Hands On Therapy | I Hope This Works!
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I Hope This Works!

Erin Bobo, L.M.T., E.S.M.T.
Expert Myofascial Release Therapist

 

Many of us can relate to the experience of being in pain or discomfort. Often we put a lot of energy into trying to find a therapist and/or a healing modality to help us find relief, whether that be Myofascial Release, deep tissue massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, psychotherapy, traditional medicine, medication, etc. We need options because we all have different bodies, we arrived at our pain differently, and we react to stimuli differently. However, many of us find ourselves putting forth so much time and energy and instead of effectively releasing our pain we effectively “chase our tails”, ending up with only temporary results. It is then we find ourselves searching again for something different that can help us. Why is this such a common experience? I could probably write a book on the reasons ‘why’, but some of the reasons are related to the approach of certain modalities. They are addressing the person, not as an individual, but, instead, as a symptom. Also, they may not address the body as a whole, which actually does include patterns of thought and behavior, not just anatomy. Another reason is that sometimes it is our own impatience that keeps us in an experience of pain. Our own belief, no matter how long we have been struggling or noticing a pain pattern, may be that there should be some way to resolve a pain pattern quickly and with as little effort as possible so that our routine can be disrupted as little as possible.

When we stop searching for someone to ``fix`` us and our pain, we begin to heal.
When we approach our healing as a search for someone else who is going to give us the right diagnosis, the right pill, or perform the right “magic technique” to free us of our condition, we discount the fact that it is we who hold one of the largest responsibilities and roles in our successful outcome.

When we continue to believe that our role is merely to pay the bill and show up, we continue to find that this therapist or that therapist or this modality/technique or that modality/technique “was pretty good but just gave me temporary relief”. And so we continue to search, often with little success until we realize we have to become the “Primary Therapist“.

There are many factors involved in why we find ourselves in a constant search for relief but they all pale in comparison to what is at the core of why we find ourselves in the “temporary relief dance”.

Our role in our own healing process is overlooked as the key component to our own healing! Is it possible the missing link is you? Are you giving too much power to someone else to “fix” you? I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit!

Ideas For Becoming The Primary Therapist

  • During the session you, the “Primary Therapist”, are present to even subtle sensations and messages the body is giving. Avoid thinking about what you need to do after the session, errands you need to run, etc.
  • After the session, become aware of your movement and energy, your patterns of thought/emotion/posture that trigger pain, and extend the session with self treatment in order to givethe body the message to continue to let go and release.
  • Take time after a session to integrate. Do you instantly shift your energy after a session to your cell phone or your to-do’s, feeling the stress of what lies ahead of your day bubble up? Or, are you taking a couple of minutes as you walk to your car to really notice and acknowledge how you feel and give yourself permission to shift into the next thing with a calmer, more in-the-moment energy?
  • Notice without judgment habitual postural patterns. For example, if you are aware you have a rotation pattern in your body, do you continue to sit on the couch or chair with one leg bent sitting on your foot, therefore exacerbating the pattern and feeding the imbalance? Or, do you catch yourself in that habitual posture and change to something that will aide in the goal to release that rotation and allow a more balanced body?
  • Give yourself permission to express how you feel safely. Do you give yourself time to express your emotions or are you following a belief that there isn’t time for that? Are you feeling like you just have to suck it up and ignore how you feel? “I have too much to do” or “it’s no big deal”. Or, do you give yourself space to vent and release in a healthy way so your physical body doesn’t have to keep trying to contain all that energy?

These are all examples of levels of awareness that only YOU as the primary therapist can effect on a day to day basis. There is no doctor, massage therapist or other therapist that can affect these core influences in your healing process: your presence before/after/and during a session, your posture, beliefs and emotions. These all play a role in your physical pain and how soon you can be free of pain.

The Pain Dynamic

First, let’s talk about PAIN before delving more deeply into your role as primary therapist in your own healing process. Let me begin by saying I am specifically speaking to the experience of chronic pain or the experience of “traveling pain” (symptoms moving from one area of the body to another), or even the acute pain from injury. Keep in mind that, yes, sometimes “a cigar is just a cigar”. If we cut our hand with a knife, the resulting pain is straight forward, verses some pattern of imbalance that develops over time. So keeping this context in mind, the pain we are talking about is due to holding patterns that have developed in our bodies. These holding patterns are protective mechanisms that have been ignited from a perception of stress. No matter whether your pain is from stored emotional pain, physical injury, postural behaviors, overuse or disease, your body is in a pattern that results in the fascial system binding down and solidifying, which causes pressure on pain sensitive structures, therefore, equaling the experience of PAIN. Perhaps, often times, the reason we are in pain is not as black and white as an injured or weak part of our body but a result of many years of unconscious patterns of movement, posture, emotions, thought, and routine that over time have resulted in imbalance and stress throughout our body.

