Day 11 - Stretch Your Calves with Kent Bond
No one has ever said to me, Hey, are you a dancer? Even though I’m a massage therapist, I dread the first few minutes of getting a massage because it never fails: the therapist always says to me, Relax.
I hate being told to relax. If I could do it, I wouldn’t be hiring someone to help me. Being in the body as a human being is complicated. Being in the body as an adopted person can be even more complicated. It’s not a place that always feels like home, and so stretching this strange place and making it feel at ease hasn’t been something that felt natural or even safe to me. But I’m working at changing that, hence this 93-Day Metamorphize or Die project.
Relaxing is a process. One time I had a wonderful massage and on the way home, I panicked because I thought my arms were falling out of their sockets. I pulled my car over to the side of the road and took stock of the sensations, the strange lightness, and I realized that was what relaxed must feel like. I wasn’t sure I liked it. I felt out of control.
Perhaps part of being relinquished for many people is living in a state of chronic holding in response to trauma, a state that easily becomes habitual and then the norm. I think this is what happened to me. I think the state of tension I hold in my body is a direct reflection of living a life that did not feel completely authentic. I wore a mask of tension, a whole-body mask.
But I am ready to let go because I want the full experience of being a body in the world. I want my cells to have the freedom to expand, and also my organs and my musculature. I have written on more than one chiropractor’s intake form that the reason for the visit is for them to make my skin fit my body. I tell them my skin is too tight. None of them took me seriously. They asked me to break my request into specific parts, but really it wasn’t one part that was the trouble: it was the skin and connective tissue that had responded to tension by getting tight.
Yesterday I wrote about Kent Bond helping me to open my feet, and next he covered the calves. Just recently he had taught a woman who’d had chronic migraines this calf work, and she hasn’t had a migraine since. Under our skin we have a layers of connective tissue called fascia, and you can imagine it like a sweater that covers the entire body. If there is a pull of tightness in a calf, it will affect the entire body. Pull any part of your sweater and it will affect how the rest of the sweater covers you.
If your calves are tight, when you walk you don’t absorb the movement in a fluid manner, and your neck takes the brunt of the action. It’s like slow motion whiplash with every step--sort of like living in the fog.
Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and has many books on about the body and movement. She says that if a person were to do only one stretch, she would recommend the calf stretch. She recommends that people to it for “eleventy hours.” That is eleventy hours more than I do.
So without further ado, here’s a mildly edited transcription of what Kent taught me about stretching/rolling the calf. (When I say “rolling” I am referring to Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune-up method I discussed in the previous post. Rolling is stretching gone to boot camp.)
Everyone should be stretching their calves every day, especially if they are wearing shoes. Katy Bowman calls them sensory deprivation boxes.
We can do the calf stretch in a multitude of ways. Katy loves the half dome, a foam roller that is cut in half so that it has a long flat side. She wants your hip joint in line with your ankle joint when you are stretching your foot on the dome (you can stand by a mirror and let a rope or yoga belt drop from the center of the hip down the side of the leg to the ankle bone to check your alignment). That’s the optimum place to start the stretch.
Notice that the foot I have up on the dome is at the end that is closest to my other foot, so then I can more easily move the foot that is on the ground. You can align both feet and get a good stretch, depending on your level of flexibility. You can step forward with the foot on the ground if you want a deeper stretch, but the trick is to stay in neutral pelvis, which means if you held a yoga block or a book over the front of your pelvis, one part would not move more forward than the other. Breathe into the stretch. Go slowly. What may not feel like a very deep stretch may become delicious if you let your body sink into it.
Another thing Katy talks about is women who have been walking with heels for so long. They aren’t glide walking. My friend calls the way they walk the drop foot. It looks like they are picking up the entire foot and placing it down as a whole on the ground. If you are walking like this and texting, you’re not moving in a way that is beneficial to your body.
When you are walking in a way that uses more articulations of your foot, when you are glide walking, the last thing that leaves the ground is the big toe. Every time you take a step, it’s important to swing your arms because you’re moving lymph, and that benefits the health of your entire body. Let your arms swing and now you’re getting a rotation in the body, and this helps with peristalsis and digestion. You burn more calories.
When you are upright and walking, softening your gaze and looking around, all of a sudden you have this body, mind, soul quality. You will start to notice things you’ve never noticed. It will open you up and take you back into yourself.
(I know all of this may sound like an incredibly detailed way to say, Stretch your calf, but if you’re going to do something, you might as well try to do it in a way that will give you the most bang for your buck.)
If you want to sit down and stretch your calf, you can plop down on the couch and have a coffee table in front of you so you can put a ball on the table. Rest your calf on the ball and move your calf around a bit, looking for sensitive spots. You can do direct pressure. Cross fiber. Stripping. Pin and spin.
(If these terms mean nothing to you, you probably didn’t read yesterday’s blog post. If they still mean nothing to me, message me and I’ll do a better job of explaining or buy Jill Miller’s book The Roll Model. Even better, get down to Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose on a Saturday morning and take Kent’s body rolling class at 9:45 a.m.)
Keep your calf on the ball and then flex and point your foot, invert and evert it, move it in circles. The movement of the foot will translate into a massage into the calf from the ball. This is something you can do while you are eating kale chips and watching Jersey Shore.
Welcome to the rest of your life.
See you tomorrow.