WSW update + August yoga classes

Rachel headshot.Beach

Lots of swimming in the ocean to balance lots of time in my head.

Several moons have passed since I decided to take some time to clarify Wooden Spoon Wellness’s work and its impact on women’s holistic health. I am grateful for this space and for all those who have supported me on the journey thus far. It’s a luxury and a privilege to do this and I do not take for granted.
 
I have spent this time writing, visioning, speaking with colleagues who do cutting-edge, bad-ass work to empower women globally, studying with various teachers, and testing out new methods for working with clients. It has been humbling to hear about issues women continue to face with regard to their health and their bodies- challenges that many of us would expect to have been resolved long ago- however I’ve also been inspired to learn about efforts underway to shift things. There is currently something very special in the air and the possibilities for women’s health and empowerment are expansive.

My task in the midst of all of this has been to identify women’s needs as they relate to health and empowerment; to consider the resources that are already out there to address these needs; to identify the unique value that my work and Wooden Spoon Wellness can add (while financially supporting myself); to laugh, dance, and enjoy life throughout!!!

At a certain point, decisions need to be made, and I will take until December 31st, 2016 to launch the next iteration of Wooden Spoon Wellness. Until then, I will continue to teach and coach in a limited capacity, and I intend to run a workshop or two to test possible directions this work will take.

Workshop dates have not yet been set but I am teaching yoga every Wednesday in August at 6:15pm at Now Yoga in Union Square, Manhattan. Classes are one hour and by-donation. They’ll include a form of yoga that is slow but challenging. I’m also very excited to weave in yoga nidra, which helps you to cultivate a deep state of relaxation. Whether you have zero experience with yoga or a lot of experience, you will leave having learned something about your body (and hopefully more.) Come treat yourself to a mid-week, low-cost, juicy hour of movement and relaxation!

The first class is next Wednesday, August 3rd. The address is Now Yoga @The Shala Yoga House, 815 Broadway, 2nd floor. You can sign up in advance here. Walk-ins are also welcome.

I hope to see you at one class or another and will continue to keep you updated as plans develop. As always, please feel free to be in touch via email or through Facebook if you have thoughts about the current or future work of Wooden Spoon Wellness.

Many blessings for a beautiful summer!

My 108-Day Meditation Challenge: Tales from My Head

meditation space

On March 11th, 2015, I made a commitment to meditate everyday for 108 days. I fulfilled this commitment on June 26 without skipping a day. It was not easy and there were days when I almost broke this vow to myself but I did it. So what led an anti-meditator to change course? How did such a busy-bee minded person sit in complete stillness each day? And why 108 days?

I decided to start meditating because last fall, when I wasn’t meeting with clients or colleagues, or traveling, or managing my household, or health, or personal relationships, the time spent by myself was occupied entirely by technology. I bounced between three email addresses (one personal and two business accounts), two Facebook accounts (one personal and one business), and text messages. I put a lot of energy into the world and toward other people and I didn’t have much left for myself. I had laser-like focus when people were in front of me but then, once on my own, my attention span was about 2 minutes long and I was driven by my technological devices. I struggled at times to tap into my intuition.

Some of you might be surprised to read this because this is precisely the lifestyle support I offer clients. Well, we health coaches sometimes struggle and practicing what I preach is not always easy. (So when I tell you that I get what you’re going through, I REALLY mean it.) In addition, those of you who know me know that, while intense, I am a pretty chill person. I’ve intentionally cultivated mindfulness and awareness in my life since 2002, engaging in a variety of healing modalities to become more present in each moment: yoga, talk therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, Tantra, physical therapy, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais… I love guided meditations and incorporate them in my health coaching and yoga teaching.

Straight meditation, where you focus on your breath and cultivate your ability to rest your thoughts always seemed like torture to me though. I am blessed to lead a relaxed lifestyle but I go a bit batty when I sit still for long periods of time. (In Yiddish, we call this having shpilkes which is akin to ‘ants in my pants’.) By the winter of last year, it was clear that I needed a radical shift and the tools I already had in my tool belt were not cutting it. It seemed worthwhile to at least try meditation. It was not easy but here is some of what I learned and some tips if you’re interested in developing a meditation practice as well:

1. I realized I could not do it on my own, at least not at the beginning.

I found a few teachers to study with in New York and in Hawaii and learned through trial and error that, given my challenges, it was really helpful to be with a group of people and cultivate a daily meditation routine together. I sat with them each day for 24-minutes at the same time each day. Once I got into the groove with others, I felt like I could do it on my own. This was what ultimately inspired me (and gave me the confidence) to do a 108-day challenge. I also publicized that I was doing a 108-day challenge on Facebook in order to create accountability and motivate myself to have a daily practice at home.

