On the Psychology of Muscle

Your muscles take on the shape that they are accustomed to being in for hours every day. Any one thing, any repetitive motion, will shape the muscle and shape the fascia that surrounds it. The body responds so that the form follows the function, or that the function will make the form. What we want, then, is for our bodies to assume variable positions and activities throughout the day and throughout our life.

Changing positions can be challenging, though. It takes more than stretching to release a muscle, and we can’t force ourselves into a position when our body isn’t ready. Muscle fibers require a neurological signal in the form of a chemical messenger in order to release, and even though that signal comes from the brain, we don’t necessarily decide if our brain will send that signal. We can’t just tell our hamstrings to be less tight. What needs to happen is that the brain needs to feel that it is safe enough for that muscle to release.

So don’t over-stretch yourself into being over-burdened and over-committed. Dive into a conversation with yourself, befriend yourself, and gain an understanding of what your end stretch is and how much you can take on. There are times when we can take on a whole lot, and life circumstances change and we can take on even more. But nothing is constant, everything ebbs and flows, and it is our responsibility to listen to that ebb and flow and know if we need to back off or engage. What you did last summer may be very different from what you can do this summer, but if we go in with hearts wide open we can find opportunity.

Stay buoyant and responsive to where you and your body are in the process of holding and changing positions. We can’t force these processes, but we can work with them by knowing the parts of ourselves.

Emotional Healing that Starts in the Body

Emotional and physical healing are intertwined. Physical issues can have emotional consequences like depression or anxiety, and the opposite is also true. Strong emotions can become stored in the body, often as tension, pain, or dysfunction.

When you receive bodywork and massage or engage in a self-care practice like yoga, the release of stress and muscle tension can also bring an emotional release. Often, but not always, this release brings up negative feelings that you may have pushed back, like fear, sadness, or anger. This can be a shifting point in your healing process! Even though it is painful to experience old emotions, this can be what you need to get to the other side.

Teachers and bodyworkers are not trained or licensed to provide the therapeutic processing that a mental health counselor could, but they can do a lot to create an opportunity for deep emotional healing. They may slow down or stop the physical process of your session or class in order to let the full emotional release move through. Taking full deep breaths will also help your body release the stored energy on its own, and so they may remind you to breathe. Usually you will calm down after a few minutes, and then be able to rejoin the class or return to the flow of your bodywork treatment.

There is true wisdom in saying, “I need support.” Emotional energy is a factor in our health and our healing process, and feeling safe to release emotional energy can help in so many ways. Having someone just be present and supportive by your side can be exactly what you need.

Be Savvy with your Self-Care

The fundamentals of taking care of yourself are sleeping, eating, and practicing self care. Getting enough sleep is crucial for vitality, mental sharpness, and emotional regulation. Eating well fuels the body for activity, supports healthy organ function, and also helps with emotional regulation. Self-care is just as important as sleeping and eating well. It is how we cultivate health, by listening to the body’s needs and responding appropriately.

What are your self-care mechanisms and are they working for you? These might include meditation or mindfulness practice, exercise routine and activity level, quiet time, quality time with loved ones, receiving bodywork and massage, and any of the other hundreds of things we do to support our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Being savvy with your self-care includes regularly checking in with yourself, and then being proactive about taking action. This means that when you need bodywork and massage, or acupuncture, or a class, you know where to go. You are able to tell when you need it, you know how often you need it, and you probably already have it scheduled, maybe with a standing appointment every 2 or 4 weeks.

What do you need from your self-care? You might need to cultivate a clear, calm mind, or more time to relax and recharge. You might also need a higher activity level, or bodywork to support the activity level you already maintain. Perhaps you need acupuncture to manage pain or reduce stress. Begin with how you feel and how you would like to feel, and then figure out how to make that transition.

Savvy self-care does not wait until we are so uncomfortable that we have to stop our lives to make a change, but instead listens to the smaller discomforts and takes care of them in order to maintain a sense of vitality. It’s about being daring enough to put your self-care first and foremost, in order to be more comfortable in your body. 

 

Cultivating Healthy Posture

Posture is one of the foundations of our overall health, and cultivating healthy posture is particularly important for our sense of wellbeing. The body’s ability to heal comes through movement, and every movement informs our posture, even as our posture informs our movement. The building blocks of healthy posture include ease and economy of motion, coordination, body-mind integration, and a balance between stability and mobility.

Postural issues can get locked into chronic holding patterns in the muscles of the body, causing ongoing muscle tension and discomfort. However, there is always a need for a certain baseline of healthy muscle tension to hold us upright and stable against the pull of gravity. This means that cultivating healthy posture is a complex process of supporting the tonic “anti-gravity” muscles even as we work to ease and release the dysfunctional chronic tension.

