Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Healing Waters of Harbin Hot Springs

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Bay Area to give a talk on Creating Happiness in the Face of Setbacks at the Yoga of Sausalito and be interviewed on the radio by my good friends Julie and Martin Matthews who have a weekly show called Reality Sandwich on KPOO in San Francisco.  Julie and Martin are the founders of Healthful Living an organization the promotes a lifestyle of health, healing and happiness of all living things.  

To listen to my radio interview click here.

It was an extraordinary opportunity to share the story of my spinal cord in
jury and the transformation that has occurred in my life from this life changing experience.  I spoke about the lessons I have learned about creating happiness in the face of challenging circumstances and conditions.  

Fundamentality, the essence of my talk is that happiness occurs when we are present to the moment at hand.  Suffering happens when we get caught up in our attachments to that which we don't have or trying to avoid that which is so.  By accepting that which is we are n
o longer fighting with reality and we can truly appreciate the present of here and now.  

As I have said before, the past is history, the future is a mystery, and the present is a gift.  So enjoy the present because really that is all we truly have.  I know this may easier said than done but with mindful practice happiness can be a consistent experience.  Gratitude is the key.  You can always find something to be grateful for no matter what.  Love others without condition or expectation and you will find that love will fill your being and attract that which you desire.

In addition I was able to spend three days at Harbin Hot Springs one of the oldest and most beautiful hot springs in California.  I have been going to Harbin for almost ten years now and it has been for me truly one of the most healing and magical places on Earth.  Harbin is situated about two hours North of San Francisco on over 1600 acres of pristine underdeveloped woodland.

Since my injury I have been fortunate to visit Harbin with the assistance of my good friends Siddhartha and Gayatri whom I met in India just two weeks before my life transforming event. Together they teach Living Somatics around the world and are two of the most loving compassionate human beings I know.

One of the main draws of coming to Harbin is experiencing the amazing healing waters.  Because of my limited mobility the only way I am able to get into the pools is with the help of my friends.  So I am forever grateful for their friendship and the ability I have to still benefit from this incredible place!

Harbin is famous for offering an unique form of aquatic bodywork called Watsu developed by Harold Dull.  Watsu is a form of Zen Shaitsu that is performed in warm water instead of on land.  Warm water's theraputic benefits and freeing of movement make it an ideal medium for passive stretching.  The support of water provides takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to be moved in ways impossible on land.  Gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure of a rigid spine and helps to undo any dysfunction this pressure causes to organs serviced by those nerves.

Being paralyzed from a spinal cord injury Watsu offers me an amazing experience to release the low back pressure of sitting vertical and unwind the tension accumulated by my injury.  Being in the warm water allow my body to surrender completely to gravity and move with grace and ease under the skilled hands of a Watsu practitioner.  Through sound and breath I could feel the trauma of my injury begin to leave my body and my nervous system begin to reorganize to a higher state of function.

I was fortunate enough to work with Sunheart, a senior Watsu practitioner, in the private pools of the Harbin Domes where the School of Shiatsu and Massage is located.  Durning our two hour long sessions together I experienced a powerful release of bodily tension and trauma and began to feel energy steaming down my legs and hands and back up through my legs into my spine.  I felt like we were engaging in an ancient healing ritual and was learning how to heal my body by moving energy through my spine and nervous system through movement, breath and sound.  The experience was deeply shamanic and transformative.  I am excited to continue exploring this healing modality at a local watsu center here in Southern California.

I am left with the image of looking up into the trees and sky while being floated in the healing water by my beautiful loving friends and feeling my soul become one with everything in the universe.  It is true that indeed we are all One and the illusion is that we are separate. 

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Death, Life and Love

On Tuesday of this week I awoke to the sound of my best friend Frank sobbing by my bed.  He informed me that his 21 year old niece in Oakland had been shot in the head that night while she lie sleeping in her bed by a stray bullet from a drive by shooting.   When the police came to their house and asked her mother if she heard any shots she said no.  As they entered her daughter's room she found her daughter bleeding from the head while her sister lay sound asleep next her her in the same bed.

