How to Hang On–Day 28: Breathe, Please

Now, more than ever, as the anticipated day draws ever closer, conscious breathing needs to be front and center. Even low-key excitement can shorten and abate the breath; when the mind gets hold of anticipation, the body reads “fight or flight.” In those moments, one must remind oneself to regard complete, calming breaths as a decision. 

As I marveled this morning about how still and even-keeled I felt inside, I suddenly realized that part of the stillness was the very little movement through my belly, ribs, and chest. When I scanned a bit further, I found that my breaths were far from full and far from deep.

Ironically, when I met with the surgical nurse yesterday as part of pre-surgery protocol, she mentioned the importance of breath in pain management. I assured her that breath work is familiar to me and part of my daily practice. So, when I discovered this morning that my breath had taken a back seat to thoughts of Surgery Day, I inwardly chuckled and lightly chided myself for the lack of my supposed discipline.

So, my light movement practice this morning gave way to a focus on pranayama. One of the simplest, most effective combinations I enjoy is the following:

Begin with chest openers: spinal flexes, arm swings (criss-cross in front), arm circles, and modified back bend or Camel Pose.

Sitting, place on palm on the belly just beneath the navel, with the other hand resting on top. Inhale into the cradle of the palms for a count of 4; exhale for 4 (breathing through the nose).

Repeat 4 times.

Continuing to breathe through the nose, increase both counts to 6; repeat 6 times.

Now, release the hands to the knees, left palm up, right palm down: Breathe in through the nose for 6; pause for 2; exhale long and steady through rounded lips for 8. Repeat 8 times. (The hand position and breath change represent taking in and letting go; this is a particularly beneficial breath when coping with anxiety or distracting thoughts.)

Close with a trio of breaths that alternate nostrils. Using the right thumb to close the right nostril, place the left palm on the knee, palm up, index finger and thumb touching. Breathe in and out through the left nostril, very slowly, for 3 rounds (no count). Change hands—left thumb closes left nostril; right hand lies palm up with Gyan Mudra on right knee—and repeat through the right nostril.

Then, using the right thumb to operate the right nostril, right ring finger to open and close the left, place the left hand on the knee, palm down, no mudra. Close the right nostril to breathe in through the left; close the left to breathe out through the right; then in through the right, out through the left. Repeat the entire round 5 times.

Finally, sit quietly, left hand resting in the palm of the right, with the hands in the lap. Touch the thumb tips together, send your closed-eye gaze up to the Third Eye, and breathe in and out through the nose. Stay here for as long as you like, allowing the body and mind to integrate the calming benefits of the pranayama.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 27: Stay Cool

Today was the final round of appointments before Friday’s surgery.

Yesterday, my low back decided to join the party: spasm deluxe.

I was concerned about driving, about walking, about standing, about waiting—would my back, hips, and legs keep me upright as I moved through this final, necessarily busy day?

For that has been my primary goal: walk into the surgical center upright, of my own accord (with the help of canes). To be so close, yet so far… that was the feeling with which I awoke today.

And yet: I managed. One foot in front of the other; one wobbly cane maneuver, then the next; one smile for the surgical nurse; and then another for the COVID test-taker. Each move along this baffling game board toward surgery demands, overall, one thing: Stay cool.

By “cool,” I mean centered–in mind, body, spirit: When body balks, move to mind; when mind meanders, shift to spirit. And when at all possible, engage all three—ultimate coolness.

Also, however, I am acutely cognizant that Cool abides vulnerability: I am learning how to accommodate that uncomfortable, unwanted state, all while staying connected to Cool.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 24: Massage (Not What You May Think)

As a massage therapist, I am deeply aware of and committed to the value of most modalities of bodywork: muscular, circulatory, psychological, and overall vitality benefits. When it comes to massage, when—if ever—can it be too much?

Clearly, a physical massage takes place on a body that won’t be damaged by tissue or internal stimulation. There are numerous contraindications to various styles of massage; an educated, observant massage therapist knows and abides by these boundaries.

The “massage” to which I refer today, however, is not of a physical kind. It is one that I had never heard mentioned before this morning, when a sensitive, intelligent friend informed me of its existence. In response to my umpteenth thanks for her help, she took a breath, and ever-so-kindly said:

“A rabbi once told me: ‘Don’t massage an apology.’” She went on to explain that overdoing a “sorry” takes away its integrity, its depth, its truth. She used this rabbinical admonition to gently let me know that I did not have to “massage” my gratitude.

What a wondrous gift this was! And what a wondrous rabbi, wondrous friend, and wondrous circumstance: Without arthritis, without looming surgery, without the need for help, I would never have become acquainted with such wonders.


’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 21: HALT

Today’s title refers to an acronym well-known to recovering addicts. When “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired,” those in recovery are in the most danger of giving in to the urge to feed their disease. I have come to regard “HALT” as a useful tool in any circumstance wherein a negative response or impulsive reaction wanders too close to manifestation.