Practicing with other people everyday may seem unrealistic for some of you. There are a variety of expensive, less expensive, and free ways to do this but all require carving out time. Attending a retreat or immersion at a meditation center are perhaps the easiest ways to find community and accountability because you are only surrounded by like-minded, committed folks and someone else is dictating your schedule. If you do a retreat or immersion, I recommend going for at least 7 days so that you really develop a routine and experience the benefits of the practice.

If a getaway is not an option, there may be meditation groups in your area or you and a roommate, partner or friend can practice together. Alternatively, while I felt the need to distance myself from technology, technology may be helpful for some of you. Consider using video Skype with someone else who is also developing a practice or already has one. A variety of apps also exist. See this recent article on the “Best Meditation iPhone and Android Apps of 2015.

2. As a newbie, identifying and creating the ‘right’ physical space made a difference for me (and I aspire to let go of it)

While I aspired to be able to meditate anywhere, I needed a default, dedicated space where I could meditate each day. I made a concerted effort to identify what I needed for my go-to space. As I mentioned above, my intention behind the meditation was to create some distance from technology so I could not have the spot close to my computer. Living in a 4-room apartment in New York City, that left three rooms open: bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom. Bedroom it was!

I was very clear that I needed a connection to nature so my spot needed to be by a window. My bedroom has two windows: one that is two yards from the window to my neighbor’s kitchen and one that faces my other neighbors’ yards. I opted for the second window.

My bedroom is rectangular and the bed occupies most of the space but I felt the need to create distinction between sleep space and meditation space so that I did not associate sleep with meditation. I didn’t want to physically block the meditation area all of the time because that would limit sunlight during non-meditation time so I created a daily ritual to convert the vibe of the room: I intentionally did not leave meditation-related things in place all the time. Rather, before each sit, I put the pillows on the floor and, on the sill of the window I face, I put a crystal that reminds me of the ocean, a relaxing-scented candle, and a little figurine of Ganesh, the Hindu god who represents the removal of obstacles. (While I don’t believe in Hindu gods, the little Ganesh regularly reminds me to identify and remove the things that may impede my ability to create space for myself.)

All of this is to say, get creative about creating your meditation space. If connecting to nature is important to you but that is not an option in your home space, print a photo from a place you find calming and put it in front of you while you meditate. Maybe the space doesn’t matter for you. Maybe you’re able to find stillness anywhere. If so, rock on!

Ultimately, there is only so much control we have other these things anyway. If you live in an apartment, you might have loud neighbors. If you have a child or children, it can be challenging to find a physical space where your kid/s and their sound do not penetrate. Kids raise a different issue however than rock n’ rolling neighbors. As a parent, you have been trained to have what one of my client’s calls “Mama Ears”. You necessarily put their voices above your own because you are responsible for their well-being. Be gentle with yourself on this front. Perhaps, at least in the early days of your practice while you’re getting into your grove, meditate while they are out of the house or, if possible, have your child/children be under someone else’s safe care and out of auditory range.

3. I had to find a balance between discipline (to maintain a daily practice) and flexibility (with my time and environment)

Changing any behavior requires discipline. I historically have associated discipline with punishment and negative consequences. My aim with meditation however was to nourish myself so in theory meditating everyday should 1. feel like a choice everyday and not something I was forcing myself to do and 2. should feel like a positive decision. As you’ll see from my journal, at times I craved my meditation space and felt like I was truly doing my body, mind, and spirit good. At other times, it was REALLY difficult to truly believe that sitting down to meditate was an exciting, loving thing to do for myself.

I believe one of the keys to maintaining my commitment to meditate everyday was the measure of flexibility I allowed myself: the time of day when I meditated and the amount of time I would sit for could vary and move with my schedule. I was thus making choices related to my meditation practice. It was not a given.

My baseline was to sit for 24 minutes but, as one of my teachers taught us, there are benefits to be gained from 12 minutes of meditation or even 6 minutes if necessary. In addition, when I wasn’t able to sit first thing in the morning in my bedroom, I would try to meditate somewhere else at a different time. I most often did not get a satisfying, juicy meditation outside of my cozy bedroom setup but that sometimes made me more disciplined to create the space for that the next day.