She was later pronounced dead at the hospital.  She has a 1 year old daughter who will never see her mother again alive.  In a moment this beautiful innocent young woman had her life taken from her.  

In trying to make sense of this senseless event, I tried to find words to comfort my dear friend and his family I live with.  I was speechless and shocked.  I had no words, only empathy of the pain and grief my friend was experiencing.

The following day I received a phone call from my brother that my 92 year old grandmother had just experienced a massive stroke and was expected to die within the week.  Now death was even closer to me.  

Sadness and regret surged through my heart.  My soma was vulnerable and raw.

I was planning to see my grandparents next month in Florida.  I had not seen them since my injury and knew their days on this earth are numbered.

As I sat with this news I contemplated what it meant.  And then I began to cry.  First, tears of sadness and loss, and then tears of love and appreciation flowed for my family and friends.

"Love, love, love...love is all there is" - the Beatles

I have continued to feel this enormous field of love this entire week.  I am moved to tears for almost no apparent reason.  And now I realize that this is what death means to me...an opportunity to appreciate life and love all those dear to my heart.

I feel so alive right now!  I am sharply present to the combination of love and tenderness that I feel towards everyone...even the stranger to the street.

So this is my message to you.  Be appreciative and grateful for today because tomorrow may not come.  Life is a fragile and should never be taken for granted.  And right now, the present moment, is all we truly have.  

The past is history, the future a mystery, and the present is a gift...so appreciate it :)

Be grateful for all you have in your life.  Love is the most powerful energy in the universe and will transform all.  Love your friends and your enemies, just love for no reason.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Somatic Skiing in Big Bear

Last week I went to Big Bear Lake, CA to experience adaptive skiing.  Prior to my injury I was very active physically and downhill skier since the age of 5.  Only a 2 1/2 hour drive from San Diego, Big Bear is the premium location in Southern California for skiing and snowboarding.  I was extremely excited to be back in the fresh mountain air and experience a real physical challenge!

I reserved the last two days available for adaptive skiing instruction for 2008 season.  On Wednesday, March 19 my best friend Frank Starks, his two kids, Frankie and Claire, and my good friend and caregiver Monique loaded our van and headed North.  I was planning to rendevous with my old college buddy Brad Erwood, an excellent skier, coming from LA.

The trip was supposed to take only a couple hours but we got poor directions from Google and ended up taking almost 5 hours to get there!  Hungry and exhausted we arrived one hour late for my afternoon lesson and decided to scratch it for some lunch and a bloody mary.  

The next morning I awoke refreshed and excited to embark on a new adventure!  The weather was spectactular, sunny and a warm 50 degrees, perfect for Spring skiing!  After meeting my instructors Ralph and Jeff, we discussed options for adaptive skiing.  Because my injury happened at the cervical level my trunk and upper body strength required that I try a bi-ski versus a mono-ski.  The bi-ski provides a greater ease in balance with two parallel skis instead of only one.  I also decided to begin with a fixed outrigger which are like training wheels to prevent me from tipping over.

I was transfered into the bi-ski and securely strapped in.  It felt like a perfect fit as my body became one with the ski.  We made our way up to the lift and my two instructors lifted me onto the seat in perfect timing.  Suddenly I was carried up, up, and away floating 20 feet off the beautiful snow covered slopes.  As we approached the top of the lift, my instructors began to scoot my towards the edge of the seat for our dismount.  For a second fear surged through my body as I hoped I would not fall!  I asked them if they ever dropped anyone and they assured me I was in good hands :)

As we raised the safety bar I prepared myself for being launched off the seat dropping two feet to the snow covered ramp.  Wham!  I felt a shock wave go through my soma and then I slid to a hault.  Ralph, the program director for USARC hooked tether lines to the back my bi-ski chair so I would get out of control as we prepared for our first run.  Basically, I was instructed to maintain my balance and lean just slightly each way when entering a turn.

