Yogis in the most unexpected places: ambulances, anatomy, splinting and forward bends

Extreme Kegel

Extreme Kegel (Photo credit: Laurie Pink)  avec le pirate patch even!

I can’t count how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “lift your pelvic floor…,” Usually right before “navel to your spine….” All in an effort to protect the low back, cultivate core engagement and awareness of the pelvic floor.

can count how many times people have made it happen. Less than 100, I’d say, and that’s over nearly a decade of teaching. How can I tell? Well, when you engage the eight muscles intertwined into figure “8” patterns that traverse the lower portion of the pelvic bowl and hold all your stuff up, it really does transform not only your posture, but your attitude, awareness and emotional state. It’s totally obvious when someone goes from lack of engagement to even partial engagement in this area.

So imagine my surprise when I give the instruction in an EMT Basic/Intermediate  Refresher class and Voila! like a kind of magic you dream of as a yoga teacher, a wide range of people – young & old, skinny & obese, fit and unfit, people who’ve taken yoga and people who wouldn’t show up in a yoga studio if their lives depended on it (they might, BTdubs) – everyone… lifted their pelvic floor! Like magic laced with tequila and frozen into a pop. Magic.

So let’s back up. What’s the pelvic floor, why were these people lifting it and what was I doing teaching at an EMT Refresher?? Fair questions, all. I’ll try to brief:

  • The pelvic floor is one of three layers of muscle in the body that, together with connective tissue (thus the “diaphragm” designation) form compartments and regulate passage among those compartments. The others are the respiratory diaphragm and the vocal diaphragm. All three are rarely sensed, but when consciously engaged and released can contribute to mood, energy and posture regulation. If you’re a bandha kinda yogi, you might note their correlation to mula, uddiyana and jalandara bandhas.
  • I’ll address Q3 next: Why was I teaching at an EMT-B/I Refresher? When I’m not writing and teaching yoga, I’ve been a Paramedic. I still teach from time to time because I so adore EMS. Yes, really.  This was a 45 minute practice lab on “splinting.” I know! Can you think of title more sure to cause yawns?? So, I decided that we’d review the principles of splinting [Super easy: you splint to prevent unnecessary inflammation and edema (thank you Larry Cobb, Master Paramedic Teacher) , pain, movement and further injury (all sequellae of I&E); you can splint in position found or aligned (if trained in latter); and proper splinting requires immobilizing bones above & below joint, or joints above & below the target bone)] and then undertake the application of a traction splint for femur fractures (which necessarily involves long spine board immobilization).
  • Whew! Still with me? Okay, here’s where the yoga came in (I know, I can find it anywhere, but this was fun). A traction splint, particularly the Hare type common in our area, requires positioning against the ischial tuberosity. The wha-huh? Exactly.  EEEEE…xachery.
Most people walking around – even EMT and yogi people – have no idea of where or what an ischial tuberosity might be. Even after being trained and going through anatomy, most people (providers of all levels and yoga teachers, too)  can’t locate it on their own bodies. What would you do if someone asked you to show off your ischial tuberosities? Slap them? 
If you know that “ischial tuberosity” is the anatomical name for your “sitting bones” you’ll at least hit the ball park, but even then… physically locate them? No one has you do this in EMT school at any level, and very few yoga teachers bother. But EMTs are asked to use them as not only a landmark, but a stabilizing structure in the body. Yeah. Better know how to locate those suckers.
And so, the wide legged forward bend. Not a crazy one, not a deep one. Only a very well supported and minimal one, with crazy awesome form so the ischial tuberosities are pointed backwards enough to grab. Your own. No grabbing your neighbor’s. Feet wider than shoulders, feet turned ever so slightly in, locate your hip creases, think about pelvis rotating over femurs…. then, like a drill sergeant, not a yoga teacher, cause this ain’t no yoga class… Lift your pelvic floor! Navel to spine! Lift your heart! Good! Now tilt!
I had groups of 4 or less, so I was able to go around assure no low backs were rounding, that each one went only as far as their bodies could happily go, with lovely aligned spines. All the while marvelling… their form was nearly flawless! Now: find your ischial tuberosities! Go on! Grab it, poke it, find it, learn it, know it!
My husband and I discussed why this was so effective when most yogis don’t “get it” til they’ve been practicing for a year or often much more. I think it was the surprise, the not knowing they were doing yoga, the not over thinking, just being in the moment, slightly confused and wondering what this mad woman would have them do next. I think their superior knowledge of anatomy helped. I might just use my drill sergeant voice in yoga class next time.
Dear hubs thinks that it’s because in yoga class, everyone thinks they’re going to find out some super secret spiritual key: something somehow unexplainable. And yet they come so the yoga teacher can explain it and they can understand it… with their language using minds. The disconnect is easy to see when you put it that way, but he’s so right. People come to yoga classes in search of something more. More than zumba, than running or weight lifting or even martial arts.

(woo-woo) by Author - The Black Cat book store in Truth or Consequences, NM

Mostly we don’t have any idea where or how the more will come in. And we hardly ever think it might just be a deeper understanding of our anatomy, one that comes from experience and not from linguistically tagging and picturing in line drawings, one that we feel from the inside out.
These folks were all about learning and having a class that didn’t suck. They were ready to follow direction, and didn’t need it to be revelatory or woo woo or anything except what it was: learning and feeling and integrating and using it all to serve others and maybe along the way to take better care of ourselves. Huh. Sounds like yoga to me.
Community rating is most often found as part o...

