By now the world is aware that Sandy's wrath took on the best city in the world and basically destroyed New Jersey. This multibillion dollar mess has now initiated one thing money can't buy - personal love and support of people who got lucky enough to get out of this mess without much hassle like myself.
After 25 years in the fitness industry and now edging into my 13th year as a manual therapist, I feel I’ve seen just about every “new” remedy, every ancient form of movement exploitation, and more fusion-based methods than I care to write about.
When I first tried a yoga class, I think I was about 23. I admit quite forthrightly, I didn’t love it.
What is inflammation? Why and where does it occur? Ask 10 different practitioners, I am not sure you would get the same answer. The best way I can explain inflammation is to tell it to you from what I feel I know about inflammation. As a practitioner, I see it in my clients as often as I see it in myself. But for me, I am obsessed with the process and learning how to ward off the bad inflammation but also harnessing the good inflammatory responses that arise. Did you even know inflammation can and is a good thing at times?
Here’s how I see inflammation:
At the root of inflammation, is the body’s ability to protect itself. It’s a biological “take control and protect” reaction. It is at the heart of our immune system. Our body’s ability to deploy super quantities of specialized repair cells including macrophages and mast cells that signal other cells to react, while alterations in the production of certain chemicals is initiated…inflammation is in it’s first response a good thing. However, if this inflammatory response doesn’t shut off, more whole-body reaction begins. This causes a change in lymphatic and liver function, not to mention our mental state and over all sense of energy. All of this creates a build up of toxicity on both a mental and physical level and that, no matter how you define it, IS inflammation as we recognize it by symptoms. Joints that frequently ache, low energy, poor sleeping cycles. Inflammation is now, not a good thing.
This is the cycle that begins. In other words, inflammation is the body’s way of protecting our vital systems. Think of it like the airbag that deploy a moment before total impact to protect you from flying out the window. Certain forms of inflammation actually keep us from dying when we catch a cold or cut our finger. It is a profound cascade of sorts that both allows us to stay healthy but can make us sick in the same instance. Ultimately, it depends on the body’s unconscious reaction to stress and how it both turns on and, turns off the reaction that causes inflammation.
In MELTing, we describe this inflammatory response as being initiated by the autopilot system, scientifically called the Autonomic Nervous System. Unlike traditional schools of thought that might describe the primary response to be within the brain, the reality is the body is responding first, the Central Nervous System (brain) is only responding to a peripheral (body) signal. The autopilot is a system housed under the Peripheral Nervous System or body nervous system. This concept I believe has been a part of ancient movement arts such as yoga, meditation, and any hands on therapy techniques regardless of a scientific explanation being necessary. Not just in the mind, but in the body we can resolve stuck stress on every level whether it shows it self as a mental, physical, chemical, or emotional stress, our body can handle stress and return back to balance if the autopilot is functioning efficiently.
So back to the science…
When inflammation comes and goes, the body is telling you it’s trying to manage stress on every level it comes in. But when inflammation becomes chronic, it’s the body’s inability to efficiently repair, protect, support and remain in balance that keeps us in an unhealthy, depressed, bloated, puffy, inefficient state.
Enzymes are a big part of the inflammatory process. They demolish damaged tissue so other cells and chemicals can create repair. Finally, in an efficient way the body senses the job is done… and the signal to continue to send an army into battle, is changed into a response to retreat and return to base. This response only occurs when the body’s repair regulator is able to return the body back to balance once a stress reflex has occurred. The repair regulator is housed within the autopilot. It is one of 3 regulators that are monitored for efficiency and balance.
Lots of things cause our body to set off the inflammatory parade from genetics to our environment and habits. Smoking, UV rays, pollution, allergies, and most importantly hormone and metabolism and our organ state (from nutrition to how we utilize a water molecule) are all players in our ability to stay balanced and efficient.
