Thursday, July 31, 2008

If You Are Teacher

It is a tremendously stressful and underpaid job you have, and under-appreciated both by parents, kids, administrators and society. Every year it gets more that way. I have total sympathy.  It involves so much writing, correcting papers, and usage of the eyes. Your day is spent disciplining the kids and filling out all kinds of paperwork, rather than directly facilitating the learning of your students. It seem that kids in society are not getting better, as the years pass, is that not so?

You do not want to add to your troubles by not attending to your body intelligently. It is not that I am asking you here to do more work, God forbid. I already know you take home papers to correct, you stay after work supervising  kids without pay, you really are on-the-job much more than 8 hours a day. You are grossly underpaid. No, but I am  suggesting - no I beg  you - to take one hour out of your week and either pay to see an experienced Feldenkrais Practitioner for private work, or go to The Open ATM Project.

There, you will find free downloads of ATM lessons that you can do  anytime, alone  or with family members at home. It would be better to go to a class locally, you'd learn more quickly. 
When you see a practitioner privately, you'd lie down on the table, fully clothed, and what you'd experience would be pure bliss, like manna to your soul. It would quickly become your favorite time of the week. Eventually you could not imagine life without it. You might try massage or other kinds of work, as a variety, and be surprised that you don't get that nice "Feldenkrais feeling".

In my opinion, teachers need regular weekly (or more) FI, Feldenkrais Functional Integration, and involvement in a once-a-week  ATM (Feldenkrais Awareness  Through Movement) class more than any other major segment of society. You have no idea how you will benefit you - it is because you don't know what you don't know. As a teacher, you know a lot, that is for sure. You know a lot more about many things than I do, for sure.  

I used to be a substitute teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District - for just a couple years while I was still building my practice. Plus, I graduated with a degree in math/education in 1968, and taught junior high for one year, before being drafted, and going to Vietnam. Vietnam was a picnic by comparison. So, I know about teaching - my mother was a teacher, both my sisters are teachers, and I was married for 3 years to a teacher. And, my father was a preacher (can you tell?) which is like a teacher in some ways. 

Walking into a room full of teachers - what was that like for my Feldenkrais persona? I felt like standing  up and screaming, ranting - nobody is breathing here!!  You all look like pale-faced corpses - all brain and no body! It's like a room full of corpses here! Why do you let yourselves be like this!  The older you are, as a teacher, the more you are like that! The energy here is so dead. Do you think intellect is what life is all about? You have a choice! Don't  you know that? 

If I were not verbally assaulted or ushered out of the room - and if they wanted to get more details, I would continue like this: OK, calm down. Everybody - relax, sit comfortably, and breathe  - take  a long, slow, easy full breath - as you inhale RELAX the torso, go slow, don't force it. When you think of breathing, from now on, think LESS or light, easy, soft and slow. Make no effort on the inhale! Maybe for the first time in your life you will take in a real breath of air, and actually expand your lungs and tight ribs and relax your uptight belly. 

You people are all so mentally vigilant and physically tense, it is amazing. Your breathing is so shallow and tense! Yet on your faces is written "my knowledge, my intellect is  very highly developed. I am proud of it.  I am a superior creation of God, for that reason. The proof is that I teach children. My knowledge is really good. " Well, I am here to tell you, your knowledge of your body is not good.

It is a funny thing about breathing. How the teacher in a room breathes is how all the students will breathe. Those kids who are not so obedient, who live life more fully than that, may become your discipline problems. 

Another funny thing: we misunderstand what it means to inhale. To inhale - obviously - means to expand the lungs and take in air. Obviously, this means to soften all the  muscles of the torso, the belly and chest, the upper and lower back the sides of the torso. Obviously, any tension in any of those areas means that breathing will not be optimal. Tense muscles always shorten and contract - meaning less space to breathe, not more.  If I asked you to take a deep breath right now, you'd make a huge effort and take a dramatically strained inhalation, and you'd be proud of it.  A  Feldenkrais-trained person instead would have instead fully relaxed, taken a full but easy exhalation, and then allowed the inhale to proceed effortlessly, fully. You'd relax just watching such a person take a "deep breath".

The natural, relaxed breath rhythm is lost when the breath tries to follow -  all day long - the gyrations of the intellect, which can move faster than the speed of light, from one end of the universe to the other. The body has it's own rhythm, and that is not the rhythm of the intellect. Do you spend any time each day watching your natural breath? You'd benefit even by 3 minutes a day of that. You could say to yourself any of the following things (preferably in this order): 

1) My mind has nothing else to do now  except to watch my breathing. As I inhale I will say to myself "now I am inhaling" and as I  exhale I  will say to myself  "now I am exhaling".  I will endeavor to slow my mind down to the breath rhythm, instead of my mind always trying to keep up with my over-busy mind. It is the first thing Lord Buddha taught his monks to do concerning breathing. 
2) I will tell myself that I have all the time I need to inhale, I have all the time to exhale that I want.
3) I do not have to breathe in any special way, however I breathe is OK. I accept it. 
4) I let myself relax and expand on the inhale.
5) If I want to breathe more fully, I slightly emphasize the exhale. 

Did  you know that in ancient china, the symbol for "breath" was actually two symbols attached to each other? The first one meant exhale, the second one meant inhale. To them, "take a breath" meant something much more intelligent than it does to most of us - they would first exhale, then inhale. That was a breath cycle. 

Because you've forgotten how easy breathing can be, you may get into the strange, and stressful, yet culturally accepted habit of using at least 10 times more effort than  you need to "take a deep breath".  Or, more likely, you simply won't ever do it - unless your life is at stake. You become a shallow, tense, chest breather. That's congruent with vigilance and anxiety, which might pretty much describe the life of many teachers. That should not become your only choice for breathing.

If all that is too blunt, I apologize. (Here, I am allowed to speak bluntly). Of course, many teachers are not at all like this, many are highly athletic and, as well, very body intelligent. But most long-time teachers, when they fill  up a room, would make me feel like that. Of  course, I would never talk like that. I am much more patient and diplomatic. But here, I enjoy giving the unvarnished truth about my way of thinking. 

Feldenkrais work will help you dramatically with your breathing and hence, your 24/7 level of stress. If you breath is stress-inducing, your life becomes that way too.  In Feldenkrais work, as opposed to athletic endeavor, you learn many choices - relaxed and fun choices - about how to breathe. And that does not just mean abdominal breathing, although that has its place. You'd experience many new things, and out of all those choices you'd be free to breathe in new and better ways while teaching.  It could come like that naturally. Your face would not be so ashen, the kids will think you somehow "came to life" and your happiness and well-being would skyrocket. It is not about some kind of breathing exercises, where you'd do 10 repetitions three times a day. No, as a teacher, especially, you don't need that kind of nonsense in your life. You don't have time anyway.   

How how else can Feldenkrais help me,  you may ask?   

Well, you do NOT want to go into your retirement years with a body tense and vigilant, with staring tired eyes, stooped posture, tense right hand and thumb and shallow breathing.  Do you imagine all that will go away just because you retire? No, habits you have practiced for 40 or more years are deeply ingrained. Most of them are no longer even conscious. Start now to change them, and see somebody who has training and experience in this kind of transformational learning. You'll need to dedicate many months a year, just one hour a week, but the investment will have a huge payoff.  It is really an exciting and joy filled process. 

Teaching, as stressful as it is, at least keeps you moving, keeps you younger by contact with kids, who naturally have better breathing and movement than most adults. When you retire, and "take it easy", most likely that will mean just more of the same old same old body stuff - with no real incentive to change it (instead you'd go to the doctor complaining about your aches and pains, and probably get pain killers) , and with an aging body, it would get more difficult to do so with each passing year. You'd need lots of outside intervention to move you into a better space. Now, if  you really start now, you can do most of it alone. 

I've worked with lots of seniors, and it is exciting, and entirely possible to bring about huge improvements and transformations. They look so  much younger and happier. Any Feldenkrais teacher can tell stories like that. But, regular, patient work is absolutely essential. Most seniors don't understand the need to for that, or think they cannot afford it, or think it would be a foolish indulgence. That has been a great disappointment to me, and my early hopes and dreams of working with many seniors has not come to pass - instead most of my clients are ordinary working folks in trouble with some kind of pain. 

For many seniors, it is really too late for transformation. Maintenance - yes. Don't wait that long. I have seniors who keep  coming every week for year after year - and all I can  do is keep them from getting worse. They feel much better after every session, of course. One senior client, now age 78, surprised me. After 11  years of weekly work, her life suddenly improved. She is sleeping better, she is off sleeping pills, she is doing productive work as never before, her family and friends now depend on her for doing  things. All her other friends of that age, require someone else to help them.  

The tension and stress you'd take into vacation or retirement would pretty much scuttle any hopes you may have had of real enjoyment during those time periods. 

Feldenkrais can intervene and prevent all that - seriously, you have no idea. 

1) With just a little time each week you can greatly reduce eyestrain. There is a whole lot to learn here. See below for specific hints and ideas.

2) With some minor interventions, you can minimize stress caused by prolonged sitting,which means over-tight psoas muscles, a belly held too tight, and back muscles like rock. You'd learn to sit more dynamically, not so stiffly, and you'd understand how to better encourage your kids to have better posture, naturally, as well (for more on this see my articles on chairs and sitting posture). 
3) You'd learn to soften the muscles of your right forearm, arm, shoulder and ribs. You'd learn to reach and write and grade papers with a right arm that was more fully integrated with your ribs, spine and pelvis. That means that naturally you would not  be sitting holding up the floor of your pelvis, with a stiff spine and tight ribs, while grading huge stacks of papers. You'd learn to reach and write without whole-body compressions.  You probably have not been aware what gripping a pen or pencil and grading all those papers and all that blackboard chalk writing has done to you - all the while knowing all those kids were looking at you. Did you know you carry incredible tension and vigilance your right thumb, your right wrist  (or your left if you are left-handed)? You'd become aware of many such behaviors, and awareness is needed before you can change anything. 

4) You'll learn to relax more fully when you are not working, instead of unconsciously carrying  the "work  habits" with you. By learning what those habits are, you can deal with them.

5) You would not be so prone to shoulder pain or wrist pain or back pain.  

Of all the clients I have ever had, I contend - without no doubt in my mind at all - that school teachers need regular, private Feldenkrais Functional Integration (FI) work more than almost anybody else in society. Everybody needs it, but teachers really really need it. I am not talking about one, one hour session a week for maybe 3 or 4 weeks. That is usually what it takes to fully resolve any chronic or acute pain; I am talking about an hour a week for at least 6 to 8 months for several years, until you get the hang of it. There is a lot more to this Feldenkrais thing than just pain relief, and knowing how to not get in trouble again. Some people learn much quicker than others. 

