Habits we form

I’ve spent the first month of this new year thinking about habits.

Sharing some wonderful conversations with a friend of mine who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has taught me that the habits we form, both mentally and physically, are very similar and can be interconnected.  If we can understand the effects of the patterns we form, it will help us approach our bodies in a more supportive and productive way. 

A large percentage of clients we see on a daily basis show up to rid themselves of pain they are experiencing as a result of the habits they’ve formed.  When people think of the physical benefits of receiving massage therapy, they often think in mechanical terms; massage the muscles around a stiff area to loosen it up. However, there’s so much more to the whole picture of massage therapy.

As massage therapists, the beneficial results of the bodywork we do comes not just from the work we do with muscles, but also from the client’s nervous system responding to the stimulus we have provided.  All habits, even painful ones, exist because we have created a well-established pathway and pattern for our nervous system to follow.  Our brain is an expediting machine, and once it finds a path to accomplish a task, it will chose that same path over and over again unless it is given another one.  

So when a client lands on our table with a stiff neck from long hours at the computer, the goal is to interrupt the nervous system’s well-established path of rounding the neck and shoulders. We want to create a stretch in the upper traps, pecs, and the front of the neck.

The brain then takes that sensation of stretch and structure and can then fall back into its preferred neutral state.  If a client follows up after their session with some exercises to strengthen the back and core – to hold them up and back – then the nervous system will receive a new set of signals and can hopefully create and maintain a new, more beneficial habit.  

Everyone who lands on our table is the accumulation of everything they have done.  We can see how their body has carried them through their life and what they have done to take care of it.  We can tell when someone has been stretching and foam rolling or if they’ve been exercising or traveling.  Our body is what delivers us to all the things our minds and hearts want to do.  Let us help you get there with ease.

It’s All Connected

“It’s all connected”   

I hear the phrase “it’s all connected” often in my treatment room, as well as from other therapists.  

This phrase has always frustrated me because of its vague nature.  It can leave a therapist or client with the idea that we should address all of the soft tissues in the body in one session in order to possibly stumble upon finding the solution to a persistent ache or pain.  This isn’t to say that a general full-body session isn’t great for maintenance or de-stressing.

However this method would cancel out any opportunity to explore a variety of structures surrounding a problem area and trace them out to see what tension patterns are present.  

Assessment of range-of-motion and locating restricted soft tissue patterns through touch paints a picture of the underlying condition of the body and, more importantly, the way a client is using their body regularly.  

Once we can see this picture, we find alternative ways to use our bodies that restores balance rather than perpetuate aches and pains.  

While many of the aches and pains that pop up are caused by tensions existing elsewhere in the body, it’s our job as a soft tissue therapists to help our clients understand the underlying pattern so they can bring awareness to their activities of choice and move through their lives with reduced pain and ease.  

Repetitive Stress

I’m often asked by clients, family, and friends how I manage to keep up with the physical demand of being a massage therapist.  I’ve always felt that if the techniques we were taught in school delivered effective results on the promises they made regarding the benefits people may experience then I should be able to keep up.  After all, I now know how the soft tissue works and can surely correct it if I ever have a problem.  Right?

Over the last 10 years of doing 20 hours a week of bodywork or more, I’ve learned that I am able to deliver quality work to my clients only when I am doing my part to stay strong.  

Well the truth is that softening rigid muscles and fascia is only half of the self-care equation.  While we don’t want tissue to be overly tight, it needs adequate tone to hold our joints stable.  So while massage is a great tool to help create length in tight shortened tissue, we also have to stabilize our bodies by working on generating strength and balance throughout our structure.  

And there are many ways to fit strength training into your day.

There are a lot of local gyms and trainers in the area that we trust and recommend. If you’re brand new to exercise, you may want to start with one-on-one training to ensure that you’re learning good form and won’t have to correct it later.  This also gives you the opportunity to ask questions if something doesn’t feel right.  

If you’re more of the seasoned marathon runner, then we have just the guy for you to help you correct your form so can improve your time and maintain strength through tough training schedules.  There are many options available for everyone – and we love helping our clients find the right fit.  

