Monday, December 29, 2014

What I'm Drinking

I've done what I must - become a tea-nut (given that all the fun drinks are largely off limits and that part of my health-regimen is firmly centred on being hydrated at all times).

Don't worry - there are some seriously enjoyable tisanes out there: teas to encourage calmness (that have nothing to do with chamomile aka nature's grossest taste), teas to bring energy (that have nothing to do with peppermint aka nature's other grossest taste), teas to encourage or to reduce all the things you want to encourage and/or reduce. Teas that simply taste delicious for no reason. I'm focused on the ones with minimal caffeine - I really don't need anymore buzz than my daily coffee provides. Not only that, but I like to drink tea in the evenings. While I'm not particularly caffeine-sensitive, it sometimes keeps me awake if I drink it after 4 pm.

The world of leaves is rather rich, more so than ever. So if you're looking for a way to introduce novelty into 2015, consider my current faves:

From Tealish

Toasty Almond: I believe this might be the most ripped-off blend on the planet. But don't go for the imitations. From what I understand, this is the blend that made Tealish (a Toronto local). It's entirely herbal so you can drink it till you're blue in the face but it is full of almond slivers, so if you have an allergy, walk away. It's slightly tart, perfectly balanced as apple and beet pieces offset the caramel subnotes of the nuts. It's naturally sweet, perfectly so. For those who eschew cinnamon (as do I), no worries. It's not a dominant taste. Little story: This was sold-out EVERYWHERE in TO before Xmas - including online. Only the Queen Street store carried it and they were running out! I bought an absurd amount, as if the tea-markets were crashing and, somehow, 2 weeks later, it's almost done!

Stress Buster: Everyone I know hates this - but they're stupid! OK, no one's stupid, they just don't get the glow of calm from this tea as much as they get a taste that doesn't work for them. Tulsi is polarizing but it's also very relaxing. Kind of the inverse of the way in which coffee fills you with its inspiration as the drug kicks in. I drink this one medicinally.

From David's Tea

A Currant Affair:  Egad! I just tried to link to this from the David's site but it's not there! Is it gone? OK, this smells like gin to lots of people. It's vaguely (and I mean extremely vaguely) amplified with extra flavouring - in the best possible way. It's rather strong - well, if you use the amount of leaves and steeping time that I do. I do not like wussy tea. It's not sweet, but it is rich and tart. I really hope it comes back...

Also recommended is Pu'erh Ginger, a blend with caffeine but loaded with ginger to warm yourself in the winter months. I find this a bit grassy, in truth, but it has a place in my faves because you can feel it working. This one is medicinal. Disclaimer: I generally loathe "green" tastes.

From Teavana

Youthberry Tea: OK, call me a lemming, but I'm into this tea. It smells FANTASTIC - like peaches. It also tastes a bit peachy to me, and very astringent. It's in a white tea base which is code for "super high in caffeine" so I don't recommend you drink it like a herbal tea, but it's a great mid-morning blend. Note: Don't steep for longer than 3 minutes and don't make the water too hot. White tea gets bitter under those circumstances. There is some artificial flavouring in this blend but it doesn't bother me; it's very subtle and designed to slightly amplify the natural flavour.

Opus Rouge Rooibos: I bought this on a lark and I really like it! It's as much like wine as tea is ever going to be. Very dry, red-fruit undertones, made with dried grapes. It goes a gorgeous ruby colour and, if you steep it long, it is almost like a juice (there are stevia leaves within it to produce just a subtle sweetness). This tastes luxe and it goes really well with chocolate. Note: It does smell a bit like grape gum, which bothers a lot of people. But I don't find it upsetting, weirdly enough. The astringency of the blend works for me, artificial smell and flavourings notwithstanding.

I've just recently discovered Teavana - I believe it's new to Toronto. Let me say a few things about it: the blends are very artful and exuberant. They tend towards strong - this tea has a really American quality to it; it's big. Some of the teas come pre-sweetened with rock sugar (WTF?!) or stevia, so pay attention. It's also super fucking expensive. Seriously. So buy online, on sale (like now) or be prepared to spend.

From Pukka

The nice thing about this brand is that it's of high-quality, well-priced and available in health food stores.

Licorice and Cinnamon: Don't panic! This tastes neither like licorice nor cinnamon. It's bizarre. It actually owes its flavour most to a cocoa pod and chicory basenote. (It also tastes nothing like chocolate - mercifully, as I've decided that chocolate in tea is just wrong.) This blend is beautifully balanced and it works very well if you're looking for a way to satisfy the need for sweet. It does have a herbal tea-thing going on, so if you're not into earthy, it might not be your first choice.

I do recommend that you get one of these, to make the most of things. There's something about looking at your tea leaves steeping that enriches the experience. Also, some of my recommendations come in teabag format as well as loose. So check out the sites for more info.

Now it's your turn. Please enlighten me about the best teas you've tried. I need to maximize my collection on all accounts!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gifts in Review

Allow me to disingenuously apologize for the photos and bragging to follow. I got good loot this Xmas, all the more appreciated for the crap-ass time I've been having lately.

My gifts fell into 3 categories: delightfully practical (some of my fave kinds of gifts are these), deliciously luxe (some of my other fave kinds of gifts are these) and those that span the gap between the two.

For starters, here's a gap spanner:

iPhone 6
Yeah, I've had the same iPhone (4, in case you're wondering) for half a decade. My husband couldn't stand listening to me complain about how the battery charge had waned to 4 hours - after charging time of 4 hours. To complement and protect it, I got myself a lovely leather fold-over case and this thing is charming. So effective! Next up, Scottie's going to buy me a blue-tooth head set so I don't have to spend 5 minutes trying to put on those stupid earbuds every time the phone rings.

Equally beloved is a totally practical gift - the non-sexy likes of which most ladies might be miffed to receive at the holidays. Not I, mind you. This thing has saved me from refilling a hot water bottle exactly 12 times every evening:

Battle Creek Thermophore Heating Pad
Laugh if you will. I LOVE this thing... It's doing yeoman's work (along with other gizmos) to keep pain at bay.

While we're on the practical track, I asked my parents to buy me these:
ProKinetics Orthotic Insoles
I've had orthotics in the past (as recently as this summer), which worked well enough, but I read about the ProKinetics insoles in one of the more-respected myofascial pain books I've now got on my shelf. Moreover, the woman at the shop spent 30 minutes (long-distance phone call) getting me to do all kinds of assessments and asking me about my gait and step patterns before she'd recommend them to me. Talk about great service. They are working quite well to keep that foot pain I mentioned a while ago in check. FYI, after a lot of research and body work, it seems I've been dealing with the beginnings of Morton's neuroma, which is happily reversible with appropriate treatment. I walked 10 miles on Friday with nary a concern. Alas, walking to work in heels is a thing of the past...

Admittedly, they don't have the luxe cache of my new haul from ├ža va de soi:

I actually own this sweater already, in navy, and I've worn it to bits. Between hell freezing over last winter and my urge for an elegant - but casual - topper, I got way more use from the first one than I ever thought I would. The new one, however, is a gorgeous shade of ecru with pink undertones. It's made of the same Italian wool as the blue one, but it feels much softer. That's the whack nature of natural fibers...

The blue crew neck sweater below is made from very fine merino and it fits like a glove. It is so gorgeous - and, dare I say, flattering on me, that my mother also had to buy it.

I really do wish that Ca Va would post stock photos of its catalogue. It would seem that they really don't care if you see their wares or not. Of course, they have quite a following, web-presence notwithstanding. This stuff NEVER goes on sale and, let me assure you, it's never affordable. Thing is, when you live in fucking Canada, you can always justify a sweater that costs a zillion bucks. On a very fun note, this time the SA did give me an Egyptian cotton, rather chic, thermal t-shirt as a gift with purchase. (The t-shirt costs 100 bucks.)

What's the moral of this story, besides presents are awesome and I want them all!: You'll note that I was well in the loop on all of these purchases - except for the iPhone (which I truly didn't expect). That's because I hate surprises and I love getting what I want.

But enough of me... What was your fave gift this holiday season? Was it practical? Entirely impractical?? Do you orchestrate these things or do you find that kind of tacky? Let's talk!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Bit of Everything...

Joyeuses fetes, and all that. I'm almost on my way home to TO from Montreal, where we spent our holidays with my parents.

For the first time, we rented a house here - on the Plateau. After countless visits to Mtl over many years, I've never actually stepped into any of the homes I've discretely ogled from the street. The place is fantastic and I only hope we can stay here again.