Maybe for you it will be different but don’t judge yourself if you give yourself a longer rope one day and it proves really difficult. That’s where you are that day.

4. Journaling immediately after my meditation helped me to focus on my breath during my meditation

Journaling gave me a place to put the thoughts that arose during my meditation. This helped my meditation because I could just say to myself, “I will deal with this thought later, when I journal.” I didn’t need to hold these thoughts in my head thus freeing me to focus on my breath during my sit.

Here are a few musings from my journal to illustrate some of the ideas above (or at the very least to entertain you):

3/11/15 At this time of day, if I sit just to the right of center of the window, I can see the moon from my meditation seat.

3/12/15 Today I sit down to meditate with the moon and will rise from my meditation with the sun. That’s cool. Inhale. Exhale. No, I’m not supposed to say that. Inhale nourishment. Exhale toxins. No, that doesn’t work. My inhalations and exhalations are shorter than that. Am I doing this right? Am I forcing my breath? Now I’m judging myself… Inhale, nourish. Exhale, cleanse. That works better… I should be nicer to myself.

 3/17/15 I started looking for the pain in my hip that I’d been feeling for the last few weeks but it wasn’t there… I wanted to sit for longer today. The timer went off after 24 minutes but I would have been fine sitting for longer. Score!

 3/20/15 As my teacher suggested, I started classifying thoughts as they entered into my meditation. Today, when I started thinking about how I would write about this, I named the thought: “I care what people think. I care how I am perceived. That is fear. Hi fear. I need to focus on my breath now. Bye!!!” And I banished her into the cosmos.

 3/25/15 There are about 7 bright blue blue jays in the backyard. We have blue jays? How have I never noticed this before????

 4/1/15 I resisted sitting today. I wanted to get things done around the apartment and clean. I forced myself to mediate but I didn’t feel present in my body. Feeling frustrated.

 4/3/15 Traveling for the first time during my 108 days and staying with family. I didn’t want to sit. I wanted to dive into the morning energy of the house and play with my adorable 2-year old nephew. I resisted though and created the space for myself instead. It can be so easy to lose myself in my family and their needs but I feel so connected to my needs now. Do I do this in my life in other ways? Is connecting with others sometimes a distraction from my other commitments? I originally thought I would post regular updates about my 108-day challenge on Facebook but I’m finding that, during my sit, I start to think about the pieces I will share. I ask myself, “What am I learning now? What can I share that others will benefit from hearing?” I need this time for me. No more Facebook updates.

4/6/15 Coming into my breath tonight was really good. I noticed I was gripping in my abdomen. Do I do this often over the course of the day? How does this affect my health?

 4/9/15 The thoughts that popped into my meditation related to past relationships. I think I need some extra love today. Calling my girls in 4, 3, 2…

 4/19/15 (technically 4/20) Sometimes I wonder who or what I’m doing this for. Am I doing this just so that I can say I did it?

 4/21/15 The 12-minute sit was too short but I don’t have time to do more. I am craving more time being quiet and connecting with myself though. This is good information. I will give myself more space today and will move slowly. I will practice my “No.”

 5/9/15 Sometimes I am so tired that I start to pass out while I’m sitting. Sometimes I am so tired that I forget I’m meditating and let my mind wander. I wonder if it’s worth it to even try to sit on those days. What’s the point?

 5/19/15 Big, creative ideas are entering my head during meditation– new ideas for my businesses, my home, the way I want to decorate the corner of the living room now that I got rid of the furniture that was there… I’m supposed to be meditating but I haven’t had this level of creativity in a while. It’s so great! Should I stifle these ideas?

 6/1/15 Tried to meditate on the train from NYC to NJ. Sitting quietly is not the same as meditating.

 6/3/15 Tried meditating while waiting for friends at a concert in the park. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that but I am SOOOO not there. At least not today.

 6/5/15 I largely focused on my breath today. The only other thoughts that popped into my head related to a client and how I might support her. I gently brought my attention back to myself—this is my time, she has her time. This meditation space is the place where I nourish myself, I nourish others in other spaces.

 6/19/15 Really enjoying this time by myself. So luscious!

 6/25/15 Tried lying down for meditation. Totally not successful. Too much space to fidget. I put my hand in the air so I wouldn’t fall asleep—that was really annoying. Lesson learned. Only sitting.

