination to go in blazing, wanting to give 100% and more.

Life at 80%.

Where might you be gripping and giving it your all, but you could soften and still arrive where you want? Where does it show up for you? In your singing? In your relationships? In your business? In your parenting? If it is happening in one place, it’s probably happening in another.

Let’s all explore the idea of life at 80%. Where there’s room for joy around your effort.

Six ways to add movement into your day.

Movement doesn’t have to be complex, take a long time or be difficult to make a difference!

Let’s be honest. Most of us spend our days sitting, and sitting, and sitting some more.

We sit so many places…
* for work – at a desk or piano
* to commute – on a train, a bus, in a car
* to eat all our meals – in a chair at a table
* to unwind at night – soft couches and chairs

If we move at all, we tend to do our 30-60 minutes of cardio/yoga/pilates/walking and call it enough. But our bodies crave more and there are 24 hours in a day. Let’s say you spend 8 hour sleeping, that leaves 16 hours where you can sneak it bits of movement.

In reality, we thrive on variety. We do well when we add in small movements throughout the day. These don’t have to be complicated, take a long time or super hard. Small doses of movements that keep your joints moving are great!

Here’s a list of movements that you can easily integrate into your day. As you read these, think about all the places you can do these movements – while brushing your teeth, drying your hair, standing at your desk, vocalizing, chopping vegetables, watching tv, taking snack requests from your children, half listening to a zoom call, etc.

  1. Roll your feet on a ball.
    You can use a tennis ball, yoga tune up ball or pinky ball. Roll it under your foot as though the ball is a vacuum and your foot is a carpet – you want to make sure the vacuum gets every part of the carpet! You are in control of how much pressure you step with, so if you want something gentle, keep the pressure light. If you want more sensation, step a little harder.

2. Stretch your calves.
Roll up a towel or yoga mat, or use a half foam roller. Place the ball of your foot on top of the rolled up item or roller and let your heel drop toward the floor. You can control the intensity of the stretch by the position of your foot that is NOT on the roller. Keep it behind the foot on the roller to keep the stretch minimal and step it parallel or beyond to increase – just make sure your hips don’t shift forward too!

3. Do a pushup.
I know, I know, pushups, ugh… but upper body strength is something we all need and honestly, it’s really challenging to move your entire body weight as opposed to lifting a 5 lb dumbell. So, to find success at this, start with a push up on the wall. Place your palms flat on the wall and step your feet back. Try bending your elbows and bringing your upper body toward the wall. As you get stronger, progress to a push up on a table, then a bench, then the floor. Try pushups on your knees too!

4. Hang from something.
Another great upper body move! You can hang a pull up bar in a doorway, or if you are tall enough and have door casings, you can just reach up with your fingers and hook them over the casing (if you’re a terrible housekeeper like me, things might be a wee bit dusty up there, so prepare yourself!). Keep your feet on the ground and begin by just bending your knees and letting your arms begin to take the weight of your body. If you are a parent or caregiver of small children, this is an excellent way you can move at a playground while your kids play too.

5. Squat.
Squatting is a great way to build strength in the lower body, all those big muscles that help ground us on stage. There are a million ways to squat and they are all viable. You don’t need to get yourself into a super deep, bum barely off the floor squat for there to be benefit. Play with a knee bend that goes out over your toes and then play with keeping your shins vertical – see how your body responds – feel your quads in the first one and your bum in the second one. Have a hard time keeping your shins vertical? Grab a door handle and use that for support while you squat. Try stepping your legs wider than shoulder width and turn your toes out 45 degrees and squat. Try getting into a squat and getting lighter on one foot to work towards a single leg squat. My point here? GET CREATIVE WITH IT!

6. Sit on the floor.
Let’s go back to all the places we sit – dining room chairs, desk chairs, piano benches, couches, overstuffed chairs, bucketed car seats, bar stools. When we sit in those situations we tend to stay in just one shape. When we sit on the floor, we are more apt to move around into new shapes – cross legged, z-sit, legs out straight, sit on your heels, an open V, and on and on – I’m sure you can think of other ways to sit when you are on the floor. As an added bonus when you sit on the floor you have to use more muscles to get up off of the floor. And you know what that means…more movement! Challenge yourself to watch tv while sitting on the floor, or take your laptop and put it on your coffee table and sit on the floor to use it.