Community rating is most often found as part of health insurance systems in various countries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes yoga just means getting out of the way…

If you’ve been reading here for very long, you know one of my careers is Paramedicine. Street medicine draws on my ability to discern, do, organize, energize – emphasis on the “do!” – turn around and do it again. Again! (think claymation baby dinosaur… 🙂

There’s great flow and joy available in this groove. Remembering its a groove though, among other curvy, smooth, deep grooves is the trick. So it’s a blessing when I’m reminded of what I call yoga-mind (you may call it tao-mind, Christ-mind, Spirit or Bob) or union. It’s so easy to get caught up in the role-ness of our careers: I am a …. And then the world conspires to remind us that the activity and the flow are all, and that the special designations and lines we sometimes draw for our own comfort, the ones that identify “me” and “mine” (think furry blue cookie monster) are fictions, fudgible and dispensible – in fact dispense-worthy!

When I count these moments throughout the day as yoga time I find that they don’t substitute for mat time, they inspire it, I want more, I give more, I do more and I yoga more. Then the “I” falls out.

The best Thank You Note I've ever received

thank-you-note-5.jpgthank-you-note-4.jpgNo, you’re not supposed to be able to read it, it’s written in the language of the heart. By a toddler.

I was who they got when they called 911. Her Grandpa was very sick. Her Grandpa wouldn’t go to the doctor or a hospital. Her Grandpa had made a very grownup decision. He’d been to the doctor at the hospital. They had told him what they could & couldn’t do for him. He decided not to go back. He knew what that would mean.

His daughter was beside herself and called us. We were there for two hours. I cajoled, reasoned, flirted, called his doctor did everything I could think to do. I played with his granddaughter. My partner made them toys.

In the end, he chose to stay at home. His wits were about him, he was knowledgable and clear. His daughter’s mind was a little more at rest.

On the way out, my new friend handed me this very neatly folded note. It was two pages long. All she said was “Thank you for taking care of my Grandpa.”

The best thank you note I’ve ever received is for not doing a thing, not even really taking care of anything. Nothing changed from when they called. Grandpa is still closer to death than most with less padding between. Grandpa will still die at home. I haven’t changed the inevitability, the pain, the poignancy or made anything more clear. The best thank you note I’ve ever received is for doing nothing at all.

p.s. updated uncle

So, the storm has settled and the clouds have begun to blow away. No, I don’t “hate my f-ing job”, but I do laugh at reading what some others have written on the topic. And sometimes I need to. And I must admit, it’s a reality check. The things that trouble me are real and not administrative concoctions that someone could eliminate if they took two seconds’ thought. And because I know the people I work with and for take far more than two seconds’ thought. When I read what people write under the above title, I realize I’m checking things off: “oh, that does sound horrible! oh, well, at least I’m not dealing with that! oh, why does he go back!” And it makes me realize, I know why I go back.

I did come home last Sunday unable to stop crying and scared because I knew that if I had to go back to work the next day I wouldn’t be able to go. Thank goodness for the 40 (ish) hour workweek, huh?

Is this burnout? maybe. Is this PTSD? perhaps. Is this life? most definitely. Does this mean I can’t do the job I love so much? definitely not. It does mean I really need my yoga.

There’s a certain amount that a person can take at a time. There are some things when seen, the only – and I mean only – human response includes crying, although our role may require it be after the fact. There are things which if you can comprehend fully, I don’t want inside your head.

But my not being one of the ones who responds won’t stop them from happening. And being there is a priveledge I don’t plan to surrender soon. The years have shown I have an odd talent for it. And sometimes, in fact most nights, I can think of a moment, a small moment, where something I did mattered. And some nights I get to do a lot more.

And some days and mornings I cry, and sometimes I cry so much I don’t know if it’ll stop. And those days I wonder if I’ll go back. And I know someday the answer will be no. Not because I can’t, but because my heart’s flown elsewhere. And I’ll follow it then. But now, I’ll follow it back to the streets.

Paramedic's Prayer to the Yoga Teacher Within

[That’s Teacher with a big “T” like the big “L” in Love…]

Please help me remember I am a creator of worlds.

But one of the many creators of worlds, that more important than creators or worlds are the interactions between.

Please help me understand how Divinity is expressed in worlds I can’t even want to understand how anyone would allow themselves to create.

Please help me understand how there isn’t someone who oversees this whole interaction, I mean really… isn’t that sort of important? Are we really going to let the children play like this?

And please help me remember I’m one of the children.

Just help me remember, remember whatever it is I forgot. Please help me stay conscious in my indigation, my anger, to stay connected to my own limitations, to the freedom of others. Please help me find the frame that will let me let go.


You’ve got to be frigging kidding me.

 Two women, two different calls. Both, both apoligized to me. For taking my time, for being a bother, for needing something. Really? This is the way our world works? This is the way my world works? You’ve got to be kidding me.

You’ve got to be kidding. One was raped in front of a group of other people. One was coming off a bender, in her own apartment, not admirable, not proud, but in need and not having harmed another being.

Both of these women wept, averted their gazes, showed angst, shame, and at the end…

Apologized for needing help, thanked me profusely, surprisedly, for being nice to them.

Really? This is how our world works? People who are at their lowest, most hurt and wounded, people who have hurt no one are surprised by humanity. And the rapist, the derider and the just plain skater, they act as if my attention, your kindness and our resources are their due.

Really? Is this what we’ve meant to do? Is it? Really?

Not me.

Perhaps there's a limit.

My husband boxed in his younger days; he tells me there’s a myth that each boxer has a limited number of matches in him, and then it’s done. Even the boxer himself doesn’t know when it’ll be up, until it is. Then he knows, and it is.

Perhaps paramedics have a set number of rapes or murders or child batterings they can run. Each one is tough, each one shouldn’t happen. But you pick yourself up, you run your next call. Or a hundred.

But one day, you run the one. The last. And then you know.

 Maybe. Maybe I’ve found mine.