So why 108? 108 is a number that has significance in Hinduism and Buddhism as well as other religions. There are 108 beads, for example, on a string of mala beads that practitioners use similar to the ways Catholics use rosary beads, to count chants and mantras. Both traditions believe that the body has 108 channels to the heart and activating each through 108 repetitions of mantras creates harmony and balance.

I chose 108 as the number of days for my challenge in case this whole energy channel thing was legit but also because, at the very least, I thought that a 3½ month daily routine would feel pretty ingrained by the end.

And goodness, was it ever!

In the stillness and in the discipline, I found spaciousness. Each day I had room to check-in with myself and my body. I could identify imbalances and adjust my day accordingly (like the day when I realized some extra love so I reached out to my closest ladies). At a certain point, I sometimes started to crave my meditation practice, like a crisp glass of water when you are really thirsty.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, my intention in developing a daily meditation practice was to cultivate stillness in my head. Perhaps the biggest thing that I learned and continue to re-learn over and over again is that my meditation practice is not about my head. It is about my breath. It is not about my head. It is about my breath. It is not about my head. It is about my breath…

Meditation is nothing but enjoying your beautiful aloneness. Celebrating yourself; that’s what meditation is all about. – Osho

Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. – Pema Chodron

Natural Health 101, Prevention: Yoga

Body partsThe second in Wooden Spoon Wellness’s Natural Health 101 series, this blog provides an overview of yoga. These three techniques have been shown to prevent injury or ailments when practiced correctly on a regular basis. [1] Yoga, as well as other Eastern traditional practices such as qigong, and tai chi, can all be considered ‘moving meditations’, which is to say that each modality includes a physical practice as well as a mental and spiritual practice. They each fundamentally originate from the belief that when the mind, body, and spirit are in balance, our wellbeing remains in balance. The Natural Health 101 series is intended to serve as entries to the practices or broaden your experiences if you already have an established practice. Even if you have practiced yoga, I hope you will read these articles and share your thoughts and experiences.

It is important to note that this blog provides a very broad sketch of each modality and is humbly written from my experiences and readings. Yoga has existed for thousands of years and derive from larger cultural, historical, and religious contexts. It is thus much more nuanced than I could possibly describe, though other blogs in the Natural Health 101 series will discuss other aspects of the healing traditions from which this practice emerges. In addition, the right teacher will be able to bring in comprehensive components of the practice and help you build holistic strength and immunity to prevent disease and injury. While each modality is complex, if you are open to learning, you will notice the benefits very quickly. Do not be intimidated! We all start somewhere.

Yoga: What is it?
In her article, “Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras,” one of my teachers, Cyndi Lee, writes: “The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment). Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.” [2]

I appreciate Cyndi Lee’s overview of yoga because she highlights that the classes that are most widely available, and that you are most likely to experience, focus primarily on the physical practice of yoga (asana, or, postures). Asana can be very powerful unto itself. As another of my teachers, Aman Rai, says, “Your body does not help you come into asana. Asana helps you come into your body.”

I’ve experienced this in many ways since I took my first yoga class in 1999. Proper alignment was important to my teachers and I frequently would walk out of a class into a bustling part of Manhattan feeling taller, quieter, and lighter like air, or feeling the expansiveness of my lungs and chest. In 2008, when I sustained an injury that turned my world upside down, one of the physical therapists I worked with told me that I was more body aware than any client she’d had: because of my yoga practice, I was able to quickly understand her instructions, isolate the particular body parts or muscles she needed me to work, and ask questions about proper positioning. While I don’t have evidence, I believe it helped me to recover. If nothing else, I had moments of feeling empowered which is a rare feeling when your body is not where you want it to be or where it once was. (Perhaps some of you can relate to that. :))

Despite or perhaps because of my injury, I strengthened my work on other limbs of yoga as well– through breathing exercises, personal meditation, and guided meditation. Today, my asana (posture) practice is not as intensive as it once was but pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) regularly grounds me and the niyamas (observances) have helped me to grow Wooden Spoon Wellness. Yoga has become a path toward home for me; when my mind is foggy or I feel disconnected from my body or my purpose, my yoga practice brings me back to center.