The fascinating fact about this home is that the people who rented it to us (whom we do not know - although I feel I understand them quite well at this point!) actually live here on a regular basis. They've simply gone on vacation too. I never thought I'd say this, but I LOVE living in someone else's house. I love to discover how they organize the kitchen in ways I'd never have considered. I love how they use their own kinds of face soap and shampoo, kinds that I've never tried - drug store brands. I love how they leave dried chili peppers in a little bowl on the wooden counter top. (Um, I love that they are crazy enough to install butcher block counters.)

I love that they trust people to come into their space and to be respectful, that their hearts are open enough to take a chance on others being in their space.

In a zillion years, I would never reciprocate in this fashion. I am 8000 times too controlling. But my mind is expanded by traveling like this and I am done with hotels, whenever possible.

Now, we've had a great time here but, let me say, if this was the first time I'd ever come to Montreal, I suspect it might have been the last. Apparently my perfect-weather-in-this-city luck ran out and Lord, what a disaster. It rained for 3 days straight, the kind of rain that trashes your 600 dollar, water-proof boots. The kind that will not remit. The kind that soaks through your umbrellas. The kind that turns a toasty winter-wonderland into a grey, dull, flat, dirty mess. Honestly, it made Toronto look good.

I'll let that statement soak in. I'm actually suggesting that Toronto - one of the Unesco sites of Utter Winter Hideousness - is actually more attractive than Montreal under similar circumstances. My mother, who will truly go anywhere, has indicated that she'll not be returning. I suspect it was the beige, tattered futon sitting on someone's unleveled balcony, dripping, that threw her over the edge, but we'll never know for sure.

Furthermore, we stayed east - in the French part of town. My parents are decidedly west-central sorts. "Real" isn't so much their scene. They prefer the muted lines of affluence.

What can you do? I'm imagining this adorable house with its wall of windows facing an utter gem of a backyard, ensconced by tatty walk-up rentals, on a warm summer night. Oh, I'm looking forward to that. Almost as much as I'm looking forward to getting the hell out of this pollution-coloured landscape.

Really, there's no pollution like the kind you understand.

Today's questions: Do you rent homes/apartments when you travel? If no, why not?? (People, you can dine at home in the evenings when you can't stand the elements...) Have you ever made a festive meal in a totally foreign kitchen? Do you love the idea of experiencing someone else's reality as a way of expanding your own? Let's talk!

Next up, I'll tell you about my fantastic winter gifts - my husband really pulled out the stops this year...

Friday, December 19, 2014

From Pain To Equilibrium: The Matter of Inflammation

My discourse about chronic pain is focused on the myofascial kind - one wherein, essentially, the brain/body equilibrium erodes (for any number of reasons). The net result is a scenario in which the brain sends messages, interpreted as pain, by the nerves in connective tissue (or the muscles which that connective tissue surrounds and lives within). I've got lots more to say about this, but let's leave it for the post about body work...

Point is, there are different philosophies about why pain exists and from whence it originates. Interestingly, the one which focuses on neuromuscular disequilibrium can be applied to many disorders and conditions - from specific muscular spasm to rheumatoid arthritis and beyond. As this is the philosophy that resonates for me, having done a broad amount of research, it's the framework on which I will harp from here on in.

One of the premises of this sort of disequilibrium is that the body suffering with chronic pain is also suffering from chronic inflammation. Such inflammation may exist within specific organs (including the skin) or within the matrix of connective tissue which lines every part of your body and connects it to every other part. Inflamed connective tissue is often damaged structurally, which predisposes it to scar (the connective tissue fibres having been directionally reconfigured).

Inflammation may be a specific source of the pain or a symptom of it. Either way, it isn't good. Y'all know it's associated with the development of free radicals... And since we are what we eat, there's really no ignoring it.

I'm not going to lie to you. I do not believe in restrictive eating-habits. I strongly assert that eating and drinking are two of the most pleasurable and sustaining experiences in life, something we must do multiple times a day our whole lives long, and the idea of trashing entire categories of pleasure just seems wrong to me. Having said this, I'm not known for self-restraint - and I can only speak for myself. There are some people who can give up everything but quinoa and organic chicken breast and they feel great - so good for them.

I've opted to explore this potential minefield with uncharacteristic moderation. Here are the dietary steps I've taken to reduce inflammation*:

  • Drink Less Alcohol: I've drastically cut down on the wine. You'd think this would be depressing but, in truth, I can't bring myself to drink happily knowing that it could be directly contributing to pain. Sure, life seems a little bit less beautiful without a glass of wine at mealtimes, but I'm trying to pick up the slack with really delicious tea. (Note to reader: It doesn't entirely work.) I don't drink alcohol from Sunday to Thursday and I limit my drinking on Friday and Saturday. No half-bottles of wine for me, these days. Sigh.
  • Drink More Water: Damaged connective tissue is usually dehydrated connective tissue. (This is one of the ways in which adhesions - or muscular scar tissue - become entrenched). Thing is, this damaged, dehydrated connective tissue doesn't just plump up the minute you start drinking water because it's messed up. Its fibres don't run in the pattern of smooth alignment seen in healthy tissues so adhesions resist hydration. To ameliorate this, there's a theory that one must work the damaged tissue manually (subject of another post) in order to break up scarring and to restore the tissue fibre alignment. Additionally, one should drink small amounts of water frequently (not large amounts irregularly), which can be uptaken by the tissue as adhesions heal and mobility is restored. The good news: There are about a zillion really excellent herbal teas and caffeinated you can drink to accomplish this goal, many of which taste lovely and are even known for reducing inflammation. Get this gizmo and you're set. Double score, I say.
  • Take Anti-inflammatory Supplements: OK, this is a tailored process, but there are some supplements that are known for decreasing inflammation across the board. One of those is fish oil capsules. Another, and this is specifically good for muscular pain, is magnesium. I prefer magnesium glycinate because it's amongst the most absorbable forms of this mineral. It's also one of the more expensive, alas. If your stomach doesn't like magnesium to begin with, you'll have to work up to an optimal dose. I take zillions of supplements a day, many of which are good for inflammation, but these are probably the most universally helpful (along with vitamin C and vitamin D, of course, but everyone takes these, right?).
  • Eat Anti-inflammatory Foods: There are a zillion places to go for this info, but I'll plug 2 things that are pretty easy to incorporate into one's diet: blueberries and turmeric. Just buy frozen wild blueberries from the supermarket, put them into a bowl with a bit of heavy cream (it'll kind of freeze on top of them), throw in a splash of vanilla extract and you've basically got healthy ice cream. Make sure the berries are wild. Cultivated berries are less healthy and they taste like perfume. Turmeric can be sprinkled on anything, with very little effort, and its anti-inflammation properties are widely lauded. 
  • Eat Gluten Sparingly: Nothing drives me more nuts than going out for dinner with the gluten-free peeps. (Well, the vegetarians are pretty sad-sack, but at least they eat pasta.) But gluten - even in my vastly omnivorous experience - can lead to inflammation rather directly, especially if one is already struggling with inflammation in other areas. Sure, I eat it, but I eat it sparingly - and I do so in the least processed fashion I can manage. This isn't because I cannot tolerate it, but because it contributes to observable inflammation in fairly short order.
  • Stop Eating Sugar (And Processed Foods, while you're at it...): I'm totally unapologetic in this addiction. I will not give up sugar. What I will do - and have done - is cut way back. Don't fear, I still eat more sugar than your average health nut, but over the past few years I've been much more conscious about how, why and when I eat the sweet. (Y'all know alcohol is just sugar in delicious drinkable form.) Processed food is truly hideous. What's worse is that it actually tastes bad on top of everything else. I don't care if you've never felt a twinge of pain, stop eating crap. It's too easy to find unprocessed, decadent yummies to waste your time on the stuff that'll corrode your insides.

So there you go. This info isn't ground-breaking but it's widely-accepted nutritional advice and these habits are all pretty easy to cultivate - with the exception of not eating a lot of sugar. None of these things is overly expensive, though the supplements do add up over time and you really can spend a small fortune on tea. I like to think of all the money I'm saving on booze...

Today's questions: Thoughts or feelings on any of these suggestions? Do you have any additional tips to add? I wanna know!

*Note that I have undertaken these steps on the advice of a medical professional and after having researched a variety of options. Anyone looking to control chronic pain via any means - but especially with diet and supplements - should most definitely get an expert opinion.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

From Pain to Equilibrium: Getting Started

As we all know - if only from reading the last 5 posts I've written on the topic - pain is a sneaky bitch that requires one's masterful manipulation to evict.

Mind you, I love having options, doing research and conducting experiments - so from my vantage point, this aspect of pain management is enjoyable (if one can ally pain and enjoyment in the same sentence).

The more creative you are, the more fun you're going to have. So let's spend this series wearing all the hats: tailor, chef, doctor, healer, critic, carpenter, cheerleader. Let your own needs be your guide.