I cannot leave you like this, feeling like a tense wreck or pale-faced corpse with collapsed chest or a non-breathing person. I admit it, I do exaggerate and dramatize here, but I am trying to stir an interest and understanding of what you stand to gain  by Feldenkrais involvement - beyond  just back pain relief, or shoulder pain relief, which are common reasons that teachers see Feldenkrais practitioners. 

Already I have given you hints about breathing. 

So what about the eyes? Well many years ago, working with a population of retired seniors - giving group classes to them - I devised a class to help their eyes. Many of them were retired teachers, and I saw eyes that were tired, eyes that tended to stare, eyes that did not have the joy of life in them. They could pretend to be interested, but it was not like a healthy, happy young person with enthusiasm for life. It looked sadly artificial. They were trying so hard to be like a young  person. I wondered if there was a way to give them younger eyes, with enthusiasm, with that attractive natural sparkle and joy in them. 

I came up with a one hour class, and after that class was over, YES, I could see amazing changes in all of their eyes. I wrote down everything I did in that class (and more) and I called it "Happy, Sparkling Relaxed Eyes".  You can find that as a blog post for the date August 1, 2008. I'd recommend you spend an hour or two, try all that stuff, and see  how you feel. You'd come away with a new perspective and it would, for sure, change how your eyes would be when you retired. You'll discover little things to do during the day that will make a huge difference in your eyestrain level. They would not be so dead and sad looking.

As far as sitting posture, shoulders, wrist pain - I have written extensively on these topics. Just search my blog for a title that applies to your situation. Or read it all.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gluten - The Two Week Challenge

Routinely, I ask new clients to stop eating gluten for 2 weeks, to see what happens. I do this because I know there will be improvements in the client's condition, whatever that may be. 

It's a long story, but fascinating. It has taken me 15 years to put it together in this way. I wanted the truth about wheat, so I began to explore, to pay attention, ask questions and do research. I'm share my conclusions here. I'm not so interested in the current science, biological or physiological technicalities or popular alternative medicine opinions about gluten, grains and diet. I want to know enough to satisfy my curiosity - what happened? I want enough information - no more please - to make an intelligent decision. There is so much information out there masquerading as science. So, I like to piece together my truth, in my own way - from my own experience, and from very selected sources I know I can trust - what ancient cultures did, for one. Why did they consider bread "the staff of life" when today, obviously, it is not? 

My way of presenting is a little rambling, but blunt. This is how I will talk to a client, if I think gluten, or wheat is causing them trouble. If you still want to eat wheat after reading this post, you have a strong will, is all I can say. So, here goes. 

One of my clients had a mother who was 108 years old. This was 10 years ago. Her mother had good cognition, and good memory, even of Haley's Comet at the turn of the last century, and the sinking of the Lusitania etc. So I asked her if she remembered whether wheat kernels were smaller and harder back then, compared to today. She confirmed my suspicion. Yes, they were smaller and harder. And I believe, because the soil was healthier, and the wheat was not "flash grown - quick and big" with artificial fertilizer - that such wheat had more wheat germ oil, more enzymes, more minerals and fiber - it was not just a wad of sticky gluten as wheat kernels are, today. Bread back then was more like the staff of life; today it is like the staff of death. 

Why is it that in every known case of eating disorders, grains are involved - the gluten containing grains? That means wheat, rye, oats and barley. A couple years ago, there was an article about the Inca's in Central America. Up to then, scientists had thought they had a grain - corn based - culture. New evidence indicated this was not the case - instead, they had a diet heavy in seeds, fruits, roots, vegetables, some meat and herbs. Not grains! 

In the 1950's  and 1960's I can remember newspaper headlines that read "University Professor Awarded Nobel Prize for Developing High Protein Strains of Wheat". I remember feeling glad, proud and happy that my country, the USA, was so magnanimous as to want to feed the world, and develop better strains - high protein, what could be better? - of wheat. And the U.S. Government, Universities and Agribusiness were all cooperating to do this - how wonderful!

What I should have thought was this: Hmmm. I wonder if money and profit have anything to do with this? More protein means less minerals, enzymes, fiber and oil. High gluten wheat is quicker and easier to grow with artificial fertilizer, on bad soil. What a coincidence! More profit for the farmer! For the corporations! And the Universities and the US Government share in that money. What grows fast and is puffy and larger than normal - which is how wheat is today - can it be good for us?  Things grown like that rot quickly in the refrigerator. Why would I want to eat grains grown like that? Especially if it is like sticky glue, and without the enzymes and fiber that should be there!  Gosh, I guess they did not really have our health, or feeding the world, in mind. It was all about money. What grows slowly, also has deeper roots, more minerals, better staying power, more fiber, good oil and enzymes.

Today wheat, rye, oats and barley - the four gluten containing grains - are too high in gluten. It is like eating glue - even when you have a bowl of oatmeal. I remember in the 1950's that oatmeal flakes would fall off the spoon one by one. Oatmeal was not engineered back then to be "high gluten" and hence, be like sticky glue when you eat it. That is how oatmeal is, today. 

Well, what is so bad about gluten in the diet? Now, that question gets to the heart. Some three years ago, there was a Time Magazine article concerning wheat allergies, wheat sensitivity. The main point of the article, as I remember it, was that far more people are affected by wheat allergies than Doctors ever suspected. Many people have a sub-clinical allergy or sensitivity to wheat; they won't be diagnosed, yet they suffer. Wheat or gluten intolerance can mean a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, including irritable bowel, poor assimilation of nutrients, nerve damage, neuropathy, inflammation and much more. 

Dr. William Philpott wrote a book some years ago titled Brain Allergies. He is a board certified psychiatrist and internist. In that book he describes what happens if we don't have the digestive power to completely digest gluten - which is a long, sticky and hard to digest molecule. What happens is that the molecule of gluten breaks in half - at a "breaking point". And, can you believe this? Each half of the gluten molecule, according to Dr. Philpott, is one of the most powerful addictive narcotics known to psychiatric science. It turns out that nearly everyone over age 40  or 50 has diminished digestive power. A young child may do fine eating wheat - but you or I? I am over 60, and I certainly cannot eat wheat, without suffering consequences. 

When I learned this, it really got my attention. Wheat - as addictive as any street drug, as addictive as alcohol, as addictive as cigarettes! Why doesn't the world know this? Why? Why, I asked myself, am I still eating wheat? Do I think just because everybody else is eating it, there will be no consequences for me? I am slow to change my ways, you have to knock me over the head. Well, I got knocked on the head by this information.  

Bernard Jensen, DC, the well-known chiropractor, has said that eating products made with white flour will break off the villi of the small intestines, which absorb fine nutrients. So we will then suffer from a form of malnutrition. When we eat glue, and it is not well digested, there has to be consequences. Just another reason not to eat wheat. 

In recent years I have turned to raw food more; I even went two years 100% raw. In the raw food movement, grains are highly discouraged. Raw food people are sensitive souls, that is why they do raw food, and they can feel right away the negative effects from grains.   I ate very little grains for those two years, and felt better than I had ever felt in my life. I've come to trust that I can be happy, healthy and strong without eating grains. It took me time to come to that understanding, since there is so much cultural propaganda to the contrary.  

If  you are young with healthy strong digestion - as is usually the case - your body can break down the gluten into small easily assimilated amino acids. Still, probably, some poorly digested gluten may slip through.  That's probably not so addictive, if at all. That is what is supposed to happen for us, too. But as we age our digestive fire dwindles. So we end up with only those two pieces for each gluten molecule - the narcotics. If you don't believe gluten is addictive, just walk past a bakery, and smell the bread. Can you resist that? It is no accident that bakeries have the vent directed to the sidewalk just outside their shop. 

How to tell if you are addicted to wheat?  Go two weeks with no gluten and see what happens. Also eliminate rye, oats and barley, not just wheat. If you are addicted, you will go through withdrawal pangs just like any other drug addict.  That means headaches, dizziness, uncontrollable cravings, maybe physical weakness, fever alternating with being too cold, cold sweats, and more. I  went through that, and that is why it took me ten years to go off gluten - I had  to do it gradually. You'll have a persistent driving craving for wheat. You'll feel like life is not worth living if you can't have at least a little bite of... cracker.. graham cracker.. toast.. pizza..... french toast... pasta.... oatmeal... rye crackers... barley in soup... soup thickened with wheat ... cake .. cookies ... chips ... pastry .. pie .. sandwiches... pudding... and the list goes on. 

When I worked as a vegetarian cook for 8 years, many years ago, I ended up with aching feet, hands, insomnia and other nerve symptoms due to wheat and soy allergy. Life became unbearable, and I got very concerned. I was still young - how could I live the rest of my life like that? How? Medical diagnosis came up empty, so how did I know it was because of wheat and soy? After I quit that job, I did not eat bread, wheat or soy for about 6 months, and all my symptoms ended. I did not know why, I just knew I was not hungry for those things anymore. Then, when I had my first wheat and soy, the symptoms returned. I can still remember the red, aching, hot throbbing feeling in the bottom of my feet, the next morning as I woke up. I wondered "what did I DO?" and then remembered eating a tofu salad with french bread at a vegan restaurant in Santa Monica. It was the same torturous feeling I had for all those years. It was real torture. I was not about to continue eating wheat or soy. I know from my own experience, that soy also is problematic. I don't need to read any scientific studies to tell me that. 

When I work with new clients, and they have any kind of nerve involvement, which is often the case, I feel the bottom of their feet. I can sense, in half a second, whether their feet have that same kind of hot, red, achy feeling that I once had (I say "red" because that is the color that flashes in my mind). When I feel that, I give them a talk similar to what you are reading, and without fail, they begin to make remarkable improvements - if they do the two week trial. 

One such lady - Jewish - was eating one bagel for breakfast, and one for lunch, with cream cheese, of course. I told her she had to stop, and NOW. At least for two weeks, no bagels - no wheat, no oats, barley or rye! Well, she did it, and she later told me I was a genius - because all her MDs and neurologists had been working for years to try to help her severe neuropathy (and I do mean very severe, her feet were really hot), to no avail. And here I was, with no medical training,  giving her an instant solution, that actually worked. She was not pleased that her doctors had not told her about wheat allergy, to put it mildly!

About 8 years ago I gave a presentation to an Multiple Sclerosis (MS) group in a hospital classroom. On the blackboard, still remaining from last week's class, was written "No gluten - no wheat, oats, rye or barley".  I asked a class member why that was written there. She told me: "The doctor last week who gave us the lecture told us that gluten eats away nerve endings, and and anyone who has MS should not eat any gluten."