Scientific studies support many of the claims teachers such as those suggested by Lee and Rai. They show that regular yoga practice can prevent heart disease, help heal cancer and high blood pressure. It also alleviates symptoms of some chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Scientists have also proven that relaxation techniques developed through yoga positively affect people’s mental health by decreasing stress, insomnia, and depression. Yoga even changes genes that affect immunity according to one study and slows aging according to another study. [3]

Yoga can also help prevent everyday things. If you are feeling ‘off’ or stressed, you are frequently sick with a cold, or you need to detox, for example, yoga can help. [4] Many different yoga schools and types of practices exist and have health benefits. Here are a few broad overviews of some of the yoga classes you might come across:

  • Hatha: These classes tend to be slower, address some of the more basic poses and cultivate some of the mental focus and discipline that is part of the larger yoga tradition mentioned above. These classes are generally good for beginners.
  • Restorative: These classes are designed to relax and recover. They often involve props, such as large pillows and blocks that will be made available in the class.
  • Iyengar: This school of yoga focuses on alignment and can thus be helpful for beginners. Classes often do not follow a particular sequence as you might in other classes and there is often more starting and stopping than you would experience in a flow class. Props, such as blocks, straps, or chairs are often involved and you may be asked to work in partnership with another class participant.
  • Vinyasa: Also sometimes called ‘flow’, these classes tend to be a bit more fast-paced than hatha and generally involve a similar sequence of postures from one class to the next.
  • Ashtanga: A more regimented version of vinyasa, it often has set sequences that do not vary from class to class. Ashtanga is often considered the more gymnastic version of yoga.
  • Bikram or Hot Yoga: These classes take place in a heated room and are generally fast-paced.
  • Kundalini: These classes are generally focused on developing the spiritual self and awareness through meditation, postures, breathing exercises, and chanting.
  • Yoga Nidra: These classes are less common in the US but if you can find one, they support you in cultivating deep relaxation through breathing exercises and guided meditation, amongst other things.

What does a typical class include?
Classes generally last 45 minutes to an hour and a half and are led by a teacher who will guide you through a variety of postures and/or exercises.

Wear clothing you can easily and freely move around in and that you can sweat in. You will likely bend over a lot or invert your body so very loose clothing may ride up and expose skin. Bearing skin is very common in yoga classes so if this is something you are not comfortable with you might consider wearing more form-fitting clothing and/or long, loose clothing with tighter seams at the waist and ankles.

Yoga requires a mat. You can buy and bring your own yoga mat but most places offer standard-sized mats for free or for a small fee (typically $1). Standard-sized mats are about 72 inches feet long so if you are taller than that and you are compelled by the practice, I highly recommend investing in a longer mat.

Some classes may include props such as pillows, blocks, or straps that the teacher will make available for the duration of the class.

Things to consider when choosing a class:

  • If you have any injuries, be sure to tell your teacher before the class, even if it is a restorative class. Some poses can be difficult on your body but a good teacher will offer alternative moves for you to do.
  • Yoga can cause injury. Before EVERY class you take, it is very important to be aware of your limits. It is also important to work with a teacher or teachers who are attuned to proper alignment and can minimize the risk of injury. [5]
  • How big is the class? If you have the option and especially if you are just starting out, I recommend finding a class with fewer students where you can have more of the teacher’s attention.
  • Yoga classes are driven by the teacher’s directions so the teacher’s training and personality greatly influence your experience. There are MANY different kinds of yoga as mentioned above and even within a particular school different teachers will create very different class vibes—some classes will be very mellow and calming, the teacher will burn incense or play Indian chant music and rub your temples with scented oils, some teachers will play no music, provide basic instruction and take a hands-off approach, some will make adjustments while you are in certain poses, or play pop music—the possibilities are endless. See what you are in the mood for before you go to a class and call the studio to learn a bit what to expect if it is not available on the website. Or just go for it and see what’s up.
  • Are you comfortable having a teacher touch you to adjust your pose? Sometimes for example, a teacher may put their hands on your shoulders while you are standing or they might stand behind you and pull your hips back… If you are not comfortable being touched, be sure to speak with the teacher before the class and ask if they tend to make adjustments to students. If so, tell them to give you verbal instructions instead.

Here are some key terms that you might come across when looking at class descriptions:

  • asana (posture): Sometimes class descriptions will say that you will explore certain asanas or hold asanas for a longer period of time and thus will help cultivate discipline as well as awareness of those particular body parts.
  • prana (life force or energy): Classes that include a focus on prana generally give special attention to your breath. They may include breathing exercises (pranayama).
  • kirtan (a form of chanting): Sometimes classes include kirtan. The teacher may have a musical instrument or live musicians. The chants generally are in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian dialect) and blessings to invoke certain Hindu gods and/or the things the gods represent.