Our organs are constantly working to remain efficient even if we smoke, or eat crap like processed foods. This constant assault on our body’s autopilot system sends our body into an inefficient, unbalanced state. Intervention on a conscious level is essential in returning a chronically inflamed system back to a state of balance.
There are many levels of chronic inflammation from simple body ache to autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Chronic inflammation in blood vessels causes deadly clotting leading to a heart attack. Many autoimmune disorders are in fact the body’s self-healing mechanism or “auto-pilot” gone haywire. Our own inflammatory immune response actually begins to assault healthy connective tissue cells found within and around joints, nerves, muscles, organs, and bones. This attack can turn connective tissue cells into pain receptors. It’s like the attack of zombies turning everyone else into zombies! The cells don’t die, they turn into torture cells that signal pain to our brain!
Now there are many different types of symptoms that can arise from inflammatory responses. It can be in the form of a headache, acid reflux, cramps, and even depression. In more extreme circumstances its severe joint pain, arthritis, heart attack, or even death.
Research has shown that sometimes a wound that doesn’t heal properly and is chronically inflamed can even become skin cancer! There are many researchers who are basing their studies on skin cancer in the science of the body’s autopilot or self-defense/healing mechanism and how it works. I have simply taken this science and apply it to the understanding of what I know to be the autopilot system.
By now, I hope you are thinking, “Sue! Is there a way to help my autopilot and restore regulator stay balanced so that I can help keep chronic inflammation out of my body?!” I believe, yes. I know there is a way because I not only help myself keep inflammation out of my body, I show others how to do it… and it works.
So how do we improve our body’s autopilot system to stay regulated and balanced? How can we actively partake in keeping this vital system working efficiently? Drinking water isn’t enough, it is essential, but not enough. Why? On a cellular level, if our body becomes chronically dehydrated cells stop absorbing fluids as the fluids surrounding the cells is toxic. In an attempt to keep the cell from becoming toxic, it actually kills itself by not absorbing fluid. It’s a viscous cycle that can become the onset of chronic dehydration leading to chronic inflammation.
There are many ways we can indirectly reduce inflammation in our body. We can eat foods we are not allergic to that are water filled like fruits and veggies, we can sleep in pitch black rooms and go to bed around 10 and wake up at 7, we can meditate… all of these things will indirectly help our body’s autopilot. And, of course, MELTing can directly affect the autopilot. Our techniques directly affect the dual neurological system that functions to keep our body balanced and efficient. This again, is the autopilot.
Learning how to MELT will help you deter inflammation… the common sign of aging. This month’s MELT Map will show you how to stimulate the fluid state of your connective tissue and quiet the stress reflex as a way to both reduce inflammation and improve autopilot functionality and performance. Try it for yourself and let us hear back from you a "feel better story"!
All the best in health and longevity~
Manual Therapist and exercise physiologist Sue Hitzmann teaches a regimen of exercise with foam rollers to help busy New Yorkers to "melt" away stress in their joints. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
When it comes to limbering up or relieving aches and pains, Sue Hitzmann's "MELT" class at Reebok Sports Club/New York can teach people to "roll with it" to help deal with pain.
Hitzmann draws on her background as an exercise physiologist to help focus on repairing and relaxing the body around tough workouts or simply everyday stressful activity.
"'MELT' actually stands for 'Myofacial Energetic Length Technique' and it's a technique that's actually a neurofascial system," says Hitzmann. "It's a technique to stimulate connective tissue to keep your body pain-free."
The class may live up to its name. Special foam rollers are used to help "melt" away tension and improve flexibility. Focusing on key pressure points applied the right way, Hitzmann says the moves can help restore hydration to certain parts of the body.
Her followers swear by what they say are the benefits.
"I've completely healed my rotator cuff injury," says participant Roslinde Block. "Also, I've had two meniscus surgeries on both knees, and the work that I do with her, it is really keeping my body together."
