Cupping Therapy Plays Well with Others

Cupping therapy is an important part of our integrative health practice because it supports the process of many of our treatments. I talked with several of our talented therapists about how it complements the work that they do. Every session of Ha.Lé Bodywork is adjusted to meet the needs of the client in the moment. For example, our therapists may take a sports massage focus for highly active bodies, a therapeutic or medical massage focus to treat pain and structure issues, or a lymphatic focus to move fluids and support the healing process. Often a combination of techniques are used, and cupping therapy helps support many of these treatment goals.

Sports bodywork:

Cupping therapy helps to jump start myofascial release. The negative pressure of the suction 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.

Therapeutic bodywork:

Using cupping therapy after an Ashiatsu treatment really helps to bring the blood flow to the area, especially any area that is feeling stagnant, like the back or arm. The suction also helps to release the muscle when it is contracting, making for a faster release and bringing blood flow more quickly to the area. Afterward, people tend to feel either really energized or like they just ran a marathon.

Lymphatic bodywork:

Cupping can be very effective in helping to break up scar tissue that is impeding lymph flow, but it is not usually indicated for treating lymphadema or other lymphatic issues directly because it can be too aggressive for the lymph system. However, cupping works through the use of negative pressure, and there is ongoing conversation in the lymphatic massage community as we learn more about how to use cups and other negative pressure tools gently enough to support the lymphatic system.

Acupuncture:

Cupping facilitates better movement of blood and qi in an acupuncture treatment because of the openness of the tissue. The cups create negative pressure, as compared with massage, which uses positive pressure. This negative pressure opens up muscle and tissue, which works in concert with acupuncture needles to move qi.

Treating Pain with Integrative Health Care

Two weeks ago we discussed Dr Jackson’s TED talk about the inadequacy of opioid drugs and surgery for addressing chronic pain. Last week we talked about Central Sensitization, a biological process where pain modifies the way the nervous system works, making things hurt worse than they should and pain last longer than it should.

As the health care field grows its understanding of where pain comes from and how we need to change our approach to treating it, it is our great honor to be care providers in relationship to individuals.  HaLe’ is grassroots, which means we are growing an innovative way, building from modern research and ancient modalities to better cope and deal with health issues.

Evidence shows that only 20% of medical issues can be 100% dealt with by the medical field. We have a great regard and respect for what surgery and medicines and other western medical practices can do for us, and want them available for ourselves, our families, and others. Yet there is so much more to health than what western medicine can fully treat.

What we do is collaborate and partner, drawing understanding of the body’s dynamic response that happens daily in our practice. Every time a person comes in and connects with their breath­­, when there is movement, when there is connection, then there is a dynamic response that happens. We are not bringing people a shallow patina of “feel better”; we are delivering a systematic method of health and well being that is accessible to every single person no matter what your age, medical history, or where you come from.

Integrative medicine is not a new way of treating health and wellness; it is an objective. It increases connectivity for an individual because that is what integration is. This is not about one system of the body, but about many systems working in unison for the betterment of whole health. There is a bottom up response coming from the patient as they demand care on a holistic level, and that broader scope is where the care paradigm begins to switch. We are here to provide support and create space for that to happen.

Health is a dynamic system of balance and counterbalance that is complex and interconnected. Every person should walk away feeling better than when they came in our door. Even when you aren’t feeling bad, there is still room to feel better and to engage in the processes of health.

Central Sensitization & Pain That Gets Worse

by Chelsea Henry

Pain can modify the way the nervous system works, making the body more sensitive to less stimulation, in a process called Central Sensitization. This happens mostly through changes in the brain and spinal cord, and means that little things hurt worse than they should, and that it takes longer for the pain to fade. We found this wonderful article, Central Sensitization in Chronic Pain by Paul Ingraham, which is a jargon-to-English translation of rock star pain researcher Clifford Woolf’s published paper.

As explained in the article, it is hard to know when a person is feeling more pain than they should, because we do not yet have a test we can run to show how much pain someone is feeling. That means that we only have our own experiences to go by, and without a defined “normal”, it is easy to not know that we are in more pain than we should be.

