Massage & Yoga

Improving overall health, vitality, and lifestyle through the integration of Massage Therapy and the practice of Yoga


Monday, November 14, 2011

What About Unity?

I hesitate to post on this subject since it does not directly pertain to the work I do through Prana Healthworks but with the Holiday season approaching, I thought I might share some of my thoughts on how we as individuals can use the spirit of giving to help our country and its citizens through this difficult financial time.  Before I put forth my idea, I want to first draw attention to what I see as a major disconnect between all the inhabitants of this great nation of ours.  It seems everywhere I look these days there are signs and symbols of patriotism and nationalism.  “Support Our Troops”, “God Bless America”, and other similar themes echo from the bumpers and tailgates of our cars from coast to coast.  “Old Glory”, the stars and stripes is proudly displayed on buildings and houses nationwide as well as being tattooed to nearly every Harley Davidson I see, both man and machine.  Nationalism is everywhere but something equally important is missing from message.  Unity! What about unity?

My father was a veteran of World War II.  He fought in the Philippine Islands and in Korea.  The freedoms he fought for are a great source of pride in my family.  Like many of his fellow soldiers, he came home with a desire to apply those freedoms to his country thus they created a great sense of national pride.  Along with that pride was a common bond that was forged on the battlefields of Europe and Asia as well as in towns large and small back here in America.  That bond was their unity in a common cause and everyone from my parent’s generation fought the same war for that cause.  To them, rationing the staples we take for granted was a way of life and each family supported the next in order to ensure that the men fighting abroad had what they needed to succeed in defeating their enemies.  After the war, our country flourished like no other time in history because every man, woman, and child was unified behind that cause.  The goal was to make every product the best and provide impeccable service to all patrons because that what America stood for.  UNITED States of America!

On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked in a horrific way.  Many of us watched mesmerized as thousands of our countrymen perished in the collapsing buildings and plane wreckage.  That day was a turning point.  Our national hearts were stirred once again.  Unfortunately, soon after, the 9/11 spectacle was replaced on our televisions and computer screens with more current affairs.  We all detached ourselves from the most devastating event in our countries’ history in the last 50 years because it didn’t directly impact our complacent lives.  There was no rationing needed.  Prices remained relatively stable.  No one except the families of the victims had to sacrifice their day to day lives, thus what should have unified our country actually further segregated us.  Our economy took a nose dive, greed and corruption were exposed in our financial institutions and apathy for the war Iraq and Afghanistan divided our nation politically.  Today, the rich continue to get richer, the poor remain poor, and what was once a stable middle class family, now has to rely on savings and frugality in order to maintain a modest living.  Despite the fact that we all witnessed how quickly the world can change in a matter of minutes, none of us seem willing to commit ourselves to solving the problems exposed by that cataclysmic event. 

What we need is to believe in each other again and support each other as Americans from the greatest nation on the Earth.  The nation our fathers and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers sacrificed so much to protect and rebuild.  We need to be diligent about choosing locally made goods and services and stop relying on foreign imports of oil, goods, and services.  Our nation is being sold lock, stock and barrel to the highest bidder and we are all standing by watching, mesmerized.  This attack is not coming from hijacked planes though, but from corporate greed and foreign outsourcing.  We have the resources, the ingenuity, and the man power to regain our strength as a nation but to do so, we have to put aside our selfish, capitalistic, corporate dictated mentality and become a nation who is not only proud of its heritage but one that is willing to sacrifice the allure cheaper goods and labor in favor of domestically made products and services produced by small businesses.

What I am proposing this holiday season is simple.  Instead of purchasing mountains of Chinese made electronics and plastics, or boxes full of sweatshop produced clothing that support corporate excess; buy into local small businesses and domestic entrepreneurs.  Purchase your friends and family members gifts made by hand in this country.  Give gift certificates that support service industries like hair stylists, personal trainers, and massage therapists!  With near double-digit unemployment in this country, it is time for Americans to unite behind one another and make a stand in favor of quality not quantity.  Share the wealth at home this holiday season and keep it out of the pockets of foreign millionaires.  You’ll be putting food in the mouths of your neighbors.  You’ll be buying clothes for the children in “your” child’s classes.  You’ll be making a difference in the lives of people in your home town who really need it most.  Your hard earned dollars become their hard earned dollars.  It our turn to be the heroes and protect the freedoms that our ancestors fought and died for.  Keep your dollars in America this year! 
God Bless You and God Bless America!

Matthew Corrigan, CMT, RYT
Prana Healthworks 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Be The Captain of Your Own Ship

Last week I was inspired to touch on this subject by two fellow bloggers, Marion and Nasrine whose posts were directed at personal development and energy vampires respectively.  Each got me thinking about how important it is in life to be the “captain of your own ship”.  In other words, no one else is able to guide your decisions or the possible outcomes of your life better than you.  If you know yourself and what your personal needs are then you will have a better chance of achieving your goals.  But that’s the trick then isn’t it.  Knowing yourself enough to trust your own instincts and to listen to the internal voice of your own body. 

