2 things to help you relax (almost anywhere!)

“How would you like to feel when you leave here today?”

Over the years I’ve heard my question answered in many ways but there is one intention that is, by far, the one that clients say the most:


What a worthy intention! When we are relaxed, hard things somehow become softer, easier. Tight places become roomier. Annoying things feel more neutral, and maybe even, humorous.

Being relaxed allows for seemingly impossible things to shift and settle into something new, something which tightness and anxiety may not have allowed us to see before. Relaxing clears space for the next and best thing to happCrazy-Cat-Sleeping-Positionsen unimpeded; seen that way, relaxing makes better things possible.

I’m certainly not one to tell people who are feeling anxious or tense to “just relax” — it’s annoying, to say the least, and a bit insulting, too. After all, you’re smart and you do your best, and if it were so easy, I’m sure you would have already.  But I love helping people relax, and today I want to tell you two things that make relaxing much more likely to happen:

1. Acknowledgement

Think of acknowledgment as saying hello to what is there, even when (or especially!) when what is there for you is unpleasant or hard. It’s a nod of recognition, a way of letting the unpleasantness or tightness know that you see it. It’s a little bow of respect. You may not like it, and you may wish it were different than it is but you are saying, nonetheless: “I notice you. Hello.”

Tension, anxiety or whatever word best describes what is hard for you, deserves your noticing and respect. After all, it is there for some good reason. Maybe it is trying to protect you. (Letting you know, for example, not to take on anything else.) Maybe it wants you to remember that “no” is a valid answer needing no further explanation. Maybe your body —through tightness and anxiety— is trying to express something that is off (like how you keep smiling and pretending everything is fine when it isn’t), or out of balance (like when you sit for hours on end, not letting your body get movement or fresh air).

Our bodies hold a wealth of wisdom and I love helping my clients learn to listen to their bodies, but simply acknowledging what is there for you right now and saying hello to that is always a good place to start.

2. Support

It’s hard to relax when we don’t feel supported.

Imagine you’re entering a room and are looking for a place to sit and the only chair available looks kind of sketchy. You aren’t sure it will support you. If you sit down at all, you’d probably do so very tentatively, holding back some of your weight and then only letting go a little bit at a time until you know that the chair is stable and strong enough.

The support of the ground or of the furniture we sit upon is something we often get to take for granted. Thankfully, most chairs we go to sit in do support us.

Habitually tense and contracted places in your body can become so accustomed to tightness that even when your body is fully supported and by all accounts could be resting, those places may have a hard time letting go. If your body remains on high alert and tight when you would love to be resting, take it as a signal to pause and notice the support that is already there for you. Especially notice the support right under and around the place of tightness. And then, after you have said your “hello I see you there,” take a conscious and deep breath and as you exhale, notice if there is any softening, any relaxing, that is ready to happen.

Yes, it’s hard to relax when you don’t feel supported, but feeling supported can often be as close and as possible as an intention to give a nod of acknowledgment followed by a conscious noticing of the support that is there… it’s worth pointing out that the support is there whether you notice it or not; the magic, however, in this matter of relaxing, is in noticing.

Go ahead. Next time you have a hard time relaxing, practice saying hello, notice the support that’s there, and on your next exhale, see what happens. Maybe, like me, you will hear the ground saying to you:

“It’s OK. I’ve got your back.”

A case for crying: Reflections on homesickness, birthdays, and going back for parts that got left behind

A case for crying: Reflections on homesickness, birthdays, and going back for parts that got left behind

Dear Ones,

For me, birthdays are always a time for thinking back, and in the last years when I have thought back on other birthdays the needle invariably has settled around the memory of one birthday in particular… There is something incomplete, unfinished about that one. Probably me-then is still needing something. This here is me-now, years later, going back for her…

Three weeks shy of my twelfth birthday found my parents standing on the roof of the airport in Chile waving goodbye to my brother and me as we set off for Quito, Ecuador to board at a school dedicated to educating (and keeping in line!) the children of missionaries, which we were. My youngest two siblings remained in Chile.

As the oldest, I had always done my fair share of taking charge and taking care of things I thought needed caring for, tending to, or fixing. Some would call that flair for care “bossy,” but isn’t there always more to those things than what an easy label implies? “Besides, what’s so wrong with bossy?,” I say with a hand on my hip: I’m a helluva good at knowing what’s missing, what’s broken and what needs fixing. I can look at something and see what’s broke before you even register what the thing itself is. Anyway, where was I? Ahh yes…

When Karl and I boarded that plane on that 22nd day of January 1980, the mothering and care I knew so well to extend to others served me not one bit: I had not the first clue about directing my superpower onto my own dear self. Also, Karl who would be living in a separate wing in the dorm from me, understandably wanted nothing of a barely-older-than-he sister taking care of or fighting any battles for him thankyouverymuch.

On the plane I cried and cried, quietly, mind you, as secretly as possible, but still. I would cry plenty more at school also, but always —if it could be helped— alone and, I hoped, out of sight and sound of anyone. Apparently I believed there was something wrong with crying and with a person who cried. Oh dear. Oh, dear…

The dawn of my very first morning at school found me awake earlier than my roommate and rummaging as quietly as I could —sense a pattern here?— for a notebook and pen. That was the day I began writing letters as if my life depended on it. I’m sure my letters home contained agonizingly detailed accounts of this that and the other and not much mention of how I felt. I wrote almost every day but I don’t think I ever fessed up to crying and how homesick I was for Chile other than the usual sign off of “I miss you tons” or “I love you.” If you read between the lines, though, it was there: a homesickness so constant it would cry me to sleep most nights, while I tried, as best I could, to keep it quiet and secret.