Now, I am not a nutritionist, I am not a doctor, not do I pretend to know anything about what they do. But I do like  simple, safe, maybe not easy, protocols that can only be helpful with no downside. Going two weeks with no gluten is one of those things. You can't lose. Even if you are not allergic/addicted to gluten, it is good to know that, and no harm is done. You might even learn to like rice crackers, millet for breakfast instead of oatmeal, and gluten free bread from the local health food store (but I doubt it). There is nothing wrong in all of that. 

My opinion? The USA and much of the world is addicted to wheat. I myself was addicted to wheat for many years, but did not know it.  Wheat addiction is the trigger for so many other compulsive behaviors around eating and even mental/emotional problems - that has been my experience, and also, so I am told by a member of Overeater's Anonymous who does mentoring for new members of that group - that is their experience as well. She tells me a new member in her group must agree not to eat wheat for two weeks, before being admitted to the group. 

It took me ten years to break my wheat addiction. I could not imagine life without it. I was raised with wheat every day, and I lived for my daily fix - either bread, waffles, pancakes, toast, oatmeal, donuts, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, crackers, cake, pie or at least graham crackers. One of those things was my first thought when I woke up, and it was the motivation for me to live life. Without my gluten fix, what was the purpose of even living? Life was exciting with wheat, without wheat, life was boring and not worth living. I was really addicted, but I did not have a clue. 

I could not quit cold turkey. First, I made a switch to gluten-free bread. That was traumatic. The stuff tasted OK, but it was not anything like REAL bread. It tasted flat and empty. Of course it did, it was not feeding my addiction.  It took a lot of will power. But I stuck with it. Then I made a resolve not to bring gluten, especially bread, into my apartment. Never. Instead, when I was out and about, I could eat wheat - like a sandwich or piece of pizza. I went on like that for years. Still I had trouble with my nerves. So, I was driven to take more steps. I began to eat millet for cereal instead of oatmeal. I stopped eating bread, even outside the home, except for once or twice a month. After ten years of that, more or less, I made the jump to no wheat. I got tremendous relief in my digestion, in my nerve pains, in my general well-being.

Wheat is so pervasive today, anybody who has any trouble with their body, of any kind whatsoever, should try going without wheat and gluten for 2 weeks - just to see if there is any improvement, and to see whether one is addicted. In the sanskrit language, derived from ancient Vedic India, there is one word that means both allergy and addiction. Apparently they believed that allergies and addictions always went together. What we eat too much of, that we become allergic to.  

Today, I have no more such nerve symptoms, my digestion has improved so much that I can again eat wheat. But, I only do so occasionally. I am very cautious. I never seek it out. Yes, I get careless, and I'll have a sandwich now and then - but I will certainly suffer for it!  I'll go to the health food store, and want some chocolate crackers. I'll find the gluten-free brand, and eat them, and enjoy them. I have come to not miss the wheat. It is truly gone as a controlling force in my life. 

Because of my experience, and my distrust of anything I read in the popular press (which trivializes many serious issues, and confuses with "scientific" jargon and studies the clear message that we should understand about many things, wheat included - stop eating it!!) especially from magazines or news outlets that take advertising dollars from agribusiness or others who may profit from people getting addicted to wheat - I am very blunt, like I am here, when I talk to my clients about going two weeks without wheat  or gluten: "see what happens". 

A strange thing. When I was in Italy some years ago, I could eat their white bread with no trouble. And, I did that every day for two weeks. It was wonderful for breakfast, with buffalo mozzarella cheese and olive oil - perhaps with a little garlic rubbed on. When I came back to America, I searched high and low in LA for bread like that, but could not find it. American bread, by comparison, was heavy, oily, over-salted and too tough to chew. 

To this day, I do not know why bread in Italy comes "penalty free" while bread in America comes heavily laden with consequences. One Italian-American told me this is the reason: "In Italy the wheat goes from the farmer to the baker. In America, it goes from the farmer to the wholesaler. Here, you store grains for many months, before it goes to the baker. So, they have to spray anti-fungals, to prevent mold; plus the bread here has preservatives - in Italy bread is purchased from the local bakery every morning. It is a tradition. No preservatives are needed."  I suspect that American bread - laced with unwholesome chemicals - is less digestible, and therefore the gluten becomes a problem for the body. 

Two weeks without bread or gluten - if you try it, you may learn something about yourself. 




Naomi, a client I had many years ago, had been seeing me for FI  (Feldenkrais Functional Integration) about 6 weeks when she asked me “Steve, how is it possible that my arthritis in my left hand is getting so much better? You have not worked on the hand much, and it has kept getting worse all these years. Nothing much has helped.”

I was at a loss – even though in my Feldenkrais Training I had heard stories about arthritis being helped – even cured – by regular Feldenkrais work. But I did not believe it. Arthritis is joint damage – how could gentle movement and somatic education help it?

Naomi was only the first of many clients with that question. So I was forced to come up with some answers.

What do I now tell clients?

The answer is so simple, that I too missed it. It is that when the joint are over-compressed, pain will increase. You can call it arthritis, or whatever you want. When the joints are decompressed, circulation increases, health is quickly restored, and pain diminishes or goes away.

But, while is sounds simple to decompress joints, that does not mean easy. The entire Feldenkrais Method – and it is vast – may need to be recruited to accomplish this. If only it were so simple as just pulling on the joint! It means learning to move into length. It means changing habits of doing too much, working too hard, gripping the pencil too hard, holding the belly too tight. It means increasing awareness, to learn how to move with minimal effort, with ease and elegance. That means while reaching, standing, breathing, walking, running, even while sleeping and turning over from one side to the other. It even means changing how you imagine doing a job – even in the imagination less effort can be made.

There is a still a bit of a mystery here for me – I am still amazed at how arthritis pain can be consistently helped by Feldenkrais, when logically, that should not be possible. And of course, the more severe the arthritis - like degenerative rheumatoid arthritis - the less improvement, the slower the improvement. There may be no improvement in a bad case.  We're not talking about miracles here, just common sense. 

Castor Oil - For Healing

Castor Oil comes from a plant, and is made from castor beans. It is an ancient therapy, time proven, and is perfectly safe - but you need to study it a little bit. Castor oil is sticky and can be messy if you are not careful. When you apply it topically, use very little, it will completely absorb in the skin after several hours, until then the skin may be "tacky".  If you use too much oil topically, it will destroy clothing, eat the paint off walls, and leave a gummy, sticky residue on anything you touch. For this reason, unfortunately, many people don't use castor oil. Castor oil packs are a different story, you'll read about them here.  

Unfortunately, if you do a Google search for "castor oil" you will only hit many medically oriented web sites, which do not list any of the healing effects, the amazing history,  or tell you how to use it. You'll get better results if you Google "castor oil packs". 

Many years ago, I attended meetings with a group of healers, and we all composed book reports of our favorite books, with many good ideas that any healer can use. Here is that report. 

If  you want more information, please visit for a wonderful summary of uses for castor oil. That web site has a magnificent collection of alternative therapies for many conditions. Also, Dr. David Williams, the author of the weekly health newsletter "Alternatives" has written a wonderful summary of the healing effects of castor oil. I often share this with clients. You'd need to subscribe to his newsletter, which provides you with full access to his back issues. 

T H E   O I L  T H A T  H E A L S

A physician's successes with castor oil treatments

Copyright 1993
by William A. McGarey, M.D.


Published by:
A.R.E. Press
Sixty©Eighth & Atlantic Avenue
P.O. Box 656
Virginia Beach, CA 23451©0656
800©723©1112 for free catalog
804©428©3588 for orders

This book is a gold mine of information about CASTOR OIL, how to use it, practical tips, how it works, and speculations as to why.

It is written by a clinical M.D., and you find, as expected, careful medical language with none of the exaggerations or bold speculations found in many books by laymen. You also find much
about Edgar Cayce, the noted psychic, since Dr. McGarey has drawn on his ideas.

One is struck with admiration for the courage of a western allopathic M.D. who successfully uses a natural therapy like castor oil, and for many years! For a multitude of conditions!

But this book is about much more than castor oil - in it, you see an open minded allopathic M.D. assimilating and making practical sense of the Edgar Cayce medical readings. And then using it in a clinical setting. Quite a feat! Dr. McGarey has apparently devoted much of
his life to the study of the thousands of Cayce medical readings. I found this aspect of his book absolutely fascinating and long awaited! Although it is often difficult to understand he uses
many medical terms a layman might not understand.

So this book perhaps hints at the direction that medicine will take in the coming decades and centuries. Edgar Cayce's ideas are very different from what you find in today's medical schools.
It's a mix of what we would call medicine, metaphysics, astrology, philosophy, herbology, naturapathy, psychology, sociology, and who knows what!

But this report is about the practical uses of CASTOR OIL, so let's begin.

Castor oil packs are a natural, harmless and often very effective remedy for many ailments. Like other natural ways, it is not instant; it takes a day or two at least to begin to see results.
It is a therapy that works best early in the course of a disease. A preventative more than a cure.

In many cases it is astonishingly effective and quick in relieving symptoms and speeding healing. This is particularly true in colon therapy (see below). Some who have tried many commercial products over the years, laxatives, bulking agents, psyllium, etc, find that castor oil packs work as well or better than any of them. One might even say that colonics or enemas are a waste of time if you are able to use castor oil packs.

You can experiment as freely as you wish. The packs are absolutely harmless. Castor oil taken internally, however, is a very strong purgative! Care must be taken! Another caution is in the use of the heating pad. Commonsense precautions apply. And of course, a physician's guidance is a must for all conditions which may be serious, or where the diagnosis is uncertain.

TO MAKE A CASTOR OIL PACK:(see page 26 of the book):

First assemble castor oil, flannel (wool is best), clear plastic, scissors, safety pins, heating pad, towel (size of towel to match size of application). Soak flannel (wool is best, cotton is OK) in
oil. Wring it out WELL so it does not drip. It you don't do this, things get messy. You don't need as much oil on the flannel as you think. Apply oily flannel to the skin. Then cover with plastic cut to size. Then, if desired, heating pad or bottle. Then the towel.

Creativity may be needed for shaping the material to certain areas, such as the shoulder. Safety pins, surgical tape, elastic bandages may be useful. The flannel and plastic is cut to the appropriate size, depending on the application. In my own case, I like to cut the flannel and plastic to size, then use duct tape to secure the plastic to the flannel. That way things are more secure when applied to the skin, and the job becomes easier and cleaner. The pack is applied for at least 2 or 3 hours, or overnight, or for days at a time, depending the need and purpose. If a heating pad is used, it is only for several hours, and never overnight! For cleanup, use Baking Soda and water.

The following uses for CASTOR OIL were gleaned from this book:

** Muscle sprains? Castor oil packs will reduce the inflammation, calm the pain, perhaps as quickly as anything else can. Healing will proceed more quickly and with less trauma.

