The body wants to be well. Knowing this fact, and reminding ourselves always that it is possible, encourages us to make changes within ourselves towards total wellness.
Pain, however, is an unavoidable part of life. As we grow older, pain seems to intrude into more places in our lives. Some people experience pain all the time. If you have pain and consult a doctor, the treatments recommended often include drugs, cortisone shots and surgery. If these three choices do not appeal to you, are you doomed to eternal pain?
In his book Timeless Healing (Fireside, 1996), Herbert Benson, MD tells us that we are capable of incredible feats of self-healing. He calls it "remembered wellness." Doctor Benson explains that the human body is capable of dramatically healing itself because it remembers what it is like to be well. From the moment of conception, all the information for healing ourselves is present and carried on to each developing cell in its DNA. Every cell of the body contains the knowledge to self-heal. The body wants to be well and will do all it can to heal itself. This means you must respond to the help your body is requesting. By remembering and believing that healing is possible, remarkable changes can take place within the body. You do have a choice.
The Role of Pain
Without pain we would die. When we are injured, the muscles and other soft tissue near the injury site contract in response to the trauma. This tightening is a natural protective device that is programmed into the body to help prevent possible further damage to itself. A deep cut, a bullet hole or a piercing of the flesh might result in severe blood loss. The muscles surrounding the injury site go into spasm in an attempt to help stop the free flow of a potentially fatal loss of blood.
Pain is the body's alert system. It informs us that something is wrong and needs our attention. It is often a wiser decision to welcome pain rather than to curse it. The Western medicine response to this call for help by the body in crisis often involves drastic, unnatural procedures from sources outside the body. In many cases, this response treats the symptoms but ignores the actual problem or cause of the trouble. In Radical Healing (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Rudolph Ballentine, MD, warns that, "Resorting to a drug to correct a human problem is analogous to dealing with a computer glitch by grabbing a screwdriver or a pair of pliers and trying to rewire its circuits."
Knocking down the symptom – a headache, for example – without eliminating the cause of the headache (tight neck muscles, food that caused an allergic reaction) has only a superficial band-aid success. The cause remains and the headache will return when the drug wears off, encouraging the sufferer to take yet another dose of the symptom-suppressing drug without having addressed the real problem. Sometimes drugs will actually cause more severe headaches, and the pain cycle continues.
The ageing process often brings on increased pain. Noticing new pains may sometimes be the result of an accumulation of many minor problems which had previously gone undectected individually. As we age, some of the protective contracting actions that muscles have performed for a lifetime do not release as easily as they used to, eventually forming what we affectionately refer to as the "aches and pains of old age." The soft tissue is capable of returning to its normal condition, but is locked in a holding pattern of protection.
Ongoing pain may come from adhesions and/or scar tissue where an injury or surgery has healed but left its mark. Scar tissue and adhesions left behind after healing has taken place can restrict movement and limit range of motion and flexibility.
Discomfort and pain can appear simply because we do not move enough. Formal exercise is ideal for dealing with underused muscles. Regular walks or workouts at the gym help the body function at its best. Even the simple act of getting up from your computer or TV set and moving for only a minute or two is quite beneficial. A short active break from being sedentary such as a trip to the water cooler, a walk to the toilet, a move to the window to gaze out for a moment, will help your body overall.
The body wants to move. As a living organism, movement is an important aspect of its survival. Not only does the body want movement, without movement, it will die. If your heart stops pumping, your blood stops flowing, and you die. If your breath stops moving, you suffocate. If your muscles stop moving they lose their strength and eventually will refuse to move at all. Without outside help, you would die. And so it is with the entire body organism.
Self-healing teacher and therapist Meir Schneider is probably best known for the work he has done to improve eyesight. Born legally blind, as a teenager he discovered the Bates Method of sight improvement. He took the teachings of the Bates Method and developed his own system of sight improvement, which he now teaches to others. Using his own system that involves movement, strengthening and relaxation of the eye muscles, he was able to read and pass his driver's test without wearing glasses. Movement is the key to the success in his method.
Lack of movement is often the underlying cause of numerous bodily complaints. Cold feet, numbness or tingling in the lower legs can be caused by many different factors, some serious and some not so serious. These symptoms may be the result of the lack of movement in the muscles of the leg. Poor leg circulation is often the result of tight soleus muscles, one of a pair of major calf muscles that lift you up onto your toes.