Marion mentions in her post that one needs discipline to practice “fierce self care”.  I truly love this concept and the use of the word fierce in this context.  Self-care is so often over looked in today’s fast paced lifestyle.  We just go, go, go and give, give, give until we drop or become ill.  What this says about humanity is that we would rather be recognized as someone who has compassion for the hearts of others and who selflessly devotes their time and energies to others than to be accused of being selfish or narcissistic.  Our fear of rebuttal forces us into sacrificing our own needs and well-being.  Nasrine also makes a valid point in her post that one must distance themselves from toxic relationships that eat up our time with gossip and rhetoric.  Even worse are the “energy vampires” who constantly seek our affirmation when placing blame on someone else for their own mistakes.  I applaud her discipline in practicing “fierce self care!”  At some point we must learn to walk away from these toxic “friends” and stand alone in the storm, unafraid of reprisal or ridicule. 

So how does one go about being the “captain”?  First and most important one must develop a questioning mind.  Do you take what people say as fact just because they are friends of yours?  What if they are wrong?  Don’t be afraid to do your own research and discover your own truth.  So much of what is passed around as fact on television or in the media stream is hearsay and conjecture.  Yet often with enough repeatability, what is fiction becomes the accepted “fact” and we are left with a skewed version of reality.  Our friends are very often our filter for what we decide to believe or not believe.  How easy it is to go along with the crowd without really knowing the reason behind our actions.  Don’t be a sheep, rather, be the shepherd! 

Next, be open to new possibilities and uncertain outcomes.  So often I meet people who fear to try new things because of uncertain outcomes.  They prefer the safe, the tried and true, the status quo.  How boring life must be behind the barriers, never playing the game but only watching from the sidelines.  Where would we all be if not for the explorers, the hunters, and the daredevils?  I am not saying you have to try skydiving or travel into space, but facing ones fears is how we learn.  We must overcome more than just the fear itself, but everything associated with that fear including hatred, prejudice, jealousy and apathy.  Overcoming fear requires a selfless act of trust during which the body surrenders muscular control to the experience rather than the outcome.  Once the mind realizes that no harm has been inflicted on the body, it relaxes and a new reality is established.  Taking small steps toward an uncertain outcome will lead to the precipice of decision.  Consider what you know and take a “leap of faith”.

Lastly, listen to your own voice.  Instincts involve the whole body, not just the head.  What does your heart say to you, what does your gut say to you, what do your feet tell you?  A good captain assesses the situation at hand, takes in the counsel of their officers, but in the end, they make decisions from past experience (knowledge) and “gut feelings” (instinct).  Your body is your most precious gift.  Don’t leave it to chance or let someone else dictate its needs.  Be fierce about your personal need for time alone (spend time walking, meditating, or praying), be fierce about doing something nice for yourself (buy yourself a gift), and most importantly, be fierce about your individuality and stand up for what you believe (disagree with the crowd).  Let go of toxic relationships no matter how long you have been cultivating them.  If you’re afraid of losing a friend then how good a friend were they to begin with?  Let them know you care by being a witness with out becoming involved in their outcome.  Encourage them to be their own captain and let you be yours.

A captain is by no means perfect.  On the contrary, a good captain understands that mistakes happen but also that with a certain risk comes the possibility of a greater reward.  Lead from the heart, not from the head, for the heart is capable of forgiveness.  Know that there are always going to be rough seas ahead, but those are the opportunities to learn and grow.  Navigate them with a questioning mind, an open heart, and a certain voice.

Matthew Corrigan, CMT, RYT
Prana Healthworks 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Energetic Connections

Imagine for a moment, that you are walking through a store and you happen to bump into someone that you haven’t seen in years. The conversation begins with a few questions about the past and what each of you has done since you last spoke.  You might also discuss mutual friends or anyone that the two of you know in common.  Depending on the strength of your past relationship, this person may warrant a deeper conversation, so you agree to meet at a later date when the two of you can “catch up”.  At this point you might shake hands or hug each other and say your goodbyes.  Yet even after the goodbyes, you notice that your thoughts are still with this person, recalling more past history between the two of you.  Perhaps you notice a warm feeling of gratitude that you have rekindled your relationship or possibly a feeling of sadness that you haven’t been better about keeping up with this person before now.  What you are experiencing are thoughts and feelings associated with the bond you have developed both past and present with this person, or what I like to call, an “energetic connection.”

