Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Living in "Get Set!" mode...

In my massage practice, I'm fortunate enough to work with a wide variety of people.

Sometimes we think of massage as a luxury. And for some it may be just that. But most of the people who come to see me are in pain of some sort.

They have pain in their neck, back, hips, elbows, shoulders; an endless list of sore muscles and joints. They may be pregnant or have a headache.

Here is a recent observation: lately I have been working on a lot of stressed out people.

This stress can manifest itself physically in the body. Our bodies are built to handle physical stress. Everyone has heard of the Fight or Flight response. But mental or psychological stress is much more confusing to the physical body.

Back in the early days of our ancestors, if we came across a saber toothed tiger, our body would produce the adrenalin to give us the extra strength we need to run from the danger, or if trapped to fight our way out.

I won't get into the whole scientific process of which glands produce what chemical reaction-- or which other bodily functions are on temporary hiatus until the danger is gone. Just know that the process was the same for our ancestors as it is today for us.

The difference though, for us, is that we rarely have to run from, or fight, our modern day saber toothed tigers. And so we never burn off that adrenaline. It just builds up inside.

This physically stresses our bodies. Think of it like this:

Imagine you are watching runners preparing for a 100 yard dash. They are stretching, walking around trying to stay warmed up. Mentally preparing themselves.

Then the person with the gun appears and everyone makes their way to their starting point.

You hear, "On your mark!" And the runners do exactly that. They get on their mark by kneeling down and placing their feet on the little foot brackets (I think they are called Starting Blocks).

When you hear, "Get Set!" -- the runners come up off their knees and every muscle in their body tightens up in anticipation of the gun shot.

The gun shot is heard on "Go!". At that point the runners make their way to the finish line as fast as they can.

The time span between "Get Set!" and "Go!" is usually not very long. But imagine if it was much longer. What if you had to stay in "Get Set!" for an undetermined amount of time? Maybe a minute, maybe five minutes or even up to an hour... That tension in your body would tire you out.

Try this little experiment. Everyone can lift five pounds. Take a five pound weight (or even three pounds) in each hand. Hold your arms directly out to your side, fully extended so your arms are parallel to the floor. See how long you can stay like that before your arms get so tired that you can no longer hold them up.

It won't take long. I think you will be surprised.

My point is this: we don't get to expend all of that built up tension and energy. And I believe that the built up tension manifests itself as physical stress.

There are many ways to deal with this stress. The following are just a few ideas.

The first obvious choice is to remove the stress from your life. In theory that makes sense. But the practical application is not always that easy. Maybe the stress is caused by your job. Well, not everyone is prepared to quit their job without the prospect of another.

Or maybe your stress is caused by a family member or some other friend or loved one. Walking away from family isn't necessarily the right thing to do (especially if they are sick or are in some other crisis and need help).

If removing the stress factor is not an option, a great way to learn to deal with it better is to exercise and eat right. Exercise is almost the same as being in Fight or Flight mode. And by eating right and taking better care of our body, then our body can take better care of us. All of our "systems" work more efficiently. Our circulatory system circulates better, our excretory system excretes better, etc...

Another effective tool is to learn the fine art of breathing. Luckily for us, breathing is something that our body does automatically. But just because our body is breathing-- it doesn't mean we can't be breathing better.

Most people let the muscles around their lungs handle breathing duty. Some people (singers and actors for example) take conscious control and use their diaphragm to produce a much larger breath so that they can sing louder or project their speaking voice all the way to the balcony seats.

This is a good start. But I propose learning to breathe with your whole body. You have done this before, without even realizing it.

I'm talking about the "Full Body Yawn". This is not the yawn you do at work or when you need oxygen or are bored. Not the yawn you do and politely cover your mouth. No. The "Full Body Yawn" is when you plant your feet into the ground; you stretch your arms way up over your head so far that when you lean back (which you will most likely do) your arms go way back behind your body.

And it is BIG. So big that you can't contain the noise that is created by the huge exhale of air. "Yeeaaaahhhhhaaaaaaaaahh...."

Another effective tool to relieve stress is Meditation.

Meditation is an extension of better breathing. I do a little workshop called "Meditation 101". In this one hour session we work on Breathing and Focus. By the end of the hour, you will have the tools you need to clear your mind, de-stress and return to your busy life, REFRESHED.

One of my favorite stress relief tools is my chime. I have a Zen Alarm Clock that will chime at any interval I set. Any timer will work. It can be the ping of your watch or computer or cell phone. It could even be an egg timer.

A good time to start with is 15 minutes (10 minutes if you are VERY stressed). At each 15 minute chime, take three really big Full Body Breaths. Not the kind you 'hiss' out. I'm talking about the big Full Body, Belly Breath that makes the big loud yawn noise that I mentioned earlier.

You should probably not be near other people for this exercise as it will very likely irritate others around you. That's how loud it should be.

Holding tension in your body while taking these three big, deep breaths is nearly impossible. It's sort of like trying to sneeze with your eyes open. You just can't do it.

Learning to breathe better, to meditate, to exercise and using the chimes all produce a great side-effect. They all make you more aware of your body.

Being aware of the tension in your body is the first step to making the tension disappear.

Sometimes we hold tension in our body and are not even aware of it. It has become a habit. We hunch over our computer. We lift and hold children. We grip our steering wheel until our knuckles turn white. We carry brief cases, pocketbooks, shoulder bags, etc. We hold our phone between our ear and shoulder so our hands are free to write or type.

These are all things that cause us to contort our body; to tense up our muscles.

We need to disengage our muscles. Make them "let go".

Massage is a very effective tool to help you disengage your muscles. At the end of each massage in my studio, I 'invite the chimes to sound' (as the Buddhist monks say). This is the signal that the treatment is complete. But it is also the beginning of some Pavlovian conditioning.

After just a few sessions, people start to associate the chimes with the Post Massage Relaxation. And soon people can use the sound of their own chimes to re-create that Post Massage Relaxation.

It may be true that we live in a "Get Set!" world, but it doesn't have to be that way for you. You can rid yourself of the physical tension caused by both physical and psychological stress, just by learning a few simple techniques.

Try some of these ideas on your own. If you feel like you need more help... schedule a session for massage, personal training, stretching or a "Meditation 101" workshop by going to .

Good Luck. Happy Thanksgiving.

Peace and Love,