You know that feeling when something just seems off in your body? Chronic pain, hurting and aching. . . and if you could get at it in just the right way, something would shift or ease into place, and things would just feel better?
It’s a very common feeling for many of us. And the instinct is to try to “fix” the thing that is “off”. Try to help it do what it is “supposed” to do. It is tempting to dig into those areas and try to push things back into place. I’ve done a lot of that over the years, trying to get my ribs to shift, my SI joints to feel less fiery and achy, my back pain to be less distracting, my head to hurt just a bit less. I’ve spent countless hours lying on a ball, opening my ribs and sternum over a foam roller, and addressing myofascial restrictions with slow, gentle, sustained stretches.
Those are all helpful. But they aren’t the whole story.
Sometimes, before things can be helped, they need to be held.
How does this apply to chronic pain?
We have marvelous protective mechanisms in our body, and often when something is out of place or just feels “off”, there is a protective mechanism holding it in place. Almost like a sense of being frozen. Some of the words we use to describe this are bracing, clenching, tightening, a wariness, or watchfulness in the body, a “not quite able to allow something” sense as we engage with things.
It is important to honor this sense. We can push past it to our peril (which as myofascial release therapists we won’t do, by the way). Or, we can wait with it. Be with it. Feel around the edges to get a better sense of what is there. “Hold” what is there, gently and with curiosity as we explore what the body needs and what it might want to do.
Frequently, we get a sense of these contrasting approaches when we work with people who have been experiencing chronic pain for a long period of time. Visibly, we may notice the pelvis is twisted or rotated. There may be an imbalance in the way someone stands, with one foot or leg more externally rotated than the other. The shoulders may not be level, or the body as a whole may be pointing in a direction different than the feet.
As myofascial release therapists, we are trained to quickly identify structural issues in the body that are contributing to chronic pain.
We help you ease the internal tensions
What might be less visible are the internal tensions. But we can feel them. That is perhaps one of the things we do best as myofascial therapists. Chances are you can feel those tensions too. Internal tension might feel like a constant clenching in your gut, an inability to relax your jaw or your body, a jittery feeling inside, a tightness in your throat or in your head, or a sense of being on high alert all the time.
Before structural issues in the body can be addressed, internal protective mechanisms need acknowledged and given an opportunity to voluntarily rest for a bit. We do this by engaging with our hands into an area of tension and waiting at the barrier of resistance. Until the body perceives this pressure and engagement with the tissues as non-threatening, it will stay braced against it. This is especially important when it comes to chronic pain. It can take 2-3 minutes for the body to make this distinction and the sub-conscious protective mechanisms to ease.
If you find yourself trying to force things into place or beat your body into submission, and it just isn’t working, consider that there might be something keeping those things in place. Perhaps take a moment to breathe and bring your awareness into your body and notice the tensions that you don’t seem able to influence. Perhaps simply breathe and be with them, without needing to change anything. Let us know how this goes.
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