I ackowledged my instruction and prepared to be launched down the slope.  "Ready, one, two, three, here we go!" said Ralph and suddenly I was skiing!  "Ok, begin to turn right." as I leaned into my turn.  Quickly the ski responded and I turned right sharply and ended up haulting by going back up toward the slope.  I had leaned too much.  "Very gradual corrections" said Jeff, "the bi-ski is very sensitive."  We began to go again and this time focused on looking where I wanted to go keeping myself centered.
I began to imagine a vertical string pulling from the top of my head and connecting my tailbone to the earth.  My somatic center began to emerge and as I slowly adjusted my turns.  My turns began to become smoother and easier.  "Now you are getting the hang of it!" said Ralph.  My confidence began to grow stronger.  Now I was halfway down the slope and I could see my friends at the bottom smiling and waving in excitement. Tears of happiness began to fill my eyes as I felt exhilerated and fully alive!  I was actually skiing and I was pretty good!

After two more runs, I felt much more confident and relied less on my instructor's guidance.  I felt ready to transition to the arm outriggers and remove my "training wheels."  The arm outriggers are short ski poles with a small ski attached at the bottom.  They allow me to have more control of my turns and increase the performance of the bi-ski.  We duct taped the arm outriggers to my hands as my grip is fairly weak.  

Back up the ski lift we went.  At the top we got situated and prepared for a completely different style of adaptive skiing.  As we began to decent onto the slope, I realized that now I had to use more of my upper body to balance myself.  I also could feel my shoulders and back engage more and my posture lengthen.  I was now do more of the work and could feel even my legs fire up!

I felt like a true athlete, one with the ski and the mountain.  

I could turn much easier and began to discover how to use the arm outriggers to carve into my turns.  A rush of energy came through my soma.  My entire being was alive and present to this amazing experience.

Over the course of my 2.5 hour lesson I skied seven times taking only a short ten minute break for water.  With each run I felt my confidence and competence grow.  I was surely addicted.   My buddy Brad Erwood was just as excited as me and is looking into being a volunteer next year.

I can't wait for next season.  I already have plans for my family to meet up for a skiing holiday.  To be able to ski with my brother and father again will be a special moment!  My entire perspective of being paralyzed has shifted.  If I can do this, I can do anything!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Welcome to Soma Evolution!

Soma Evolution is a blog and resource to explore the transformation and evolution of the human self.  The word "soma" comes from the Greek meaning the living body in its wholeness, the interconnection of mind, body, emotions, and spirit.  This blog is an exploration of my own personal journey of somatic transformation.  

In April 2004, while traveling through India on spiritual retreat I fell from a one story building resulting in a C5/C6 spinal cord injury becoming a quadriplegic.  I have limited movement and sensation from the chest down but continue to see improvements in my strength, balance, and mobility due to the rigorous exercise-based recovery program I am engaged in at Awakenings Health Institute

I also ride horses weekly at REINS a therapeutic equine riding program in Fallbrook, CA.  My balance and core strength have improved greatly since participating in this activity.  I also feel an amazing sense of tranquility and emotional well being. 

In May 2007 I traveled to Shenyang, China to participate in an experimental stem cell therapy program.  Over the course of month I received 5 treatments of 10-15 million umbilical cord blood stem cells, daily acupuncture, physical and hand therapy.  After each treatment I experienced a noticeable increase in energy and decrease in pain.  Now 10 months later, my overall endurance, strength and balance has continued to maintain itself.  Recently, I have seen an increase of activity in my legs that is allowing me to stand with minimal assistance at the parallel bars.  

It is difficult to really say if my recovery is due to the stem cells alone or a combination of all the therapies I have been engaged in.  My sense is that everything I am doing is stimulating my nervous system in some way and contributing to my recovery.

"There is no such thing as good or bad, but our thinking makes it so"  Shakespeare

I am confidence that all experiences happen for a purpose and are here to serve us.  It is up to us to decide the meaning of these experiences.  It is my belief that if we are open to life and surrender to the moment magic is all around us and suffering is just an illusion.  

For me suffering is usually when I get caught up into negative thoughts about my experience. When I accept things as as they truly are, suffering disappears. Some of my most powerful experiences have been extremely challenging but also very rewarding.  

Welcome to my journey...