I think about the methods of pain management and correction (cuz management ain't good enough, IMO, even if complete restoration seems a distant glimmer) into the following categories*:
  • Diet and Nutrition
  • BodyWork
  • Self-Bodywork 
  • MindWork 
  • Aromatherapy
  • "Aversion Therapy", aka avoiding the stuff that hurts
  • Structural Correction
  • Sleep
*Note: This list isn't exhaustive by a long shot. It's just all I've had time to reckon with so far.

Needless to say, each of these categories breaks down into numerous sub-categories. Some are fairly "universally approved". Who's gonna argue with a diet free of processed foods? Others are less mainstream, more tailored to the niche. Essential oils and potions have always been a huge part of my daily regime and the right concoction can change my state of mind dramatically. Do I hear many people speak of them as floridly as I do? Not so much.

You'll note that I've left out a couple of fairly major categories: Prescription Drugs and Talk Therapy. 

Vis a vis, drugs: I don't want to go there for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that I'm not a doctor and I have very limited experience of pharmaceuticals for pain management. I also truly believe - and this is a construct about which we may need to agree to disagree - that drugs simply mask the issue. They do not fix it. Often, they mess up the body in entirely new ways with unpleasant side effects. Furthermore, one generally sensitizes to pharmaceuticals, eventually - and too many addictions are borne of this methodology. Having said this, there's no reason why you can't take drugs and explore other pathways too. I don't think that those on pharmaceuticals are limited in pursuing all the additional options. Since pain is complicated, many options are indicated, regardless of which of those options provides the greatest relief at any given moment.

In terms of talk therapy: I have more than enough experience of many types of talk therapy to engage in a lively discussion on this topic - it's just never done a damn thing to help me get over pain. Look, I'm nothing if not introspective (about everything, including myself) and I definitely believe that it's critical to be able to unburden oneself of - and give voice to - the fear, anger and other emotions one encounters when dealing with pain (or potential emotional precursors of pain). Thing is, I do that. All the time, with lots of people and by myself. So, this method isn't part of my current trajectory. If you've never gone to counseling, I urge you to consider it. I'm just not going to dwell on it here.

Manage or Cure? My personal goal is to cure my pain by resetting the balance in my body, the loss of which has led to a current state of myofascial unpleasantness in a variety of areas. Pain is simply a response to disequilibrium of many sorts, albeit a whacked out, seriously bad one. I absolutely believe that it is possible to cure this and, really, I'll hazard to say that one must believe it's possible in order to make it a reality. Your brain is extremely powerful. A fucked up autonomic response (fancy term for unconscious brain activity) is likely what's causing it in the first place. In the same way you access pain, you can diminish it. So don't discount that placebo response. It's not a dirty concept - it's the fortuitous outcome of mind over matter and it's just as real as any other kind of fix. 

Cost Benefit Analysis: I've heard from a few people who've expressed an interest in many potential methods for pain relief, followed by the proviso that they can't afford to explore them. Look, we've all got a financial limit. If money were no object, you can bet I'd be at a medical spa in Austria right now. Of course, it's ever trickier if one's budget maxes out before visiting the doctors, not covered by insurance, or trying the acupuncture or buying the vitamins and books. 

All I can say is that we are all enabled, within the limits of our means, to do the best we can to get better. The internet is your friend. So is the library. So are e-books (cheaper than the real thing and easier to store. Read them on your computer if you don't have a Kindle.) Many yoga studios offer free community classes. My Yoga Online offers some awesome Yin yoga (one of the things I've spoken about at length and will continue to discuss in this series) and it's 10 bucks a month. You can't take one live class for that price. Some practitioners will barter (if you have a skill they can benefit from), though I recommend you play that card carefully, after assessment. Sometimes it's a matter of going more slowly than you might appreciate - which, fortuitously, may have  the benefit of maximizing the likelihood that you'll see an emerging solution as a result of one particular avenue taken. Research well and act, first, on the viable methods that resonate. There are lots of options out there that are not expensive.

Next up -  Diet and Nutrition.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's All About Me

Let me tell you how I got here. (Note: It doesn't really matter if this is actually how I got here, but that it's my belief.)
  • When I was 4, I suffered a big loss. (It was 1974. No one cared about the need to ensure grief processing in children. I was in pretty bad shape, to put it mildly...) As a child, I routinely had extreme, super painful "growing pains" that would start in my legs and go to my ears (mainly on the left side). In retrospect, those pains might have been a subdued version of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (this is one current medical perspective on growing pains). In retrospect, it's also when my TMJ disorder started. It's when my OCD began. These issues persisted to puberty.
  • When I was in high school, there were many expectations on me to succeed. Mainly they were my expectations, but let's leave that aside. It was in this time frame that I had my first migraine (with aura). I ignored it. It's also when I met my longest-standing friend, Hilary. She was the one who recognized my OCD and helped me to overcome it (by pointing it out and telling me it was bizarre and needless). She's a doctor now. Teenaged girls, man. You can't beat 'em.
  • When I was around 20, I sustained another big loss. (It was the late 80s, people just "dealt with things" and 20-minute-worked-them-out.) I started to experience extreme (and diffuse) left-side hip and leg pain - it was one of the things that brought me to yoga. Walking was a torment, and y'all know how I must walk. This pain went on (either constantly or intermittently) until I was about 25. I tried everything to fix it (acupuncture, massage, diet etc.) When the issue started to recede, I assumed that yoga had done its job. I developed a lot of physical ability in this time and went into a period of relative stasis. Except for the intermittent headaches.
  • When I was 29, I had a child. The labour was exceedingly dangerous and stressful. My body was ravaged by it. My mind was in even worse shape. While I appeared to heal very quickly, I was a mess (emotionally) for a good 5 years. My OCD went through the roof. In that 5 years, my reaction to a relentlessly attention-seeking dependent inflicted near constant pain on my torso (left upper back, neck). I was constantly picking her up, carrying her around. Moreover, I was carrying around the stress of parenting, the toll it was taking on my marriage, the generalized stresses of life as they happen. After 5 years, I started seeing my naturopath. I did some hormone panels, went on a variety of supplements to restore balance and to mitigate my anxiety response. The impact was remarkable. 
  • When I was 40, I broke my left foot (small fracture) and my ligaments and tendons were affected by the injury. I worked through the acute phase, with a physiotherapist and lots of therapeutic yoga. I do feel that I managed this incident as well as possible, but for a couple of years after the accident (fell down 3 stairs in just the wrong way), I still felt occasional pain in my left ankle and leg.
You'll note I'm not dwelling on the scope of the pain I experienced. Let me assure you, that hip pain was crushing and it filled me with a fear I've rarely encountered. My childhood growing pains were a near-constant distraction. No wonder I was sullen.  OCD, well, let's just say peeps, if you've ever experienced it, it's hell. But I'm a high-functioner. That's what I do. In these times, I got straight As (except for math), advanced in my career, taught myself how to knit and sew, maintained a relationship, raised a kid, built a life. I did not relate to any of the painful times as chronic, simply as bizarre, somewhat structurally motivated and due to bad luck.

But let's leave all this aside.
  • When I was 42, I came down with pertussis. No one knows how, just that my immunity to my childhood vaccine had waned (as it does for everyone). This, my friends, was when it all got real. Never in my life have I been so ravaged by illness. Y'all know this story. It's well-documented on this blog. I could barely breathe for 8 weeks (which radically changed my pain response). I was seriously ill for 8 months. It threw me into hormonal chaos. From months of coughing the likes of which I cannot begin to describe, I ended up with sublaxated ribs (a hideously painful kind of rib dislocation) that I didn't deal with until fairly recently (when my chronic pain finally said enough and just refused to leave). I think it's fair to say that, fundamentally, I have not yet recovered from the shock of this sickness. If I'd been 30 years older when I'd got it, I'm pretty sure I would have died. I'm still processing the impacts.
Let me pull out some salient points*:
  • I seem to have a predisposition to musculoskeletal body pain from early childhood. It has been systemic, chronic but also intermittent. 
  •  I've been really adept at ignoring it - at my peril. But I also live fairly healthfully which has mitigated long-term continuity of symptoms, I suspect.
  • Pain recurs in similar ways in different places - the kind of dull-to-searing / acute/diffuse pain I get in my upper back is similar to that I had in my hip and in my head. It tends to stick to the left side.
  • My pain (which is felt physiologically, in many ways that modern medicine can quantify) was either catalysed or worsened by serious trauma (emotional or physical).
  • The pain has been very amorphous - so much so that yoga was the only thing that ever had any impact on it. Till quite recently, I assumed this was because it built muscular strength, balance, flexibility and structural realignment. And I'm sure this is true. I now realize, it also mitigated the constant feeling of excessive pressure, like shrink-wrapping (which is likely damaged connective tissue). On a weird note: The pain tended to abate at just the moment I couldn't stand it any longer, reinforcing my perspective that my issue wasn't systemic. It never occurred to me (though I was aware, dimly, of the role of connective tissue) that the pain might have been coming from something other than a muscle or a joint. In retrospect, I find this very odd given that my parents are acupuncturists and cranio-sacral therapists. I've been feeling more and more (since the pertussis specifically) like I'm 100 years old. No joke - I have pains consistent with hobbled old people and, on one level, it's freaking me the fuck out. Another weird note: If I push through, I look pretty strong and flexible while being physically active (active yoga, for example). Two hours later, I'm a mess of pain. If I move in (extremely minimal) ways to specifically stretch fascia, pain is dramatically improved and my overall flexibility increases.
  • Until I started to manipulate connective tissue with yin yoga (and a zillion other mechanisms I'll discuss in another post) the horrifying pain was largely contained in my left, upper back, neck, jaw and head. As is so often the case, when you tangle with Pandora, you get what you came for. By exploring the pain (again, via many techniques), it's become much less extreme in those areas - but much more evident in MANY areas. 
You may be thinking: Kristin, why the fuck would you go there?? The answer: I had no choice.