If I had to add a 7th, it would be walking. Walk as much as you can. We are built to walk. Park a little farther away at the grocery store. Take a stroll around your neighborhood. Walk your kiddo partway or all the way to school. Walk around barefoot on grass, on sand, on gravel (build up your foot tolerance for that last one. Take a moment to contemplate all the places you walk in a day. Is there a way you could add in just a bit more walking?

Do you have other simple movements you like to do throughout your day? Share in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

Why Singers need a movement practice.

One of the questions I hear most often from singers is, “Why do I need a movement practice?”

My simple answer is “because every activity is a whole body activity and singing is no exception.”

The slightly longer version is this:

Our bodies are tensegrity structures and that means we are held together through a series of compressions and tensions, pushes and pulls. When we push or pull on one part of the body via movement or singing, the entire rest of the body responds.

While we tend to learn about the body by breaking down systems and parts, the body does not work in individual systems and parts! It all works together, all the time. This is what I call Vocal Interdependence.

We can assess how our body is in a static state through alignment, but the way we make lasting changes to how the body responds to the pushes and pulls is movement.

In the singing body we are especially interested in how the spine moves, how the shoulders and hips move and how they relate to each other as well as the overall suppleness of the entire torso.

Every singer I’ve ever interacted with has patterns in the body that are a direct result of how we have and haven’t moved in our lives. When it comes to the singing voice, we can do a lot by addressing vocal technique, but what about the issues that arise that aren’t solved by technique? I have found after working with hundreds of bodies over the last 20 years that when we address the entire instrument the voice changes too.

I made a reel on Instagram recently that gives you a quick and dirty example of this using a tensegrity structure. You can click here to view the reel.

I created the Singer Synergy Movement Class Series with the singer’s body in mind. This 9 week series is designed to create connections in the deepest layers of the torso, building strength and suppleness leading to better balance throughout your instrument.

Each class will have a standing segment and a mat segment. Together they will address the whole body with special focus on spine, shoulders, hips and core.

The class is progressive in nature so we will move through 4 levels, adding challenge as we go.

If you would like to join us, we begin Thursday September 22nd at 11am, ET (and the classes are always recorded and available for replay!).

You can register here: Singer Synergy Class Series

All Bodies Are Welcome Here

The singing world, and world at large, but we’re talking voices here so we’ll stick to this niche, has a long history of discriminating against bodies that fall outside of the acceptable norm – thin (and also white and cis-gender, but I want to focus on weight here).

This comes in many forms – being passed over for parts, being told by audition committees, teachers and directors to lose weight, being othered, and excluded in just about any situation due to the size of their body.

The reality is, in any circumstance where there can be a power-over dynamic, such as a teacher-student or director-singer, we have the potential to create trauma.

When we consistently and repeatedly expose singers to these false beliefs about weight and the voice, we perpetuate a harmful, traumatizing environment that removes the basic dignities we each deserve.

I find the work of Staci K. Haines to be illuminating in thinking about how we can revolutionize the voice world’s approach to bodies. Haines’ work and her book The Politics of Trauma incorporate a concept where we acknowledge that healing and change at an individual level is the default.

However, when we hold that perspective we not only overlook collective trauma but we also miss the impacts of the larger forces of families, communities, institutions and social norms in creating the beliefs, but also their role in creating change.

You see we can’t resolve issues like this at the individual level. Except that’s the typical approach. Not only do we burden the singer with changing to meet the norm we expect them to heal alone as well. That’s like Sisyphus trying to roll the bolder up the hill for all of eternity. It sets singers up for failure.

This graphic is based on a public health framework, developed by Alan Grier and generationFIVE. Haines elaborates on it in her work where I learned of it.

When we look at this image and see how the concentric circles are structured it is a wonderful illustration of how the larger circles impact the smaller ones.