** Infections? Castor applied topically will clean it up quickly, usually without even any scarring! No other treatment is needed, even when the infection is deep and serious. Castor oil penetrates right down to the bone and through. As proof of this, it is often seen that people who are ingesting no oil, yet massage castor oil on the skin, will soon see oil in their stools. 

** Open sores, ulcers, wounds that are slow to heal, or will not close? Castor oil packs will often work when nothing else will. Daily packs for many days may be necessary.

** Sore feet? Due to standing all day? Plantar Fasciitis?  Soak your socks in castor oil and just slosh around in them all day! You need to find a pair of shoes you don't care much about. As the story goes in the book, one factory worker did this, told others, and soon the whole
factory work force was sloshing around all day, with happy smiling feet. I did try this and yes, it worked, but it absolutely trashed a pair of canvas tennis shoes. Sticky and gummy through and
through! You need leather shoes (better yet: boots) to keep the castor oil contained. After 3 days of "sloshing around", my feet felt like singing, after 10 hours standing each day. Usually, my feet feel like moaning an groaning! Personally, I am sold on this idea, no matter what the cost in shoes. This alone is worth the price of the book, many times over!

Or, before bed, simply soak a sock in castor oil, put it on, and on top of that place a couple plastic grocery bags - tie off the upper end with a large, long rag, to minimize oil leakage. In the morning, if there was an infected puncture wound the night before, the infection will absolutely be gong. Or  if your have chronic inflammation or mysterious foot pain, the pain will be at least slightly less. Usually, in a few days, whatever the source of the pain, castor oil will reduce the pain to 1/2 or so. But this can take up to 3-4 days continuously using the packs at night. 

I would like to add another personal note here. Castor oil smell is objectionable to some. You can mix with castor oil a small amount of any strongly scented essential oil, and that scent will
overpower the castor oil smell. It works. I use essential oil of lemon, orange or lime. 

** Constipation? Colon problems? If you have any digestive upset or elimination problem, try castor oil packs on the abdominal area, with or without heat. It lubricates from the inside out. Just an hour or two at night before bed is enough, for 3 days. Even just rubbing a little castor oil on the abdomen and chest for a number of days will transform the situation. Lots of old stuff can be gently loosened and sent on it's way. Or, as the book says, "impacted fecal matter" is softened and passed along. Castor oil packs before enemas or colonics will greatly facilitate things, so to speak...

**From my own experience, I know that just a dab of castor oil rubbed on the abdomen and chest several times a week does wonders. I do this before a shower, or before a run, or before a workout at the health club. Castor oil can otherwise stain good clothing, plus the smell is not ideal. If you apply castor oil before a shower or bath, use a paper towel (or better yet: use the socks you intend to slosh around in that day...) to wipe off the excess. Otherwise you end up with a soapy©oily residue in the tub and drain. You might think nothing would remain on the skin after soaping down in a shower or bath: not so. The skin has absorbed plenty, and the
effect can be felt for two or three days.

**In my experience, one feels sort of softer, the nerves calmer, sort of "well oiled". The whole body and nervous system feels "more closely knit" or "connected". There is certainly some mysterious, profound, softening and coordinating of the mind, body, emotions and nervous system, as Edgar Cayce claims. It is subtle and gentle, and easy to miss. In my experience, it will reduce stress, help calm violent emotions, and help settle disorderd thinking. It was not until after reading this book that I sorted this particular aspect out of my sensations. It is most noticeable after a full body castor oil massage, it is not so obvious with a localized castor pack. You have to try it to really understand. 

**Be warned: if you have never done detox protocols, or used castor oil topically, or it has been a long time, you may get a mild (or strong!)  cleansing reaction, with all that that entails. Topical castor oil packs are great for detoxifying drug residues. One of my first clients had been using pain killers for many years - lots of them. I recommended castor oil. She almost sued me the next day. In the morning she had rashes all over her body - the drug residues were coming out of her skin. That was my first lesson in using caution, in what I told clients! The castor oil did not hurt her, but she looked horrible, and physical beauty was important to her. 

**Dr. Christopher, the American herbalist, recommends regular full body castor oil massage, followed by a sun bath, as a preventive health measure. 

**Dr. Vasant Lad's book AYURVEDA says that the lungs and colon are intimately related, and by rubbing oil onto the chest, the colon is lubricated more quickly than by rubbing oil on the abdomen. So it is good to cover both the abdomen and the chest area. I personally know of a man who avoided surgical removal of the colon using this method.

** Insomnia? Just do the abdominal castor pack, as above. It seems to always give much improvement, often curing the problem. Sometimes when nothing else will work. 

**Another book, PRAKRUTI, by Robert Svoboda recommends rubbing castor oil on the soles of the feet and the scalp before bed to counter insomnia. This book is also about Ayurveda, the ancient science of healing from India and  has many other practical tips.

** Anemia? Take one ounce of castor oil internally (mix it with hot tea, for example) every four days, for 6 weeks. Dr. McGarey speculates, from the Cayce readings, this works because the "Peyer Patches" in the intestines are designed (according to Cayce) to absorb iron; castor oil cleans them up. Abdominal packs would be useful in conjunction with this.

** Headaches after cervical chiropractic adjustments? Use castor oil packs, with a heating pad, along the upper neck and back of head, several hours a day for three days. Spinal castor oil pack(s) before seeing a chiropractor will make the adjustment easier.

** Joint injuries? Due to arthritis or injury, it does not matter. Castor oil packs will do amazing things. In my own case, a painful torn glenoid labrum in the left shoulder found great relief with castor oil packs. I have been leaving the packs on for days at a time to be sure I get the pain relief. I can feel why it has been named the "Palma Christi", or "Palm of Christ". You feel like someone is resting a hand there all the time, a sort of restful healing pressure. (yes, it does feel a little clammy, but you get used to it!). Castor oil penetrates deep, right through the skin to the bone, and relatively quickly. I could feel my joint change after about 15 hours of the shoulder pack.

** Sciatica? Or chronic low back pain? Seven days of castor oil packs, with heating pad, may be your cure. When everything else has failed. At least there is a case history to that effect....It seems that chronic problems require a longer application of packs, sometimes weeks to obtain relief.

** Infected or slow-to-heal puncture wounds? Regularly put castor oil drops in the puncture wound. Keep covered. It usually will quickly heal. 

** Gum irritation from braces? Brush your teeth with a few drops of castor oil. The case history indicates that not only did the irritation cease, but the teeth felt clean, and cavities and gum erosion stopped.

** ALSO: appendicitis, abdominal distension, hernias, essential hypertension, bursitis, abrasions, osteoarthritis, bloating, diarrhea, colitis, hemorrhoids, post surgical care, any disease of the digestive system, hepatitis, other liver trouble of any kind, gall stones. All these, and more, are mentioned in the book as  responding well to castor oil therapy, which means application of packs as described.

** Eye irritation from smog? Put 2 drops of castor oil in your eyes each morning. (check the book PRAKRUTI as mentioned above for details on this). I've tried this. It takes little spirit of adventure to put castor oil drops in the eyes! At first it feels thick and gummy in the eyes. But quickly it thins out, and the eyes begin to feel - how to describe it - wonderful, cool, protected, calm and nice. They will glisten.  

** Difficulties in pregnancy? Threatened miscarriage? History of miscarriage? Castor oil packs have a long reputation - throughout history in varied cultures -  for preventing and curing many such difficulties. The book contains numerous case histories to this effect. Dr. McGarey regularly uses castor oil for this purpose in his clinical practice and claims consistent, and
often amazing, success in nearly all cases. All the pregnant woman needs to do is rub a small amount of castor oil all over her belly and abdomen every day. That takes maybe 30 seconds. 

** Ear problems or hearing loss? Castor oil drops in the ears,regularly, for an extended period.

** Snoring? Castor oil pack every night works for at least one man. His family insists on the pack, or else everyone is kept up all night! The book, however, did not specify where the pack was placed! On the neck (probably)? Abdomen? One could experiment.

Dr. McGarey makes it clear that he does not fully understand why CASTOR OIL works so well for all these conditions. He refers back  to Edgar Cayce, who says (paraphrasing): "Castor oil can improve every body system, and coordination between systems, stimulating, relaxing, balancing, dissolving, coordinating, releasing as needed, when appropriate."

Dr. McGarey does speculate that CASTOR OIL:

> enhances the immune system
> helps drain the lymphatics
> dissolves and lubricates © helps waste, toxins to eliminate
> calms the nerves
> acts as a channel for divine healing forces
> aids in the coordination between the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system, particularly the sympathetic (according to Cayce, lack of such coordination is a root cause of many disorders)
> It somehow facilitates the action of positive thinking upon the physical body, through the channel of the nervous systems(s). Without a positive attitude on part of the patient, castor oil may not be effective! Dr. McGarey's clinical experience has shown this! It is a necessary ingredient. Edgar Cayce has much to say about the damage negative emotions can cause to our health.

Health requires proper thinking, proper behaving, proper diet, and more. Our thoughts and feelings create electrical and chemical activity in our nervous system(s). The nervous system(s) act upon or regulate all other body systems. Bringing our thoughts and feelings into order should be priority one. Dr. McGarey asks whether castor oil in some mysterious way, facilitates this. It would explain so much.

Castor oil has been used therapeutically in the west for many centuries. It acquired the name "Palma Christi" sometime in the middle ages in Europe due to its many unexplained ("miraculous") healing properties. It had, and has, a prominent position in the ancient science of healing from India, Ayurveda, going back many thousands of years. An ancient Ayurvedic text is quoted in the book PRAKRUTI by Robert Svoboda: "Only the lion of CASTOR OIL can destroy the rampaging elephant of rheumatism in the body". It has only been since the
advent of western allopathic medicine that it has gone out of vogue in the west.

Reading this book will certainly stimulate interest in castor oil therapy, as Dr. McGarey intended. If you are scientifically or medically oriented, there is much there for you to ponder. If you are metaphysically oriented you will find your view well represented. If you are the impatient type, and could not stand waiting 2-3 days  for this natural therapy to work, this book is not for you!  

If you have some serious health problem, you might find practical suggestions, but not easily, since this book is not designed as a self©help reference work. Probably other sources would be better for that purpose. But all in all, this book is well worth reading!

Plantar Fasciitis

This condition can be extremely painful, and prevent one from standing or walking for any length of time with any degree of comfort. It can be discouraging, when you get lots of treatment, PT, chiropractic, home exercises, massage, etc and nothing helps. You might contemplate surgery or injections to deaden the pain. 

