By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Aligned Against Pain
Can perfect posture relieve severely debilitated victims of chronic pain? While the American Medical Association's jury may still be out on the quantifiable benefits of postural and biomechanical therapies like yoga and Pilates, more and more medical doctorsas well as alternative health practitionersare seeing patients achieve remarkable results from working with master teachers in these modalities.
Pat Lundgren Guyton of Colorado's Boulder Osteopathic Center and Sara Bates, who maintains a private rehabilitative practice in Santa Monica, California, are two such master teachers. Guyton, a Pilates instructor, has been working with doctor-referred clients since 1987, and Bates, a graduate of Iyengar teacher training in San Francisco, has been designing individualized yoga programs for fibromyalgia sufferers since 2001. Both maintain high enough success rates to attract a steady stream of medical referrals as well as invitations to lecture or teach at local and national medical conferences.
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Both Guyton and Bates bring formative personal experience to their work. Guyton's background as a modern dancer gives great precision and intuitional depth to her style of Pilates. Today, when she talks to a group of medical doctors about why bodily alignment, awareness, focus, and balance are the keys to pain-free movement, she makes them learn it the way one of her clients would learn it: by feeling it in their own bodies. "And that's a process," says Guyton. "It's like yoga in that it's a discipline and it's a study." Whether she's helping people with multiple sclerosis or low-back pain, Guyton works their bones and muscles from head to toe until they learn to "consciously organize their posture in a vertical gravitational field so that their postural muscles become strong enough to support good alignment."
An ideal alignment creates more ease and energy in the body with which to fight the effects of aging, injury, or auto-immune malfunction. Yoga's emphasis on proper alignment, breath work, awareness, and balance is indeed similar to Pilates principles, but Bates, a former occupational therapist who used yoga techniques to recover from her own disabling bout with fibromyalgia, would add that a thorough understanding of how emotional trauma affects posture and organ function informs the yogic approach to alleviating chronic pain.
But what kinds of exercise can you do with people whose nerve endings are so hypersensitive that they experience any sensory input as pain? In its most acute stages, fibromyalgia can cause its victims to experience even minimal amounts of heat, cold, light, pressure, or sound as pain. What Bates tries to dowith a varied selection of yoga postures, visualization practices, and breathing exercisesis break this spiraling feedback loop, which has been known to defeat even the strongest pain medication.
"If there's a line between the mind and body, I haven't been able to find it," says Bates, who recognizes the despair and frustration of her patients as yet another form of bodily injury. Since almost anything can trigger fibromyalgic pain, and repetitive movement of the same area can make it amplify and spread throughout the body, Bates teaches gentle, careful postures that slowly lengthen, strengthen, oxygenate, and align muscles so they can rest and heal. Unlike doctors who don't share her personal experience, she warns all who suffer from fibromyalgia or any of the auto-immune syndromes like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, CFS, or MS not to trigger their pain cycle by doing the same posture or exercise every single day.
"Rotate your practices, " advises Bates. "If you walk one day, then do yoga the next." Carol Cooper
Queer Eye of Newt
Some pagans joke that in this society it's much easier to be openly queer than to come out as a witch. Fortunately for those carrying both of these unorthodox identities, Christopher Penczak's new guide, Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe, sheds light on the path. A practitioner, teacher, and author based in New Hampshire, Penczak excavates occult history to find the multicultural roots of queer presence and prominence in all things magickal, from ancient cave paintings in Sicily to today's Radical Faeries and Dianic lesbians. By his account, the mythic realm of gods and goddesses teems with transgenderism, and shamanic healers can easily travel the spirit world because they carry both masculine and feminine energy. You'll find here many of the basic tools, rituals, and spells detailed in other witchcraft how-to's, but with a uniquely queer, joyfully sex-positive spin. Most pagan authors are too cautious to offer a section on "Lust Magick" and would never see the need for spells that heal addictions or homophobia (or respectfully offer a ritual for exploring heterosexuality). Penczak also has cogent, sane things to say about love and unconditional love, magick's highest source. Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Make Friends With Your Weirdness
Dr. Liz Margoshes styles herself "the ironic therapist," practicing out of an office in the Flatiron district. She says, "Ironic people often have trouble with the hyper-earnestness of traditional therapists. And they really don't want their slant toward the world analyzed away as a defense. People have the misconception, often, that their peculiar slant on life is causing the problems. And that they'd better give it up or they'll be miserable forever. But look at Harvey Pekara miserable-seeming person, right? His miserableness produced terrific comics (that people relate to especially because they identify with his miserablenessisn't art, after all, about communicating truths that are hard to communicate, relate to, and identify with, in interesting and challenging ways?) and gave him a way to connect to people. Should Pekar have tried to get rid of his slant on life? Or do we actually admire him for being who he is?"