Our bodies are filled with energy impulses running back and forth through our nervous system.  These energy impulses direct and maintain the functions of our bodies.  Without them, we would be dead.  In fact, every living thing on this planet possesses energy, including plants. So, when two living things interact, there is an exchange of energy between them.  Just like magnets, sometimes these physical energies are drawn together and other times they repel one another.  Because of a previous connection between you and your long lost friend, the energetic exchange that occurred further reinforced your relationship and thus the bond between you was strengthened.  The more frequently an exchange occurs between two people, the more your physical energies become bound together.  That is why we are so close to members of our own families.  Those bonds have been forming since we were born and therefore, they are much stronger than the bonds between friends.  In addition, the more physical the interaction between two people, the stronger the bond becomes.  Thinking back to the exchange between you and your friend, the simple act of shaking hands or from hugging each other creates a chemical bond when the two of you touch.  The fluids, oils and skin cells from one body become mixed with those of the other body creating an energetic crossroads allowing energy to be exchanged.  If you remember from high school chemistry, energy flows better through a liquid than through the air (don’t drop the hairdryer into the bathtub).  As a result of all this science, the simple act of touch between two human beings can spark a profound exchange of energy.

This energy of life that we all possess is known in yoga as Prana, in China it is called Chi. We are filled with it from the moment of conception and surrounded by it everywhere we go.  Recall that in the Star Wars movies, George Lucas called it “The Force”.   We absorb this Prana (Chi, The Force) from the air we breathe, the food we eat and from those we interact with which is why it is essential to eat a good diet, take relaxing breaths to dispel stress and to spend time with loved ones. When we are healthy and relaxed, our bodies are capable of miraculous physical feats and very deep mental intuitions.  You have undoubtedly heard of having a gut feeling about something or someone.  That is because our bodies possess over 100 million brain cells within our digestive tract.  Yes, that’s what I said; we have in essence a second brain in our digestive tract called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) that connects directly to our brains along the Vagus nerve. The nerve cells of the ENS line the walls of our esophagus, stomach and intestines.  Whenever we encounter someone or a something that requires a judgment on our part, the ENS provides our brain with insight and often times, emotional responses.  Intuition, ESP, and clairvoyance are all rooted in the ENS.  Again, when we interact with another person, our “guts” are sending impulses directly to our “brains” telling us what we like and dislike about this person.  In yoga this area equates to the 2nd Chakra called Svadhistana or “the abode of the self”.  Chakras are pools of prana or energy within the body.  So, once we have developed a positive attraction to someone, each subsequent encounter further develops the relationship and over the course of time the energetic bond between the two of you remains active even though you may be a great distance apart.  I am sure you have heard stories about how someone has sensed when a relative or close friend has suffered a terrible accident or death.  That is because the energetic connection between them was so strong that the ENS was able to detect a disturbance in their shared energies as a result of the tragedy despite the fact that they may have been hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

So how is this possible and why doesn’t it happen more often?  Because, even though energy can travel very great distances, it can also be easily disturbed along its transmission, thus the message gets lost.  Whales can communicate with sound energy across thousands of miles of ocean.  Humans can see images transmitted from a satellite orbiting a planet in our solar system that is 800 million miles away.  Then why can’t our bodies sense a tragic disturbance in the energy between members of a family more frequently?  The simple answer is environment.  Whale sounds travel through water in a low frequency environment, undisturbed by other sounds.  The transmissions we receive from space travel through a low frequency environment undisturbed by other transmissions.  Yet, we live in busy cities surrounded by thousands of energy signals.  These high frequency environments are filled with radio, television, and cell phone transmissions, in addition to power lines and traffic sounds all disturbing the direct flow of energy between humans.  In our environment, we have to come within a close proximity of one another before our energies can interact.  The sheer volume of energetic noise in our high frequency city environment is also a major contributing factor to why our brains develop more stress.  They are constantly bombarded by energy signals that they have to interpret or ignore.  Why do you think we find it so relaxing to take a walk along the beach or to go on a hike across a mountain trail?  Because those are low frequency environments and our brain doesn’t have to work so hard to filter out all the extraneous energy buzzing through the air.  Also, the low frequency energy of the surrounding trees, plants and other animals has a soothing effect on our nervous system.  Taking a swim in the ocean, in a lake or even a swimming pool has a similar effect.  Water is a low frequency energy medium and because our bodies are made of about 80% water, we find great harmony in it's presence.  Personally, I find that I do some of my best thinking in the shower.  That is a result of the low frequency connection to water mixed with the splashing sounds to create a peaceful environment which allows the brain to function better!

