By Rob Selmanovic, who will be presenting Somatic Yoga: Movement Solutions for Pain-Free Living at Hollyhock in June, 2017
So much has been written about pain, our bodies and how to tend to those achy muscles, joints and tissues. All the advice and information can become overwhelming and confusing for someone who needs relief and prefers to avoid drugs or surgery.
Still, many people continue to live in pain with conditions that persist, limiting their freedom of movement and quality of life. The tips I suggest here are simply a reminder that your precious body knows how to heal itself when it has the proper conditions.
Although the structure of each of our physical bodies is roughly the same design, no two human beings are truly the same. Our lifetime of unique patterns, habits and experiences is reflected in our bodies in different ways. All the bumps, bruises, traumas and tensions accumulate over time to distort our posture and limit our range of motion. This, ultimately, shows up as a loss of function and pain, which is familiar to almost everyone at some point.
Pain is a signal from the body to get our attention so we can change our behavior. This is much like the “check engine” light on the dashboard of a car. It requires us to take some action or suffer further consequences. If we ignore this light in our car, we can expect a breakdown. It’s certainly not a good idea to ignore pain signals from the body.
So how do we determine the course of action to take when we are getting those pain signals? Call the mechanic? That’s certainly a good place to begin. This could be a doctor, therapist, practitioner, etc. It’s always a good idea to get an opinion and support from a medical or health professional. However, there are also ways that YOU can take charge of your own health without the continued dependency on others.
Although every body is different, everybody has the ability to improve their function. The best time to take action and make changes is when our body’s “check engine” pain signals are first noticed. Better yet, you can start to take steps immediately, as a way to prevent health problems from arising at all.
Here are five essential tips for you to begin to live pain free.
- Protect and Correct
When there is an injury that has caused inflammation of tissues or joints, it is important to allow the area to heal so that the inflammation can be reduced. If the area is continually aggravated, this not only impedes the healing, it may also keep you in pain.
When you feel pain, you are signaling the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to remain active, which will likely exacerbate the symptoms. Protect the sensitive area with only gentle movements, staying within your pain-free range.
Studies have found that when there is a sense of safety, the experience of pain is lessened. By protecting the sensitive or injured area, you are helping the nervous system reduce the psychological tension, which can reduce the pain sensations.
Of course you also need to make corrections to your activities and behavior. As obvious as it sounds, this mean identifying and stopping what it is you are doing that brought on the pain.
Two of the most important nutrients for tissue health are oxygen and water. They are both readily available, and free! They are also both essential for survival.
When oxygen supply to the tissues is restricted, there will be a nutrient exchange deficit. This means that metabolic wastes produced by contracted muscles will not be removed and tissue-supporting nutrients cannot access the area. This will be experienced as pain.
Getting enough oxygen is a simple as learning to breath well. There are many breathing techniques that encourage a healthy exchange in the lungs. It does not have to be complicated. Simply bring your attention to the quality of your breathing throughout the day. Letting the inhalation and exhalation be slow, smooth and fluid will help to optimize the intake and assimilation of oxygen.
Keeping the body hydrated aids in the process of flushing away toxins, lubricating the joints, and facilitating healthy, resilient fascia. This allows the body to function well without pain.
Our bodies are meant to move in order to stay healthy. When we stop moving, or reduce the variety and range of movements, we are training our bodies to be less responsive to our functional needs. Movement is necessary for healthy fascia, as it allows the tissues to receive oxygen and water and helps to reorganize the pattern of the fascial tissues. Movement also keeps the joints lubricated.
As healthy functional children, we used our bodies fully in activities that bend, fold, roll, twist, reach, slide, run, jump, etc. As we slowly eliminate those full-body movements from our repertoire, over time, areas of the body can get “amnesic” so that our nervous system forgets how to access muscles that are required to do a particular task. We inevitably begin to compensate by using the wrong muscles to do the job. When that happens, those compensating muscles will get fatigued and sore. Tissues will tighten and joints will stiffen.
To remain flexible and pain-free, it is important to keep moving with activities that involve the entire body and limbs. Just as we inadvertently train our bodies in ways that restrict movement, we can re-train our bodies to learn how to function well and move without pain.
Posture refers to the way our frame is aligned while sitting and standing. There is no “correct” posture. Our physical structure varies from person to person. However, over time, poor postural habits will lead to functional problems and pain.
When the frame of a house becomes crooked, the doors and windows won’t open smoothly and cracks may develop in the walls and ceiling. Repairing the cracks or faulty windows does not solve the problem. The body is similar. We must address the source of the postural symptoms.
When our posture goes out of alignment, this is an indication of muscle imbalance. Some muscles are short and tight while others are long and weak. This will inevitably lead to some type of dysfunction that will show up as pain.
Its important to become conscious of unhealthy postural habits such as slouching, carrying the head forward, letting the pelvis tilt backwards, leaning the weight to one side, etc. This awareness is necessary to be able to address the cause of the misalignment – muscle tension – so that it can be resolved.
This leads us to the 5th essential tip for pain-free living…
Somatics (aka Hanna Somatics) is a gentle practice that incorporates simple movements to help release unconscious muscle tension. It is an excellent self-care solution to help address the above-mentioned tips.
The movements are slow, conscious and varied to allow you to regain voluntarily control of muscles that have become involuntarily contracted. It does this by incorporating the brain and nervous system. This neuromuscular re-education is the key that unlocks dysfunctional patterns to create lasting change.
Somatics is a deceptively powerful way to improve posture and free up movement by correcting muscle imbalance. It helps to awaken the sensory motor system that enables you to refine movement and overall function. Once the body begins to move the way it was designed, pain is reduced and even eliminated.
Our bodies are holistic organisms that are very complex. There are many factors that influence our health and our susceptibility to pain. Adequate rest, stress management, diet, positive attitude, along with a trust and belief that you truly are able to resolve your issues, can all affect your experience and recovery from pain.
These 5 essential tips are a great way to begin to take charge of your own health and well-being when your body’s “check engine” light is signaling for your attention.
Rob Selmanovic is a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher and Hanna Somatics educator. He has taught classes and led workshops and retreats in Canada, Mexico, India, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and teaches the morning yoga program at Hollyhock. His mission is to empower others to learn how to manage and eliminate pain with Somatic Yoga.
Join Rob at Somatic Yoga: Movement Solutions for Pain-Free Living at Hollyhock on June 19 – 23, 2017.