When we have pain, it signifies that we have dryness in the tissue, which means that the fibers have become rigid. We need to shift it back to being supple and juicy. One way is to learn to control those core and intrinsic muscles that help hold you upright. You can learn to engage the right muscles in the right order for certain movements, and to then relax any extra muscles that your body is trying to use instead of using its core. You can also use something called sensorimotor awareness, where you pay attention to certain parts of the body and how they move, and then adjust them as needed. Imagery can help you find the right alignments.

Working on healthy posture is progressive. The more you can learn to engage the right muscles and relax the extra ones who are trying to “help”, the better your posture will be. It is fundamentally a process of cultivating awareness, and can have tremendous benefits for overall health and wellbeing.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is foot pain, often in the form of a stabbing pain at the heel, and can be worst in the mornings. The pain comes from the plantar fascia, which is a band of connective tissue that connects the heel to the toes along the bottom of the foot. The arch of the foot is an important part of how the foot absorbs the force of the body against the ground (which can be 3-4 times your body weight with each step while running), and the plantar fascia is an important part of maintaining the right tension in the arch, so that it is neither too loose nor too tight.

The pain of Plantar Fasciitis usually comes from biomechanical issues like imbalanced posture, how you walk, or the shoes you wear. Though plantar fasciitis has traditionally been treated as an inflammatory problem, recent research indicates that it is not inflammation so much as collagen degeneration in the fascia. Treatment, then, needs to focus on the biomechanical dysfunction of the foot and how it relates to the rest of the body.

Bodywork like massage and myofascial release are especially effective at addressing these kinds of issues. There are fascial connections that run all the way from the bottom of the foot, along the back of the calf and thigh, and continue up the back and neck to the head. Tightness anywhere along these connections can then tighten the plantar fascia and cause pain. This means that releasing tight back muscles can relieve foot pain! Working with the body as an interconnected system helps address the dysfunction that is causing the plantar fasciitis in the first place.

The other key to addressing plantar fasciitis is blood and fluid flow. Fascia needs to be hydrated in order to stay healthy, and many shoes constrict circulation in the feet, even as they misalign or stress natural foot structures through raised heels, raised toes, and/or narrowing the toes in a pointed shape. Changing shoes and stimulating the nourishing flow of blood and fluid in the feet can help the fascia repair and rebuild its collagen. Massage, therapy balls, and gua sha are all effective for this kind of stimulation.
Plantar Fasciitis is a symptom, indicating a larger problem in how the body is standing, walking,  and/or running in general. Effective treatment needs to address much more of the body than just the feet and should be customized to the specific needs of each client. Bodywork and massage is especially effective at addressing the body in this way, and at HaLe’, we know how to treat the whole person in order to ease the pain and address the dysfunction of plantar fasciitis.

PreNatal Massage for All 3 Trimesters

Pregnancy involves dramatic physical changes, and Prenatal massage is a form of therapeutic bodywork designed to support and ease the pregnant body through those changes. It provides a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental benefits, and is careful to use special bolsters, pillows, and positions to keep you as comfortable and safe as possible.

Prenatal massage assists with many of the common discomforts of pregnancy, including aches and pains in joints and muscles, headaches, leg cramps, swelling, and constipation. The pregnant body is transitioning to add weight, change the center of gravity, and squish internal organs out of the way. Massage is able to support these transitions by easing muscular discomfort and other distress.

Circulation is also key to pregnancy, and prenatal massage helps to stimulate blood and lymph flow, which nourishes both mother and fetus and helps to remove toxins and increase immunity. It also eases the load on the heart and helps to keep blood pressure in normal ranges. During pregnancy, blood volume may increase up to 60%, and massage is a good way to support blood flow back to the heart.

Also, prenatal massage helps to stabilize hormone levels and the depression or anxiety that hormonal changes can cause, as well as soothing the nervous system into better relaxation and healthier sleep. It also offers drug-free pain relief, and the deep emotional support of nurturing touch.

Prenatal massage is recommended as often as every 2 weeks throughout the pregnancy, increasing to once a week in the third trimester. As your body changes, the specific focus of the sessions will adjust, but the overall goal of every session is to provide healthy support and ease through this time of dramatic change.

 

Boosting the Immune System

Manual Medicine supports deep health in the body, including boosting the immune system. Self care practices like yoga, as well as bodywork, massage, and mindfulness, are all proven to increase immune function.

Bodywork, massage, and self-care practices based on movement specifically promote increased lymph circulation. This supports the removal of pathogens and other waste from the body and helps spread white blood cells throughout the system, where they can respond quickly to immune challenges. This increases a person’s ability to fight infections.

