What is Ashiatsu Bodywork?

Ashiatsu is a technique integrated into most Ha.Lé Bodywork sessions because it is such an effective healing tool. In Japanese, the root wood “ashi” means foot and “atsu” means pressure. Ashiatsu, or “foot pressure”, involves the therapist using her feet as well as her hands during the session.

Controlled foot pressure uses physics of both bodies – therapist and client – for maximum benefit. With feet, the therapist activates acupressure points and spreads tissue fibers, distributing more body weight and pressure than what is available with just the hands and arms. Ashiatsu techniques are especially effective for addressing muscle tension and relieving the symptoms of chronic soft tissue damage. They also help loosen scar tissue adhesions and are a profound way to receive myofascial release.

Sometimes Ashiatsu is misunderstood as a massage where someone walks on your back. In fact, it is much more complex and effective than that. The therapist uses bars and straps above the table to control the exact amount of weight and pressure, giving her excellent control over the depth of treatment. This means that she is able to work as deeply or gently as necessary in order to address your specific needs.

Ashiatsu is a very responsive and personal bodywork technique, and can create a strong bond between therapist and client. This bond increases the client’s comfort level, which makes the session more effective. We also use an Ashiatsu method of sinking into muscle fibers as breath allows, so that the pace and knowledge of our therapist makes the treatments therapeutic, profound, and beneficial.

Ashiatsu Bodywork is a powerful set of techniques that often form the core of our integrative treatments. It works with tissues of the body in deep, powerful ways to reduce pain, release tension, and create health.

Relieving Neck Pain

Our necks are amazing structures that allow us to a great deal of flexibility to see, hear, and smell, even as they are strong enough to protect the spinal column connecting the brain to the rest of the body. As a flexible, nerve-rich body part, they can also be a source of a lot of pain when they develop imbalances. Integrative care can address these imbalances and reduce both long term and short term neck pain.

Bodywork is an effective treatment for neck pain. Muscular tension in the neck, upper back, and shoulders can all cause neck pain, and bodywork is able to effectively release that tension and address any underlying issues with the connective tissue and fascia that may be contributing to chronic discomfort. Neck pain does not always originate in the structures of the neck and shoulders, but can also be caused by foot and gait issues, pelvic issues, low and mid back imbalances, jaw dysfunctions, and more. Whole body treatments are able to address the alignment and structure of all of these, helping to release tension elsewhere in the body in order to improve neck health.

Acupuncture is especially effective for chronic neck pain. When the body is in pain for long periods of time, the nervous system can become imbalanced and oversensitized to the pain signals. This has the effect of turning up the volume of the pain and increasing discomfort. Acupuncture is able to turn the volume back down by regulating the nervous system and addressing the oversensitization.

Movement classes are a great way to address the posture, gait, and tension issues that contribute to neck pain. By building awareness of how we carry ourselves and how we move in gravity, we are able to retrain our movement patterns toward better alignment. Stretching and moving also release long held muscular tension and improve blood flow to distressed tissues, encouraging them to heal.

Neck pain is linked to stress, tension, and structural imbalances in the body. Bodywork, acupuncture, and movement classes are all able to reduce stress levels, release tension, and address imbalances in order to relieve neck pain and support overall wellbeing.

How Cupping Therapy works

Cupping Therapy is a powerful integrative health tool. It works well as a treatment on its own, and also helps boost the effectiveness of other treatments like bodywork and acupuncture.

Muscle Tension: Cupping Therapy involves placing specialized cups on the body to provide negative pressure (upward lift) on the tissues. This helps to open up muscle and tissue, releasing short term and long term muscle tension.

Blood Flow: Cupping Therapy is very effective for bringing blood flow to an area of the body, especially if that area is feeling stagnant, like in the back or the arm. A lot of the pain of muscle tension comes from the fact that the muscle is contracted so hard that it is not able to receive enough blood flow. Specifically drawing blood flow into the tissues helps to relieve the pain of restricted blood flow and encourage repair of damaged tissues.