What does it generally cost?
The price of yoga classes varies greatly. Classes typically run from $10-$20. Bikram or hot yoga tends to be more expensive. Many cities have a chain called Yoga for the People which is by donation. http://yogatothepeople.com Some schools also offer “Community classes” or donation-only classes. These classes are often taught by new teachers or yoga teacher students and suggest a minimum donation of $5 or $7.

Videos and free online classes are widely available though I’d strongly recommend working with a teacher at least to start because of the risk of injury.

Yoga mats, should you choose to purchase one, range significantly in cost, anywhere from $10 to about $100. Cheaper mats will generally not last as long and may not have much grip. You can get a pretty solid mat though for about $30.

——–

[1]  These modalities could also be included in my “Movement Therapies” blog as they have also been shown to heal certain ailments or injuries such as lower back pain. In addition, while this blog only covers three preventative techniques, other practices such as martial arts or various forms of dance, could be added to this blog as well.

[2] Cyndi Lee. “Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, & the Sutras.” Yoga Journal, October 7, 2014.

[3] See “Evidence-Based Research, Studies on Yoga and Health.” Center for Yoga and Health. ; Dr. Dean Ornish, et al. “Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity…The Lancet Oncology. 17 September 2013; Massachusetts General Hospital press release, “Study finds relaxation response triggers genomic changes.” May 10, 2013.

[4] Dr. Marc Halpern. “What Does An Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist Do?Yogacamp, June 20, 2013.

[5] See Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation. “Can Being Too Flexible Be Harmful?” and Roger Cole. “Yoga Shouldn’t Hurt.” Yoga Journal, June 26, 2008.

Natural Healthcare 101: Movement Therapies

So you are injured. (First of all, I’m sorry to hear that and I hope you feel better soon.) But what do you do? Below are overviews of various movement therapies that can help you recover in the short-term and teach you long-term strategies to help you move in healthier ways. Some of the techniques relieve pain and some re-train your muscles or ligaments. The different modalities are not mutually exclusive: if you have the resources and the determination, you might engage in physical therapy as well as Alexander Technique for example. Or you might do physical therapy in the short-term and Feldenkrais Method afterward.

Treatment of the wrist

All of these therapies require work, willpower, and commitment. All practitioners will give you work to do in between sessions. It is easy to push the homework to the side and devise excuses for not doing it. I have sustained a fair number of injuries over the last decade and can tell you that there can be a huge difference between doing the work in between sessions and not doing the work. The homework can speed up your recovery and, because most injuries never fully heal, it can help you avoid further injury or pain down the line. I sustained an elbow injury in 2007 that made typing on a computer excruciatingly painful. To this day, the pain returns if I am regularly typing but not doing my exercises for a few weeks. Develop the habit of doing your exercises on your own. It will be much harder to pick up later, when you’re no longer regularly seeing a practitioner.

Western Approach: Physical Therapy

What is it?

Physical therapy is generally the therapy that a Western doctor or orthopedist will recommend for injuries. It is usually the first stop after injury, before alternative healing modalities, because it addresses the immediate problem.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association’s website, “Physical therapists (PTs) are… licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects. Physical therapists can teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan, using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.” [1]

What does a typical session include?

The initial assessment is generally 45 minutes to an hour and subsequent sessions can last anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half depending on the severity of your injury and the management plan that has been developed for you. Most management plans include one to three visits per week for at least a few weeks, depending on the severity of the issue. Some management plans can last for months.

A session may include: electrical nerve stimulation, heat or ice therapy, ultrasound therapy, weights, stationary equipment, bands and exercise balls such as those found in gyms, balance boards, foam rollers, deep tissue massage, whirlpools. There will likely be exercises for you to do at home as well.

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

1. Do you prefer a generalist or a specialist? If you’d like a specialist, you might look for someone who specializes in a particular body part (i.e. hand, ankle, pelvic floor). You also might ask about the typical clientele (i.e. athletes, older people, women).

2. Particularly if you are seriously injured, location and hours of operation may be a consideration because you may need to go often (i.e. three times a week). If you are working or have daily obligations, you will need to find a place that has long hours—many PT clinics will have early morning and Saturday hours. PTs who work in hospitals may not have these options.

