Unarmored

I have been working with orthopedic massage for three years. My sister died in 2012 and my father 14 months later, in 2013. My father’s will was from 1979. My maternal family grieved via five years of lawsuits. I lost my sister, my father, and my maternal family. For good, as the song says.

I showed up for a massage in 2014. The ortho massage person said, “You are locked in an armor suit. Toes holding on to the floor, knees locked, head and shoulders forward, a fight or flight defensive posture.” I lift my toes up and say, “My toes aren’t clenched.” But they were.

For the next week I was to walk around, or attempt to walk around, with my toes off the floor. I practice: toes up, knees bent, lift foot, gently touch heel ahead, then shift weight forward, weight even on great and little metatarsal, toes are not to grab the floor, lift the trailing foot and repeat. I am furious that I have to relearn how to walk. HOW TO LET GO OF THE ARMOR SUIT?

I go once a month, now. I went weekly for a long time, then biweekly. Pieces of armor would drop off in the massage, but I would armor back up at work. Posture, posture, posture, breathe, don’t tighten those muscles up, check in with toes and with abdominal muscles…

Yesterday I go. We talk. It’s been a really weird month and I don’t know why. Letting go of all sorts of things and people and stuff. My pile of stuff to get rid of, clothes, books, mugs, art, is getting larger. And I was very grumpy the day before the massage. I thought, well, it’s been a dark February, I hate taking pills, maybe I need some sun, I mean, vitamin D.

But at the massage: a huge piece of armor, locked muscles in my lower back and hips, is gone. It feels weird. I didn’t know it was gone. Certain movements feel entirely unfamiliar, because I am used to moving the muscles as a locked group. My brain attempts to tell individual muscles to move and then there is a pause… as the brain and muscle negotiate unfamiliar territory. Medial gluteus medius… moving that feels so odd and unfamiliar.

Ortho massage says, “Usually when I ask you to move muscles, you are ON or OFF. FULL STRENGTH or no response. This is all new: modulation. Gentle.”

It feels so strange..

He knows how I feel. He says, “I felt so unbalanced as my armor dropped off. As if it dropped off bits at a time, a piece on the right side and suddenly I don’t know how to move because it’s all different. ”

Yes, that is what I am feeling. Unmoored. Light. There is less gravity. Gentle. Surprised. Less grumpy afterwards: I am so surprised, I had rather given up that I would EVER drop ANY of the armor suit. Pleased and a bit shyly proud. And deeply deeply grateful…. to my ortho massage person and to many others: friends, books, kind strangers, my patients, my colleagues (that is, the ones who have been kind. There are quite a few who were not. Let them go.) and the parts of my family that I keep… the ones whose actions DO mean they love me.

And my significant other says that I’ve seemed more peaceful this month. I check. I do feel more peaceful, which is so odd when I started the week feeling peculiar and unmoored and as if something was wrong. Something wasn’t wrong, I just had not even realized that I dropped a huge piece of invisible armor. The night before the massage I went to a dinner. Because of the deaths and lawsuits, I had very little social life for many years. A decade, really. After the dinner I thought, that was odd. I am not who I was ten years ago. I am not sure who I am in a social setting. I am surprised to be invited to a dinner. And I let the old me go: it’s ok. I will find out who I am after a decade as a hermit, a hermit due to circumstances, not by choice nor under my control. I let it all go: and I think that is the moment that piece of armor finally let go.

For Good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQJaZO2nfGg

Armour Suit IV: Walk like a toddler

At each massage, one every two weeks, I have locked my hips back up in the Armour suit. This is really annoying.

My massage person says he wants to be able to lie face down like a baby: head, arms and legs all lifted and playing. That is core strength. Babies can do that… why can’t we? He says that when he does play therapy with kids, by a certain age they lose that. He picks them up and flies them around lying on his arms: by age 4 or 5, they fold up. They have lost touch with that core.

I think about that.

During a massage a few months ago he pokes my lower belly. “Tilt your hips using your abdominal muscles.” Feels weird, but I do. “You aren’t engaging your core.” I find it really annoying to have to relearn how to walk.