Additionally, all of the manual medicine offerings at HaLe’ are effective for reducing cortisol, which is the hormone produced by high levels of pressure and stress. High levels of cortisol can boost blood pressure and reduce levels of natural killer cells in the immune system. Bringing those levels back down allows the immune system to function without that interference, restoring its effectiveness.

This is the time of year when immune systems can feel especially challenged by the perfect storm of lingering winter viruses and budding pollen allergies. Manual Medicine (literally, medicine you do by hand) provides powerful therapies to help boost and regulate the immune system, keeping it effective against the right kind of challenges.

What Really Works for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, and there are new guidelines on how to treat it. Researchers analyzed more than 150 studies to understand what really works and what doesn’t. The conclusion: instead of medication, try yoga, massage, or mindfulness.

These guidelines, published by the American College of Physicians on Feb 13, 2017, say to use techniques that speed up the healing process to relax muscles, joints and tendons. This can be done through massage, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation, as well as mind-body therapies like yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

This new recommendation is in alignment with the new CDC & FDA guidelines for the usage of opiods, which are now known to be inappropriate for chronic pain management. It instead recommends trying massage, yoga, and mindfulness first, then NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen is not recommended, since it does not reduce pain or inflammation.

Low back pain is common, and the way it is currently treated in medical settings is a good example of low value health care: expensive tests and therapies that don’t fix the problem. Moving to more effective treatments for both acute and chronic conditions by recommending yoga, massage, and mindfulness will help reduce suffering in patients and frustration in those who treat them.

At HaLe’, our manual medicine therapists and our self-care class instructors are experienced in treating low back pain. For regular aches and injuries, we recommend you come to class or make an appointment. For more severe conditions, please talk with us so we can guide you to the right treatment plan for your body.

 

Cranium to Sacrum Connections

The connection of our head to our tail dramatically affects our sense of ourselves in our own bodies. When healthy, it supports the function of our nervous system and our ability to move easily through space with coordination and balance.

The head and the tail are the cranium and the sacrum. The sacrum, located at the end of the spine in the pelvis, is important to the proper function of our spine and our ability to know where our body is in space, called proprioception. If our pelvic proprioceptors are not sending information up the spine to the brain, our cranial proprioceptors will compensate, especially in the jaw. Grinding teeth becomes the body’s strategy for regaining some lost balance and coordination, and for moving fluid through the central nervous system.

Going the other way, jaw issues get reflected in the pelvis and jaw tension can cause pelvic tension. Dental surgery, head and jaw injuries, and orthodontia can all have echoing effects on pelvic health, as dysfunction or instability on the one end will cause similar issues on the other end.

There are several techniques to help the head and the tail stay coordinated and healthy. Tension and dysfunction often cause twisting and shortening. This can be released through work that stretches, lengthens, and supports the tissues to help restore them to their healthy functions.

A good place to begin balancing your head with your tail is to come to yoga or other self-care classes. They will help with the stretching and elongating that can be so effective.  Complement your classes with massage and bodywork sessions that will be tailored to exactly where your body is holding tension and directly address your specific dysfunctions. Bringing your cranium and your sacrum into harmony can have a profound effect on your overall health and sense of wellbeing.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue made primarily of collagen that connects every part of the body, and often serves as a storage medium for fat and water, and as a passageway for lymph, nerve, and blood vessels. It also surrounds organs, glands, and individual muscles, and suspends the organs within their cavities. It is a complex system that literally connects every part of the body with every other part and can have a profound effect on health.

The full roll of fascia in the body and its relation to health is just now being explored because imaging technology has only recently been able to show us how the living fascia looks and acts. Problems with the fascia happen when it loses its stiffness, becomes too stiff, or isn’t otherwise able to move the way it needs to move. When it is too loose it can lead to organ prolapse, and when it is too tight, it can cause organ dysfunction and muscle pain. Fascia is also probably a crucial part of our ability to sense where our bodies are in space, to sense pain, and to feel internal sensations.

Lengthening and hydrating are the key ways to support the health of our fascia systems. Fascia does not stretch, and so lengthening happens through certain kinds of slow, steady applied pressure. Hydrating is not a matter of drinking liquids, but instead of activating and moving the water and other fluids already stored in the fascia.

At HaLe’, we offer both therapies and classes to support the health of the fascia. Our classes are great generalized treatments, especially our MELT Method and Girls with Balls classes, and so make a wonderful foundation for a strong self-care practice. For more acute or chronic conditions, we offer bodywork and massage to address the fascia in ways only a trained therapist can provide. Our myofascial release and Rolf Therapy offerings work specifically with the fascia to reduce pain and muscular dysfunction, and our Ashiatsu massage therapists use slow, applied foot pressure to very precisely and effectively lengthen and hydrate fascia.

Page 3 of 512345