Myofascial Release: Cupping Therapy helps jump start myofascial release. The negative pressure combined with movement gives a different sensation than other myofascial techniques and helps the muscle reset itself to where it needs to be because the fascia has released. It is a great complement to other techniques and can sometimes create shifts that provide instant relief and allow chronic problems to just fade away.

Cupping therapy also helps improve the flow of qi, move lymph in order to support the immune system, and break up scar tissue. It often leaves marks on the skin where the blood has been drawn to the surface, and these marks generally fade in a few days, though they can last up to a few weeks.

Whether as a stand alone therapy or incorporated into a bodywork or acupuncture session, Cupping Therapy is an effective way to treat pain, muscle tension, and other imbalances. It improves the flow of blood, lymph, and qi, and creates space for health in the body.

Effective Treatment for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, and research has concluded that integrative care offers the best treatment. An analysis of over 150 studies, published in 2017 by the American College of Physicians, recommends movement therapies, bodywork, acupuncture, and mindfulness as effective treatments, instead of medications.

Integrative care for back pain focuses on techniques that speed up the healing process, relax muscle tension, and address structural issues in joints and tendons that affect the physical health of the back and spine. It can also address pain management directly, helping to regulate the nervous system and reduce the sensation of pain in general.

Movement therapies like classes and clinics are able to address the mechanics of the back, helping to correct imbalanced movement patterns that contribute to pain. Through mindful awareness, neuroplasticity, alignment, and restorative practice, movement therapies can correct and retrain the body away from dysfunction.

Acupuncture is proven to be effective at reducing pain levels in general, and is a great way to address back pain specifically. It helps rebalance underlying issues that contribute to the back pain, as well as working with the nervous system to lower the intensity of pain signals and the perception of pain overall.

Bodywork is able to address the specific muscle tension and joint health that causes a lot of back pain, increasing blood and nutrient flow and supporting the body’s own healing processes. It is able to effectively release tension, address fascial issues, and treat the secondary pain and tension that comes from protective movement.

Mindfulness can also be effective for back pain because it is proven to help lower pain levels in general. After eight weeks of mindfulness practice, there are specific changes that happen in the brain and how it relates to the nervous system, turning down the volume on pain signals and the stress response that pain signals cause.

At Ha.Lé, we are experienced in treating back pain, and will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your specific situation. Our classes and clinics are able to work with students with a wide variety of back health concerns, and our therapists are able to specifically address the symptoms and imbalances of back pain.

Integrative Treatment for Migraines

Migraine headaches are a common response to both mental and physical stress, and happen more often in women than men. There is no cure for migraines, but there are ways to reduce the symptoms. Acupuncture, Bodywork, Movement, and Mindfulness are integrative treatment options with effective results, without the side effects of medication.

Acupuncture reduces the frequency of migraines with the same effectiveness as preventative medications. Up to 59% of people with migraines see a 50% or more drop in the frequency of their headaches, and the effect of 6 weekly sessions can last for 6 months or more.

Bodywork is also a helpful migraine treatment. It generally reduces the frequency of migraines and improves sleep. On average, it can reduce migraines by 30-34% for up to 4 weeks, according to a 2006 study.

Movement with a therapeutic focus will also reduce migraine frequency and intensity. Migraines are associated with disturbances in the autonomic nervous system and in the regulation of the circulatory system. Movement classes help restore and regulate these systems, as well as target tension and stress that can contribute to headaches.

Mindfulness helps to significantly lower the pain intensity of migraines and correct the effects of stress on the body. One study that looked at mindfulness for migraines found that it had no adverse events, zero drop outs, and excellent adherence, which is a big contrast from pharmaceutical treatment.

Migraines are a disorder of a hyper-excitable brain, and so integrative therapies that reduce stress, rebalance the nervous system, regulate sleep cycles, and lower pain levels can be effective treatment. The medications available only work for 50% of people, and come with significant side effects. Research has shown that Acupuncture is just as effective as those medications, and other integrative treatments are also able to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines.