Here I will describe one such case I had, and the successful outcome, when nothing else helped. For a serious case like his, it takes private work to resolve; nonetheless on your own there is much you can do for yourself, in a Feldenkrais sense. In fact, this condition, more than almost any other, requires full participation and willingness to learn new things, from the client. If you stay with the old way of thinking, you get the old familiar treatments and diagnostics. 

Here is what my client had to say about my work:

The Elusive Obvious
Awareness through movement…that’s what it’s called.
At first glance, the expression may appear as just another cliché; yet I quickly came to understand that the “awareness” referred to is –self-awareness- and I know the value of such knowledge to each and everyone is nothing less than profound. The Delphic oracle’s invocation to “know yourself” is bought to mind when one seriously considers the work of Moshe Feldenkrais.

The Feldenkrais Method, as it is popularly known, was introduced to me by Steven Hamlin when I was suffering with a condition known as “plantar fasciitis.” Before meeting Steven I had tried, in vain, to find relief for my complaint with various conventional and alternative medicine practitioners. By that time, regrettably, I had spent considerable time and money seeking a remedy.

What was missing from all the sources I had earlier consulted was a clear understanding of the causes of the condition which troubled me. And that is the great strength of Feldenkrais: it has the ability to provide you with a comprehensible appreciation of what it is that is happening in your body when you are suffering from a physical ailment. It allows you to know how certain physical/mechanical adjustments to long conditioned skeletal and muscular habits most likely will take you down a path that leads to abatement and relief for your health condition.

For this to occur, of course, two things are necessary (i) a limited amount of patience and (ii) a knowledgeable and skilled practitioner to introduce you to an understanding of the Feldenkrais Method.

For me Steven Hamlin was that practitioner and I am thankful for his effort.

Daniel Collins
West Hollywood

Plantar Fasciitis is almost certainly related to how you stand and walk, and how you breathe and move and the stability of your balance, and most especially your posture. It is not simply that something has gone wrong with your feet, and therefore you need to have injections, or stretches, or special arches or shoes or exercises or massage for your feet! All that may help, but as many discover, they are as likely to aggravate the condition if the underlying cause is elsewhere, as it usually is. Plus, all that can be a distraction from doing the real work that is necessary.

For this condition, private work is needed for sure, for three or more sessions. Involvement in ATM - Awareness Through Movement - is also highly recommended. Daniel Collins, in fact, was doing ATM from the online "Open ATM Project."  He simply choose all the ATM's he could find related to balance and the feet or legs, although other choices would have been good also. Plantar fasciitis is one of the more difficult conditions, and it can take a little time. Most likely you created it over a lifetime of poor movement and postural habits, and that cannot be turned around overnight. All of a sudden it hits you, and you want quick relief. 

What will I do if you come to me for this condition? Whatever intuitively comes to me as the important underlying issue, every session, while fully taking into account your history and traditional methods. I do not work from textbooks, or from any proscribed method, although I have learned and studied (and even use, occasionally) many such methods. I deliberately try to empty myself to stay open to the best avenue, moment by moment. I have learned over many years this is the safest, and best approach – and the quickest. Whenever I have a plan, as opposed to being the appreciative creative wanderer, I am less effective, and might even hurt a client. You'll need to push your "reset" button to get used to this type of "treatment". 

But certain true, general statements that apply to all cases of Plantar Fasciitis can be made. When balance is compromised in standing it is natural - no, inevitable -  for the body to grip the bottom of the feet. No amount of stretching or exercise or cortisone shots or custom arches or relaxation drills will change that dynamic. It’s about physical survival – balance – and the low brain, not the conscious mind, is in charge of that arena. So the issue becomes to improve your balance in standing and walking and running (if you run).

Of course, if you tell me that you are no longer able to stand or walk, we will proceed along a different avenue at first – get the feet better first, well enough so you can walk. That involves many things, too much to describe here.

How to improve balance – stability in standing and walking? This can involve many factors, such as ankle mobility, walking style, missing early developmental movements (if some of these were missing, walking will be balance-compromised, too stiff and tense, for the adult, and the best fix is to go back and actually do the missing movements), a rib cage that is too stiff, and more.

Perhaps you were an only child, and because of that your parents encouraged you to walk too soon, before your balance was stable. You stiffened your whole body in fear, even as your mother or father held your hand to force you to walk. From that moment, you learned to walk stiffly, with tight gripping soles-of-the-feet. It just took you all these years for the feet to finally flare up and complain with pain. Your feet were never the problem – in fact they did a heroic work all those years. Don’t try to fix what is not broken. Go to the underlying cause. When you do a Feldenkrais fix, you fix your whole life, as well as the presenting problem.

Perhaps you were toilet trained too early, before you could discriminate between tensing the whole pelvis, and tensing just the necessary sphincter muscles. So, you learned early on to have an uptight pelvis, all the time, to please mommy or daddy. An uptight pelvis guarantees a belly that is too tight, a jaw that is too tight, and soles of the feet that grip the floor all the time your are standing, and even when you are not! And today you do not know how to release that longstanding tension. It takes time, and mentoring, and good movement, some breathing work, patience and willingness and right understanding. Judging from what I see walking down the street, very few persons have learned not to be uptight there.

Perhaps you have learned to stand and walk with a back that is too tight and chest is lifted too high – almost as if you are falling backwards. Like a “good” military posture. If so, that literally guarantees that your toes will always be gripping the floor and the soles of your feet will be tense.

Perhaps  you learned - too well - to "sit up straight" and you did this  will power, stiffening the back, instead of using intelligence and skill, and deep relaxation and movement strategies. All my articles concerning chairs and sitting cover this aspect in great detail. 

Or perhaps the reverse is true. You are too slumped and balance is compromised the other way. Your ankles are working overtime, and your toes are always gripping the floor. Postural correction, and intelligent ankles are the solution here, not fixing the feet!

Or perhaps your posture is more or less OK, but your eyesight is failing, and therefore your balance is compromised. The solution here lies in ankle work, and learning to balance in standing and walking with less visual dominance and dependence. Relaxed, confident and balanced standing and walking then becomes the immediate goal.  If blind people can do it, at any age, so can you - with great success, safely and fairly quickly. Are you willing to jump into that new world of learning? For instance, you could walk along touching a wall with your eyes closed for a little while. This will help your ankles wake up and teach your other proprioceptive senses to get busy and help you balance, since the eyes are doing nothing! The body is smart that way. You could also stand in front of a wall, close your eyes, and fall into the wall – if you can do this safely and confidently. Gradually introduce degrees of difficulty, turn a little, cross the legs, etc. Balance is quickly improved in this fashion. But proceed slowly and safely, and it’s best done under the guidance of a qualified teacher.

Go for a walk, have someone hold your hand, and keep your eyes closed. How long can you do that? Do this once a week for a month, and see the changes.

Any variety you can introduce into your usual routine of body exercise or movement will be beneficial, since it will make your nervous system more competent. For instance, you can run and walk backwards - some persons even run marathons backwards. This is not going to give immediate relief, but long term, it is a helpful strategy. 

An important exercise for all people with this condition: In bed, after waking up, draw the alphabet with your big toes. Relax the feet as you do this, since the movement must come through the ankles. The feet cannot move the feet! Any tension in your feet will interfere with the movement. This develops ankles mobility, softness of the feet, and intelligent usage of the feet and ankles. It will definitely improve your balance. Please read all my articles on feet and balance for more on this issue. 

Another key exercise – which temporarily may seem to make it worse – is to make it a point to stand up and balance on one foot, whenever you tie your shoe laces (If you can). Not everyone can do this, but if you can, it is a sure way to quickly improve your balance. This is more “hard core” and not for everyone. If  you do yoga, emphasize one-legged postures. You want to improve your balance, you want to improve  the competency of  your ankles. 

Another helpful idea – learn to sense your talus bones as you stand and walk. Here you need a teacher to show you the skeleton, and show you - with hands on your feet, as you stand -  how to to sense this part of the body, as you sway your body back and forth, or in circles. We should balance from the talus bone (working with the lower leg muscles), not from gripping the feet, which immobilizes the ankles!! Roman soldiers were taught to stand, march and fight “from the talus bone”. It seems a strange idea, but when you learn it, walking and standing becomes so much easier!

When a foot takes weight it should lengthen and soften – not grip. What is your habit, as a foot takes weight, when walking? Your cure may be as simple as changing that habit. And that means waking up the ankles, being able to sense the talus, and improving your balance skills.

Another idea – walk with many variations of the ankles. Walk toes in, then toes out. Walk on the inside edges of the feet, then the outside edges. Walk on your heels. Walk on your toes. Walk on uneven surfaces barefoot. Give your feet the blessing of natural, uneven surfaces to walk upon. Walk on sand. Don’t use the same shoes all the time. Vary your shoes. The body thrives on variety and the incentive to adapt. Do even a few minutes of this now and then, and improvements will come. Of course, start easy, stop at any sign of pain, and move slowly at first. The paradox here is that the feet crave stimulation and variety of contact in weight bearing - in fact it is essential to have this for full recovery - yet it is painful, because of the inflammation. That's why a skilled practitioner is a must. 

The most important thing you can do for yourself: Do an online ATM lesson as indicated earlier, one hour per week without fail. And practice and review parts of that lesson during the week. This will improve your balance like nothing else can, expand and refine your body awareness and self-image, and reconfigure your movement patterns so that in time, your condition will naturally, unobtrusively simply vanish. In time it will cover all the bases, what is behind your plantar fasciitis, and your entire outlook on life, your ability to sleep, your mood, everything improves.

What is it like to experience this kind of "healing"? You need patience. Those muscles at the bottom of the feet release layer-by-layer. You can work for weeks, or months, and not get to the end. But then, all of a sudden - no pain, you're back to normal. Over many years, your body (your brain) has added a layer of tension and guarding to the soles of the feet, every time your balance was compromised. As we grow older, that happens more often. To reverse this process is something you won't have patience to endure, unless you are warned up front:  it may seem like the process goes on forever, and it seems like so many things to learn. No, there is a definite end. 

As with any condition involving inflammation, diet and lifestyle are best modified to minimize inflammation. Start now, by eliminating grains from your diet for a month or more (especially wheat, rye, barley and oats, the gluten grains), reducing simple carbohydrates, and taking appropriate supplementation – especially anti-inflammatory type fish oils. Work with a nutritionist. 

I also advocate appropriate usage of castor oil, topically, as it helps greatly to speed healing, reduce inflammation, and reduce pain. Please see my article on castor oil. I also recommend getting educated about MSG – see or Whether you not you believe you are sensitive to MSG, go for one month on an MSG free diet (this is not easy); you have little to lose, lots to gain, more than you may realize. MSG can be in the coffee you drink at a fast food restaurant - MSG stimulates your desire to eat more, especially more junk food. MSG is injected into rats, to insure that they become obese!  Yet, MSG is pervasive in our food supply. Even non-organic lettuce has often been sprayed with MSG. One has to take great precautions.  Just try it for 30 days. 