Year before last when I met the man I would fall in love with, one day he saw me crying. I let him see me and it didn’t scare him. It did not make him turn away. It did not even make him try to make me stop crying. He just sat with me while I cried. Later, I forget if that day or another, he would say to me: “You are the quietest cryer I have ever met. How come you don’t make noise when you cry?” That was the day it started dawning on me that maybe I did not have to cry alone and keep it a secret. I had a lot of things to cry about and he wanted to be with me while I cried. (Wait, what?!) And sometimes he even cried with me.

I’m not sure when or why I picked up the belief that crying is shameful, but I had. Back when I was 12 I must have thought: Whatever would people think if they found out I was so homesick? Me-now replies: That I was homesick?

“Be strong,” people say. All the time people say that. Have you noticed?

Thing is, there is a lot to cry about and the more we try not to cry when something in us wants to, the more brittle and hard we become. And brittle and hard is not actually strong anyway! Brittle and hard takes a toll, especially on the body. I know. I know from my own body’s experience and from the bodies I touch every day. Brittle and hard is much more likely to be injured. Soft and supple is flexible and bendy, giving here, taking there and allowing for the support of the ground and the support all around us, rather than trying to keep it all in and hidden and pretending all is fine when it isn’t. The body really does not when we pretend things are different than they actually are.

I turned 12 in the days before e-mail, when snail mail letters —especially the ones that had to cross a border or two— took what seemed like forever, which is exactly how long it took letter #1 from home to arrive at school. In actuality it was probably somewhere between one and three weeks —like I said, forever. I turned 12 also in the days of outrageously expensive phone calls, especially international ones, and especially on my parent’s missionary “allowance.” But on the morning of February 10 I was woken up by a knock at my door and the dorm-father’s voice saying, “Heidi, there’s a phone call for you.” It was my mom and dad calling to wish me, their oldest daughter, a happy birthday, singing it to me, I’m sure, followed by three minutes in which four of us —for bleary-eyed Karl had joined us by then— would exchange the quickest of quick I-don’t-know-whats. To this day, I am not a fan of talking on the phone but I remember not knowing what or how to say anything, certainly not as fast as I knew I needed to; all I could see in my mind’s eye was a picture of the place called home where my parents were, surely, huddled around the one and only, black, rotary-dial, rope-chord phone in the living room in the house where I wasn’t in Temuco, Chile. And anyway, what can be said in 3 minutes?

“Three minutes is just not enough.” I said this once to a friend as I recalled this birthday memory. And she, playful and wise soul that she is, replied: “Wouldn’t that be interesting to test?”

I was a bit puzzled but said, “Sure.” And then she proceeded to tell me, for 3 minutes, all the things she loved, including, yes, the things she loved about me.

Three minutes. What can be said in 3 minutes?

Today, in honor of me-then who, in writing this I go back for, and in honor of all of us who cry or want to cry or can’t cry or are embarrassed to cry, and in honor of anyone with a homesickness or a longing for something which they may not even have words for, in honor of us all: What can be noticed and said in 3 minutes? Set a timer. Ready, set, PLAY!

Maybe you’ll write it down. Maybe you’ll even put it in a letter to someone: What do you hear? What do you see? What do you sense? What do you remember? What’s it like around you? What’s it like inside you? What feels good? What feels OK, so OK even that you get to take it for granted? What feels hard? What makes you cry? What do you miss?

Ahh, the presence of what’s missing…the space left by what’s not here… But, funny, that! Because the moment we notice that we miss something, aren’t we then, in the noticing, experiencing it ever so intensely? And in some way then isn’t what is missing even more present?

Maybe missing is just be another word for love.

Missing you. Wishing you were here… Oh wait–!


Alone in the Cafeteria

Lonesome? Pull up a chair. This is for you.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You sit down. You open your brown paper bag hoping your mom didn’t go too heavy on the carrot sticks again. Next to the carrots and under the sandwich you find a brownie and a folded up note: I love you, sweetheart, it says.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You grow up and alone in the cafeteria changes clothes. Maybe it starts wearing hipper clothes. Maybe it starts only wearing clothes that won’t draw the eye. Or that always draw eyes. Maybe it only ever wears fancy suits. Maybe it would not be caught dead in a suit. Maybe it wears tents and mumus. Maybe it wears skirts that couldn’t be shorter.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You look around the potluck table. A lucky table it is, covered with pots of this and plates of that, shamelessly eavesdropping on the laughing, the chatting, the music, spying on the footsies, the winks, the tapping toes. Even though you just arrived, it likes you, this potluck table: it asks you to read something you wrote and you do. More, it says, laughing, read more.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You wake up early and find alone in the cafeteria camped out on your chest. You would kick it out but you know it would only come back tomorrow having changed its clothes. And since even in a new purple ruffle hopscotch bikini everyone knows alone in the cafeteria, today you say hello.

Anyone sitting here? it asks.

You are, you say, scootching over to make room.

(c) Heidi Fischbach, 2015

Heidi’s Table

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Cambridge, MA 02140


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