Subconscious Holding Patterns in the Body

I see many patients who have recurring pain, often in the same place, sometimes a few different locations. In some cases it is work or activity related or some combination of the two, but there is another element that is often overlooked-- subconscious holding patterns. Since they are subconscious, it comes as no surprise that they would be overlooked, but they are sometimes the main culprit of a person's pain. Some people have come to me exasperated, not understanding why they are in so much pain. I will notice that without realizing it they are actively tensing their whole bodies as they speak and express themselves. Their mental tension becomes physical, but only the latter seems to be screaming out for attention. Pain is our body's way of telling us there is something wrong. It is asking that we listen. I believe we live in a time where the conception of mind and body are coming back together, but I still observe a large gap in the two. They can't be separated. When we are stressed, it is biological and physical. We produce excessive cortisol, the stress hormone. We tense our bodies and contract specific tissues. Some people squeeze their butts, some people raise their shoulders and curl their chest inwards, which is a protective movement, some squeeze their thighs together or clench their jaws. The manifestation may be different, but the mechanism is the same. 

Tension in the mind leads to tension in the body. And we may not be aware of either. We may not think that we are stressed or tense in our minds. We become accustomed to this state of being in general and do not even know how tense we are until something takes us out of it. As an example, many patients will say to me, "I had no idea how stuck that shoulder was until you touched it." Sometimes I am working on the legs and my patient is squeezing their hamstring. I usually don't have to feel it to know; I can actually see it pop out. I will let the person know and they are usually surprised. And this is completely ok. The first step in healing is forgiving ourselves for what we don't know we are doing or have done. The second step is increasing mindfulness and awareness.

How can we become more mindful of these holding patterns and release them? First we have to identify the problem and assign it priority. It helps to say it out loud, even write it down somewhere. "I have a subconscious holding pattern which is causing tension and pain in my body and requires my attention". Secondly, we have to schedule check-ins with ourselves. This can be something you mentally commit to. Perhaps you set a reminder or alarm on your phone to do a check-in in the morning and night. The more we do it and the more we prioritize our well being actively in this way, the more awareness we will have of our bodies and minds. Awareness will become a habit instead of something distant to us. The subconscious will become conscious. So how do we check in? Start by taking a few deep, but comfortable breaths and bring your attention to the body. I recommend the "body scan". Bring your attention to your head, scalp, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw, and neck. Pause at each for long enough to notice the state it is in. See how much you can let go. As you cascade down the body in this way, stopping at specific muscles, you will notice there is so much letting go you can do. Think of it as conserving energy! That's a lot of energy spent wastefully-- it is work to contract our muscles. Even if you don't have the time where you are for a full body scan, a few deep breaths and a general check-in can be very helpful.

When we hold mentally and physically we are really grasping and clenching for something that feels secure to us. The image that comes to mind is someone grabbing for dear life onto a branch of a tree when their feet are 6 inches from the ground. What are we so afraid of? What will happen if we let go? Relaxation may be uncomfortable if it's unfamiliar, but it is objectively good for us. When we are relaxed and well, we suffer less and as such interact with people in a more patient and gentler way. By letting go of our own tension, we do a service not only to ourselves but the world.


Orthopedic Massage & My Journey to Private Practice

Many ask me what orthopedic massage is and how I came to start my own practice. You will find on my website more formal descriptions of what I do and who I am, but there is room for elaboration. There's an element of structure and simplification that goes into these sections of a website or a brochure, but as always there is a greater underlying story and if you are interested, this is the right place. 

The memories of how I started are nebulous, but I remember in high school my friends asking me for a shoulder massage. My instinctive thought, as I'm sure many have had was, "what do I do to make this person feel good? what is even going on here?" The thought was nagging enough that I went home and started researching massage techniques, the spine, and muscles of the back. I felt self conscious massaging someone knowing nothing. I am a listener and observer and I believe these qualities allow me to perceive a whole world and landscape of data that would otherwise be invisible. I became the go-to person amongst my friends for massage and regularly exchanged mini sessions with a friend. At that time I was heavily into New Agey concepts like crystals, energy, chakras, and everything to do with ancient Eastern healing. I knew nothing of anatomy, even though I did my best to learn. It wasn't until attending school that I began to understand and become passionate about anatomy. Before I had learned about reiki, I was doing energy healing on my friends and myself. People told me that my hands felt different, that there was something charged and healing about them, and the reports I received after "treatments" were fascinating. People reported sleeping better, being able to relax, to let go of anger, even having internal visions while working on them. I was told my presence was relaxing, which genuinely shocked me because I didn't feel relaxed inside. I believe that's what makes me good at what I do. I wanted other people to feel how I wish I could feel. In my journey, I have learned that self care is extremely important, but empathy is too.