This means for the voice world to change our ingrained discriminations about weight we need to be working on them at the societal level. We need companies that hire diverse bodies to play roles. Schools and Universities need to have polices to address this issues as well as procedures and protections for singers who encounter the discrimination and report it. We need larger institutions like NATS to think twice before publishing opinion pieces presented as fact, focused on singers losing weight to be more marketable. We need individual teachers to commit to not commenting on a singer’s body as it relates to their size.

It means WE need to change. The singer does not.

I am in the business of working with singers to help their bodies function better. But I know the size of your body does not dictate how well it functions. I know you do not need to lose weight to live with less pain. I know strength and fat are not exclusive. I also know every singer walking through my door with a larger body has a lifetime of messaging telling them they are not enough, not worthy and are less-than due to the size of their body.

What I want every singer I work with to know is this: All bodies are welcome here.

It is a message I want the rest of the voice world to embrace as well.

We are Past the Point of Quick Fixes and Hacks…

It’s been a hot minute since the pandemic began – ok it has actually been 20 months to the day since we shut down on March 13, 2020.

The result of isolation, wearing masks in public, and living with the stress, loss and chaos of the last 20 months is changes to our entire physical/mental and emotional being.

This situation has done a number on us all and there are some things we need to acknowledge.

We are dealing with extended Trauma.

We can define trauma as an event or situation that exceeds our capacity to cope. I do not know one single person in the last 20 months who hasn’t felt as though their capacity has been exceeded. We are running low on bandwidth and some days it can feel like we have no bandwidth left at all.

Trauma impacts our immune system.

This article on the American Psychological Association website mentions multiple studies that link a weakened immune system to depression in an older population. As well, social isolation and feelings of loneliness each weakened the immune system response in college students.

On top of that our immune systems are playing catch up. Did you get the spring/summer cold that was circulating? It was a WHOPPER. My entire household was brought down by it and several of us were in bed for a few days trying to recover. This article in the New York times shares why, “…our immune systems missed the daily workout of being exposed to a multitude of microbes back when we commuted on subways, spent time at the office, gathered with friends and sent children to day care and school.”

Trauma Changes Our Brain.

When we undergo trauma our brains change in terms of chemistry and structure and thinking. Structures that change include:
Amygdala, which helps us perceive and control our emotions and plays a role in the fear response, and can become increasingly responsive as a result of trauma.
Hippocampus which aids us in memory and learning and can shrink in response to trauma.
Prefrontal Cortex which helps us with executive function and reasoning and can have decreased activity after experiencing extended trauma.

Our brain plays a role in two types of chemicals that are impacted by trauma: Neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, and Hormones include oxytocin, cortisol, and insulin. Combined these two chemicals play huge roles in our mood, our sleep, our weight and blood sugar regulation. When our brain alters the outputs of these chemicals we see it as insomnia, depression, inability to regulate our blood sugar and just simply, feel good on the daily.

Many of us are living in a greater state of hypervigilance as a result of the pandemic. We are in a state where our thinking has changed and we are waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Trauma Changes Our Breath.

Jane Clapp talks about the Diaphragm as ‘the coast is clear muscle’. Our body is constantly scanning our environment to determine if we are safe. When we perceive we are not safe (like we are all doing so much more right now) we will armor up through our deep core. The diaphragm will no longer move like a jellyfish, undulating in our torso, instead becoming more rigid, acting like a stabilizer muscle. That means we alter our breath and begin to use our secondary muscles of respiration more.

We breathe higher up in the chest, our breath rate increases and we will inhale longer than we exhale. Sometimes we even start holding our breath in – this is the bodies way of waiting for the next bad thing to happen. All of this causes changes in the balance of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide in the body.

In the words of Daniela from In The Heights…

That’s a Piece of Shitty News.

If this all sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. You have been living with a lot. We all have.

There are lots of communities in our world who live with this level of persistent trauma on a regular basis. Many of us are among the privileged who are encountering this type of prolonged stress punctuated by moments of extremely high stress for the first time.