We use our bodies daily in many different ways that can that create strain.  You don’t have to do physical labor to be at risk for injury – from parenting to commuting or even standing on our feet at work or being creative – our habits are what are most likely to create repetitive stress on our structure.  It’s not likely that we will give up our favorite sport, our job, or our kids to avoid soft tissue pain so self care becomes of great importance if we want to keep up with these activities without burning ourselves out.  

As much as I love bodywork, I tell clients all the time that there is no avoiding the need for good sleep, good nutrition, and good exercise.  Bodywork is just the tool to help us balance ourselves out when life gets in the way of us getting to those three.  

There are also a few circumstances where regular massage treatment and a customized exercise plan are appropriate, so talk to your therapist about your abilities and restrictions so you can start feeling and doing your best.

Importance of Communication

If I were granted a single wish, it would be to get clients and therapists alike to understand the importance of communication in therapeutic bodywork.

I can’t tell you how many stories about poor experiences with bodywork I’ve heard from clients that could have been easily avoided by skilled communication from the therapist.  My own work over the last 20 years is not excluded either!  I’ve certainly had instances of not doing an adequate job of educating my client on how to interpret and communicate what was happening in their body in response to the work we were doing.  The result of this is almost always a lack of results or worse, agitating the condition that was already present.    

One of the things that I emphasize with the Loosen Up staff is how to train their clients to communicate well.  I always tell my clients “I know the techniques and the body systems, but what I don’t know is what it’s like to be in your body so please fill me in on how things are feeling as we go.”  This empowers the client to know that they are in charge of the session and are not expected to tolerate techniques that are painful or uncomfortable. 

Occasionally we do explore techniques that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable in the beginning.  But when clients are given the parameters of what to expect and what we need to avoid, the confidence that they gain from beginning to listen to their own body is where the most profound therapeutic benefit resides. 

If you’re a client, always remember that you are in charge of your session.  If anything ever feels like it isn’t helping or is aggravating what is already going on, communicate with your therapist.  They should be able to adjust their technique or switch techniques altogether to get you results without agitation. 

Struggling with sleep?

At Loosen Up we often receive questions regarding ideal sleep recommendations; best positions, pillows, mattresses, etc. These are tougher questions to answer than you would think. There are many contributing factors to preferred sleeping position, pillows, and mattresses; previous injuries, room orientation, or sleeping companions. How we sleep is a personal topic and effective tips and tricks vary for each person.

There are several ways that the topic of sleep comes up with our clients here at Loosen Up. Most people are able to experience initial benefits of massage that relieve stress as soon as they’re on our table. Others feel the benefit of a nice nap once they’re on the massage table. And some experience pain relief that allows them to get a better night’s sleep once they leave our table. While massage does not necessarily affect sleep directly, what is keeping us from dozing off can be profoundly influenced by massage.

Research on the subject of how massage therapy may affect our sleep is centered around the idea that a reduction in pain will have a positive effect on our quality of sleep. This concept is one I often review with clients when they inquire about stretching and foam rolling. Like most of our clients, you may have had the experience of laying your head down to fall sleep only to feel aches and pains that you hadn’t noticed earlier in your day. This leads to tossing and turning and having difficulty finding a comfortable position to drift off. But by taking the time to stretch or foam roll before bed, you can create length in soft tissues that may have been tugging at your structure when you initially laid down. And a comfortable sleeping position may be a little easier to find.

Another one of the things I review with every client that comes in with chronic pain issues is the pattern of their sleep hygiene. We may not always think of our sleep as pattern forming, but improper sleeping positions may reinforce some structural tensions, positions such as a pillow being too large or small for the neck, or the lumbar spine being twisted in a side sleeping posture. Many persistent pain issues can actually be resolved by simply introducing a prop to the arms or legs. Setting the intention of resting your body in a supported, safe position can make a big difference on your night’s sleep.

Finally, massage, stretching, and foam rolling (and upper cervical chiropractic work) all have the effect of activating your sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as your “rest and digest” state. The activation of this part of your nervous system stimulates the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that then cause us to go into a calm and relaxed state.

If you struggle with sleep due to aches and pains, you can request a consultation with one of our therapists or schedule an appointment to come in Click Here to make an appointment or Call: (925) 289-9750. Sleep well and we look forward to hearing from you.