Cooling, Receptive, Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a different experience from most yoga classes. It is designed to bring deep relaxation and rest in order to create healing in the body. We all need to take a break, especially if we live with a lot of time pressure and stress. That kind of stress can break down the body if we don’t learn to regularly let it go.

The benefits of Restorative Yoga far outweigh downtime at home. A lot of us can’t rest in our own homes, because there is always a to do list, or a project list, or meal prep that comes next and draws our energy away from rest. Rest and restoration require dedicated attention.

Coming to a beautiful space that is completely dedicated to healing can really assist a Restorative practice. It uses a lot of props like blankets, bolster pillows, and blocks to create poses you can relax into, allowing gravity to do the work and your body to release. A lot of us don’t even realize we aren’t relaxing until we engage in a practice like this, and then we can feel the tension melt away, releasing in waves.

Restorative Yoga is also a cooling practice, and can help take the edge off high blood pressure and deepen the healing for other health issues, especially inflammation, pressure, and other issues that are about too much heat in the body. It is gentle enough to work for most people regardless of injuries, surgeries, age, or fitness.

Receptive and cooling, Restorative yoga is not about doing, but about being. It meets you wherever you are in your body and offers an opportunity for deep wellness.

The Process of Healing

The body is a marvellous machine, able to repair and heal itself. This process of healing happens in stages, and understanding these phases can help ease the frustration and fear of dealing with an injury. There are three main steps of tissue healing: Inflammation, Repair, and Remodeling.

Inflammation: The body immediately begins healing a traumatic injury with inflammation. The injured tissues release chemical signals that dilate blood vessels to bring extra blood flow, white blood cells, and nutrients to help clean up and wall off the injured area. This also serves to limit the function of the injured area, to prevent additional tissue damage. The swelling and pain, as uncomfortable as they are, are a protective process. Bodywork can support this phase by working on associated structures while avoiding the injured tissues. It also will help shift the nervous system out of fight or flight mode into relaxation and repair mode through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows more of the body’s resources to focus on the healing process.

Repair: Once the injured area is walled off and cleaned up, inflammation subsides and construction begins to replace or repair the injured tissue. Temporary blood vessels grow in order to supply the nutrients needed for healing, and special cells called fibroblasts begin producing a fragile form of scar tissue called granulation tissue to fill in the gaps left after the damaged structures were cleaned out by the body. This is when it is easiest to reinjure the tissues, as pain levels have gone down but the repairs are not yet strong enough for full use. Bodywork can begin to gently address the injured areas, being careful of the fragile granulation tissue, and can continue to work on associated structures to maintain function, minimize compensation, and increase circulation.

Remodeling: Once enough granulation tissue is produced, the construction of permanent tissue can begin, usually as strong scar tissue made from a dense network of collagen fibers. At first, the collagen fibers are arranged in all directions, and they adjust according to how the body moves as it heals. Some fibers are reinforced to provide more strength, as others are destroyed to provide more flexibility. This process is best done with a gradual return to functional activities, followed by time for the tissue to adapt. At this point, bodywork treatment can work much more directly on the affected area, focusing on breaking up scar tissue and increasing range of motion, even as it continues to address compensating movement patterns.

There is no specific time frame for each phase of healing, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each part of the process in order to treat them effectively. Remodeling in particular can take months or even years, and supporting the body as it finds its best function as it heals can do a lot to help reduce chronic dysfunction and discomfort. Bodywork and self-care are effective ways to support this process, helping us stay in conversation with our bodies and respond to their needs.

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. 

 

How Often Do You Need Self-Care?

Our bodies require regular care in order to thrive and heal, and one of the best ways to make sure we are on top of our self-care is to put it on our schedule instead of trying to fit it in around everything else. As a manual medicine and self-care practice, HaLe’ has experience with what kinds of schedules work best. Here are our recommendations, based on the state of your body:

Acute Pain: 3 classes/wk, bodywork every week

Acute pain is an active, painful flare up or injury. The body needs frequent treatment in order to release secondary tension, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, support the lymph system, and generally assist the healing process.

Sub-acute: 1-2 classes/wk, bodywork every 2 weeks

Sub-acute pain falls between acute pain (sudden and awful) and chronic pain (long term, constant/consistent pain). It means that something hurts, but it hasn’t been hurting for a very long time and it isn’t terrible. The body is not in crisis but still in need of support and healing, so regular treatment until it resolves is recommended.

Chronic: Start with 2-3 classes/wk and bodywork every 1-2 weeks, then taper down

Chronic pain is long term pain that is not healing or getting better, and can be anywhere on the spectrum from unbearable to really annoying. Addressing chronic pain involves a combination of treatments to reduce overall pain levels and to treat the root cause of the chronic condition. This usually means coming often at the beginning, and as treatment makes progress at interrupting the pain cycle, tapering off gradually until treatments reach a maintenance level.

Maintenance: 1-2 classes/wk, bodywork every 4 weeks

To maintain a level of general good health and low pain, we recommend a basic self-care schedule. This helps resolve issues before they begin to hurt, reduces baseline stress levels, hydrates the connective tissue (fascia), and promotes a general sense of well-being. People who are very active or athletic may need more frequent self-care maintenance.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Balls and Rollers

Therapy balls and rollers offer many of the benefits of bodywork, but with the accessibility of a self-care practice and classes. Bodywork and massage therapy has a long list of benefits for overall health, pain management, athletic performance, and immune function. Sessions are one on one and highly individualized to each client’s body and what will best support their health.

Not everyone is able to receive bodywork or massage as often as their body needs it, though. A reasonable health maintenance schedule for bodywork is once every 2 or 4 weeks, and busy schedules and finances can make that difficult for everyone to access. That’s where the balls and rollers come in! With a grippy texture and firm (but not hard) to the touch, they can support health in many of the same ways bodywork does.

The ball or roller is able to mimic what the therapist does with their hands and feet, using slow, firm pressure to create length and hydration. They can address pressure points, lengthen fascia, relax muscle tension, and rehydrate tissues. Classes can get anyone started with these tools, as a trained teacher leads students through proper techniques and teaches them what to notice. Each student needs to learn the difference between sensations that create health, and pain that does damage.

Once a student has learned the basics in class, they can begin to integrate balls and rollers into their own self-care practice at home. Self treatments like releasing the IT band after each long run, or addressing pressure points on the hands to relax head and neck tension after a day on the computer, can go a long way to maintaining a daily sense of ease and vitality. This also allows bodywork and massage sessions to become more effective as they can spend more time addressing root causes of discomfort.

At HaLe’, discovering the therapeutic use of balls and rollers was an Aha! moment for us. We had tried for years to figure out a way for clients to continue their treatments off the massage table. Yoga is a great complement to bodywork, but it does not work with the body in the same way. Now we can encourage clients to come to class, learn the techniques, and then use them as often as they need to in order to support and maintain the specialized bodywork they receive on the table.

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.

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