How long did the healing effects of your most recent massage last? A few days? A week? Longer?
For many recipients of commonly known forms of massage therapy, unless you receive frequent sessions, or your massage therapist follows you around pointing out when you regress to old compensation patterns, it is likely the healing effects aren’t permanent. Why is that? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
This is where other types of bodywork come into play: namely, movement therapies. These modalities can be the secret weapons in your body’s holistic arsenal.
Patterns Exist for a Reason
Let’s talk about compensation patterns. To compensate means “to offset or counterbalance.” Any time you experience a weakness in the tissues of your body, other tissues step up their game to offer a helping hand for the weak tissues.
Sounds friendly and helpful, right? Well, it is helpful if it’s only short term. However, your brain is wired for efficiency, so if the compensation is “working”, the body will keep on compensating. The problem with this pattern is that after a while, those friendly and helpful tissues that lent a hand become tired. In most cases, they are performing a secondary role rather than their primary role, so they must work even harder to move in the ways you are demanding they move. The result: weak tissues get weaker and the compensating tissues become hardened and painful. Essentially, those helpful tissues start complaining.
When movement patterns “turn off” certain muscles and “turn on” others to keep you out of pain, the design of the joint and surrounding supportive tissues is compromised. Eventually, if not addressed, a whole new challenge has replaced the original one.
Massage Can Work Wonders, But You Can Work Miracles
There are many benefits to getting massage on painful areas of the body that are compensating, including increased blood flow, softening of hard tissues, awakening of nerve sensation, and releasing trigger points. For a few days to a week after a massage, the pain might be greatly reduced. But what hasn’t changed is the pattern, which may have been created over many years.
Here’s the truth. Unless you are actively involved in unwinding the pattern and returning to the way the body was designed to move in space, you will only heal so much. You will eventually go back to your compensation pattern, unless you are taught how to move differently. You must be involved in retraining your body back to its optimum function utilizing muscles and surrounding tissues as they are designed to work.
A Sampling of Therapies
So what are movement therapies? Of the many modalities available to choose from, here is a sampling and explanation of a few of the most commonly known. (The following descriptions are taken from the bodywork glossary at www.massagetherapy.com/glossary.)
- Aston-Patterning (neurokinetics) — Aston-Patterning is an educational process developed by Judith Aston in 1977 that combines movement coaching, bodywork, ergonomics, and fitness training. The movement work (neurokinetics) has two divisions. The first part involves instruction in the most efficient way to perform the simple activities of daily living and then progresses to complex activities. The second part teaches the client how to use movement to decrease accumulated tension in the body. The practitioner uses specific assessment methods to create sequences of movement and fitness depending on the movement pattern of the client. How you do what you do in every movement you create is the baseline of this work.
- Trager Approach — The Trager Approach was developed more than 65 years ago by Milton Trager, MD. Two aspects make up the Trager Approach: one in which the client is passive, and the second in which the client is actively involved. The passive portion is done on a table with the client fully clothed and passively guided through effortless, natural movement in order to find restrictions and bring freedom to locked-up areas. The active portion includes a series of movements you can easily incorporate into your daily life to more deeply root the effects of the table work as well as your own awareness within your body.
- Feldenkrais Method — This method establishes new connections between the brain and body through movement reeducation. There are two formats. In a one-on-one functional integration session, a teacher uses hands-on manipulation to guide the student toward new movement patterns. In awareness through movement classes, a teacher verbally guides groups of students through repatterning. Habituated responses to problem areas in our lives are ingrained in our movement patterns. By retraining the central nervous system though the skeletal system, old patterns are eliminated and replaced with new skills that improve the body’s physical, mental, and emotional functioning.
- Alexander Technique — As with the other movement therapies described above, the Alexander Technique sheds light on the areas within the body that are not moving efficiently and, therefore, require more effort to engage in even the simplest movements in day-to-day life. Each individual is empowered through active participation, awareness, and mindfully chosen movement. The student is taught to sit, stand, and move in ways that reduce physical stress on the body. Alexander Technique teachers use gentle manual guidance and verbal cues to improve students’ posture and movement patterns. A lesson or group class typically involves basic movements such as sitting, standing, walking, bending, reaching, carrying, and lying down. The teacher’s hands-on guidance stresses the adjustment of the head, neck, and torso relationship.
No Matter What Happens, Your Body is Always Responding
For every life experience you are involved in, your body has a response. Compensation patterns are not limited to physical injury, but are also developed from thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Any time you experience something impactful, such as physical trauma or ongoing criticism, your body provides a deeper ingrained response. Even when you witness another’s trauma, fear that is could happen to you can create a compensation pattern. The reason for this is protection. The sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight-or-flight mechanism) plays a crucial role in keeping you safe. You might hold your right shoulder up close to your ear and tuck your chin as if shrinking away from a threat. This pattern is as important to recognize as compensating one’s gait around an injury. It just might be a little more difficult to uncover the origin. Luckily, identifying the origin isn’t necessary for you to heal the pattern. Engaging in movement therapies with a trained professional who knows how the body is designed to move will help you illuminate patterns you may not even realize you have.
True freedom from pain and discomfort can be achieved using movement therapies incorporated with consistent massage sessions. The value and benefits of massage alone are far reaching, but this bodywork partnership is very beneficial. As with anything you wish to master, your participation, dedication, and daily practice are required. Consider this an invitation to your freedom!
Want to learn more about how to heal your own patterns and support others in their healing? Become a massage therapist at Indiana Academy of Massage, conveniently located on the north side of Indianapolis in beautiful Zionsville!
Article originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2016