It is intensively satisfying to have my clients walking out of a session either smiling, and or deeply relaxed, with ease of movement where there was tension and ache before, connected to themselves and at home in their bodies. I love working with people and I am glad that what I do is making a difference.
It is also very satisfying when my clients leave me feedback. I am thankful for last months feedback of which I selected a few.
Why I changed the way I walk and why you shouldn’t follow suit.
The following is neither intended to convince nor advice.
I am simply sharing my experience and some of my reasoning.
There are so many things I take for granted. Being able to walk is one of them. Nobody taught me how to do it, and I must have spent a good number of months lying on my back after I was born before beginning to shift and move. I have no memory of the struggle, of the bumps and missteps that I endured getting myself into an upright position. No memory of the many times I must have fallen over in order to learn how to stand and walk. Later on, lucky enough, I observed my kids going through the same, and I didn’t teach them either.
Walking is considered the most natural way of moving, which makes it difficult to see how it is influenced by our culture, and the environment we move in.
The cultural norm is to wear shoes. And there is nothing wrong with that.
It is, however, affecting our gait patterns and with that how tissues activate and engage, how we hold ourselves. The most telling examples are the tissue shortening and shift in pelvis positioning experienced in high heels. If you enjoy wearing high heels by all means go ahead. At least be aware what it does to your body and what you might be able to do in order to minimise restrictions or imbalances.
You might have noticed the difference between walking in shoes and going barefoot in much the same way I did. When walking bare-feet I would seek to land on my forefoot to soften the impact, in particular on surfaces like wet sand or hard wood floors. Pointing my toes, reaching for the ground, the balls of my feet would start to take the weight until my whole foot would make contact. It felt so much better and less jarring on my body and became my default mode when walking barefoot.
Putting my shoes back on, I would revert to the habitual heel strike. And my observations confirm that everybody seems to walk in this way.
And then, I discovered barefoot shoes, which I have been wearing for the last five years. What a revelation. I took to them like fish take to water, and without transitioning slowly as is recommended. I immediately fell in love with the quality of feedback I got from the ground. Having my feet touch and feel, and move with less restriction was a pleasurable experience.
But I was still using heel strike in my barefoot shoes, and walking as softly as I could.
I injured both of my knees badly more than a year ago. Walking became painful and troublesome. I had to cut down on the daily distances a lot. I believe, compensations in my feet, knees and hips had built up over time and were triggered by some uncomfortable leg positioning when doing seated meditation for 12 days in a row.
Pain is a brilliant motivator, and in my case, it helped me to seek adjustments in the way I would walk, stand, and turn when looking to explore what level of movement was still available to me. Not moving wasn’t an option and not creating more pain also an objective. I aimed to move within a tolerable level of discomfort.
What I discovered over the course of a year dealing with my compromised knees was that sitting for too long didn’t help, as I would often feel worse after 45 minutes of driving. More importantly, when I stopped sitting down at work my knees improved by a lot. I am a massage therapist and my set-up allows me to sit down when massaging the head, neck and upper shoulder or for facials. I ditched that approach and would alter the height of my massage table to remain on my feet throughout. The results were amazing and noticeable in a short amount of time. I was able to distribute weight through my feet and alter my posture, moving ever so slightly this way or that. My knees continued to improve.
In line with these adjustments I began altering the way I walked in my shoes. I felt it was time to acknowledge that barefoot shoes are very different.
They don’t provide any heel cushioning. The protective and very flexible sole is flat, while the rest of the shoe is non-restrictive. There are 33 joints in each foot and a higher concentration of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments than in any other body region, except the hands. Imagine the amount of mobility gained with that number of joints, even though each might facilitate only small movements. So why restrict that potential for movement. It made sense to move the way I would without shoes, employing forefoot strike, cushioning the impact. And so I did.
My barefoot shoes allow me to respond and adjust to the changing surface qualities much better, aligning and organizing my body around my feet. I can feel the ground before committing to put my weight down. And I don’t have to scan ahead cautiously for obstacles, looking up instead.
If you are into running, which I am not, you might know that impact and injury risk with fore- and mid-foot strikes is lessened. This is why the different designs of running shoes on offer accommodate different styles of running. It is also interesting to note that when walking uphill or downhill, on a steep incline, when our legs can’t fully extend that we naturally use fore-, mid- or whole-foot strikes. Heel strike can only be used when the leg swings into full extension.
Moving away from my usual style of walking when in barefoot shoes was no easy task. It required me to stay aware of how I was moving, as I would unconsciously fall back on heel strike. I also had to loose the self-consciousness that showed up. It became easier when I realised that nobody cared or paid attention to how I would walk.
My knees are still free from pain. And so, I continue to feel my way, when walking, treading softly.
What has become more and more important for me as a therapist over the years is how I care for myself, how I manage my energy so that I can continue to be there for people, so that I can look forward to every session and enjoy what I do without suffering burnout or fatigue.