The writing was on the wall. You've seen my increasing references to chronic pain over the past 2 years. Each time the pain came, it was more insistent and less pliable. I continued to ignore it with Advil and active yoga and walking through it and swallowing it down. I thought I was doing the work because I exercise actively (lots o' walking, daily), work on body alignment and strength (yoga, many times a week), eat reasonably healthfully (but deliciously - I am myself, after all), take targeted vitamins and supplements, sleep 9 hrs a night (I have to or I can't function), tackling issues with natural practitioners. Also, I'm not 100. I'm fucking young(ish).

At the same time, my predisposition (my nature, if you will) is SO fast-moving that I've leveraged the modern age to become half-robot, it would seem: I haven't read a paper book in years (I read on my computer). Fiction, which sustained me till I was 35, has become a dim memory. For a would-be novelist, that's a hardcore turn of events. I can read 500 plus blog posts a day - and retain a reasonable amount of the information for later consumption. My job is ridiculously fast-paced. I spend upwards of 12 hours a day on a computer. It's a wonder I can think straight at this point.

The last 2 years, specifically the last 5 months, have kicked it into me that I need to return to a more analog existence. This hyper-digital thing is not sustainable. I've got to detach from the hive, to some extent, because the deluge of information is an assault at this point. Nervous system excitability is not something to take lightly. Medical people freak out about that shit and then they tell you it's not fixable. (It's often fixable.)

If you're dealing with some kind of chronic pain, no doubt you've had time to reflect on the triggers in you many dark nights of the soul. May I suggest that you consider whether, when you listen to your quietest voice, the pain is linked intimately to some sort of sub-clinical sensitivity. I'm not calling your cojones into question - or the scientific explanation for your current plight. If you're dealing with chronic pain, trust me, I know you are epically strong. Maybe you're experiencing this pain, in some measure, because you're so strong - because you're masterful at deflection.

Next up, I'll tell you about how I've turned an emerging awareness of my own issue, into a scavenger hunt for books and tools about managing, diffusing and eradicating neuro-sensitivity and its associated pain.

But till then, today's questions: If you have been diagnosed with a connective tissue issue, I'd love to know how you're managing things. Have you got it under control? What are your best techniques? Does it impact your ability to enjoy your daily life (in that you don't do certain things you used to do)? Does it come and go? How do you identify with pain? Please do leave a comment - I wanna know your story!

* Get your ass revaccinated for pertussis, if you're over 35 and you've not had a booster since childhood. Chances are you're no longer immune, which is code for being a walking target. Trust me, you don't want to go through it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Forest for the Trees

While the writing has been light, I'm in the midst of one of the most phenomenal phases of my life to date. Let me assure you, it's not cuz times have eased up. In many ways, there's more concrete stress in my life right now than ever there has been. I mention this, not to dwell on it - I mean, I can barely stand to engage with it day after day, I sure as hell am not going to write about it too - but to provide context. I'm not finding answers because the path is clearer. I'm finding them because I'm looking more clearly. That's fucking empowering, gotta say, not that I wouldn't seriously consider going for a clear path if the choice were mine.

My point is - and I'm saying this to any reader who has experienced a period of chronic pain, who continues to experience it now: You can manage this and you will - as soon as you recognize that you are not at the whim of anything. You are an active participant. That doesn't mean you're to blame but it does mean you're specifically implicated in resolution. The sooner you understand this (and I mean deeply, not intellectually) - the sooner you will be able to let go of whatever underpins it.

I'm not so solipsistic as to believe you can successfully manage pain like I'm (increasingly successfully) managing it because my path is the right one - though if the info I provide in the next few posts gives you some clarity or direction, then we both win. I'm saying it because the key to diminishing pain is in understanding, communicating with and (sometimes) engaging deeply with that pain. The path of pain is mind-blowingly complex. It's unique to each of us (although we are all more neurochemically the same than different). Eventually, you will not be able to evade it, to push it down. Trust me, I know. So I have to implore you to meet it head on.

I've frequently thought that if chronic pain were chronic pleasure (and they come from the same neurochemical source), we'd all be so engaged with that sensation that the world would fall apart. I say this as a total hedonist. I'm in the delicious grip of everything beautiful, sensual, aromatic, tactile. I love the way these things make me feel, how they wash over me, how they suck me in - how they bring me to the seat of my very self.

Chances are, if you're experiencing chronic pain, you have something in common with me: you're very sensitive to your environment. The beauty of this, is that sensitivity brings us close to everything. The danger is that it threatens to overwhelm.

Here's my plan for the next few posts on this topic:
  • I think it might be useful to explain what I've discovered about pain as it exists in my body - how it's taken years to figure out and how improved recognition has changed my response to it and, more to the point, pain's effect on me. These discussions will centre on myofascial pain disorder (what I'm dealing with) which is a specific expression of a group of connective tissue or fascial disorders, including osteoarthritis, bursitis, repetitive strain injury, fibromyalgia, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ disorder, chronic fatigue disorder - amongst others. The current belief, and it's profoundly resonant for me, is that connective tissue in the body (a constant web of attachment with more nerves than any other part of you) receives nerve signals autonomically. When that signaling goes rogue, the impacts can be hideous. The new normal your body comes to know - that with pain - is continuously reinforced by large-scale muscular contraction that's stimulated by the connective tissue (on its own pain trajectory). Furthermore, that connective tissue becomes brittle, dehydrated, overly tight. Given all the nerve endings it supports, that causes additional pain that can be diffuse and debilitating. Seriously peeps - a huge part of the solution is biofeedback (which can be accessed in numerous different ways, some of which I'll discuss). This issue is complicated to endure but it's resolvable. And once you figure out what's going on, the resolution can be fairly systematic.
  • I will outline the many awesome products, techniques and methods I've utilized, that have had a measurable affect on my own pain response. Yeah, I'm not you (nor your mother nor your kid), but if others hadn't written about these things, I never would have found them - and they have definitely (in complex concert) worked well for me.
  • I'm happy to write in detail about any of those techniques or products - if there's interest to hear more. Seriously, I could write a book about these things. I don't want to drill down in ways that may be of little interest to others. So if I mention something and it seems resonant - like you want to know more - please email me or leave a comment.
Let me end this post by saying that I've spent years considering the body-mind connection in one context only - that of my physical practice of yoga. In that practice, I've allowed myself to experience the myriad benefits that the awareness of this connection affords. The minute I got off my mat, I resumed the detente: my body in one corner, my mind in the other. If you've got chronic pain, you can't afford to discount the need for alignment of these states. If broader consciousness is a conceptual challenge for you - and it's certainly not something I've discussed in polite (non-yogic) circles on a regular basis - you're going to have to suspend your disbelief. Sorry, but I can't see any way around it.

On the up-side, if you can philosophically get with the ways in which your mind can change your response to everything, including your physiology, you're in for a wild ride.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Good Things

Look, I'm not feeling Xmas - second year running (which is unusual for me), but then I'm in kind of a challenging place at the moment. What I am feeling is the shopping cuz, really peeps, I have a gift. I've said it before, I'll no doubt (braggily) say it again... But when you do something well, celebrate it!

The fascinating thing this year is that I cannot be bothered to "celebrate the season" but I'm totally down with giving the presents. I've already told my husband and kid that we'll have impromptu gift moments. (These started last week.) I will not wrap. I don't really care if they think I'm being humbugesque. In a stroke of genius I couldn't have predicted, this summer I booked us Xmas in Mtl, so packing gifts to bring home gifts is a mercifully stupid idea. A tree is practically unnecessary. (FWIW, my parents are joining us. We've rented a house. So I think we're going to have fun, if not in a Christmas TV Movie fashion. More in a French-Can chic fashion: crazy people, awesome food, great walks, terrific vistas, good shopping.)