Engaging my core. Little children who have just learned to walk do lead with their bellies. And they can still lie on the floor on their bellies, all limbs up.

I am trying to picture an adult who walks with their belly. Who? The Buddha’s belly comes to mind. But I can’t see him walking. Who? Toshiro Mifune: the old samurai movies. He and the others walk like small children: from their core, from their bellies.

I try it for two weeks. I flatten the arch of my lower back by using my abdominal muscles, not my gluteus maximus. I walk with my feet apart a bit, my belly leading. I am trying not to walk with my toes gripping the ground. I walk with toes up. He says I have walked with my toes gripping the ground for years, and that is the only place that I have early arthritis.

It feels a bit silly to walk like a samurai. When I do it right, I can feel that engaged core and my legs and hips feel looser. It is not elegant, not a catwalk uptight shake your ass walk. It is more of a loose free walk, like a toddler, like a buddha. I don’t care. I have to concentrate to keep my abdominal muscles flattening the arch of my back, and so I walk slower.

After two weeks I am back: it’s worked. Partially. My hips are LESS locked. The metatarsal phalangeal joints, the big toes, are less sore then they’ve been for years. And I can feel that abdominal core.

Skiing I try to do the same thing. Engage the abdomen and keep it engaged, and ski with my toes up. I ski slowly and with great swooping turns, letting the skis do the work. Rentals. They give me 158s the first day, I talk them into 165s the second day and then I am on 172s. Finally feels stable. I am getting used to that core feeling. I quit when I get too tired, going in before my kids.

Walk like a toddler, walk like a samurai, walk with core engaged.

First published on everything2.com January 7, 2016. I needed the right picture: this is my sister and me about a month before she died of breast cancer. I miss her so.

Armour Suit II

Yesterday I had the massage that I have once every two weeks.

We talk first about muscles and illness and emotions. He is thinking that if we forget how to use certain muscles and put them in the “armor suit” then that is where our body will store toxins. After all, we aren’t using those muscles. Good storage place. And then that in turn is where illness or cancer could pop up.

I am talking about emotions: that the US culture seems to see certain emotions as “negative”. Anger, fear, grief. I asked my son what he thinks emotion is. His reply: “Chemicals?” I think emotions are neurological information. Information just as much as what our eyes see, our ears hear. If we label some emotions as “bad”, how can a child protect herself from a predator, from abuse, from a charming addict? If girls are supposed to be “nice” all the time, they have to suppress any “bad” emotions. Why would we suppress neurological information? And both my massage person and I think that stuffed emotions go into the armor suit. So toxins from the outside and toxins from the inside…. no wonder we get sick.

In the massage I am paying attention to each muscle, asking them to relax, rather then focusing on my breathing. I am also thinking that I am not sure my back is broad enough to carry what I want to carry, between work and family. I am asking the Beloved about that, sort of…. and then I have the sensation that my back is very broad. Enormous. Very very strong. I have small hips and an enormously strong back. I am 5’4″ and 130 pounds. Yet in this sensate dream, my back is as wide and strong as my friend who is 6’4″ and 220 pounds.

It’s not momentary. It goes on for thirty minutes or more. My latissimus dorsi are tight and sore, punching muscles. We talk about how we would both like to see grade school children taught to activate the slow twitch muscles, to loosen and drop the armor suit. Most of the physical education and sports are fast twitch. “Not synchronized swimming,” I say. The first formal move they are taught is to float on their back, legs straight. Hands controlling position. They slowly bend one knee and then straighten that leg up, and equally slowly lower and straighten it. This is called the ballet leg. My daughter started synchro at age 7 and had to do that at the meet. They were scored on the Olympic scoring from the start: the beginners scored in the 3 range.

“No,” he says, “synchronized swimming must use slow twitch. But that and Tai Chi are the only ones I can think of, and maybe some dance.” He says that I need to learn to release that energy: the wanting to punch, wanting to kick, instead of storing it in my muscles…. I have a heavy bag. I will make time.

I am silent, exploring the map of my back, strong and broad enough to carry much more than I thought….

This is our synchronized swimming team at our small local pool, doing the yearly show, in 2010. The five girls are in a routine and just starting a ballet leg in time to the music….