In her landmark publication Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1991), Janet G. Travell, M.D., refers to the soleus muscle of the calf as "the second heart" because with their contractions, they create the force that moves the flow of blood from the feet and legs back to the heart. Frequent movement of the lower leg is essential for the complete cycle of blood flow from the heart to the feet and back again to the heart. Without this necessary movement of the blood, varicose veins, swollen ankles and an overall slow healing ability of the feet and lower legs can develop.
A more serious consequence of the "second heart muscle" not moving blood has been reported as the result of sitting for hours without moving during trans-Atlantic flights. Without movement, blood pools in the feet and thickens into clots, which are then dislodged when passengers begin to move at the end of the flight.
Spending time during the flight engaged in simple movement and exercise of the legs while seated can prevent this deadly consequence. Wiggling your toes, rising up on your toes and pushing down on your heels while seated, or doing foot circles in the air can all improve the flow of blood from the feet and lower legs, back to the heart. Removing your shoes when you know you will not be walking about for a long time is also a good way to let the blood flow more easily.
Stretching is also a very good way of fulfilling the movement needs of the body. Aaron Mattes, a kinesiologist and massage therapist, has been praised by leaders in the field of healing as well as by world-class athletes and pain-riddled individuals from all walks of life for his development of stretching techniques. "Stretching is unique to each individual and should be a painless, peaceful experience," he says. Extensive, time-consuming stretching is not always necessary. Even a little stretching is beneficial.
Breathing Speeds Healing
Breathing is an important force in healing, as well as being an essential component of body protection and supplying oxygen to the blood. If you are injured, your body reacts by tightening the muscles at the site of injury. Holding your breath is a way of helping the muscles lock tight in protection, while also making the pain more bearable. This is a natural protective mechanism that is built into your body. By reversing this natural reflex, you can accomplish opposite results on your own. Breathing encourages pain to diminish and healing to take place by relaxing soft tissue. Yoga, stretching and many other forms of healing use breathing to relax the body and take it to a new place of healing.
Soft tissue pain can often be the result of muscles or the surrounding fascia being oxygen deprived. The pain of oxygen deprivation can come from general tissue tightness, trigger points, adhesions, scar tissue, or from pain referred from a site in another area of the body. Trigger points are small bundles of muscle fibers that have gone into spasm. They lie within the muscle causing pain without the entire muscle necessarily being in spasm or being tight.
An adhesion is the sticking together of two or more areas of soft tissue that ordinarily slide past each other during movement of the body. Adhesions are caused by the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue is a thick area of soft tissue that may be the result of healing after a bout of inflammation, an injury or surgery. All of these conditions can cause pain and can also be improved by breathing and stretching.
Tight muscles that are causing pain or discomfort can often be eased by conscious, slow, deep breathing. Breathing alone can sometimes be enough to release the muscle tightness and relieve the pain. That is why conscious, relaxed breathing on the part of the receiver during a massage treatment is so important. With gentle, slow, deep breathing, the massaged muscles will respond more quickly and relax more thoroughly. Therapists often suggest to their clients, "Breathe into the sensation." Yoga teachers may say the same thing. Women giving birth are given breathing instructions as well. The massage client who holds onto breath and does not relax into the massage prevents the body from responding fully to the therapist's work. Halted breathing locks the tightness into the muscles. Breath movement is the real healer during a massage.
When breathing, it is important to inhale and exhale from your diaphragm, which is located at the top of your abdomen, just under the lowest edge of your rib cage. Your belly should move in and out as you take each breath. Avoid extensive chest breathing. Raising your chest with each breath is unnatural and can create a host of new problems and pain over time. Chest breathing is usually shallow and intended to be used only for short amounts of time. It is natural in situations when the body quickly needs a lot more oxygen, such as emergencies or for running long distances. Persons who are under great stress use chest breathing. The abdomen and diaphragm tighten, forcing the breath to be brought into the lungs. Chest breathers often have headaches, neck and shoulder pain as a result of breathing unnaturally.
Move to be well. Stretch and breathe to keep your body happy and healthy. Take responsibility for your own wellbeing, and use the natural healing ability you were born with. Your body will thank you for it.
Barry L. Bailey MS, LMT has offered stretching and self-healing workshops since 1998, as well as Soft Tissue Active Recovery Technique (STAR Tech®) workshops for bodyworkers and therapists. Barry can be reached at 978-897-0110 or visit http://startechhealing.com.