Here are a couple of things you must consider for the ones you love - and by that I mean yourself, naturally:

Everything at Aromacentric - or these things specfically.

This pressure point roll on is fucking awesome. I wear it constantly. If you love ylang ylang and jasmine, it's perfection.

I saw this, and I couldn't resist. It's a mist diffuser...
Nothin' I love more than supporting a super-responsive, Toronto entrepreneur whose kid went to school with mine (not that I knew this till I talked with her on the phone today).

You can also get the Aromacentric line at a new Queen West apothecary. The owner is lovely and the store is fantastic. Or check out the Detox Market on King West (near Bathurst). Believe it or not, I've never been there. Well, that's about to change!

Oh, and if you love the chocolate - and really, who loves chocolate better than I love chocolate? (You can't win this one, just face it.) - then please go to Soma right now. Or order by phone. I've decided to buy every chocolate confection I've ever wanted others to buy for me - and so far it's working out very well (if you don't consider the Visa bill).

I'm saving this little piggie for Xmas eve:

Soma Chocolate Salami
These suckers run out fast, which is a testimony to their deliciousness given that they cost 23 bucks before tax and they're on the small side.

This is but a smattering of my latest finds.

Enough of me, though. What's the best gift you've found this season? It can be for you (no judgement, I mean, most of my recent purchases are probably going to be for me!). I want to know.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Let This Be A Warning to You

When you go to BR and get a fantastic pair of work-worthy trouser jeans, essentially for free, don't put them in the wash without checking the tag. Lord. These things are basically viscose, held together with a whisp of elastane. Um, before I trashed them with water and heat, they felt magically like 100% cotton twill?!?! And now they are 3 inches too short, a size too small and ready for the bin, dammit.

Did I mention that there are no more to be had?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This Thing is a Perfect Holiday Gift*

A work friend is obsessed with tea. I get that; I'm obsessed with lots of things. My kid, also, is utterly nuts for the stuff - particularly all of the crazy (and many hideous, truth be told) flavours available at David's. (Every heard of Birthday Tea? Seriously, sparkles and tea should not mix.) My mother loves matcha and other varietals, particularly the hardcore, antioxidant ones. 

Poll 10 people. 8 of them are going to be bonkers for the tea and its accessories.

Here's the thing: While some of the flavours are concerning, many are recognizable and of rather high quality. Moreover, the accessories and marketing at David's Tea pull all the punches. In addition to the most adorable tea boxes and mugs and tins of tea available, this store also stocks an amazing little gizmo - one even I can get with:

It's called the Steeper (as you can see) and it comes in two sizes. The 18 oz is about 20 bucks and it makes a perfect cup of loose leaf tea with utterly NO fuss. You simply put the leaves into the carafe and then add water till the carafe is 3/4 full, steep and - this is the cool part - put the carafe atop your cup, press down and the tea pours through a gate at the base. Rinse the carafe with water to get rid of the residue. That's the whole story.

Did I mention that it looks great?

Wrap this up (it's boxed) with some leaves and you've got an affordable gift for under 40 bucks. 

You're welcome.

PS: Nobody's paying me to say this.

*And while you're at it, get one for yourself (unless you're my mother).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bras in the Time of Pain Management

This post has a little something for everyone (well, except for pain-free guys who don't like shopping). If you're into bras, we've got it. Like to purchase vicariously? Check! Have you been dealing with some pain? I sure as hell hope not but, if yes, there is definitely some useful intel below.

For starters, I don't think one needs to worry much that very snug bra bands will cause chronic pain (particularly if the cups of the bra fit well). And, as I've said 8000 times, for proportionately large, heavy breasts a taut band is the secret to "lift" that those with less large and/or heavy breasts need not concern themselves about. Mind you, if you're in pain (for whatever reason, but especially if it's musculoskeletal or neurochemically motivated) and that pain happens to live in your mid/upper back, the likelihood is that a taut band is going to torment you and, sadly, exacerbate the underlying issues.

I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Especially since I have 4 drawers of bras in 30 and 32 bands that I simply cannot wear at the moment.

One thing's for certain, though, you may feel like shit but you can still look fantastic and, take it from me, it's important to care about looking fantastic until you're cold in the grave. It's what sets us apart from the animals.

After 2 weeks of wearing an ugly bralet to work, I felt so demoralized I could barely stand it. Happily, the problem was resolved, via online and in store methods, just yesterday. But before we check out the loot, let's talk about the plan...

Kristin's Guide To Buying Bras When You're Managing Pain Exacerbated By Wearing Bras:
  • Know when it's time to bite the bullet. If you keep waiting for the problem to resolve so that you don't have to spend money on bras that you hope won't be required for very long, you're going to suffer for longer than you have to. You might even find yourself wearing a bralet to work.
  • Shop locally. I know I'm big-time down with the online bra shopping - though I have resorted to an online purchase in this instance - but, unless you are seriously competent in the ways of buying bras online, you gotta manage this in a boutique. The secret to ensuring that you'll end up with a bra that works is to try on 8000 of them, of all styles and brands - and in numerous sizes within each style. This isn't workable online. Yeah, it's going to cost more.
  • Make sure you understand your pain and where it originates from (to the very best of your ability) before you go shopping. Is it neuro-muscular (and this shit's a bitch that likes to hide)? Are you managing an acute injury that isn't healing quickly? Did you just have an operation? Are you in treatment for breast cancer? If you're pain is referring on account of wires, you need to go wire free (if at all possible). If it's worsened by pressure on straps, you've got to find some wider straps. Meditate on the issue - and I know that's not difficult when all you can think about is the pain you don't want to think about.
  • Be prepared to spend. You're in pain. Buy the bra that works, even if it's out of the budget. Your very being will thank you. And the comfortable bra will pay for itself many times over.
  • Be upfront with the SA about what's going on. Explain your issue clearly. Ask to work with someone who's knowledgeable in this arena. Don't be afraid to say: No, this one doesn't feel right either. I went into the store with the following objective, which I expressed immediately: I need an attractive bra that provides support, recognizing that a band that puts any significant pressure on my back ribs is a no go. Though my under bust is 30.5 29.5-30 inches (just remeasured for kicks) in circumference, I'm interested in trying 34 or even 36 bands (if the brand runs very tight in the band).
  • Get over your fears (about buying a bra under these circumstances). This is a solution-oriented exercise. If a 36 band is ridiculously loose, you'll move on. If a bra hurts, you'll put it back. Trust me, there's a bra out there that will work for you and that will not worsen your problem.
  • Give extra consideration to brands that focus on wide bands (to displace weight) of 3+ hooks and eyes. If a long line works, all the better. Sport bras can also work, but compression can be a problem over the long run and, man, those bras are not pretty. (Nor can you wear anything lower than a crew neck while you're in one.) A brand known for super tight bands (Cleo, anyone?) likely isn't the one for you. Sure, you can go up 2 band sizes - but then the proportions of the cups is likely to go all wonky.  
  • Also, remember that the minute the band rides up, the bra doesn't work and it's likely to contribute to pain in the long run. You've got to walk a fine line between a band that holds things in place but that doesn't cinch things. Ordinarily, I espouse that the band size should more or less mimic your under bust size (accounting for things like a very muscular frame). If your under bust is 30.5", you probably want to wear a 30 or 32 band. When back pain is an issue, you might need to go with a +2-3 band (2-3 inches larger than the under bust). That veers dangerously close to the debunked "plus 4 method" but you only need to do this while there's pain.
  • Don't go for the skinny straps (they can cause or worsen trigger points). Go with the snuggest band that doesn't worsen pain and then use an extender when you're having a particularly bad day.
I wish I could tell you the best styles for managing your particular pain but, here's the thing, I'm new to this gig (and I'm not intending to be here long!). Furthermore, your pain is as unique as mine and everyone else's. This is a trial and error exercise that requires your sincerest engagement.

Here's what I opted to do: I decided to supplement my regular bra wardrobe with 2 new offerings designed to help when the pain is in flare: a basic (but pretty) beige bra and a basic (but pretty) black bra. Both work well under all outfits. Each is a bra I'm either very familiar with (through years of wear in other sizes) or the brand is one that works well for me. I went for each in a 34 band (which means I had to size down in the cups). I have colour coordinated extenders, which I use, as necessary. These match with any beige or black undies (though I've bought more in both colours) so that I don't have to wear unmatched sets in this challenging time. Unmatched sets are the worst.