In July, Andrea and I run our first CPD workshop together at the Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork where I work as a tutor. And we are now expanding on similar themes that relate to quality of touch in our work even though we are not making it our focus at this time. This is why our next workshop is open for anybody who feels interested in exploring the following:
Moving without effort and feeling at ease in your body
Becoming more alive, present and responsive
Expressing yourself freely and with authenticity
Join us in exploring these topics and more in a playful and fun way, drawing on our experiences in dance, physical theatre, the martial arts and massage.
What we bring into this work are Andrea Maciel’s more than 15 years of experience in working with actors and dancers as a dancer, movement teacher, scholar and body therapist. Andrea has a background in body-mind-centering, based also on the work of Laban and Bartenieff. And I will contribute and draw on my experience of practicing and studying soft martial arts (Ki-Aikido) for 20 years that had the co-ordination of mind and body at its heart, and on my experience as a massage tutor and therapist.
Some of the elements we are going to work with are personal dance and authentic self-expression, moving from the centre and effortless alignment, the body in relation and connection, and cellular movement patterns and inner resonance.
The workshop takes place on Sunday 13th October from 11:00 to 17:00 at Bristol City Yoga and costs £ 59.00. Early Bird tickets sell for £ 49.00. There is also a 1 1/2 hour taster we run on Sunday the 29th of September at 11:00 at Bristol City Yoga.
Movement, Mind and Touch, a new CPD workshop on the 7th July at the Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork, 10:00 to 18:00, cost £ 80.00, other dates to follow.
You might be interested in the new CPD workshop I have co-created with Andrea Maciel, a friend of mine, who is a dancer, movement teacher, trained in body-mind-centred movement and has been teaching dancers and actors for a number of years. We will draw on our combined experience and explore the following during the one-day workshop.
The act of healing and taking care of another person’s wellbeing involves sensorial cooperation, body’s listening and movement interaction within a dynamic of mutual trust. Exploring and harnessing your physical intelligence, feeling comfortable and free in your body and enhancing your embodied experience as a practitioner is at the centre of our work together. We will offer practices that will allow you to let go of conditioned behaviour, stiffness and blocks that are preventing you from connecting with your body. We will practice how to empower your relationship with yourself and discover that we have endless possibilities when exploring inner movement as a way of mastering touch. Participants will work on elements such as body connectivity, sensorial led movement, conscious cooperation, movement awareness and channelling intention as catalysts for changing motion and behaviour.
Other elements of our workshop include:
Cultivating curiosity and openness in our work
Holding and creating inner stillness
Activating body-awareness in yourself and others through your own physical intelligence
Responding with softening and flow around areas of perceived tension and resistance
Creating a deep and true connection with yourself and others through movement
Feeling comfortable and free in your body to enhance your embodied experience
Reaching a body-mind connection and move as one
Practising the relationship between movement, mind and touch
Get in Touch for more information on dates, locations and costs, email@example.com.
In one of my blogs, I talked about relaxation and massage, what it is, and what it is not, in my view. Important aspects of my work involve empowering and inspiring clients to create more well-being for themselves, which is why I would like to begin sharing some well-being hacks that have become regular habits of mine.
One of my favourite activities is going to the sauna. About 2 years ago I visited the sauna extensively, during my recovery from a back injury but it is part of the culture I was brought up with.
What happens to your body in the sauna, and why might that be beneficial?
Your muscles and tissues are warmed through and through, raising the core temperature of the body. Blood vessels, the bronchial and nasal passages dilate and relax, improving the circulation, freeing up stuffed sinuses. And the sweat coming out of your pores cleanses the skin.
The heat mimics fever, supporting the body to rid itself of infections. The metabolic effect is similar to strenuous exercise, although your muscles and joints are not stimulated in the same way. Saunas are good for exercise recovery but not a replacement for balanced and varied movement nutrition that is so essential for our well-being.
Temperatures of 75 to 90 degrees Celsius are a stressor to the body. It is therefore important to be mindful and limit the exposure to what is tolerable. Sauna times ought not to exceed 10 to 15 minutes. Traditionally, you would use a cold-water plunge pool immediately after leaving the sauna. A cold shower would also do.
For people suffering from high blood pressure or pregnant women, saunas are not recommended, best to check with your GP. It is good to rest about 10 minutes between each sauna session to give your heart rate time to recover. I tend to enjoy 3 sittings each time, which I find most beneficial for me.
What helps me most to relax is focusing on the cooling effect the sweat has when it runs down my body.
What we can we as massage therapists add to the work of a chiropractor?
A question that I was asking myself when I began working at a chiropractic clinic.