Here are additional strategies: eat more raw foods; increase your intake of Vitamin D or sunlight is also very important. Take MSM supplements. Think green - green drinks, cooked green vegetables (do a web search for Bhieler Broth), more salads. These dietary strategies can reduce inflammation and quicken your healing. 

Take just one or two of these ideas and work with them for a week or two.

Of course your particular situation may be the result of an injury, or trouble with the foot itself (in rare cases). In addition to proceeding along the above lines, I will also work to align the bones of the feet, do stretching work on the calf muscles (as they are usually extremely tight, especially for former runners, who did not stretch enough during their running career!), and soften the rib cage, since comfortable balance in standing is not possible without a supple rib cage – all this, of course, takes time. Also, I will use osteopathic protocols (from Ortho-Bionomy® or Jones – Strain/Counterstrain) to position-release the many tender points that are found in the foot, ankle and knee area (with the understanding that it is not a cure but a necessary and helpful measure).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Running and Skeletal Alignment

In my years of practice, I've seen a few successful long term runners - those who have had very little knee, ankle, back or neck trouble from running, and who compete at a high level. My own father is an example - he won records in the mile run in 1932 -1933 - Burbank High School - and kept running ever since. Now, at age 92, he is still active, and walks as he is able. All of these people, when I had them on the treatment table, were obviously in good alignment. There was no scoliosis (or very little), or pelvic torque or twisted ribs. On the other hand, when I see runners who are not "in line" they invariably have lots of joint pain issues.  They may or may not have connected it with the running. 

Repetitive, forceful-shearing-pounding on all the weight bearing joints - when alignment is faulty - is a great stress on the body, the brain and the psyche. It can certainly be considered a form of self-abuse if is long continued, using  lots of will power and determination to heroically push through injuries.  Any osteopath, chiropractor, PT, experienced Feldenkrais Practitioner, sports physician, trainer, competent coach or well-trained massage therapist can tell such a person what is really going on.  

In fact, those people did tell me that, all those years I was running so much, but did I listen? No. I thought to myself "They are jealous, or they are greedy, they want my money. They don't know how good it feels. They don't run themselves, how can they know anything true? They are not real people, because they are not runners! They must be lazy. They are overweight and sedentary - how foolish! I like exercise! I am better than they are!  I am really living LIFE, they are not! It is so easy to go running. All you need is shoes and pavement. It is God's gift. I love to run. I feel so good after running. I am not giving it up. Who cares about little things about my body, like my pelvis is out, and I have scoliosis? I am not going to let such minor issues stop ME, no sir! I don't want to go to the chiropractor every week - that does not seem right!  I am not spending all my money on chiropractic! Something is wrong there! It does not hold. Plus I don't digest my food well without running. And I love those big heavy meals...."  It is only many years later, even as I write this, that I see how blatantly egocentric and  foolish I was for thinking like that.  

In my case, and it may be  true for some others, running was indeed a cover for an eating disorder. It is what caused me to continue running in spite of severe scoliosis and pelvic torque. I could eat like a horse, because during my next 5 mile workout, I knew I could "burn it off". It took me some years after I stopped compulsive running, before my eating finally returned to something more moderate. And by the way, it was only during four years of Feldenkrais Training, that I was able to make the transition from compulsive runner to "normal person" and feel comfortable in my body without all that  running. It totally changed my life. I am so thankful to Moshe Feldenkrais and my Feldenkrais Trainers who made that possible. 

A funny thing about my Feldenkrais transition from compulsive runner to more normal: as I learned to move more 'into length" and with minimal effort, walking and running started to become too easy, too pleasant.  "How will I get any real exercise?" I wondered. What I should have wondered was "How will I burn off all that starchy food I've learned to enjoy?" Life really cannot be this easy, I was thinking.  Nonetheless, a pathway was being opened for me to experience life in an entirely different way. 

Up until then, I had been seriously pursuing spirituality and meditation, along with long distance running and Bikram Yoga three times a week to kind of hold it all together. In spite of the fact that I was doing all the Bikram poses 95% correctly or more - there was a whole lot more for me to learn, and benefit by, from Feldenkrais. I describe many of them in these blogs. I thought Bikram plus running was the best of all worlds. Had I continued like that, no doubt, Bikram would have allowed me to continue on that path for many more years. But I had to stop doing Bikram during my Training - no time to do both! What I discovered was that Feldenkrais gave me what nothing else could have done: an awareness of what I was doing in my daily life to trouble or hinder myself and my body, and how to stop doing those things. Much of it was cultural and childhood relics - being uptight as a minister's kid, rushing around so much that I never could even breathe normally, etc. Bikram, or meditation, does not necessarily correct all those relics (and I had dozens). Feldenkrais does not correct anything either, but it showed me where they were, how they were affecting me, and how to change them, if I wanted to. Feldenkrais only offers an invitation - it is most courteous and respectful in that way.  

It seems that today, so many people are not in good alignment. Some physical therapists and osteopaths consider this to be at epidemic level. It did not used to be so. Some osteopaths have told me, that 100 years ago, or more, this was not the case. People were in better alignment, they would hold better, and more direct, simple and gentle techniques were used to bring about corrections. Today, those old techniques don't always work or hold, new approaches are needed. In particular, a method to stabilize the SI joints (if they are over-stretched or inflamed) is a sacroiliac elastic belt. Such a thing was not needed back then, to stabilize a client after an adjustment.  The speculation is that today, there is more pollution, stress and the food is not as healthy - so our bodies can't hold good alignment as well as people did back then. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that prudence would dictate that before running (or even before using a mini-tampoline) - especially long distances - one should understand whether one has a body in good alignment, or not.     

When people get involved in Feldenkrais, their bodies naturally - in the best possible way - come into better alignment and movement. In fact, all the many movements and activities and environments in a person's life that may be perpetuating poor alignment "come up for review and modification".  That happens naturally, and is inevitable with prolonged and intensive Feldenkrais work.  That's because Feldenkrais heightens awareness and personal competency - especially for movement, weight bearing locomotion, and creating and  maintaining body comfort, from the inside - not using props or soft chairs etc. 

Other methods of checking, and correcting malalignment are of course very good too, but they won't necessarily give you the permanent relief and total satisfaction that you'll get from intensive and intelligent involvement in the Feldenkrais Work. There is more to the story about how to be comfortable in your body than just your skeletal alignment! You'll need to continue - often - to do those corrective exercises every day for many months or years. Of course there are exceptions; for some folks once a month or so is all they need. 

The hope, and expectation is that eventually the whole body will adjust, adapt and transform so that it will "hold" the new alignment. This is rather haphazard, and is not the Feldenkrais way of going about it. But, it is far better than doing nothing.  The body part you correct (pelvis, lumbar spine or neck) may not be the body part that is actually the source of the malalignment. It might be, say, from an old injury to one shoulder or knee.  Or, it may come from an unconscious habit of holding yourself twisted as, say, you talk to boss or answer the phone. 

A comprehensive approach is best. Unless you become aware of what habits in your life are perpetuating your malalignment, and are simultaneously taught sophisticated methods to effortlessly change such habits (that is what Feldenkrais is all about), your malalignment will continue. For many people, it is "who they are", and even if it is fully corrected (such as often happens on a chiropractic or other table) as soon as they go about their daily business, their malalignment comes back. Of course there are exceptions -  some people, with one "correction" will stay in alignment apparently forever. 

In particular, I recommend getting involved with Bones for Life which I feel will give even quicker, and perhaps  better results than Feldenkrais work alone. Ruthy Alon, a senior Feldenkrais trainer, founded the work, and it is specifically intended to organically correct poor alignment while strengthening bones using Feldenkrais related movements in a weight bearing context. I absolutely consider her work as an evolution of the Feldenkrais Method - she has added many wonderful innovations; it is not something so very different, and it is just what a runner would need to quickly get into alignment, and stay there.  Enter "Bones for Life" into Google for more information. 

I also recommend the work of Sharon Moyano, GCFP,  who does Feldenkrais workshops for runners. You can experience some of her ATM lessons for runners, by entering "The Open ATM Project" in Google. Explore the website until you find Sharons ATM lessons for runners. Those are all wonderful lessons, I have taken her workshops. You'll get a whole new perspective on running. I don't think Sharon yet has written a book, but if you can attend one of her workshops, or buy a set of her ATM lessons, please do that!

A good interim strategy would be to get involved in Feldenkrais work, or Bones for Life, while at the same time doing "quick fix" corrective exercises to put  yourself into alignment, at least before you run. The following paragraph tells you where to learn how to do that.   

So, first correct the malalignment - scoliosis or whatever - then run. To learn how to check your own alignment and know what corrective exercises you need to do, buy the two DVD's available from It makes little sense to run if with every step, joints are shearing, soft tissue is being slightly damaged, and the whole body is in an unconscious guarding mode - due to the structural instability. No matter how much you stretch or strengthen - unless done under the guidance of a competent and experienced mentor - it will not correct your personal alignment issues. It is encouraging, though, that today, many yoga teachers, personal trainers and others do know how to recognize malalignment and ways to correct it, using self-help techniques on your own. They do not, usually, however, know what it takes to teach you how to live your life in such a way as to not continually create malalignment. That's a job for Feldenkrais. 