So what does all this mean?  It means that our bodies are extremely sensitive energetic instruments.  Yet we as humans seldom find the time to really listen to what our bodies are telling to us.  When we meet someone, do we really make an effort to sense what we feel in our gut about them, or do we ignore that intuition and act based upon time constraints or other sensory input?  In my yoga classes, I am constantly instructing my students to get out of their heads and into their bodies.  Four of our five senses are located in the head.  The sensory input from our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth has a much shorter path to the brain than sensory input from the gut or from our touch receptors, therefore the brain tends to stay focused on those sources of input in a high frequency environment.  Only when we allow time for the brain to listen to the body, do we overcome the high frequency input and begin to reach deeper within ourselves for a more meaningful connection to our own energy, prana, or chi. Just like trees which are grounded in the soil (very low frequency medium) but bloom into the air so too, humans are grounded by touching the soil, the water and each other so that we might “bloom” as well.  The sensation of touch is something unique and fulfilling on both an energetic and an emotional level.  When two people share energy through touch, they become linked intuitively to one another.  Sometimes those energies are combined making each one stronger.  Other times those energies cancel out healing a discord in both by opening a blocked pathway or meridian.  Either way, touch is a vital human need and one that is so neglected and misunderstood in our over stimulated society.

The next time you run into someone you haven’t seen in years, search deep into your gut and make time for energetic connections to prosper in your life.  A simple hug is so much more than a gesture, it is a bond shared between two people.  Seek out the low frequency environment in your life whether it is a walk along the beach, a hike in the mountains, or holding hands with a loved one.  Cultivate the prana within your body and mind.  Eat food as though it were feeding your soul, breathe air into your lungs as though you were walking beside a rolling stream through a forest meadow, and most importantly, extend your hand in touch to another human being as though you have the power to heal. 

May the Force be with you!

Matthew Corrigan, CMT, RYT
Prana Healthworks 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Confessions of a Massage Therapist "Ironing the Wrinkles From the Fabric of Humanity"

The massage therapist / client relationship is a unique blend of trust and communication.  Once the therapist has determined the needs and goals for the session through a pre-massage consultation, the stage is set for what I like to call an energetic pas de deux.  As instruments of exploration, my hands become my eyes.  Through pressure and subtle manipulation of tissue, I am able to sense specific areas of tension within the client’s body.  Depending on how those areas are manipulated and how well the client is able to use a combination of breathing and relaxation to release the specific tension determines the effectiveness of the massage.  The ancient art of massage is a potent therapy when applied with knowledge and focused intention.  The giver and receiver must be willing to trust one another in an act of mutual surrender; one to the heart that honors the spirit of life, the other to the hand that irons the wrinkles from the fabric of humanity.

A teacher of mine once used the analogy that the body is like a tent.  The tent poles being our bones, the outer fabric of the tent equates to our skin, and the muscles, tendons and ligaments are like the “guy lines” anchoring the tent to the ground.  Each of these in turn give us our shape, or more specifically; our posture.  Posture is our dynamic presentation to the universe.  It begins at birth and it adapts to every task or event that we perform throughout our lives.  Sports you have played, injuries you have sustained, emotional stresses you have endured; all dictate how each body adapts and compensates over time to physical demands or challenges.  Imagine for a moment what happens when one of those “guy lines” is put under excessive tension; the shape of the tent changes.  So too, when one of our muscles is under excessive tension, our posture changes in order to keep us standing upright and our eyes level with the horizon.  Many times these changes create postural imbalances, which over time begin to exhibit symptoms of discomfort and pain.  My goal as a therapist then is to assist the body in releasing these structural imbalances so that normal pain free functionality is restored and overall posture is improved.

In my work, I visualize the 600 some odd bags of tissue we call muscles, as a magnificent tapestry of overlapping fabric methodically laid out on a framework of pulleys and levers.  The exponential possibilities of movement offered by this structure can very often overload individual muscles or groups of muscles when the balance between strength and flexibility is exceeded.  The result then is strain or injury exhibited by pain.  Intrinsically though, there is often a deeper root cause to muscle imbalances.  The external forces attacking the body combined with the internal resiliency to those forces plays an ongoing tug of war between strength and flexibility.  Repetitive motion, non-repetitive motion and emotional factors also play a dominant role in our resiliency to external stresses.  As a therapist then, it becomes very important to be able to assess all the possible root causes for specific tensions in a client’s body.  This is why spending extra time with a client before the massage is so crucial to providing the most effective manual therapy during the massage.  The more I know about someone’s past, the better able I am to understand the nature of that person and ultimately, the better able I will be to help them unlock the physical restrictions they are encountering as a result of a stressful environment.

There is an honesty inherent in this work that I perform.  The forces of nature are present each time I lay my hands on someone.  Part knowledge, part intuition, and part understanding, massage therapy is a gift that has been shared between human beings for thousands of years and I am honored to uphold the integrity of my position as a massage therapist in every time my hands make contact with another human being. 

Matthew Corrigan, CMT, RYT
Prana Healthworks 2011