Fantasie Smoothing Underwire Balconette (4520)

I so wish I could find a version of this bra that actually fits the model, but this one's a toughie on many figures. It either works or it doesn't. And, happily, it works for me - though the proportions of the 34 back are a bit odd. The wires are trending slightly too wide and there's a bit of rippling in the (molded but soft-cup/unpadded) fabric because it's slightly too full in the upper cup for me in the new size. Mind you, there's lift and separation happening and the lines of this bra are very attractive on me (which is why I've been wearing it as my standard T shirt bra for more than a decade). The 34 band is adequately snug so that there's no riding up (but not in a way that makes the pain worse). Wearing this with an extender is tricky because the proportions are already a bit wide for my narrow frame. I'm not opposed to unhooking it at 3pm when I'm sitting at my desk and no one's around. The straps on this bra are quite comfortable (but they don't look wide) and the under wires are very firm - so they support. Of course, if under bust pain is your issue, you've got to be careful about overly firm wires.

I bought this online, given my longstanding experience of it. It was 50 bucks all in. A bargain, IMO.

Empreinte Melody Full Cup (0786)

Here's the thing about Empreinte bras - the brand is French. Those people don't do full-cups. They do full balconettes and call them a full cup. This is a molded bra (like the Fantasie above) - unlined /unpadded.

Silver lining!: I've always wanted this bra but, in the 32 band, the cups aren't the right shape for me. Remember, molded bras don't have seams (which allow for better fit). So a molded bra either fits or it doesn't. Empreinte changes its wires with every band size and cup size. Because a 32F doesn't have the same wire size and cup proportions as a 34E (the way most brands cut costs and "sister size"), every combination of cup and band size is a new opportunity for the shape to work.

So, in a 34 back, this bra works and, as per most of Empreinte's offerings, it looks fantastic on Kristin. Here's a video that shows it on a real person, fitting pretty well (except for a bit of weirdness on the upper side band which is truly not problematic for the model). It really looks that good.

Empreinte makes angled bands, to ensure best alignment on the back, and as a result, they don't need to be tight in order to be supportive. There are 3 hooks and eyes and, as a design feature, the straps on this style are wide and slightly padded. As always, the wires and gores are narrow but this shape is not as projected as some of the other styles. Molded bras are never as projected as seamed bras, one of the reasons that women with projected breasts either swim in them (in a size too large) or bust out at the upper cups.

The silhouette is lifted and round. No, it's not boobs on a plate (the photo makes that clear) but it is very elegant and sophisticated. This isn't a "youthful" bra but it's not in any way frumpy. It's understated and sexy and it's designed to ensure your comfort (if you're pain-free) or to facilitate comfort when you're working with pain.

This one ain't cheap. It was 200 bucks all in but it's a gem. It isn't easy to spend that amount when one is trying to save money - and given that the goal is to not need to wear it for long. But I'm following my own advice. It's worth that price to feel gorgeous and comfortable at a time when those things are elusive. And even when this pain goes (mercifully we're making strides, peeps, but I can see it's complicated and it's going to take time), I'm well aware that it is likely to recur, at least until menopause.

So, there you go. Whatcha think of these bras? Or my methodology? Or the brands? Or the spree? Let's talk!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yoga and Myofascial Pain

I should start this post by saying that, in the last month, I've learned enough about "yoga for myofascial pain" to write a book. This is somewhat concerning, if you think about it, as both have been a huge part of my life for 25 years.

I'll also add in the obligatory disclaimer about how the degree of complexity involved in understanding and managing chronic pain is matched only by the degree of complexity when it comes to understanding yoga and how it works to heal and strengthen the body/mind.

This post ain't out to change the world, peeps, but to share some of the more mind blowing things that have influenced me lately. And when I say "influenced" I really mean "deeply experienced" because I've been locked in some cult-like therapy session with my pain lo these past 6 weeks.

On the plus side, we're finally talking.

I don't even know where to begin. In the same way my pain is a huge loop that, when it flares, sucks everything into its grip, my increasing awareness of it is circular, like the ripple produced by a stone skipped into water.

How about starting with the elephant in the room: How does a woman (whose fitness, health and spiritual life paths centre around a practice based on listening to the body) develop debilitating pain - likely produced by years of not listening to her body? I cannot tell you how many classes I've taught over the years wherein I've cautioned my students to listen. I cannot tell you how many more classes I've been to (and personal practices I've done), wherein that's the mantra.

How the fuck did this happen?

Well, the origins of pain are not always clear (and this is the complicated subject of another post) - and one can never discount the nature of the practitioner when it comes to adaptation. I have always been the kind of person who throws herself into things passionately - actually, one might say violently. My mind and body don't really understand moderation. This is no secret - especially on this blog. It's what makes me fun to be around. It gives me scope. It exercises a very fast-moving neuro-chemistry. It makes me incredibly productive. It feeds my ego. I love jumping out of a metaphoric airplane as often as possible (which is strange because, in real life, I'm exceedingly cautious with my actions). Sometimes, all that I can see is the outcome. I'm not naturally adept at interpreting the impact.

I started yoga at a very young age - at a very hard time in my life. My parents were moving to another country. I was in Canada alone. I had just left the fold of my high-school, a small, extremely meaningful place where I'd learned how to relate to everything and to truly be myself. Adulthood had begun, but I wasn't ready. I was, in my mind, cast adrift without family, a crushing emotional experience that I recognized all too keenly: I had lived through it once already, in early childhood. I knew, intuitively (certainly not consciously) that I needed yoga to ground me. I can only say I was very fortunate to have found the Iyengar method right off the bat. It worked for my personality (and against it). It was a "safe" practice focused on structural alignment. It came with a community (albeit one I would eventually eschew).

In retrospect, I remember my teacher constantly smacking me (in the yoga way, to bring awareness to a dull part of the body), telling me not to grip. When I wanted to jump, she made me stand still. When I wanted to go further into a pose, she'd stop me half-way. I had the physical confidence of youth and I felt compelled to move, to achieve. For me, deepening my practice was related to improving my physical ability and form. I could do some fancy poses. Mind you, so can lots of people. Even today, in this ridiculous state, I could warm up my body, move past the pain with some heat and breath work, and do a very active practice in such a way that you wouldn't know - more to the point, neither would I - that I'd distracted myself from dealing with injury produced by chronic pain.

The truth is that you can always work any instruction to suit your unconscious desires.

I realize now, as I meditate, in three different styles - to achieve 3 different states - for about an hour each day (30 min morning, 30 min evening), that my yoga has never been as sincere as it is right now. I do everything with the intention of listening to my body, of incorporating its need for release and extremely precise (almost non-) movement. I learned/practiced these techniques (a pranayama method for quieting the nervous system, a biofeedback method and a method of meditative dialogue) in my late teens. Of course, back then, I thought meditative response was something reserved for the very advanced - or else it was a scam. I was doing it, but I wasn't feeling it.

In one of those fortuitous life-ironies, I turned my attention to yin yoga (to the notion of connective tissue release) at just the time I finally began to understand that my pain is based on its utter restriction. It's possible that my return to active yoga practice in the summer led me, 6 weeks ago, to this particular pain "crisis" - a variation on my semi-regular pain bouts (about which I've written all too often here). This one isn't willing to go, though. It's digging in its heels. And honestly, while I hate the pain, I am so incredibly grateful for its message. As my mother likes to say: You pay now, or you pay later. Really people, I am ready to settle up this bill.

At this point, my methods for working with pain are numerous (again, the zillions of inter-related processes would require a full post of their own). But in terms of yoga, when I wake up in the morning (feeling like I've been hit by a truck, if you must know, and afraid of how my body will last the day in an incredibly stressful job), I meditate. Then I do about 15 minutes of yoga postures that don't look a damn thing like yoga. I prop my body with, say, my dining room table and other furniture. My goal is to stress connective tissue in my left hip, low back and upper thoracic. Gradually, the ridiculous morning stiffness (I've recently developed) abates.

Cut to the evening. I begin by using props very carefully and lying in poses to undo the physical damage of the day. (Note: Yeah, I do realize I've got to find a way not to take it all into my body. But one fucking thing at a time! This is the topic, not of a post, but of a long conversation over dinner and a bottle of wine.) Depending on what's up - and lately it's been pretty fucking hard core - I do very simple, non-weight-bearing poses which I hold for very long periods. These aren't simply yin asanas, though I bring that awareness into the poses via intention. I also do many of the Iyengar supported poses I loathe. Ah, my latent pain (in the early days) knew even then how to avoid things.

Eventually, for the sake of endorphin-release, I may opt to bring some flow (heat) into the work - but not your average vinyasa. My trapezius and related muscles are SO hair-trigger, that one weight-bearing movement can throw everything into a literally nerve-wracking spasm. I use my head stander (have I mentioned how I love this thing) to allow me to get neck and shoulder traction, while also calming my nervous system and regulating my (ever so taxed) endocrine system. Man, I spend a long time hanging upside down.