The Importance of Breath

The breath is one of our most important healing tools, and possibly one of the most overlooked. Breathing is something we do all day, every day, usually without conscious thought. Because it is so constant, it disappears into the background of our body awareness. When we consciously think about and change the breath, we are able to speak to the body in very profound ways.

The breath is one of the easiest bridges between the parts of our bodies that we can control and the bodily processes that are not conscious. It is a biological process that naturally falls into both categories, and so becomes a way for our mind to speak to our body directly.

Deep breathing: When we take a deep breath, it stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that calms the body, helping us come out of a state of stress and distress, and move toward rest, restoration, and healing. Deep breathing helps reduce emotional distress and anxiety because it changes how those feelings are felt in the physical body. It can also help bring a sense of calm centeredness and overall wellbeing.

Breath awareness: Turning our attention to the breath is a fundamental mindfulness practice. When we pay attention to the flow of air in and out of our bodies, it cues the mind to tune into the present moment. This allows us to drop the anxiety and stress that comes with thinking about the past and future, and brings us more fully present to the physical reality of being alive. When we practice mindfulness like this, it can rewire neural pathways in the brain to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and stress.

Breath in the body: The breath is also a physical event in the body, engaging a complex array of muscles and tissues and massaging the internal organs. Injuries, surgeries, and chronic stress can change the way the body breathes, which in turn can cause chronic tension and pain. Linking movement with the breath can help release this muscle tension and reset neuromuscular patterns. There are also breath awareness and breathing techniques that can help address structural issues like pain in the low back, pelvis, and neck and shoulders.

The breath is a powerful healing tool that allows us to speak to parts of the body that we cannot reach with the mind alone. By changing how we breathe and how we pay attention to our breath, we are able to counter the effects of chronic stress, reduce anxiety, release muscle tension, treat pain, and bring a sense of overall wellbeing.

Counseling for the Mind and Body

Our body is not separate from our mind, but instead they are aspects of the same system. An event in the body creates a response in the mind, and feelings and thoughts in the mind create physical responses in the body. When creating health, it is often necessary to address the mental and emotional aspects of distress as well as the physical effects.

Biologically, there are multiple ways that the mind and body communicate. Three of these pathways physically respond to our thoughts and feelings through the neurological system, endocrine system, and immune system. We are wired this way so that our bodies know when to prepare for danger and when it is safe to focus on digestion and healing.

When confronted with stress and danger, our bodies divert resources away from long term health in order to maintain short term survival. This means that our ability to fight off infection, to remain calm and centered, to fully and comfortably digest our food, and to have enough restful sleep is sacrificed in order to run away from lions, even if they are not real lions.

The reverse is also true. When our bodies experience pain and distress, it impacts our thoughts and feelings. The pain affects our nervous system, causing distinct physiological changes that can result in depression or anxiety. It also impacts our ability to keep things in perspective, increasing our worry and fear to levels above what helps keep us safe.

This is why mental health counseling is such an important part of what we do at Ha.Lé, and we have recently expanded our counseling offerings. All of our counselors understand the deep connection between the body and the mind, and bring deep compassion and expertise their sessions. We are here to help you create health for your whole mind and body.

Mind Body Therapy

Restorative practices are key to maintaining and creating health. Our bodies are designed to regularly have deep rest in order to reset the nervous system, flush the effects of stress, and rebalance internal processes, which all supports health and healing on a deep, fundamental level. Without enough restoration, our bodies become locked into chronic stress patterns that create dysfunction in our physical, mental, and emotional lives.

Mindfulness principles support restorative practices, which in turn creates a cascade of health benefits in the body. As the body moves into rest and restore mode, the heart rate will slow, the breath will deepen, and blood pressure will decrease. Common areas of muscular tension like the diaphragm, pelvis, and neck and shoulders, will begin to relax and release. As the musculoskeletal tension along the spine releases, the vertebrae will be able to make subtle adjustments toward alignment. The nervous system will also re-regulate itself, which helps to turn down the volume of pain signals, and other systems of the body like digestion, circulation, and circadian rhythms, will also reset and rebalance.