"If you saw me walking around a few years ago, you'd see me walking around with my elbows bent because my bicep was so short," says participant Terry Williams. "Then, just doing this series in the 'MELT' program, it's a way to bring back some length to something that got too short short from doing too much exercising and too much working out."
Besides using the big foam rollers, there are also special exercises for the hands and feet to aid busy New Yorkers who are constantly at their desks or on the go.
Using tiny balls as props, students follow special charts to roll them along certain pressure points on the feet and hands.
A major benefit is that these exercise props can easily be taken on the go, allowing the "melting" of body aches and pains to take place anywhere.
We are shaped by the things we do… even our feelings shape us. Especially the feelings we do not resolve.
We hold patterns of tension that show our incomplete movements or inability to accept what is happening around us. In an emotional situation, the body has a reflection to the emotion. When we have a feeling that moves us, it is a physical and mental happening. If we keep it in our body and don’t allow the feelings to manifest on an emotional level, we can become tense, shut down, and ultimately, sick or riddled with chronic body pain.
Every time there is an incomplete motion, somewhere within the body there is an “accelerator and brake on at the same time”. Living in this state is common. The feelings that shape us can develop over time. We are in a perpetual state of inefficiency without even knowing it. We learn to adapt to this state, revving our engines whether we need to or not.
It’s tough for many people to grasp this reality of the body. Its ability to manage our stress by becoming a cesspool for our waste, un-managed emotions, and mismanaged tensional and emotional demands is a true happening of all living organisms.
I have seen many, many times in my years of private practice that people make themselves sick or cause pain simply by suppressing primary emotions like anger and sadness. Although some may argue, “No Sue. My shoulder pain is very real. It just started hurting. I think I slept wrong…” but why would sleeping in the same bed that you do every night with the same pillow, in the same position “suddenly” out of nowhere cause a shoulder to freeze to the point where movement is no longer possible?
Is it so hard to believe that “sudden” shoulder pain was the end result of a years worth of emotional stress from a divorce, a heart that is broken, a liver full of rage that has become fixated on the rib wall altering the suspensor ligaments of the liver that connect to the tissues surrounding the shoulder blade and last night, the stress of the day was just the straw that broke the camels back?
And this is a reality. I have helped people who have shoulder pain eliminate their pain simply by mobilizing the liver and having a dialogue with my client about their history. As the session continues and some of the rage finally comes out of the body it allows the body to reclaim some much need space. This allows healing time, recognition, inner focus, and ultimately the cure for the frozen shoulder.
Your emotions are not just happening in your mind. “Forgiving and forgetting” may suit the immediate needs of moving on and getting over some issue, but unless the body is able to “let go” of the suppressed stress over time emotional issues can become body pain and dysfunction.
I’ve seen physically abused girls turn into 40-year-old women with fibroids, chronic low back pain, heavy periods, incontinence, and a load of emotional suppression to the point they have managed to go their entire life up to that point never addressing the emotional angst of a step father raping them over and over in their early adolescents.
Suddenly giving a body the opportunity to bring the memories to the conscious mind by manipulating pelvic restrictions is not only a profound experience, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Tears from 30 years of abuse suddenly coming up to the adult mind that can hold the space of the inner child whose best option was to shut down, take the abuse and get out alive is a profound moment. Although the violence is far removed from their current life, it sits within us until we are ready to move the energy out of the body and reassert the power of deep anger.
So if you ever just suddenly are hit with a massive body pain, don’t be surprised if simply going inward and addressing some emotions trapped within the body makes your pains ease up. If you clear out some space in the body, the body can reorganize and ease compression and a build up of nothing more than trapped stress looking for a way out.
Bottom line, your emotional state and your body sense are inherently linked. The mind body connection isn't a hypothetical idea... it's a reality. This is the foundation of MELT.
Assessing your body before and after you MELT allows you time to reconnect to your body with your body sense. Going inward and sensing yourself truly reconnects you to your emotional body and can change the most important relationship you have... the one that connects you to your body and your body to you.