We are past the point of just going for a walk, or taking a deep breath and getting on with our day. We are past the typical fluffy self care practices promoted to us on the regular.

So Where Are We?

We are here, smack dab in the messy middle where we have to choose to make the Herculean effort at instituting regular work that addresses and mitigates the impacts of ongoing trauma on our system.

For me that means somatic practices. I could talk about all that has transpired in the last 20 months, but none of that talk will address the knowingness my body holds about what I have lived through. I have to go into that knowingness and be with it before asking it to change.

This looks like:

Making the smallest movement possible, like wiggling my fingers and noticing how my body feels.

Asking the question, “how do I feel today?” and observing what I feel in my body and breath in response.

Letting my eyes move back in the eye sockets as my gaze widens, noticing how my breath and body change in response. It’s then bringing my eyes forward forward in the eye sockets, narrowing my gaze to see how my body responds.

It’s bringing my hand onto my sternum under my shirt and dragging it slowly down towards my solar plexus 10 times and noticing how I feel after.

In addition to these practices, I take slow walks in the woods, or just around my neighborhood. I get off social media regularly. I phone a friend who I know will just listen and not try to problem solve. My family has developed clear practices around connection that we do nearly daily – card games, reading aloud, game nights and movie nights. It’s breath work after I have moved to address my tendancy to hold my breath and over breathe. I’m working on finding gratitude for the simple things like blue sky, running water and a roof over my head. I’m working on fewer visits to the snack cabinet and pausing to feel my breath in my nose instead.

It’s also acceptance that there will be times when I am over capacity because I am a human being.

These might feel like a mere drop in the bucket. But, like a leaky faucet and your water bill, these drops add up. We rebuild our capacity one drop at a time.

If you’d like to talk more about practices that can help you move through this time in our world, please reach out and let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

Perceptions of Pain

We have a problem. A problem with pain. Well it isn’t the pain per se, but our perception of pain that is the problem.

We tend to try and:
1. Avoid pain
2. Push through pain
3. Seek quick fixes for pain
4. Blame our body for pain
5. Think we are broken when we have pain

Here are some things to know about nociceptive pain:

Your pain is real!

There are two types of pain: Acute and Chronic (lasts more than 3 months).

Tissue damage/Structural Changes and Pain don’t always correlate – I might have a herniated disc in my back, but no pain. You might have a back that looks perfect on an x-ray, yet you have pain.

The farther away (as measured in time) we get from the initial experience of pain, the weaker the link to any kind of injury.

Pain also isn’t well linked to alignment, posture or weight, despite what many doctors have told my clients .

Pain is an output from the brain – old thinking was pain was generated in the damaged tissue and the brain responded – this would make pain an input to the brain meaning it exists out there in he body and then we feel it. We have nociceptors, which are sensory neurons located around the body that send electrical signals of possible threats to our brains.

Pain is created by the brain to tell us to pay attention and take some form of protective action.

The brain makes the decision about whether we will experience pain in a split second. To make the decision it takes into account the following factors:

  1. Your stress level
  2. The circumstances surrounding you/the event
  3. What you believe about your body
  4. What else is going on in your body
  5. The things you typically say about your body
  6. The people in your life
  7. The places you typically go in your life

When pain persists it is because we have built a roadmap in the brain – we have wired ourselves to feel pain. The good news is our brains are easily re-built (neuroplasticity) so we can rewire your brain so you don’t feel pain.

We have two Physical Therapists, Lorimer Moseley and David Butler to thank for this framework of understanding pain. (their book The Explain Pain Handbook is a great one!).

We accomplish that rewiring by slowing down, moving mindfully, paying attention to the breath, changing the beliefs we hold about our body, the things we say about our body, the people we interact with about our body.

You don’t need to avoid pain.
You don’t need to push through pain.
If the quick fix stretch doesn’t get you out of pain and/or your pain is persistent, you just haven’t yet discovered the right inputs.
You aren’t broken if you experience pain.

Pain is just an invitation to slow down and pay attention.

