What Grief Taught Me About Love and Joy

My great-grandparents died twenty days apart.

Mom used to tell me that my grandfather was completely devastated to lose his parents so close together. She said that their newly dug graves had mounds of dirt over them, to manage the soil settling over time. My grandfather would go to the city cemetery often, in his early stages of grief. He would lie face down, between the mounds of dirt, over the graves of his parents, and cry. He would stand up and return home, telling her, along the way, “Cuando se mueren tus padres, es como una sed que no puedes aliviar.” (trans. When your parents die, you are left with a thirst that you can never quench.)

My mom died suddenly, two years ago. At her funeral, as one of her favorite hymns was sung, my heart shattered. My cousins, Nancy and Sandra, held me up as I wailed, for the first time in my life. At that moment they became maternal for me, as I came to terms with the loss. I did not know that kind of sadness and pain was possible.

A few months later, I was teaching a prenatal massage class, as I had done for years. I had to ask my students to give me a moment because emotion was starting to choke me up. This was my first prenatal class since my Mom’s death. I realized how much I had thought about my own mother’s pregnancy, during this class, in years past.

The compassion I received from my students was overwhelming. Several students spoke up about their own grief and how they were also needing support after miscarriages, difficult labor, and other painful experiences during childbirth. During all the years of teaching this class, I never knew how important it was to acknowledge the grief that surrounds some pregnancy and birth experiences. My students are always my best teachers.

And because of their loving kindness, I was able to realize and share a life changing insight, that evening. I thought the first time I had ever wailed in grief was at my mother’s funeral. In fact, this was the second time. The first time was the moment of my birth, and this is the key insight: Both times I was grieving separation from her physical body.

That realization joined the two experiences into one. I could embrace the beginning and end of our physical relationship. The joy she must have felt the first time I wailed, at my birth, balanced the pain I felt as I said goodbye to her daily physical presence. An equal amount of joy and pain became Love.

And that Love has deepened the quiet gratitude I have that she was my mother in this life.

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The RJR Self-Care Story

Mike Wolpert of  Social Jumpstart is a brilliant guide to business owners, solopreneurs etc who can help us articulate what we do, why we do it, and how our clients benefit from our work.

He invited me to sit for a demonstration of how the personal story, behind RJR Self-Care, can clarify my own goals and growth. Check it out.

The Self-Care Story: Ruben J. Rocha: More Than Massage

Contact Mike here.

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Four ways to keep stress away

Great thoughts from a fellow body worker:

Four ways to keep stress away.

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Look Who’s Here!

“Bells and whistles” usually refer to “technology and stuff” but do you have real ones that announce reunions, arrivals, or old-fashioned face-to-face time?

My Mom has a loud brass bell, on the wall, at the back door, leading in from the patio. It’s been there almost 20 years. Why? The grandkids pull on the long cord, to announce their arrival.

My eldest nephew is almost 18, but we have new toddlers, in the grandkid group, so I’m looking forward to hearing that bell, for several more years.

When I visit, even if the grandkids aren’t around, I look at the bell and smile, because I remember their happy expressions, as they announced their arrival.

We have a loud flood horn, in San Anselmo, that gets tested every Friday, at noon. Two weeks in a row, Sally showed up at my office at the exact moment the horn blasted. The second time it happened I decided to call it the “Sally is Here in San Anselmo Siren.”

It used to annoy the hell out of me. But now I associate it with a friend showing up at my office for lunch, or a labyrinth walk, or face-to-face chat.

And in a world of smartphones and texting, an encounter like that deserves a bell, a whistle, or in her case, a happy horn blast.

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Today is the Day

You must express love, appreciation, and BE with those who become your “logical” family, through unconditional love and acceptance.

Always.

One day, we run out of days.

We all come from a biological family, but it’s the creative, diverse “logical” family we form that gets us through the hard work, and ecstatic joys, of this life.