One of the surprising aspects of  “hanging on” pre-surgery has been the sheer number of appointments leading up to the day. It strikes me as absurdly ironic that just when the body can barely take another step, more is asked of it: Any errand or appointment requires (in my living situation) dealing with three flights of stairs; a couple-hundred-feet walk to the car; maneuvering into the car; mobilizing across a parking lot, into a building, standing/waiting, and then doing it all in reverse.

I steeled myself for just such an endeavor today. Upon arriving home, I felt the kind of pain that has come to signal a serious need to end the day, set myself up for rest, and become still. Instead, I entered my apartment to a ringing phone: On the other end was a nurse from the surgery center; she informed me that “R” would be in touch to set up a “meet and greet”—another appointment.

I uttered those words in sheer disbelief: “Another appointment?” I could feel the tears stirring, and my anger wondering if it should enter the fray. To her credit, the nurse entirely empathized, echoing my bewilderment that at this time, more activity was demanded. I kept quiet, ended the call, and thought of HALT.

Hungry? Not much of an appetite these days. Angry? Frustrated, for sure. Lonely? Nope. Tired? Times 10.

So, I realized that my reaction to the addition of another appointment (which, to me in these pre-surgery days translates as additional pain) was a direct consequence of at least half-a-HALT.

With that acknowledgement, I could remind myself that despite the feeling of exhaustion, I was nonetheless still on the road, moving in the right direction. Regardless of more appointments, and thus more pain and fatigue, surgery gets closer each and every day. And with that, I can levy against the flood of negativity, consider my place on the HALT spectrum, and resume deep and full gratitude for what lies ahead.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 11: Start to Say Goodbye…

When I first learned that I had arthritis in my hips, I invoked healing mantras and pointed visualizations to flood my joints with curative power. Then, when I fully accepted that the deterioration of my hips was a one-way street—i.e., nothing I could do would repair them to a healthy state—I began to focus on calming and stabilizing their energy of pain.

Aa of a few weeks ago, my conversations with my hip joints have become even more specific: With surgery in the near future, I am starting to say goodbye to the ball and socket with which I was born. I feel weepy upon writing this, as if the wear-and-tear of my highly physical life is something I need to apologize for, or acknowledge as a misguided path through life. And upon writing that, I recognize that I have done nothing wrong; rather, I made full, exuberant use of my original hips. They have served me well and continue to support me, despite their weakened, rickety state.

So now it is my turn to support them. Throughout each day, I applaud and thank them. Come morn, pre-dawn, upon first wake, I lay my hands on them and pray sweet gratitude into them as I bid a loving adieu. I am mourning their loss, marveling at their past bounty, and preparing the ground for their replacement. Out of their loss will come a fresh start, one that I will heed with newfound wisdom and awe. 

Cheers to what was, and what will be.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On: Introduction

Although several of my postings in the past few months—or more—have alluded to or directly addressed the decline of my arthritic hips, I have not wanted to focus solely on the situation. Now, however, extreme physical pain and the need to bolster my mental outlook and emotional fatigue dominate every move and thought of every day. Ironically, I have decided that the way to make it through the next month—or more—until surgery is to write one very short entry about this each day. I regard such a practice as akin to a 40-day kundalini kriya or mantra: With the commitment to the act comes a paradoxical release from the motive behind it. Thus, it is my hope that by succinctly, frankly expressing whatever arises within, I will move through this trial with new wisdom and resilience.

I am, however, reminded of a core tenet of writing a blog: No more than 15-20 percent of any post should be about the writer. With Everything Elsa, that has never been an issue: The site is intended to be a means to share tips, techniques, and full practices for physical and spiritual care; thus, the “me-ness” of any entry typically only serves as an introductory example of how that post’s practice originated or how it may be used to help in specific circumstances. 

And yet, this temporary venture into a decidedly self-centric mode does not necessarily exclude its connection to the general human experience. I think of TV shows, or movies, or books, or radio discussions wherein someone relays a personal challenge or tragedy or epiphany: In hearing or reading their words, I may recognize a correlation to my own experiences. A spark flickers, and I shine that burgeoning light upon whatever personal task I may be wrangling with. 

Such is my hope and intention during the upcoming weeks leading to surgery: As I record the emotional and physical fluctuations of this bewildering time, perhaps you will dedicate yourself equally to your own current challenge. Maybe my one word, thought, or self-care technique on any given day will be the switch you need to delve into or reframe a troubling thought; or, the way in which I tackle—or succumb—to physical strain may reignite your own resilience.. or give you permission to surrender in that moment. 

So, in a sense, this is an experiment—one that is designed to reveal, yet also to reach out, resonate, and elevate. In committing to this likely uncomfortable daily practice, I aim to demonstrate the power of sharing fear, frustration, pain, and the blessings strewn throughout it all. With the expression of these states comes the moving-beyond; with the commitment to self comes the ability to connect with others. In the name of that discipline, it begins…