Mind Body Therapy uses this effectiveness of mindfulness and restoration to address specific health conditions.  At Ha.Lé, we always begin with a conversation, and the initial conversation for Mind Body Therapy will assess your health condition and personal goals. We will also seek to understand your current physical, mental, and spiritual capacity. This allows us to create a personalized mind body practice for you that applies mindfulness principles to optimize your health.

Your personalized mind body therapy practice can provide specialized techniques for a variety of specific health conditions. It can help with chronic pain from musculoskeletal conditions, and cardiovascular disease including heart failure and coronary heart disease. Mind Body Therapy can also address conditions like diabetes mellitus, obesity, anxiety, depression, post traumatic disorder, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Mind Body Therapy is the application of principles of mindfulness for wellness and specific health conditions. Mindfulness techniques are able to turn the complex systems of the body toward restorative states, which creates space for deep healing and rebalancing.

Dr. Gurjeet Birdee is a researcher, scientist, physician, and mind body therapist. He is now available for Mind Body Therapy sessions at Ha.Lé.

How Movement Classes Help Manage Pain

Pain conditions change the body, creating deep muscle tension, restricting the breath, and raising levels of stress hormones. Yoga and other systems of therapeutic movement can shift these biological responses to pain, reducing suffering and helping to create health.

Gentle, mindful movements improve balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, and stamina. This helps to release the deep muscle tension that comes from chronic pain, and increases blood and lymph flow through the body, carrying nourishment to stressed tissues.

As tension releases, it becomes easier to breathe. While in pain, the breath becomes shallow and tight as the body stays prepared to protect itself. As the diaphragm and core release excess tension, the breath is able to deepen, which in turn signals the endocrine system that the threat has passed and it is safe to relax. The relaxation response then lowers the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, allowing the body to switch into nurture and restore mode, where it can focus on healing damage instead of protecting against it.

At Ha.Lé, our classes are accessible to students at all levels and with a wide variety of health concerns. We see firsthand the benefits of regular practice for increasing range of motion, reducing pain, and lowering stress levels, and the sometimes profound improvements in health that can bring.

Treating Arthritis

Arthritis is a very common cause of joint pain, usually caused by worn cartilage that no longer keeps enough of a cushion between the bones of the joint. This in turn causes pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Treatment for arthritis either supports the health of the joint and/or helps to manage the pain.

At Ha.Lé, we have a variety of effective treatments for arthritis pain. Our first recommendation is to come to class. Physical movement in general helps to relieve stiffness and improve circulation. Yoga classes also help realign the joint and strengthen the muscles around it, which can reduce the amount of pressure that contributes to the pain. MELT Method classes focus on hydration of tissues, and dry tissues in the joint can be a big contributing factor for discomfort. By using MELT techniques, those dry tissues can rehydrate, reducing inflammation and providing more cushion between the bones. Finally, Somatics and Feldenkrais classes can help the body learn to move more effortlessly, taking some of the strain off of painful joints and restoring a sense of vitality.

In addition to classes, we recommend bodywork and acupuncture. Bodywork is able to address multiple layers of tissue around the affected joints, easing strain and restoring blood and nutrient flow to the tissues. By addressing issues with muscle tension and adhered fascia, the joint is freed to move more easily, releasing pressure from spaces that don’t have enough cushioning and making movement more sustainable and less painful.

Acupuncture is also helpful for arthritis. It works to regulate pain signals in general, turning down the volume on the body’s alarms. This is especially helpful when pain has become chronic, which means that the pain signals can begin to build on each other, sending louder and louder alarms. Acupuncture is able to help reset this response. It also helps to reduce the inflammation in the joints themselves, which eases discomfort.

Arthritis pain is common and treatable. There are many ways to address the discomfort and reduce the impact of arthritis on daily life, through movement classes, bodywork, and acupuncture. All of these approaches are very safe with few side effects, and have the added effect of increasing your sense of vitality and general well-being.