I can do this because I have the knowledge and the years of technical experience. I own the (expensive) props. I have a yoga studio. I have access to information. I can only imagine how someone without these resources struggles to function. I'm calling on years of mudra - those poses I've done all my life have been saving my ass for decades. The roots of this pain have been in my body for as long as I can remember.

If you are in terrible chronic pain and you haven't done yoga before - please, find yourself a good teacher. When you most need support, don't try to learn something complex on your own. Of course, practice as often as you can in your home, but invest in private classes or a good Iyengar therapeutics class. The teacher, whatever her method, must be knowledgeable, sensitive, able to communicate - and she must be able to see the pain in your body in order to help you to fix it. You wouldn't go to a mediocre chiropractor or physical therapist. Don't take yoga risks when you're managing pain.

When I look at people with my "yoga eyes", I often see their physical (and mental) pain. The very pain I haven't been able to access in myself is writ large in others and it's much less complicated than my own because I see it objectively. I understand how it can leave. When I teach a person in pain, I tell her to listen to her body, to make her actions minute, to hear the feedback of those actions and to face the untenable.

Now onward.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's a Girl to Do?

Wanna know the most ridiculous thing about this pain thing I've got going on? I can barely stand to tell y'all but I cannot wear my regular bras.

Please take a minute to process that statement. Please consider that I - the woman who has no use for bands that don't snug and the people who eschew them - have been going to work, every fucking day (lately), wearing the Bali Comfort Bra I couldn't bring myself to link to when I wrote about it as my lounge bra option.

Just thinking about this gives me goosebumps of horror. I wear a bra - in public! - that basically does nothing but smush my boobs together and keep them from bouncing (sort of).

Lord. I cannot believe I just admitted that. I considered hiding this fact but it seems, well, wrong. Totally disingenuous, like. And while I've never understood how someone could blame "sensitivity" on her choice to wear a band that is objectively too large to hold things up optimally, let's just say I'm getting the picture.

The price of compassion, people.

You know what? I may be horrified but I'm still doing it. Because my big-time pain trigger point is exactly underneath where my delightfully snug bands sit (on the left side). I can either manage excruciating pain and have boobs that look fantastic, or I can hide smushness under a blazer and feel somewhat less excruciating pain. Great choices, no?

On the plus side, people have told me (believably) that my boobs look practically as lifted (if not as well-appointed) wearing the bandage some would term a bra. So maybe my rack is not as subject to gravity as I'd believed.

Don't worry, I'm on this case. The Comfort Bra is an option of last resort. Cuz I may be in pain, but I will not descend into the realm of frumpy. Please stay tuned as I spend money I really should be saving in the adventuresome quest for some bras (or new sizes of bras) that provide some sexy without causing me utter misery.

Of course, my goal is to quiet the trigger point, regain equilibrium and go back to wearing my gorgeous offerings of yore. In the meanwhile, I'll just have to get creative.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pain: A Primer

Apparently, in the subjective landscape which is pain perception, I have a very high tolerance (and threshold). To wit:
  • When I broke my foot 4 years ago, a fracture which presented with tissue damage, I managed on an occasional Advil. Moreover, I walked around on it till they confirmed (with secondary scans) that the foot was actually broken.
  • When, at work, I sustained a sizable third-degree burn on my hand (microwave soup accident, people), which my doctor friend Hilary saw afterwards and responded to with horror, instead of going to the hospital (recommended by peers, I should confess), I attended a briefing with a bag of frozen peas to take down the swelling.
  • When I had a baby with no medication, at home, and there were unforeseen complications, I was one of the 2 per cent of midwifery patients to require an episiotomy. Following this, my midwife reached inside my body (while paramedics were on the way to my house to take me to the hospital) and unwrapped the cord around my baby's neck (it was wrapped 3 times) while pulling her out fast. I needed 36 stitches and it's only by dint of my midwife's long-standing in the community that they didn't take me to the hospital to do this. (Note: They did freeze the area before stitching, which I found hilarious given that I'd basically just had surgery without medication.)
The interesting thing about these three examples (and I have a few others, but those are the flashy ones), is that they chronicle a pain response to immediate trauma. Effectively, my body responded to nocioceptive pain (that of injury to skin, tissue and bone) in a reasonably sanguine fashion.

Did I feel the pain? Oh, yes. But, more to the point, was I able to distinguish it from the trauma I was experiencing? Yeah.

That quality is probably what's saving my ass right now as I experience an extreme instance of chronic neuropathic pain. This is the kind of pain that comes from a seemingly endless, fucked up conversation between your brain and your body. It's not in response to trauma, but it can produce the symptoms of it.

To wit, apparently, the current degree of scar tissue in my upper back (left side) is consistent with that produced in a serious car accident or a fall from a high height. It wasn't there 3 years ago (before my pain began in earnest). I can only imagine how badly off I'd be at this point if I didn't do yoga all the fucking time.

The latest practitioner to look at what's happening, asked me what narcotic I was taking to manage the pain. When I told her I was subsisting on the occasional Advil gel-cap, yoga and another natural treatment I won't discuss here, she was shocked.

Technically, I think we can consider this the outcome of myofascial pain syndrome, though I've resisted definition for a long time. I know that the only thing my allopathic doc can do is offer me some drugs that I'll acclimate to, all too quickly. I also know what's been going on from the vantage point of the person who lives in my body. I've told y'all for years that this is about hyper-tension of muscles and spasm. What I didn't realize is that I've likely been dealing with peripheral nerve excitability (something concerning that I don't feel like linking to), a condition that requires me to exert effort to prevent my body from twitching in a weird rhythmic fashion.

That's what I've got to deal with first and foremost because it's the sign of damage and, unchecked, it will continue to contribute to it. Note: I intend to fix this with body-work, not drugs.

For those of you interested in myofascial pain - and I urge you not to be - I'm like the poster child. It usually arises out of the comorbid experience of TMJD, migraines, tension headaches, anxiety, noise and light sensitivity and mitral valve prolapse. Stress doesn't help. I experience all of these in force.

I'm telling you this by way of connecting with the broader universe - those who are pain sufferers and those of you who have known me for some time.

This is not an easy moment. The last 4 years have not been an easy moment but occasionally things seem very hard and this is one of those times.

I can't type easily right now. It takes a toll and I need to be judicious. Work is getting the bulk of my energy because it pays me. I will write when I can though, for reasons of life insanity and, well, pain management, I won't be writing as regularly for the next while. My body and mind are, frankly, exhausted.

Mind you, with silly definitions out of the way, next time we chat I can tell you about how I'm managing things. I can assure you that this pain isn't me, which is likely why I'm managing at all.

But in the meanwhile, I'd so love to hear from you. What's your experience of pain? Is it chronic? Are you oblivious to it? Do you have a terrific story of recovery? Can you provide advice - pain-havers and regular peeps alike. Let's talk!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The 24-Hour Knit

OK, if you want a great, quick knit that's totally practical, you've got to make yourself one of these:

It's All You Need, by LondonLeo and it takes up about 180 yards of yarn. It looks great in stripes.

I've been getting a lot of use out of my hot water bottle lately. It's got quite cold here, and my neck is hard as a rock. But man, I'm 44 and I still wrap the bottle in a towel. What am I, a savage?

This project wasn't boring by a long shot. I learned two new techniques: Magic Cast On and Slip Slip Knit (Stretchy) Bind Off.

I've tried the magic cast on before and it was a disaster. This time, I actually figured out what's going on and it really is an ingenious method. I mean, I don't love working it, but it creates a totally seamless join in bottom up knitting.  SSK bind off is fine. It's good to know different methods but, really, regular bind off, in rib, is always very stretchy. I naturally bind off loosely.

The colour of these photos is misleading. I used Madeline Tosh DK in Dahlia. This yarn is just beautiful to knit. The stitch definition is gorgeous. It's got good recovery and it feels great.

Voila. The 24-hour knitting project - a bespoke hottie!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yoga for Pain Management

Here's the deal peeps: The chronic pain bullshit continues. I don't know why I'm all flippy about it right now. It's nothing new. But managing pain takes so much fucking will. There's no pill to fix it. Rather, there's a pill and a potion and supplements and body work and the mindful application heat and cold and exercise and (potentially) diet. Most of all, though, it's about fortitude.

Actually, as of yesterday, it's also about a jaw splint because, on top of everything else, I've been dealing with pretty significant TMJD for most of my life. It's hit a peak of badness lately, unsurprisingly. Life stressors, age and hormonal shifts have contributed to this. But the latest little life glitch to contend with is that my jaw actually dislocates when I open my mouth. (It does click back into the right spot thereafter, but this ain't a good development.)
I don't want to dwell on the bad right now. I have enough opportunity to do that in the wee hours of the night. The measure of a person is not in her ability to handle the fun times, of this I am certain. And, since I don't appear to be living a life of constant fun times, I'm going to focus on the gift that is pain. For example, you never have to wonder about the verity of the mind-body connection when you live with pain. It shows itself to you in every moment.