I lost a friend forever, Sunday night. I’m glad he was with someone he loved, surrounded by wonderful dogs. The text message I received said,

It was a relaxed fun evening. We ate take out Chinese and watched a game on tv. One minute he was teasing me about something and the next he was on the ground. 911 operator walked me thru chest compressions and paramedics arrived within 5 minutes. Just couldn’t get him back.

I’ve felt sick about it.
Angry about it.
Scared by it.
Hopeless about it.
Sad about it.

Tom was someone who interacted with me nearly every day, despite the distance between Texas and California. I’ve caught myself grabbing my phone to text him, or make sure he’s seen something on FB. Proves he was part of the funny, frustrating, and mundane things. You know, daily life.

He would usually start our text chats with “Rubs!!!”

It always shook me out of my routine, and made me smile, given that the first three letters of my name describe what I do, day in and day out, as a massage therapist.

Tom didn’t run out of days, I did.

He was not shy about texting “Come see me!” As my brother, his college roommate said, Tom “always asked when you might be coming to Houston so you could get together.”

I ran out of days to accept his frequent invitations.

He enjoyed the simplicity of sharing a good meal, talking about the latest accomplishments of his dogs, who are agility superstars. Or asking about my biological family.

He was family to me, and I’m glad he knew it.

Now go text yours. Especially the last one who asked for some of your time.

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A Lasting Touch

About a month before she died, my grandmother and I sat in her garage apartment, had snacks, and a nice long evening conversation.

Our talks, on the patio, or in her apartment, were always tender, funny, and memorable. And I never came home from school without stepping in, to kiss her forehead.

I’m grateful she came to live with us when I was 10 years old.

That evening, after a couple of hours, I looked at my watch and said, “OK Grandma, I need to go. It’s getting late. Goodnight.”

But she put her hand on my forearm and squeezed it saying, “No te vayas todavía. Estamos platicando tan a gusto.” Translation: Don’t leave yet. We’re having such a nice chat.

So I stayed another half-hour, but to this day I can feel her firm hold on my arm. I had no idea she would be gone a few weeks later.

It was a privilege to be 25 years old, having a real conversation with my Grandma, feeling loved, and knowing that my presence was all she needed, at that moment.

There is power in touch. I can still feel the warmth of her strong hand, decades later.

When she died my Mom comforted me, saying, “You listened to her stories.”

How could I not? Her story was my story, our history.

If someone you love grabs your forearm, and asks you to spend a little more time together, do it.

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From Massage to Self-Care

How did my practice expand from massage to self-care support, since my training and certifications are in bodywork?

This came gradually, through the needs of my clients.(Some of whom have been part of my practice for over a decade.) We are aging together, so we support each other, as our bodies present different needs, through this process.

Through massage, we nurture the body, but our conversations expand to fitness, through movement, and health, through enlightened eating. I stay focused on massage and refer people to experts in other areas, for professional guidance and information.

Several of my clients are psychotherapists and believe that massage is essential to the work their clients are doing, facing foundational life experiences. Perhaps internal work can help identify the patterns that keep us from a lifelong practice of self-care.

But, again, I’m only qualified to provide the bodywork component of this journey.

My virtual Rolodex is always available to you. Massage is more that bodywork. Self-care makes everything else possible.
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What is Chi Running?

 “I’d love to start running, but my knees…”

So, let’s talk about injury-free running. It is possible, using a gentle form called Chi Running. This practice combines a forward lean, neutral arm swing, mid-foot strike, and engaging the core, to create a sweet spot, where running feels comfortable. It’s also a mindful, almost meditative, experience.

But first, some background information. I always admired the freedom runners had to practice functional fitness in nature, on trails and on beaches, but I didn’t start running until my early-40s. Every time I attempted a conventional running practice, I’d injure myself. My ankles were usually the source of my pain. Thanks to Todd Lange, from 5k101.com I completed a “Couch-to-5K” program. I did this on a treadmill, with his expert audio guidance, and increased my running intervals gradually. At the end of 8 weeks I was able to run a full 30 minutes.