3. Does the physical therapist employ assistants? If so, how much time on average will be spent with the physical therapist and how much time will be spent with the assistants? On average, how many clients is a PT seeing at any given time? (Some PTs will see multiple patients at a time—the PT will start off with one patient and the PTA will work with them for the remainder of the time while the PT sees other patients, occasionally checking in.)

4. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions or after you’ve completed your course of treatment (as opposed to explaining the exercises orally)?

5. Will you need to wear special clothing (i.e. short sleeves, shorts, sneakers, or clothes that can get ultrasound gel or lotion on them)?

6. Does the physical therapist use ultrasound and if so, is this something that you want to do? Most PTs use ultrasound but there is little scientific evidence to show that ultrasound works and some scientific evidence to show that it can damage some sensitive or already damaged tissues. [2]

7. Does your insurance cover physical therapy? If so, how many visits do they cover each year? What does the coverage process entail? [NOTE: Health insurance may cover most or all of the cost of physical therapy visits but most plans only cover a set number of visits per year. The coverage process can sometimes be quite involved as some health insurance policies will only approve payment for a small number of visits and then require PTs to submit regular progress reports. This report is evaluated by an auditor within the insurance company. The auditor either denies further coverage or approves another small number of sessions. This auditor only evaluates coverage through the report—they have never met you and do not know your health history.]

What does it generally cost?

If your insurance covers visits, there may be a co-pay. Average co-pays are between $10-$75/visit. Out-of-network or out-of-pocket physical therapy ranges considerably. Average cost is $50-$350/visit. [3]

Alexander Technique

What is it?

The Alexander Technique was developed in the first half of the 20th century and is both a way to prevent injury and a way to heal from injury.

According to the Alexander Technique website: “The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life. The Alexander process shines a light on inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interferes with our innate ability to move easily and according to how we are designed. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that offers the opportunity to take charge of one’s own learning and healing process, because it’s not a series of passive treatments but an active exploration that changes the way one thinks and responds in activity. It produces a skill set that can be applied in every situation. Lessons leave one feeling lighter, freer, and more grounded.”

“The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change (movement) habits in our everyday activities. It is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It is not a series of treatments or exercises, but rather a reeducation of the mind and body. The Alexander Technique is a method which helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities…” [4]

Many performers, people with alignment and joint problems such as back pain or carpal tunnel, find it helpful and many practitioners are current or former performers. Scientific studies support some of these favorable claims as well as the use of Alexander Technique in helping Parkinson’s patients. [5]

What does a typical session include?

You can work one-on-one with an Alexander Technique teacher or in a group class. Sessions are generally 30 minutes to an hour.

The teacher may use props such as a chair, a table or other things you encounter in your everyday life as well as mirrors to help you understand your movement or alignment patterns. Expect gentle touch from the teacher.

Wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in—you will be fully clothed the entire time. Also wear socks that you’re comfortable showing to other people. (You will take off your shoes.)

Because Alexander Technique entails re-training the mind, sessions are pretty cerebral. You focus your mind on different body parts at different times and, if successful, you will become intimately familiar with your body and its movement.

See also the “What does a typical session include?” section of the Feldenkrais Method for more.

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

Because you are working with a teacher as opposed to a therapist, it may be helpful to get a sense of the practitioner’s teaching style as well as their background. I’d recommend calling any teachers you are considering working with and asking them a few key questions:

  1. What is their background and why did they choose to go into this profession? For example, a teacher who has a dance background may be great if you are also a dancer because they can use language you already understand to explain techniques. Ultimately, you want to work with someone with whom you have a connection and good communication.
  2. How have they handled students who do not understand what they are being asked to do? Ask them for an example from a real situation.
  3. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions (as opposed to explaining the homework orally)?
  4. What is the average duration of sessions? In other words, how long do their clients typically stay with them for? This is a valuable question to ask because it can take a while to understand the technique.

What does it generally cost?

Average one-on-one lessons can run $50-$90/session, depending on the teacher’s experience. Initial consultations may be a bit more and last a bit longer than regular sessions. Some practitioners offer package deals. Group lessons generally reduce the cost to about $40-$50/person/class.

Feldenkrais Method

What is it?