The Gift of Winter

Yesterday my daughter looked out the window and said, “you know, this is one of those days where it looks like it should be warm outside, but it is actually freezing.”

The sky was a brilliant blue, but it was freezing. In fact, with windchill it was about 15F degrees out. But, we went out anyway and meandered through some conservation land near where we live. There was a forest floor soft with the cover of pine needles, a vast open field and a gorgeous tree for climbing in the center of the field.

I reflected on the tree as my kids climbed it. Outwardly it appeared leafless and barren.

My youngest commented that he thought it might be a petrified tree, because there it stood with it’s silvery gray, smooth trunk, cold to the touch with no leaves. It appeared dead, but we knew it was not.

That tree, I thought, could teach us all something.

The gift of winter is found in the natural slowing down that occurs.

In the winter, trees take their work inside. Having lost their leaves in the fall, they move into dormancy, where the work of the tree turns inward allowing for the creation of new leaves in the spring.

We humans can learn from this. There is such power in slowing down and turning inward.

Both encourage our somatic awareness, where we connect our body and mind and cultivate our ability to feel and be aware.

Let’s face it, next to none of us enjoy feeling things like pain, or hard emotions. But those feelings are how are body talks to us.

And those feelings can be running on constant loop this particular pandemic winter.

Slowing down in a world that rewards us for light speed everything can bring about mega discomfort. Most of us resist slowing down at all costs because it can feel like we are stopping.

We are indoors so much more in the winter, but that doesn’t mean our movement practice has to stop. We can cultivate movement practices like yoga that encourage awareness and mindfulness, noticing the breath and moving in ways that allow our bodies to speak. Winter is an opportunity to move into a more internal place to discover how to listen to the language of our body.

As the trees show us each spring. Slowing down means gaining the ability to go fast in another season.

I hope this winter you can find a way to slow down and move in ways that cultivate your inner awareness. If you’d like to move with me check out my class and program offerings.

Widening the Lens: The Diaphragm

Flip through any vocal pedagogy text and you’ll see the diaphragm listed as one of the primary muscles of inspiration. It is the second largest muscle in the body. In those texts we learn about its function of assisting in respiration and that’s the end of the discussion.

In addition to playing a role in bringing air into the lungs, it also participates in moving food to the stomach (the esophagus passes through the diaphragm), it massages the vagus nerve which wraps around the esophagus, and it helps create stability in the abdomen.

Evolutionarily, the role of the diaphragm is as a stabilizer, not as a muscle of inspiration.

This is where things start to get interesting.

When you engage in a high load activity like running or planking, the diaphragm becomes a stabilizer and you therefore can’t breathe deeply because the big D has another job to do.

Because we need more air in cardiovascular exercise we will begin to use the accessory muscles of inhalation to help create the needed space in the body. In these instances, this is the body intelligently adapting to what is being asked of it. When you are done with the high load activity the accessory muscles will stop helping and the diaphragm is no longer needed as a stabilizer so it goes back to undulating like a jellyfish, playing a larger role in respiration.

When it comes to our emotional state, the diaphragm has a hugely important role.

We are constantly subconsciouly scanning our environment to determine safety. This is called neuroception. What muscle is highly responsive to a threat perceived through our neuroception? The diaphragm.

Whether we experience a stress response of fight, flight or freeze, the diaphragm will armor up (along with the psoas and pelvic floor) in response, reverting to its role as a stabilizer. In other words it will no longer undulate like a jellyfish.

A few heads may have just exploded, so take a second to re-read those last two paragraphs.

Can you think about a time you’ve been startled? Like, REALLY startled. You might be able to conjure up the sensation of the adrenaline that flows through the body, but can you somatically sense the grip of your inner core too?

When we are in a state where most of our life is without heavy stress and a history of trauma we might experience a stressful event, have some armoring up of our inner core and then as we move back out of the stress state the diaphragm, psoas and pelvic floor revert to their normal state.

Think now about people who have endured sustained trauma, a major traumatic event, or multiple traumatic events throughout their lifetime. Or people who live with regular anxiety or panic. Their diaphragm may be in a state of armoring on the regular and not know how to be any other way.