After high school, I had to make a choice. My dad wanted me to go to college and I had always planned on being an archaeologist so I studied Anthropology at Umass Boston for a single semester. I felt awful there... like I took a wrong turn. Something didn't feel right. I wrote a long journal entry channeling my revelations about how massage was what I really needed to be doing, typed a period at the end of the last sentence and that immediate second my phone rang and it was the Cortiva Institute, where I had toured, asking me if I was still interested in attending. I will always interpret that as a sign that this is what I was meant to be doing. I enrolled for January 11, 2011 and graduated later that year. One of my teachers who taught musculoskeletal anatomy and myofascial release, Tom Karis, is one of the most intelligent people I know. He told us he was writing up an orthopedic certification course that would be available the following year and by that point my heart was really pulling me towards the anatomy, so I could work as effectively as possible. To this day Tom is the only person who I will go to with an issue. His treatments feel like magic and people have said the same to me. The orthopedic certification course he taught was broken into upper and lower body and was 100 hours total of additional schooling. You only got certified if you passed the test and understood the information.

Orthopedic Massage. What is it? What does that mean? How is your training different? It is the treatment of specific condition, injury, and pain. There are a number of conditions that may be obscure to people until it happens to you. They are listed on my treatments tab. There is pain that people walk around with and can't figure out. The training involved studying the musculoskeletal and nerve system in depth, covering each condition and specifically how one would approach each one, and being able to assess deviations from neutral anatomical position (in other words, where you are naturally supposed to be). We are all walking tensegrity systems. In English: we are held up by bones, which are inanimate, by muscles and connective tissues that connect to them and each pull in a such a way that we are able to remain erect. Think about it... how we stay standing? This system is not always in balance, though. Bones tilt and turn ways they should not-- shoulders elevate, scapulae rotate, pelvises tilt, rotate AND elevate and the tissues that are responsible for doing this need to be addressed. They need to be softened, pulled and teased apart to create slack so that you can return to a neutral alignment. When muscles contract, they sometimes stay that way. I'm borrowing this anecdotal thing from Tom, but if your mother ever said not to frown because your face might stay that way, there is truth to that. Muscle tissue when repetitively contracted (think playing guitar, doing a sport or activity like running) starts to stick. When things stick, they are not mobile. When they are not mobile, they become even more immobile. Mobility is key. So this is the training I received, the premise of my work, and what I look out for.

With all of this understanding, it can still be meaningless if technique is not properly applied. Patients have often thought they knew best and would ask me to go harder. "No pain no gain" has been drilled into our heads. It's only partially true. Treatments are not supposed to be painful. You should not be sore for days. Slightly sore the next day is ok, but no more. People genuinely believe if they have been bruised and beat up, they received a good treatment. I am here to tell you that is unequivocally false and I have two things to back it up-- anecdotal and anatomical evidence. Each muscle has a reflex called the muscle spindle reflex. Similar to how the knee flies up when the doctor hits it, your muscles contract without your permission when they perceive too much force at too quick a speed. This is protective and intelligent on the body's part. It prevents damage from trauma and preserves the internal organs. When a therapist works too roughly, your body does this involuntarily. That means the tissues are not relaxing, not lengthening. Muscle contraction is the equivalent of lacing the fingers of your two hands together. We want to loosen this lace. So one must be gentle and gradual about achieving depth. On the other end of the spectrum is Swedish massage like is offered in a spa. My work is not that, but I would argue is more relaxing. My patients that fall asleep would agree, I think. Because of this nuanced and patient way of working, people often tell me they have never had a massage like it and I've had several patients who couldn't get an issue resolved elsewhere by any other practitioner. Being told this for so long I knew I had something unique to offer and I wanted to put my message and my work out in a way that was my own.

Finally... I started Satya in March, 2016. I have seen many of my clients for years and hope to see many more. I hope you will help me in this journey and that I may help you. I will continue to blog and use this as a platform for my more general philosophical reflections. It is all relevant because body & mind are one.

Thank you