Central Sensitization is very well-documented and easy to create in lab settings. It also shows up so often as a complication of painful problems that some researchers think it might be a common denominator. It could be what puts the “chronic” in chronic pain.

Though we know that Central Sensitization exists, we do not yet know why it happens to some people and not others, and we do not have a good way to diagnose it. It could be a part of any case of chronic pain, but it is not clear how to separate the pain that comes from a problem in the tissue from the pain that comes from Central Sensitization.

When a person has Central Sensitization, it basically means they have a hyper-active warning system and the body is no longer giving useful, sensible pain signals. On a fundamental level, pain is about your brain’s assessment of safety: unsafe things hurt. Therefore we can treat Central Sensitization by being kind to our central nervous system. We can decrease stress and increase a feeling of safety and ease. Yoga, yoga therapy, massage, meditation, and mindfulness can all help create the felt experience of wellness the body needs in order to start turning off the alarms. Feeling safe and good, and having therapeutic experiences that are pleasant, easy, and reassuring, can go a long way in calming the nervous system and bringing the body back out of excessive pain.

Chronic Pain and the Hardest Pill to Swallow

by Chelsea Henry

Dr. Tracy Jackson spoke at TEDx Nashville about “The Hardest Pill to Swallow”, regarding chronic pain. We at HaLe’ feel inspired, because we see the evidence of the effectiveness of our holistic approach on the pain levels of our clients and students every day.

Chronic pain steals your mojo on every level. It is the #1 presenting complaint to doctors and top reason people are out of work, and yet US outcomes and treatment of chronic pain are among the worst in the developed world. We have a limited and flawed understanding of chronic pain, and we don’t want to accept what we do know.
Pain is a perception, and how do you prove it to doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat physical symptoms in the body? People with chronic pain go to 10 min doctor visits and present their case so that the doctor perceives their perception of their pain correctly. The worst that can happen is if the doctor thinks it is all in your head. But ALL pain is literally all in your head!

Think about a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because there is a test, or a monster under the bed. They get a tummy ache. They get a physical symptom based on an emotional issue. As adults, we deny that pain from mental stress manifests as pain in the body. But we cannot feel pain without a functioning brain. Chronic pain causes central sensitization, and our mood, sleep, and pain pathways all overlap. It all feels like pain in the body.

Americans are prescribed enough opioid pain pills for every person to take 3 pills a day for 42 days every year. The #1 cause of accidental death in the US is opioid overdose, which is more than car accidents. And yet no scientific study shows that opioids are effective for chronic pain after 6 months, and after that they start to change the body so that it feels more pain. They also mess with mood, sleep, immune function and sexual function. Chronic pain is not about a lack of pain pills. We are missing something.

Everything is connected in the body. You have to move regularly if you have chronic pain, it is the cornerstone of all effective treatment. It is significantly even more effective if that movement incorporates breathing and mindfulness techniques, like yoga. Some doctors ask how can that work if surgery and oxycontin don’t, but it has been proven to drastically reduce the pain experience by changing the way we think, breathe, and move. Harvard neuroscientists have shown that we can change the very structure of our brains and can reverse the changes caused by chronic pain by using the breath.

Pills and procedures do work for some people, but if they don’t work for you, you have to accept it and do something different. We can admit that stress and lifestyle choices contribute to and cause chronic pain at any age. We can hold ourselves accountable to seek out the longer, more durable path to real relief. We can advocate for more holistic functional rehabilitation resources (which have been thoroughly proven to work!) available to all of us, and teach that we can be active participants in our own healing and our own lives. The hardest pill to swallow is that there is no quick fix to chronic pain. But there is a fix!

Watch Dr. Tracy Jackson at TEDx Nashville

Now about those needles…

by Katherine Casey, LAc

If you have never had any experience with acupuncture before, you are probably concerned about the needles. This is understandable, because the only needles we are familiar with are hypodermic needles, which are hollow-bodied, and designed to either take something out of us (blood), or put something in us (medication). Neither experience is ever very pleasant!

Acupuncture needles are completely different from hypodermic needles. They are very thin, solid body (meaning, they aren’t hollow like hypodermic needles are), and they serve the purpose of delivering a message. They direct qi (that animating force that keeps us alive, pronounced “chi”) to do something, like “go over here and nourish the lungs because this body has a bad cold.”