For these individuals, taking a deep breath won’t work. (in fact it might make them want to punch you in the face if you tell them to just take a deep breath and calm down). We cannot use the breath to move into a place of calm when our nervous system is disregulated in this way.

So what do we do? We can use movement, cultivating the skill of noticing without judgement and connecting to the environment around us to teach our nervous system a new sense of safety which will help the diaphragm move out of stabilizing and back into it’s role as a muscle of respiration.

If you read this and identify yourself in these words, reach out and let’s talk. Your body can find a state of safety and movement can play a major part in getting you there.

Compensations and Coping

When your body can’t do a movement with integrity, it will find another way. The ability to compensate is part of what keeps us alive and moving. Compensations aren’t bad, but in the long run they aren’t likely to allow you to move your best and feel your best.

Compensations will eventually cease to help you and you’ll have two options. One is find another way to move that resolves the compensation pattern. Or, two, subconsciously build another pattern and move further into compensations. Number two can become a really hard cycle to break.

Earlier this week I had a 1-on-1 session with Susi Hately to work on my wonky hip (dysplasia, labral tear and CAM type impingement). Much of our work together is identifying the subtle ways I’ve compensated for my structural issue and finding new ways of moving. Some of those compensations are relatively recent, showing up in the past year when I first developed pain. Others have been there my whole life because I have a hip socket that never fully formed.

In our session I began to see that when attempting to do something as simple as a hip hinge, I was actually bringing my torso over, rather than my leg up. That was my compensation and it hit me…coping mechanisms are emotional compensations.

In this past week, #6 of our Stay At Home order, I hit a wall of sorts when it came to coping, and I watched myself turn to one of my yellow-light activities of eating chocolate chips.

Those handfuls of chips are a sure sign I’m not addressing my emotions (hello Coronavirus pandemic, I’m eyeing you!), or feeling as though I have an outlet for them.

There were a lot of years early in my parenting life where my fumbling through motherhood and raising small children, as one does, resulted in handfuls of chocolate chips consumed because I hadn’t developed the skills I needed, the tribe I needed, or the ability to recognize even what was setting me off.

In other words, for years I took my children’s entirely normal behaviors, made them personal, thought I was failing massively and drowned my frustrations and sorrow in a bag of semi-sweet morsels.

It took me TIME to recognize that turning to the chips was my version of wine-o’clock, or a tub of ice cream to numb out my feelings, or too much Netflix and chill. The chips got me through in the moment, the rush of feeling good from the sugar eased the emotional pain of struggle. BUT, they also left me crashed out after, craving more and no closer to better dealing with the reality of my life and the two children who looked on with adoration and probably wondered on some level why mom was a mess.

My coping mechanism was a massive emotional compensation. My way out of just coping was to get mindfully aware of my triggers, start to skill build a better way of dealing with my emotions and finally be able to step the hell away from the chocolate chips.

The good news is, I did just that and slowly, eating handfuls of chocolate chips became much less of a thing for me (much to the joy of my children who then had chocolate chips available for pancakes made by daddy on the weekends).

It was interesting to watch myself start to traverse down that same path this week. One day after many handfuls of chips I had my session with Susi and that connection between compensations and coping hit me.

That realization combined with the relationship that chocolate chips and I now have was enough for me to see the glaring yellow light they represent. It allowed me to step away from the bag and start to get mindfully aware of being triggered and think about how I can skill build in new ways to get through this time.

Just as my physical compensations get replaced with more efficient and effective movement patterns, I want to get back to work on replacing my emotional compensations too.

I don’t beat myself up for the handfuls I had. It’s over and done with. But, I’m choosing to move forward in a way that isn’t Groundhog Day over and over and over. I pulled out my journal and am writing each morning. I said yes to a mindset talk that was offered yesterday. I’m taking longer walks, and talking about my feelings with family and friends. I’ll choose to keep seeking out activities that fill my cup, rather than keeping me in the cycle of highs and lows brought on by the chips.