This is actually a relevant segue to a topic I've been meaning to discuss for a while: the specifics of the yin yoga method. I've discussed it briefly before. It's a system that's gained popularity in the last decade - and mostly in the last 5 years - though it's been around since the 70s.

It combines Daoist principles, elemental constructs of Chinese Traditional Medicine with long-held asana (many analagous to yoga postures you'd be familiar with). The objective is to work the body, in these postures, "cold" because you don't want to engage muscle groups - what active yoga practice aims to do. You want to by-pass muscular response so that you can stress (and thereby tone) connective tissue and fascia.

Yin practice works distinctly from active practice. They are complementary but different physical and meditative activities. Often, long-standing practitioners of active styles (Iyengar, Ashtanga) feel that yin yoga isn't "real yoga" because it functions on the plane of the passive. Yes - yin yoga is unapologetically, deliberately passive. The premise is that you do not want to engage regular physiological feedback loops because they're in opposition to those that stress the connective tissue. In this context, stress is a good thing. It implies new growth of healthy tissues and strengthening of existing structures. You cannot stretch connective tissue. That's the purview of the muscles. To stretch ligaments and fascia would be to damage them. So you stress them instead.

Any yoga can be practiced by any person at any stage of ability - but I warn you against embracing the yin style until you have a well-established active practice. The style assumes a certain amount of muscular flexibility and strength. Regardless of the passive intention re: holding postures for upwards of 5 minutes each, it takes strength and pliancy - both physically and mentally - to do so.

Unlike the Iyengar restorative method (and I'll discuss the distinctions between these in a moment), the yin method doesn't dwell on how to prop the poses to allow for long holds. Some teachers address this better than others - but a strong background in Iyengar yoga is the perfect complement to the yin practice. Iyengar yoga is particularly focused on muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Yin yoga focuses on non-muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Skillful application of props is germane to both of these goals.

Here's what I'll say about the yin style (as a person who is very experienced in the ways of the restorative Iyengar method):
  • The yin practice is entirely different than restorative practice in its intention. The restorative Iyengar practice focuses on improving health (mental and physical) by taking postures to balance the endocrine system. Those postures, while heavily propped, are not passive. They engage muscles inasmuch as the maintenance of muscular "tone" is inherent to remaining safely in the postures for long periods. The emphasis is on supported back bends and full inversions - which are known for promoting endocrine stability. There is no emphasis on Chinese medical principles. There is an emphasis on the movement of prana.
  • By contrast, the yin practice emphasizes complete passivity in the poses. The mantra is: With no expectation, every posture is correct. Time is the only meaningful variable. With long-holdings, comes optimal stress to connective tissues - if you can handle it. These poses focus on the large muscle-groups between the knees and ribcage, particularly the hips and the emphasis is on seated poses, modified standing poses and forward bends. As fascia is interconnected between all muscles in the body, stress on the largest muscles achieves the greatest result. And, as this fascia tones, via stress, one can feel the impact of yin hip openers widely throughout the body. Postures are explored from the vantage point of Chinese medical principles (meridians and elements) and also from the standard yogic vantage point of moving prana.
The last few years of pain management, and near constant meditation on the semi-regular pain-loop I experience, has led me to understand that stretching my muscles does nothing to help my pain. My muscles are pretty stretchy. I mean, I've been stretching them regularly for 25 years. They're also strong and fairly well-aligned. When the pain flares, however, my connective tissue grips like a mass of plastic that just doesn't want to move.

It's taken me years to figure this out. But I was totally shocked to discover that the premise of yin yoga (a method I'd heard about and arrogantly assumed was like "restorative yoga lite") is all about the very thing I cannot contain or work to my will.

Here's another way of looking at things re: yoga as pain management. (Note that yoga is about much more than pain management, of this we are all well aware...)

Iyengar restorative practice seeks to ameliorate pain by balancing neurotransmitters (the hormonal precursors in the brain). Talk about taking things back to the studs. It presumes a non-trivial amount of physical and mental self-awareness - and the ability to stay in some serious poses for a long period of time. When effective, biochemical balance leads to a significant decrease in pain.

Yin yoga doesn't go straight to the brain (well, even as it goes straight to the core :-)). It posits that passive stress to a sheath of tissue (which runs throughout the body) can elicit a change in the pain response. Does that go back to the brain? Yeah. But it's a more accessible vehicle for most peeps.

Is one better than the other? I don't think so. In as much as yin yoga and active yoga are different modalities, so is Iyengar restorative practice distinct from the yin method. One may work better for a particular practitioner at a particular moment. The pain loop is not static. Pain comes from and goes to different places depending on a myriad of factors that are so minute it's sometimes impossible to detangle them. In this respect, knowledge is power.

I often modify my yoga sessions (while in a pain moment) to include elements of active, supported and yin practice. I also modify my intention to suit that of the practice I'm doing. When I work actively, my meditation is on slowing breath and moving that breath to the muscle groups (to improve endurance and flexibility). When I work supportedly, my intention is to use inversions (and pressure points) to restore endocrine balance. When I work in the yin practice, my intention is to be entirely passive - which is almost impossible for me. It's to feel the pain I run from much of the time. To integrate it and to make peace with it.

The value of intention cannot be underestimated. I spent years wondering about whether there's any specific correlation between outcome and intention. Trust me, cuz I've done the work. The correlation is significant. You cannot remove your mind from the pain equation. Nor can you remove it from the yogic one.

Today's questions: Do you practice all three types (active, yin and supported)? What is your experience? Do you manage chronic or semi-regular pain? What are your techniques for managing? How does intention alter your experience of yoga practice (if at all)? Let's talk.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's Bananas

I'm on this savings kick. You know, fiscal prudence. But the combination of a couple of wardrobe holes (and I do say this with my feet firmly in the first-world, it's not like I'd go naked without them) and a great sale propelled me to take a bit of a detour.

Specifically, what with my life being in the fancy-briefing realm more and more frequently, suits are increasingly de rigeur. I currently have 3 that fit. Two of those work in all kinds of weather. Yeah, I have a bunch of effective sartorial work arounds that do the trick, but I'm SO sick of those 2 suits. One of them is 12 years old.

My goal, for a year, has been to make a new suit. I have all of the bits and materials but I don't have the time. Mind you, I also don't have 800 bucks lying around. What's a girl to do?

(Ahem): Go to Banana Republic. Yeah, this place holds no appeal for me but, every time I walk in there, I find 20 things by which I could enhance my wardrobe. I am always surprised by the good quality. Finishings are lovely. For context, that 12 year old suit I wear is from Banana and everyone still tells me how great it is (perhaps the cut's a bit vintage now?). So these garments stand the test of time.

(FYI, just so we're on the same page, you know you must never buy full-price at this store. Any day of the week you can save at least 30 per cent, and often more.)

Another silhouette I've found myself wearing ALL the time lately is the tunic-length, slim-knit sweater, something with an interesting neckline that's small in the shoulders. It facilitates the semi-constant wearing of legging-like pants. Time was, I could wear those leggings with a torso-fitted top. I sense, these days, a bit of cover in the midsection is more flattering.

And finally, I've been looking for the perfect pair of denim trousers (NOT jeans) for 5 years. No, I'm not joking. Every time I walk into a store, I seek them out. No dice. I've made a couple of versions and they're fine but they're not fly-front and they're fairly casual. I've been looking for the right (very blue, but not dark) wash, the right fabric-tension (very snug-fitting with great recovery, thick-weight) and the right cut (slender through the hips, ass and legs).

Well, yesterday, I found all of those things at BR, on my lunch, for 45% off. Actually, the pants (originally 95 bucks) were on sale for 41 bucks and I had a 42.00 credit. So they were free. The other items, as a result, ended up being more than 50% off. To put it in context, I bought a new light-wool (three season) suit, a slim, fine merino tunic sweater and a pair of perfect work pants for 297.00 all in (including tax). It would have cost me 650.00 without the sale. At another store, the same combo of garments of this quality would have cost well over 1000 bucks. I really don't know how this store facilitates these prices - and really, I don't think I want to.

But onto some stock pics...

Alas, my sweater does not exist in photos, but here's a similar BR style...

Here's the suit (note: it fits me a lot better than it does the model - I went with the jacket in petites which works well with my proportions):

The skirt is particularly flattering:

And here are the pants - alas, sold out in almost every size...

It happens that there's one of those mega sales online today (though the discount applies to specific items).

Today's questions: Whatcha think these? Have you owned a BR suit (really, who hasn't?)? Do you wear it weekly? What's the last wardrobe staple you bought? Let's talk!