Here are some ways, right now, for you to check yourself to see how your alignment is doing:
  • Lie on your back or face down. If you can, bring your ankles together so that the inner ankle bones, touch, do so. Can you tell if one ankle bone is higher than the other? You have to check  inner ankle bones, not the heels or toes.  Or, have someone else check your leg length for you. Do it like the chiropractor does it - get a firm grip on the  ankle bones (the inside bones) and lift both legs, pull them firmly, make sure you are not lying down a little twisted, loosen  or lift the pelvis, then check. With a little practice (I can do this) one can lie down on a hard flat surface, and sense whether one leg is a little bit longer than the  other. 
  • Again lie on your back. Using  minimal effort twist your pelvis - only your pelvis, not your whole torso - very slightly to the left, then to the right. Do this from the inside, do not use  your hands to twist your pelvis. Was  it easier to twist the torso one way more than the other. If so, you have a torque in your lumbar spine and/or your pelvis is torqued and your whole body has adapted to that. 
  • Notice what happens as you walk normally. If one leg is "longer", then with every step on that leg you grow slightly taller. As you step onto the other leg, you sink down, relatively speaking. It is easy to feel, and see in others, once you pay attention. The head "bobs up" on one leg, and "sinks down" on the other leg. The head is not smoothly staying at the same height. Leg length difference usually relates to malalignment issues. Rarely, thought, it can be due to congenital, authentic, leg length difference (maybe you broke one leg during childhood and that affected growth of that leg. In that case a leg lift - arch support etc - may  be the best choice). You don't need to spend money getting professional opinions about this; first try the simple, safe corrective maneuvers outlined in the Malignment DVDs, and see if your leg length corrects. If it does, you can reasonably and safely assume it was not congenital.
  • Lie down, relax. Close your eyes. Let yourself drift in sleepiness. At the same time, notice what position your eyes naturally find to "rest" in with your eyes closed, as during  (or before) sleep. That means, when you open your eyes, without orienting or moving them first, where do they point? For people with malignment, the eyes will be off center somewhat to the left or right. Amazingly, the eye position will accurately reflect the scoliosis of the spine.  In my work with clients, I often teach them a little exercise with the eyes, to help correct the scoliosis. Becoming aware like this is the first step in that exercise.
  • Sit in your favorite chair, normally, without any special body-adjustments. Notice if either knee is slightly in front of the other. The often means the pelvis is twisting to create that. 
  • Sit in a chair with a flat bottom and a flat back. Slowly sit back, leaning against the backrest. Did one part of your back hit first? That likely means a twisted rib cage, spine or pelvis.  
If  you ignore this and in spite of malalignment push ahead with will power to run at any cost - (as I did for many years) to lose weight, or get fit, or to get the "runner's high" - I think I can predict how it will be for you:
  • You'll be puzzled why some other people seem to run much faster, easier, with apparently no effort.
  • You'll begin to get "down" on yourself since you'll think your will power is insufficient, your technique is flawed, or something else must be wrong with you (actually you'll be right, there).  
  • You'll  find that it continually takes will power to make yourself run. You won't ever fully come to a place where you really enjoy it, and enthusiastically want  to do it. That's because an innate wisdom in your body knows you are hurting yourself. 
  • If you compete, your times will be mostly mediocre. You may have a few bright moments, good days. You can easily develop an inferiority complex from this.  
  • The more you increase your workouts, the harder you try, the more you will be disabled by "setbacks" - various inexplicable injuries. 
  • You and/or your coach will think you are injury prone. 
  • It may seem that your ligaments and tendons are prone to injury - while actually they may  be fine, it just that the structural malalignment puts a tremendous stress upon them.
  • The "runner's high" will be mostly why you run. That nice feeling after a long run, all those endorphins, let you feel very comfortable in your body - for awhile. It's something you don't have at any other time, so it is natural you'd become addicted to it. Then you have to run again.  This is a particularly vicious syndrome, partly because it is usually unconscious. Feldenkrais work will quickly (or, it may take some years, to be realistic) show you how to create amazing comfort in your body, without running. Then, if you do run, you can do it for the right reasons.   

Friday, July 11, 2008

Curing and Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Some of the ideas here are unique; I think you'll find them useful to prevent and cure Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).  They come from my own experience, from  long mentoring in the method by many patient teachers, and from my pleasant memories of many hours doing Awareness Through Movement in my Feldenkrais Training.  

Maybe I am spoiled, but I like to be comfortable, and during my Training, I did get very comfortable in my body. That was new for me. I wanted to hang on to that delicious feeling. So, many times, as a spontaneous natural event, I've found my body has prompted me to invent numerous little gestures, movements, stretches or isometrics in response to some less-than-comfortable body sensations. I've made note of these - my body has been my teacher -  you'll get all the details here - those related to CTS. I am quite sure that for me, at least, they have a subtle corrective, soothing and long-term healing or prevent-trouble effect. I think they'll speedily take you out of trouble (if you do everything I recommend in this post) and keep  you that way. You'll really enjoy them. Each of them only takes a few seconds, and can be done practically anytime, anywhere.  

First some perspective. We no longer walk on all fours. If we did, our hands would be flatter, not so curled-into-the-center from all the gripping and holding that we do with our hands, especially our dominant hand.  If you were to walk on all fours, your body weight would flatten and widen the hand.  From my Feldenkrais Training, I remember how good that felt for the hands. And one thing I have learned, for sure: if a movement or a "body-idea" is grounded in developmental movement (early childhood, toddler, etc) and if additionally it feels really good to do it, for sure there are tremendous healing benefits in exploring that approach. But who has time to spend an hour a day walking on hands and knees gardening or doing ATM lessons? So, I invented shortcut exercises for myself -  they have become habitual and feel SO good and they counterbalance what happens while using a mouse or typing at a computer keyboard, to a certain extent.

We spend lots more time gripping, typing, sitting motionless than people did 150 years ago. It goes along with increased industrialization. We need to strike a balance between flat, open hands with moveable wrists and gripping hands with tense wrists.  When our forebears built log cabins, knitted, cleared land, fought battles, carried water, did gardening, hunting, rode horses, they did many more things with their hands than just grip or type or mouse with stiff wrists.

The exercises that follow can become just like any other little habit, like licking the lips or swallowing or blinking the eyes. I don't think you'll ever have trouble again with your wrists if you take time to do this. They don't take long - except for the few minutes it takes to initially read the description, puzzle it out, and learn to do it the first time. It takes many words to describe a simple movement. 

How to to flatten/widen the hands (in lieu of crawling on the floor on all fours) - little habits to make part of your every day life:
  • Put your hands in prayer position (open palms, lengthened fingers, not clasped) between your knees. Squeeze your knees together strongly. Especially direct the pressure of the knees to the butt of both palms - that is where the opening and flattening is most needed. That can be done anytime you are sitting in a chair. It's also great exercise for the internal hip rotators. Press and release with a 2 or 3 second rhythm, or whatever is comfortable for you.
  • When lying in bed on your side, place your bottom hand between your knees. Again, direct the pressure to attempt to straight or flatten the butt of the palm - where the palm meets the wrist. You can even fall asleep this way. 
  • Widen and open your fingers to the maximum comfortable stretch (as if carrying a tray of food and you wanted to make your hand as flat and bent back and wide as possible) - hold for 3 seconds and release. Particularly emphasize pulling the thumb as far back - in the opposite direction from gripping - as you can comfortably. You'll see many piano players do their version of this little "gesture" just before playing a piece on the piano. For sure, those folks need supple and comfortable hands and wrists. Well trained piano players can teach us about avoiding CTS. They know a lot. Please notice, for starters, they sit on a hard, flat bench with minimal cushioning. That is no accident. This little stretch can be done anytime, anywhere, and if you want to be unobtrusive, do it under the table when you are sitting, say waiting for lunch. 
  • When getting up out of a chair, bend back your wrists and fingers somewhat as part of the process of coming up to sit. 
  • Sitting in a chair, place both palms face down (fingers of either hand pointing at each other) on top of your thighs so that your thumbs are about 3 inches below your belt-line. Press both your hands into the mid-line, stretching back your wrists and fingers while flattening your palms. To increase the stretch bring your hands more towards the outside of the legs as you press towards mid-line. To increase the intensity, use your legs to press outwards against the hands; this strengthens the external hip rotators while stretching back the wrists and fingers. 
  • Use one hand to press the other hand back, stretching back one or more fingers and the wrist as well. Particularly press the thumb backwards. This can be done anytime you have free hands. 
  • When standing next to a wall, lean with one hand - palm flat, fingers widened - on the wall. You can create a great stretch this way, and you have tremendous leverage, the entire weight of your body. Get used to stretching the wrist back. If you persist, every month you'll gain about 1/2 inch or more range. It is a great way to stretch those over-tight flexor muscles in the forearm.
  • Consider taking Bikram Yoga classes (the type of yoga I know best). It is very intelligent. The very first exercise - it's not only a breathing exercise because for 20 slow repetitions of 6 seconds each you are taking your clasped hands under the lowered chin, and opening the elbows up to create a tremendous stretch of the hands and wrists - such as we have been discussing. But, the Bikram way  is much more powerful and quicker than any of my methods. Really, I don't think you'd get CTS if  you did Bikram regularly. And it is never too late to start. I did have one guitar player with thumb and wrist trouble, but because he did Bikram just once a week, his situation quickly resolved.  
  • When you sit in the "thinker pose" with chin  cradled with bent hand, take that opportunity to press the chin  into the hand, bending back the wrist even more.
  • Stretch back the fingers or your right hand, one-by-one, for 3 seconds each, as you also bend back the palm. Be sure to include the thumb. Pull back on the fingers hard enough so that you feel a definite stretch  in the belly of your forearm. Repeat for the left hand.  
  • When you are lying in bed, or on the floor, face up (supine, on your back) place one or both palms face down under your buttock or sacrum. The weight of your torso will compress and flatten the hand(s). Adjust the position of the hand so that the thumb, particularly, is flattened relative to the hand, or even bent backwards somewhat. 
  • While sitting in a chair, place one or both hands under your sitting bones. This is one of my favorites. Lean left and right, a little front and back; this gives a good massage, while powerfully stretching out, the palms, thumbs and fingers. This is my current favorite. 
I don't do these things systematically; I invent ways to press the wrist and fingers back, and these are just a few examples. I do them because it just plain feels good.  At first, though, it may feel strained - so go easy, take your time. Eventually you will crave that nice open feeling in palms, fingers and wrists, and you'll seek it out like I do.   

Quick, Easy Isometrics to Prevent and Cure Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
  • To isometrically strengthen the shoulder external rotators: While sitting in a chair place both hands between the knees, palms together as before. This time push the legs apart with your hands, as you resist with your legs. You arms are attempting to widen the distance between your knees, but you don't allow it. This isometric strengthens the external rotators of the shoulder joint. We do too much internal rotation when typing or writing and this isometric can balance the muscular development in the arms and shoulders. This will absolutely help prevent pain and trouble in the arms, hands or wrists. 
  • To isometrically strengthen the external rotators of the forearm: With your left hand grasp your right forearm, just above the wrist. Rotate your right hand so that the right thumb moves in a clockwise circle - but prevent that movement with your left hand. In other words, you are attempting to externally rotate the right forearm, but your left hand prevents it. After doing the isometric, release your left hand and "follow through" or continue with the movement of your right forearm rotating into external rotation (thumb going clockwise) to the very limit of it's range. This isometric strengthens the external rotators of the forearm. This is very important, since when we type we are continually internally rotating both our forearms. This will balance that severe imbalance. It will also feel very good, a nice feeling. Do with both arms once or twice a day, at odd moments while sitting at your desk or work station. It only takes a few seconds.
  • To isometrically strengthen the finger, thumb, palm and wrist extensors: With one hand make a gentle fist, and bend in the wrist so the fingers and wrist come closer to the inner belly of the forearm. Place your other hand on top of the soft fist, holding the fingers, thumb and wrist bent as they are. Now, attempt to straight out the clenched fingers and fist, the bent thumb and wrist - but prevent it with the other hand. Experiment until you find a comfortable gripping style with which to do this. Here,  you are strengthening the exact opposite hand and wrist muscles that you use to type and write and grip objects with.  Do both hands. This exercise may feel difficult or painful - so start off very easy. These muscles in most of us are very weak, and under-utilized. It will take time to strengthen them to normalcy (when that happens, as antagonists they will release the flexors). After 4-8 weeks your hands and wrists will have much more balanced musculature; the joints will be more aligned and not pulled only in one direction, which is an invitation for trouble. Please try this before you submit to CTS surgery! Here is a hint: You can do this same exercise by placing the "soft fist" over one knee, gripping the knee, and resist with your other hand. This actually makes the exercise easier to do. 
How to Have More Relaxed Hands, Softer Hands, to Encourage Softer Grip:

If your hands are too tense 24/7 as is the case with so many people, just getting massage or doing the things listed here won't be enough. You need to do something during the day to reprogram your nervous system to have softer hands, to use less effort, to be able to have "quiet hands" when you are not using them. They should not be always "ready to go". 