In massage therapy we predominantly work with the soft tissues of the body, but also with joint mobilisation and sometimes bone stimulation. Simply put, much like the guy ropes of a tent, the soft tissues hold our body together by placing tension on our bones and joints. These are designed to withstand a certain amount of compression, but also allow for movement. The muscles hold the bones in place and when unbalanced are capable of pulling our bones out of beneficial alignment, putting a strain on all of the body. And because the bones are living tissue, they will respond and change according to the forces placed upon them. Our aim, therefore, is to create and maintain a balance in the soft tissues that do not put undue pressure on our bodily systems, joints, bones and other soft structures.
A tight muscle will pull a joint into a dysfunctional position and a weak muscle will allow that to happen. It’s all about creating balance. At the same time, massage therapy is very unique in facilitating relaxation via the way it stimulates our nervous system, toning down heightened stress responses and facilitating more body awareness. For my availability please click here.
Few of us understand relaxation well enough to access it regularly, and at will to reverse the heightened nervous system response we call stress. That is because we have forgotten how to relax. It no longer comes naturally to us in particular when our environment is not optimized for well-being and health. And we might think that doing nothing to counter-balance stress is the same as relaxation. It is not.
Relaxation is an active engagement of mind and body. It’s not quite the same as doing nothing. But it has a lot to do with being present and feeling into and listening to your body. It has a lot to do with perception, attitude, and outlook, with tuning in. Relaxation can be learned, or better re-learned. This means you can take an active role in accessing more well-being for yourself.
Practice and consistency are key.
There are many ways to practice relaxation. Massage is one of them. While it appears to be requiring little involvement from the recipient, the body and mind are highly engaged in the experience. Once felt awareness is stimulated during a massage, once tensions can be experienced, an opening appears that allows for release which is an active body response, and deeper levels of relaxations can follow. This process can never be forced, only encouraged and supported. Massage is giving guidance, focus, direction, and motivation. Check for my availability here.
Stop judging your body, how you look, move, or feel. It does not judge you. It serves you beautifully, no matter what and only does what you ask it to do. It is time to celebrate it for that reason alone. Celebrate it for how well it responds to what you do, think and believe even though its responses might not be desired or wished for.
We all make decisions based on how we feel, and we are equally good at ignoring our body, overriding the subtle signals that ask us to stop, to start, to rest, or to do it again. The answers we seek are all there. Our body has them. And it’s not what our culture tells us. We ought to acknowledge that our cultural programming is strong. The voices out there are often confusing. Eat this, eat that, move this way or that. All we have though is our body and the way it listens to whatever we do. If we tune in we get all the answers we need. It is no good telling yourself off, or doing something because it is supposed to be good for you. Start by celebrating your body for what it is, beautifully serving you, always, and then start serving it as well.
Not many people know that I have been practicing martial arts for over 20 years because it is not as relevant for anyone else but me. It has, however, influenced the way I work as a massage therapist.
What I learned in the dojo is that a relaxed body, a body that can sense its surroundings and its inner state with awareness, a body that can harness focused attention and senses the intention of others, is a very responsive body, able to go with the flow no matter what you throw at it, creating a much higher tolerance for stress.
Does that mean we all have to practice martial arts?
Not necessarily, there are many other ways and arts to foster more awareness and access wellness, massage therapy being one of them.
Like in the martial arts, massage therapy doesn’t just involve the body. It involves the mind also. It involves bringing it out of the head into the body. Since our body is constantly and quietly relaying information about how it feels, it is important that we pay attention and learn to understand what it needs.
A distracted mind, however, is not able to hear the quiet whispers of the body. So my aim is to quieten the mind, have it listen.
I will get my clients to feel their own tension, to experience their own restrictions. When we sustain that felt body awareness for a time it allows the body to respond and those restrictions will shift and dissolve, gradually.
Are you feeling bombarded with good advice and suffer from information overload about what to do, eat and how to move, how to stick with resolutions? It is often very difficult to decide which way to turn, where to start. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet and no quick fix to be had and good intentions are not enough. Unless we learn how to embody the change we desire nothing is going to stick. Here are some useful pointers.
Start by listening to what your body is telling you. Connect to your internal guidance by giving the body a voice. Develop the sensitivity that could be supporting you in finding what is best.
Begin by imaging what it must be like to feel great and amazing. So amazing that stress is peeling away, bouncing off you, with clarity and peace returning to your mind. Imagine feeling energised by breathing well, eating nourishing food, sleeping and resting well, moving with more purpose and awareness, feeling less discomfort and pain. Your creative and playful self starts to reawaken, with your body no longer dragging you down and restricting you. Imagine allowing yourself to relax and soften, releasing and replenishing energy that is no longer locked up in your body.
It is possible to begin by moving in the right direction even if the steps we take are small. We can re-learn how good our bodies feel, re-train our bodies to move more efficiently and free up our breathing. We can let go of reacting in a way that used to protect us from pain and injury in the past but no longer serves us. Remedial and therapeutic massage serves as an excellent catalyst for deep healing and re-energising the whole body.
If we map out the road ahead and commit to the little steps necessary for change, we will see surprising progress. For my availabilty please check here.