But I made a rookie mistake by going out on pavement and running much too aggressively. The ankle injuries stopped me again. As I recovered, I searched for injury-free running guidance. This led me to chirunning.com and the creator of this form, Danny Dreyer. He developed this running practice when he lived here, in Marin County.

Inspired by people practicing Tai Chi in Golden Gate Park, Danny wondered if the principles of that practice, namely, efficient movement, deep core awareness, cooperating with gravity etc. could be applied to running, to prevent injury.

In Chi Running, you do not pound the pavement. A hard heel strike can leave you prone to joint injuries (ankles, knees and hips.) Landing on the ball of your foot can make soft tissue (calves, Achilles tendons, hamstrings etc.) vulnerable to injury too.

A mid-foot strike, combined with a lean forward “into gravity” allows you to keep your legs, feet, and ankles relaxed. To increase speed, you simply lean forward one more inch. Running is more fun when you aren’t fighting gravity, but using it to create movement. Watch Danny explain HERE.

Another benefit is a series of body loosening exercises, taught as a warm-up, before a run. I’ve incorporated them even on the days that I don’t run. They keep my energy flowing, between massage appointments, because Chi (life force energy) cannot travel through joints that are tight.

My certified Chi Running instructor is Sally Mitchell from runningflows.com in San Francisco. I’ve taken every level of training she offers. One session, as she was evaluating my form, I stopped because I had the strange sensation of going downhill, even though we were on a flat stretch in the Presidio. It was the first time I experienced that “sweet spot” where running felt effortless.

Thanks to this practice and running form, I can run about 5K (3.1 miles) 3 or 4 times a week, without injury. This practice is best done on trails, and is an opportunity to connect with nature, be conscious of the earth below, and establish a steady breath cadence.

Body awareness, breath practice, and freedom that comes from being in nature, make Chi Running my foundational self-care practice.

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SF Marathon Self-Care All-Stars

  • A 70-year-old client, who ran a marathon for the first time
  • A 30-year-old friend, a veteran marathoner, who had to withdraw the day before, due to illness

My client made the completion of this goal a birthday gift. She was not attached to the result, only the accomplishment. During the bodywork sessions, leading up to the marathon, I noticed her deep peace about this challenge. She practiced self-care by inviting her 70-year old body to experience the race, without the pressure of measurement. Her serenity and focus were inspiring.  I’m looking forward to our conversations and insights into functional fitness, as my body ages.

My young friend is in the prime of physical fitness. His ultra-marathon accomplishments, and commitment to running, inspired me too. Posts about his distance times, and contagious enthusiasm, motivated me, albeit I only run 5K regularly. I felt his frustration, when he started getting sick two days before the marathon. When he had to withdraw, I admired his own practice of self-care. For an experienced marathoner, it was a painful decision.

The lesson: Give the body a challenge, as I age. Be respectful of my body but give it a goal of completion, participation and experience. When ill or injured, give my body the necessary recovery time, without anger or resentment.

I’m proud to know these two all-stars. They inspire me to keep promoting and practicing self-care, in my own life.

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Fear of Failure or Fear of Action?

Let’s be clear: It’s not fear of failure that keeps most people stuck.

It’s fear of action, any action.

I’m writing about stubborn inaction, rather than pausing, or taking a legitimate time-out. It takes courage to admit inaction, if we have been tricking ourselves by calling it something else.

Inaction guarantees failure. So what, exactly, do we fear? We create the very thing we claim to fear.

Failure is an actual (often temporary) obstacle. But let’s not blame fear anymore. Fear of the unknown is real, but if you accept failure as the product of inaction, then you can’t hide behind fear.

What’s the remedy? Action, any action.

Write

Walk

Run

Read

Do

Speak

Ask

Give

See

Be.

Self-care can mean movement, and releasing the internal attachment to inaction.

Let’s not delude ourselves anymore.

We aren’t afraid of failure. We are afraid of action, which usually leads to success.

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