It is a very natural and human thought after leaving a healing session like MFR or any other modality, to say to yourself as you walk to your car before you jump into the list of what is next in your day…”Ok, well I hope that worked.” or “I hope that released that pain in my ______ because I have a lot to do this week and I am so tired of being in pain.” Of course we want to be out of pain and the initial purpose of going to our therapist is to release that experience of pain. So the above examples are understandable trains of thought. However, it is my belief from my own personal experiences with releasing pain and being a witness to hundreds of clients in the last 15 years, that when you land in the “I hope that worked” place, you are leaving out a huge part of the puzzle and that piece is YOU!

FEELING In Order To Change How You Feel

We can’t change how we feel if we don’t know what we are feeling (beyond pain). Sometimes in order to shift our experience we need to notice subtle details beyond the surface response of “I feel pain”, and we need to invest more in the process of healing than only showing up to an appointment and paying our hard earned money and hoping for a fix.

We can’t approach our healing like we are gambling. “Here’s the money, here I am, and I hope this works!” We have to approach it like we would an investment! We need to continue the healing session after we get off the table and not let it just end there and hope for the best. We need to invest our attention in details that we are not accustomed to paying attention to in our daily routine because “we have too much else distracting us”.

We discover these details by allowing a deeper level of awareness and asking questions such as:

  • What am I feeling emotionally when my pain is triggered?
  • How am I sitting on the train, on the plane, in the car…Is my weight shifted to one side?
  • Can I change that to feel more balanced?
  • How am I standing in line at the grocery store…Is my weight shifted to one leg?
  • Can I change that so it feels more balanced?
  • When I lift this bag, how can I do it differently than I usually do?
  • Am I breathing right now?
  • How do I feel right now?

All of this is not to put you “in your head” or in analytical mode. Most of us don’t need more time spent in that mode – just the opposite. This is all to bring you into AWARENESS and into relationship with your body – to be “IN your body”.

What the heck does that mean…”In my body”?

Well, there are many books that go into great detail about this concept but let’s keep it simple. Being “IN your body” may feel like allowing the experience of subtlety versus only listening when your body is screaming; in other words, being in the experience of noticing your body in a more subtle way. Being in your body involves effectively feeling that you and your physical body are on the same team versus your body as this “thing” that is holding you back from all you desire to do and feel and be.

More often than not, when I ask clients, “What are you feeling in this moment?” the response is, “I don’t know” or “Ahhh… let me think about that. I haven’t really checked in yet today”. sometimes recount how they have felt in the past in response to the question of how they feel in this moment. This is because we have been programmed to not notice how we feel, especially when all we are used to feeling is pain. This is actually a survival mechanism. (I know it was for me when I was in chronic pain). So it is common and understandable to default to what we are used to saying. When pain has become chronic, it is easy to expect that we will feel the same each day because we do in many ways. So checking in with “how do I feel?” is something that is avoided purposefully. Instead of becoming more and more aware of our bodies, and “with our bodies”, we purposefully become detached from our body’s experience.

In addition, being detached does not allow us to notice any subtle changes that have occurred beyond the familiar/chronic way of feeling and we therefore miss opportunities to encourage our body toward the path of how we want to feel. As a result of detaching we are not “IN” our body. We are everywhere else, sometimes on purpose and sometimes out of habit.

If you are experiencing pain, do you ever feel like you are at battle with your pain like it is the enemy? Do you feel in resistance most of the time? What would it be like to be “with your body” like a mother to a child so that you could listen? When we feel separate from our body we are in resistance and then we cannot be “with our body” and “in our body” and therefore, cannot truly integrate what is at the core of our experience of pain.

 

If, by now, you are thinking ``Wow this is a lot of work.`` ... You are right!

“Is this really all possible?”

If, by now, you are thinking…”Wow this is a lot of work. I think I like the approach of thinking someone else can just fix me,” then, I would agree that you are right. At first, it does feel like a lot to pay attention in new ways and to be more present, mostly because we are’t used to it. But I promise that not only is it possible, it is worth it, and this shift in your approach can change so many aspects of your life. As we shift our relationship with ourselves, we affect everything and everybody we connect with.

Your health and wellness team needs to be on board with these concepts too!