Like Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais was developed in the first half of the 20th century and re-trains your mind and body to move in what practitioners consider to be more efficient ways. According to the Feldenkrais Center for Movement Education: “The Feldenkrais Method® is for anyone who wants to make the things they do easier, more efficient and pleasurable. Feldenkrais Method is a mind-body approach, which combines movement and awareness to help you move and live more comfortably and effectively. Whether it is basic actions like sitting or walking, the daily demands of work and home, or your recreational activities – from painting and gardening to running or dance – Feldenkrais offers enjoyable and effective ways to improve how you move. Injury, illness, pain, stress and the effects of ageing can diminish your capacity and the enjoyment of your movement – and your life. Feldenkrais classes and individual sessions allow you to rediscover lost abilities and pleasure in your movement.” [6]

Various studies show the positive effects of the method on various ailments but many of these studies were conducted by Feldenkrais practitioners. A more comprehensive analysis of the studies would need to be conducted to reveal less biased perspectives however. [7]

What does a typical session include?

You can work one-on-one with a Feldenkrais teacher (called Functional Integration) or in group classes (called Awareness Through Movement, or ATM). In each, the teacher guides you through various positions and postures to retrain the way you move. Functional Integration classes are typically conducted on a low table and group ATM classes are typically conducted on the ground. Expect gentle touch from the teacher.

Wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in—you will be fully clothed the entire time. Also wear socks that you’re comfortable showing to other people. (You will take off your shoes.)

Alexander Technique focuses on releasing compression in each movement, particularly as your movement relates to the neck and spine. Feldenkrais Method however concerns itself with efficient movement by relying on the entire, larger skeletal structure. [8]

Here is an interesting point to consider:

“Selecting individuals for various alternative medicine treatments is not an exact science. It is impossible to know who will succeed with their treatment and who will not. The overall goal of the Feldenkrais method and Alexander technique differs from most medical or even alternative treatments in that these methods are not trying to fix a problem or cure an ailment. Rather, the goal of these movement techniques is to teach the student to become more aware of his or her own movements functionally and kinesthetically. The result may be an improvement, however, of posture or liberation of muscle tension. Others may have an improvement of voice projection or quality. Additionally, for some, the techniques may improve chronic pain, balance, coordination, or flexibility. The techniques also may improve breathing patterns and an overall fluidity of movement. Overall, the techniques primarily teach students a general awareness of movement, and all else is added benefit.” [9]

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

I recommend asking the same questions of a Feldenkrais Method teacher as an Alexander Technique teacher:

  1. What is their background and why did they choose to go into this profession? For example, a teacher who has a dance background may be great if you are also a dancer because they can use language you already understand to explain techniques. Ultimately, you want to work with someone with whom you have a connection and good communication.
  2. How have they handled students who do not understand what they are being asked to do? Ask them for an example from a real situation.
  3. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions (as opposed to explaining the homework orally)?
  4. What is the average duration of sessions? In other words, how long do their clients typically stay with them for? This is a valuable question to ask because it can take a while to understand the technique.

What does it generally cost?

One-on-one sessions are generally comparable to massage therapist rates, approximately $100-$120/hour for regular visits and sometimes more for initial consultations. There is a Feldenkrais low-fee clinic in Manhattan though that charges a sliding scale, between $30-$70/class. Group classes vary significantly and can be $10-25/class or more for lengthier workshops. Class packages are sometimes offered and may reduce the price.

Have you tried a movement therapy or are you are curious about one not mentioned in this blog? Let us know. Leave a comment below!

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[1]  American Physical Therapy Association’s website.

[2]  See for example KG Baker, et al. “A Review of Therapeutic Ultrasound Effectiveness Studies.Physical Therapy 81 (7) July 2001: 1339-1350 and for precautions, see an overview of Ultrasound Therapy on SportsInjuryClinic.com.

[3]  http://health.costhelper.com/physical-therapist.html

[4]  Alexander Technique website. Further reading: “Some Common Misconceptions about the Alexander Technique.

[5]  See for example Paul Little et al. “Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain.” BMJ 2008: 337:a884; JP Woodman and NR Moore. “Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systemic review.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 2012 Jan; 66(1): 98-112. See also, Andrea Matthew. “Why Performers Need the Alexander Technique.”

[6]  Feldenkrais Center for Movement Education website.

[7]  For an overview of various studies conducted prior to 2012, see pp. 13-17 and “Table of Feldenkrais Research Studies” in Australian Feldenkrais Guild, Inc. “Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies.” Submission to the Department of Health and Aging, 2012/13.

[8]  See Nora Nausbaum. “What is the Difference between the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method.” Strings. Sept/October 1997, vol 64.

[9]  S. Jain et al. “Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method: A Critical Overview.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 15 (2004) 823.