Another concern people often have about acupuncture needles is whether or not they are reused. And the answer to this is an unequivocal and emphatic NO. Acupuncture needles arrive from the supplier in sterile packaging, and they are single use only, just like hypodermic needles. They are disposed of in a sharps container just like the ones found in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Acupuncture needles are never, ever reused.

What is Cupping Therapy?

by Katherine Casey, LAc

The history of cupping is documented in the medical histories of many parts of the world, including countries of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as Asian countries. Cupping is the practice of applying specially designed cups to the skin using suction for the purpose of relieving muscle pain, reducing swelling, and increasing the circulation of blood and qi to an injured area. It can be used to assist in lymphatic drainage and in reducing cellulite. Cupping can also aid in alleviating digestive issues, such as constipation. Facial cupping can aid in the reduction of fine lines and facial puffiness.

Historically all kinds of items were used for cupping– animal horns, bamboo, stone, and sea shells are some of the materials used for cupping. Nowadays, in the modern clinic setting specially designed glass cups are used, as well as cups made of polycarbonate plastic or silicone, all of which can be easily cleaned after use.

How does it work? In order to answer this question let’s compare massage therapy and cupping. Massage therapy creates “positive pressure” by compressing tissue to relieve muscle tension. In constrast, cupping uses suction to create “negative pressure.” The suction action of cupping expands and opens up the layers of body tissue, allowing better circulation of blood and qi.

Cupping will often leave round marks, commonly referred to as bruises, though the marks are not true bruises, like those that occur from a compression injury. The marks gradually disappear a few days after treatment.

The Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

from Elmo Shade

The most common reasons people come to a Mindfulness Practice are

  1. Physical pain or chronic pain
  2. Emotional pain due to loss, death, or serious or potentially fatal diagnosis
  3. Inability to manage the day to day stressors of life

The benefits of mindfulness are known and well-documented. It reduces levels of stress, meaning the autonomic nervous system is not in fight, flight, or freeze mode. This then reduces both anxiety and depression, reduces fatigue and burnout, and reduces periods of restlessness. This leads to an increased ability to pay attention and concentrate and higher cognitive performance, particularly while learning. It enhances hormonal balance for women, and enhances the immune system of men and women.

Chronic pain, many of our physical ailments, and even diseases that we are experiencing are not actually illnesses or diseases. They are a result of the body system storing stress and pain that has never actually been released in a healthy manner. Mindfulness helps to reduce the discomfort of pain, both emotional and physical, and increases our capacity for compassion for ourselves and others.

Because Mindfulness Practice is about paying attention to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energies, it often leads to increased levels of energy. It can decrease fatigue and increase stamina. This higher energy level then brings increased movement. The American Psychiatric Association shows we spend 6-12 hours a day not moving, and this does not count the time we spend sleeping. Having the energy to move is a tremendous benefit.

Mindfulness Practice is evidence-based and proven to benefit quality of life through the reduction of physical pain, emotional pain, and chronic stress. Our collective stress levels are higher than they have ever been, especially for women, and that takes a toll on our health. We can bring ourselves back into balance through mindfulness.

The Benefits of Yoga at Any Age

People derive different kinds of benefits from a yoga practice. Yoga and other eastern practices differ from most western forms of physical activity because you really have to incorporate the mind into the practice. With aerobic oriented activity like running or swimming, you can just let your mind drift off. With yoga, the mind focus brings a greater benefit in addition to the physical benefits of greater strength, flexibility, and balance. A lot of people sleep better, feel calmer, and breathe better. You don’t have to go in with the intention to get those benefits, they just result from doing a good yoga asana practice.

Yoga also helps people find what is challenging for them, be it physical, mental, or emotional, and helps find a way to address it. People often do yoga positions way too quickly. They will say their shoulder hurts, and I’ll say give it 6 months. Give pain time to resolve. Pain is a very good teacher and yoga is not a pain free practice. When people come to class with pain, they need to recognize that yoga is not an immediate cure all but that there are great benefits to a regular practice.