The movement is called "The Bell Hand" in the Feldenkrais work, and there are many variations and many ideas related to this. It is best learned from an ATM lesson, but you can still benefit from simply doing this:

When sitting, standing or lying down - at any time - softly open and close your right hand. The movement is very small, minimal, and effort is also minimal. Do very little, easily,  and the actual movement can be so small that you don't even see any movement. Two variations that I like: a) first do just the opening of the fist voluntarily, and let the closing (such as it is, it will be a very small movement) be involuntary and b) close the hand into a soft fist, but ever so slightly and slowly and easily - rhythmically- and then allow the opening to be passive. Do the left hand also. 

Even 5 minutes a day of this can work wonders. Like many somatic ideas, this one is so powerful that if you do nothing else than this, in time you might completely reverse your troubles.  

Rowing Machine or Exercise Tubing Exercise - the most essential exercise:

Because we all reach forward so many times a day, we need to strengthen the muscles that pull the arms back into the body. These are "rowing machine" type movements. If you have a rowing machine, use that for at least 10 minutes a day. Keep your shoulders well-down and your chest slightly lifted as you do rowing exercises - this is crucial. If you go to the gym, do all kinds of rowing movements, use the rowing machines instead of the stationary bikes, etc, and include lat pull downs, rowing with one arm, various angles (use cable machines for this), etc. Personally, I use a chin-up bar in my kitchen (very well secured to the doorway!), with 5 exercise-tubings hanging over the bar. I grab these, fall backwards as I resist and pull back with my arms. I'll rhythmically fall half-way backwards, then bounce up. I suspect the benefits are similar to a rebounder.  I'll stand at different angles and use one arm, both arms, then the other arm. I'll get on my knees to get a different angle of pull.  It is a wonderful, relaxing, rhythmical way to do the rowing movements, low tech  and low cost. Because it is so close-at-hand I can do this several times a day, at any time, and I do - whenever I start to get neck pain, that is my fix. These exercises will keep your head from being protruded forward, help you maintain erect posture, and insure that the mechanics of your head, neck and shoulders stay in the normal range. I'd say there is nothing else better for staying out of pain and trouble of any kind while working many hours at a computer keyboard and monitor. 

If you build this into your lifestyle you'll be most pleasantly surprised at the benefits. Granted this may not seem directly related to CTS, but in the Feldenkrais way of looking at things, it is. 

Here is another thing you'll want to do if you are eager to cure carpal tunnel by yourself. Michael Young is a Massage Therapist who has produced a DVD on curing carpal tunnel syndrome. As soon as you can, buy  his DVD, from, and do what he says, it only take five minutes twice a day. He claims this will prevent and cure carpal tunnel. I agree; he is a smart man (and courageous, to go public with his experience, that flies in the face of much medical dogma), and his techniques really do work. He states that he has never failed to completely cure carpal tunnel, with over 60 some cases, except once when a person failed to do the 5  minutes twice  a day homework, using the natural self-help method he describes (plus private sessions in extreme or stubborn cases). Be patient when you see that DVD, he does stutter a little bit, and the good stuff, the "how to do it" is all at the very end of the DVD.  If you are determined to go the natural route, listen only to people like Michael who have had experience curing this condition - there are numerous people out there like that (including me), you need to search them out; unfortunately you don't find them in the medical community, as far as I can see.  

Also please read what I have written about chair sitting posture, thumb pain, castor oil and shoulders and start making a few changes. At least just read those articles - it will change your perspective on the whole issue, and it will begin to become clear what changes you need to start making.  It can make a huge difference. You might want to privately see a somatic practitioner like a Feldenkrais Practitioner to get guidance as to what steps to take first.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is not only about the wrists - it has to do with our whole body organization as we sit and work at a desk or do our job.  How do you hold yourself as you work? How is your breathing? What is going on with your pelvis to help or hinder you? Are you holding your shoulders too tight? Is  your belly relaxed? Why not? What is the carriage of your head as you work? Are you mostly staring with your eyes as you work? What kind of chair do you use? How is your ergonomic set up?  What movements are available to you as you sit and work? These are some of the issues that a somatic practitioner will look at with you. While they may not seem to be directly related  to wrist or thumb pain, you might be very surprised at the results you get.  

Please see a nutritionist - or at least do research on the net, or read a book about diet and carpal tunnel -  to be sure your diet is helping and not hindering your situation. Certain B vitamins  (Vitamin B-6, 200 mg three times a day, according to Andrew Weil, MD) can help carpal tunnel, and a low-inflammatory diet can never hurt. Before you agree to surgery, at least give these harmless, alternative ideas a fair trial. There are many good books and internet resources for ways to help carpal tunnel with diet and supplements. Again, do a little research.

If  you are not able to see a Feldenkrais practitioner, at least do a weekly ATM class - if there is no local teacher, then use the free  "The Open ATM Project" for free AMT downloads you can use at home, at your convenience. Any of the ATM lessons will help you become more body smart, and help you organize yourself  at your desk so you don't create more trouble for yourself while typing and working.  If your trouble is really serious and you are determined to cure it by non-invasive means (no surgery or injections) try to see at least an experienced chiropractor, osteopath, personal trainer, and massage therapist (at least three of the four) at a minimum. Get their opinion, and ask others - friends and co-workers - if they know of anybody who is curing carpal tunnel with alternative methods. Granted, your insurance may pay for surgery, and perhaps you will get some paid time off - but if you go the natural route instead, you'll be far ahead in the long run. 

Frankly, after working some years with people who were receiving Worker's Compensation, I became a little bit discouraged. There is never a resolution. There are MDs and lawyers, and monthly checks to contend with. Often there  are heated emotions, of fear or anger or anxiety about being unable to work again. These may not be obvious, but they are under the surface. So there may be a subconscious tendency to not want to fully recover - sad, but true. That means they usually find ways to block full recovery, they are invested in staying disabled. That is not a habit you want to cultivate. 

To put it more bluntly, people on Worker's Comp or SS Disability often will take on a victim mentality, that perpetuates their trouble and blocks healing. They are nice, sincere folks, and if you tried to tell them this, they would emphatically protest - and they really believe this - that this description does not apply to them, that they are really and truly an exception, that what the Doctors have told them must certainly be true, "My Doctor is really good and special", they have a true disability, and I have an MRI  or X-rays to confirm my diagnosis, etc etc. It is only after many years of working with all types of clients, that I can see clearly the contrast between those folks and "normal" clients. 

It is quite amazing the quick healing progress and transformation that can be had if you take the opposite attitude: I do not have to accept a diagnosis. OK, maybe I have to slow down awhile to recover; It is just temporary -  I am a healthy not sick and this trouble has "come to pass".  I take responsibility for creating or allowing this injury or trouble, and what I create I can un-create. It is just an opportunity for me to be proactive, learn new things, and take back responsibility and use my own internal healing gifts."

If  you approach trouble with this attitude, trouble will run from you.  It really does all start in the mind and spirit. That's not philosophy but clinical observation, from seeing all types of clients for over 14 years. I have never seen anybody, if they are taking money for a disability, with this positive attitude. I've seen numerous people - it is fairly rare - with that upbeat attitude, and for them, their troubles were all quickly resolved, or if not, it did not rule their life.  Granted it may not always be feasable to stay out of that system, but at least minimize your time there, work on natural healing methods, and prolong surgery at all costs - even if you have to go into debt. 

I agree with Michael Young that carpal tunnel is fully reversible and curable, and there is no justification for surgery. I agree with Michael that the prime cause of CTS is knotted, extremely tight muscle fibers in the belly of the forearm (and the shoulder and neck, often)  - not so much the wrist itself or the thumb and fingers.  To release this tightness, while stretching the muscles, is very intelligent - that is the technique that Michael will teach you on his DVD. 

Really, you can't even notice or sense how tight some muscles are until you stretch them - then you know how many painful knots and tight muscles are really there.  So please, get his DVD ( and study it. I have not had the extensive experience he has had, but what I've seen confirms that view.  Personally I have found it can take many weeks or months of regular sessions and client cooperation to get that complete resolution. That's partly because I work with habits that may be slow to change, instead of with a "quick-fix" attitude. Feldenkrais work will teach you how to type and write without creating those knotted muscles in the forearm, in the first place. And Feldenkrais, alone, in time will work wonders. But when you have serious pain, and need help fast, Michael Young's DVD is a great resource in addition. 

I also recommend to clients using castor oil on their hands every night, 2 or 3 days on and 4 days off for several weeks. Before going to bed, use a cotton glove saturated in castor oil (from the health food store - no hexane or solvents) and put it over the hand in  trouble. Then put over that a larger kitchen plastic glove, and seal off the end of the glove by tying a long rag around the top of the glove where it meets your forearm. Using castor oil like this will take the pain way down (at least 60% or more, in my experience. But, it takes 2-3 days of using castor oil before you get the pain relief) , reduce inflammation, eliminate any infections, reduce swelling, detoxify drug residues, speed healing and calm the nerves as well. It is an ancient and time proven remedy. I would never be without a large bottle of castor oil in my refrigerator. 

Please see my post on Castor Oil where I describe the benefits and protocols in more detail. 

All this may seem too much to do; But actually once you learn these things just 20 minutes a day will suffice. If your alternative is surgery and the possibility of many months or years on Worker's Comp without work at half pay, 20 minutes a day is nothing, if you can avoid it. Granted, it will take you a week or two to put all these things in place, and that will take more than 20 minutes a day. If you are really serious you could be out of trouble and back to work with no pain, in an unbelievably short period of time - especially if you incorporate castor oil as a regular part of your routine. (Of course, I am assuming you have a traditional case of CTS and not some additional serious medical pathology).