Maybe, because we often don’t know what it is we can do on our own, we put the power of the healer in someone else’s hands. I am here to tell you that YOU are the healer. Your “wellness team” may consist of therapeutic body workers, doctors, therapists, friends, and family. It is important that everyone in your “wellness team” is on board with the importance of your presence/role in your healing process so that you are empowered and encouraged and ultimately successful. If the role your doctor, therapist, or body worker feels they play is someone that is supposed to “fix” you and does not discover your role with you, then you may continue to “chase your tail”. This is why my approach as an MFR therapist has been to empower people to get involved in there healing process and discover with me how they can be that primary therapist, both on the table and off the table. In doing so, they can begin to connect with how they feel and discover ways, in addition to the hands-on work I am able to provide, that they can shift the way they feel. I believe, in order to heal, we need to feel empowered rather than helpless and our wellness team needs to be on board with this belief.

Why is there so much temporary relief?

As a Myofascial Release therapist, for many years I have witnessed big changes in the “system” in a session. Sometimes there are changes that I did not even expect so quickly. I have experienced many clients in a pattern of noticing the change that equals relief and, days later or a week later, they find themselves back in pain. It is important to note that, often times, this is due to a very natural and understandable “rebounding process” the body goes through during which it lets go and then wants to recoil into that familiar (yet imbalanced) place it has been in long before we even noticed a “symptom”. If this has happened to you, you haven’t done anything wrong. Rebounding is a viable part of the healing experience and, in order to get ahead of that phenomenon, scheduling sessions closer together is often necessary for a period of time and/or clients must really stay on top of self treatment in order to keep reminding the body to keep releasing and not revert to old patterns.
Another very common reason for any ongoing experience of “temporary relief” has to do with this mentality of “I hope that worked”. When you take the attitude of “I hope that worked”, and that is your only investment in the healing experience, then the primary therapist is absent and there is an absence of a deeper level of awareness/consciousness of your own body. In essence, in this scenario, you are giving the job of your healing to someone else.

Conclusion

Most often, releasing pain is not a very black and white situation, and it is not very succinct. We want it to be but it is not. It is almost never about one muscle group simply because of how our amazing bodies are designed. By the time we, as beings who are easily distracted, recognize pain, a lot of patterns and compensations have developed that require attention in order to return to a functioning system again. So… Bottom line: It is important to recognize the gift and wisdom that doctors and other therapists, like myself, have to offer in your healing processes but it is also important to access what resonates with our own mind and body. Then, from there, we can access our own inner wisdom and trust our own intuition, showing up to do our part, which includes A LOT of self awareness of patterns of movement, patterns of thought, and routines in our day-to-day experience that aren’t serving us. From here we can shift one step at a time.

Our next challenge may be realizing that the “healing process” doesn’t have an end-point. There isn’t a final layer that is released. What if healing and wellness really is a “journey” (and that isn’t just pretty talk), and a journey means something we are invested in and paying attention to versus being distracted by, or inconvenienced by, resulting in continually chasing our tail to find the quick fix? Does that mean we are destined to always be in some kind of pain? NO! We all deserve to feel good no matter what our age.

Perhaps, somewhere along the way, we got the message that our bodies were ideally supposed to just keep going and allow us to do what we need to do and want to do, despite traumas or emotions we stuff down or injuries we push through. We might have also learned that, if we just move on and suck it up, we will feel fine. For many, our parents didn’t know how to assimilate a trauma themselves (much less instruct a child on how to do that), so it was easier to just say “let’s move on.” The fact is, our bodies are reactive and can only hold so much, just like any container! Our bodies need input from us as it is reacting to our life. So maybe the healing process is LIFE and we are meant to be aware, not dismissive, when it comes to our bodies…compassionate for all it allows us to do over a lifetime, not impatient when it is struggling. If we are continually in the experience of life, and our bodies react to life, then how can healing be just a one-time event? Perhaps our society has framedthings a little “off” as far as our impatient approach to feeling well and we need to find an approach that includes us having a relationship with our bodies and discovering more about what it needs each day, as we determine how it needs to move and how it needs to express itself.

When we stop searching for someone to “fix” us and our pain, we begin to heal. It is then we can see that we often have a lot of patterns that need recognition, so we can then start the intention to shift those patterns both physically and emotionally, one step at a time. I encourage you to tap into whatever wisdom and techniques resonate with you and your body, but, at the same time, consider that you are a powerful being with a huge capacity to create change within yourself. If you have others on your “health and wellness team”who get that, you are sure to be on your way to the experience of wellness and the life-long journey of healing and releasing whatever your body may be holding from the experience of life. This concept of you becoming the “primary therapist” is essential for you to embrace and put into practice.