Yoga is a practice for people of all levels. HaLe’ has students ages 20 to 80, so don’t let fitness or age keep you away. Find a teacher that resonates with you and then stick with them. Don’t try for a lot of variety; go deeper instead of wider. Allow your class to become a community that develops over time. That’s a very supportive group to be in.

Also, don’t avoid props and don’t underestimate restorative yoga. Props like blocks, straps, and chairs make yoga much more accessible to people and allows them to achieve a comfortable practice with a properly aligned body. Restorative yoga is key to improving breath, awareness, and observations skills, even though a lot of people really resist it when they are new to yoga practice because they feel restless, want to exercise, and don’t see the value. It is an important part of a yoga practice; don’t ignore it.

A yoga practice, because it incorporates mind and body instead of being just body, comes with a lot of benefits. A good asana practice should be both convenient and enjoyable, and doing the yoga postures properly has different benefits for everyone. Most of all, though, don’t take it too seriously. It should also be fun.

Pelvic Health: No Where To Go But Inward

Pelvic health has a huge effect on quality of life. Daily activities influence pelvic health in ways we may not be aware, like sitting postures, bathroom habits, etc. Learning what your pelvis holds and how it is interrelated to your anatomy can be very empowering. Gaining this knowledge helps increase awareness and appreciation for the pelvis and its important functions as the floor to the spine, connector of hips and pelvis, holder of organs and babies, etc.  Understanding what “normal” pelvic floor function is can be a starting point of awareness.

Dysfunction in pelvic health happens across the population, from pediatric to elderly, and can be affected by more things than having babies and aging. Improving pelvic function often helps with pain that is not responding to other therapies, especially low back pain, as well as bowel and bladder dysfunction, painful intercourse, and lumbar and spine dysfunction. The pelvic floor depends on the spine, abdomen, breath, and lower and upper extremity strength and function. Conditions such as low blood pressure and bowel and bladder issues may be directly related to pelvic dysfunction.

There are simple daily habits you can be aware of to bring better health to your pelvic area, including certain postures, bowel and bladder habits, and exercises. Histories of trauma, like sexual or physical trauma, pregnancy, birth, or surgery can all have an effect on pelvic health.

The most important starting place, though, is to learn to breathe into the pelvis. When you inhale, bring your breath all the way down to your vagina and/or perineum, and then fill the diaphragm, and then the chest. The pelvis is a body part you can’t see, and once you can be still enough to connect with it, there is an awareness that will open up. So be still, be with the breath, and breathe into the pelvis for pelvic health.

Fibromyalgia Symptom Relief through AIYA Yoga Therapy

Fibromyalgia symptoms cross physical and neurological boundaries, as do symptoms from traumatic accidents and surgeries that throw off the nervous system. There are many conditions that seem to affect the nervous system but that challenge Western medical diagnositics. The symptoms are real, even if they can seem mysterious and confounding to Western medicine. Assisted Integrated Yoga Asana (AIYA) Yoga Therapy is excellent at calming this family of symptoms.

The gentle assisted movement of AIYA Yoga Therapy, developed by Kristen Hubbard, brings relief to muscles and joints by moving through a range of motion and stretching as well as flushing of interstitial fluids. Sessions are done one on one on a thick mat on the floor, as the therapist takes you through a passive series of assisted stretches, other gentle movements, and working with the breath.

Kristen Hubbard has worked with fibromyalgia patients since 2011. Her treatments have a wonderful positive effect for fibromyalgia symptoms, and include a gentleness of process that makes sure all parts of the body are always supported and that there are no jarring or intense movements. This proficiency in effective treatment is informed by Kristen’s expertise in restorative yoga.

New clients should begin with a 1 hour initial treatment so that client and therapist can build trust and feel comfortable with each other. Depending on what the client needs, Kristen often recommends coming every other week for 4 or 5 treatments and then dropping down to more of a maintenance schedule. Since every body is unique, treatments also include discussion about self-care recommendations and some ideas for stretches at home in order to prolong the positive effects.

AIYA Yoga Therapy helps people with fibromyalgia symptoms get to a place where they are more comfortable in their bodies as they get to know their range of motion through safe movement free from fear of injury. They tend to have lessened pain days and less intensity of symptoms. The effects seem to last for several weeks before symptoms begin to return.