Sunday, April 22, 2018


We are all quite adept at conveying what hurts or feels wrong with our body.  Yet, when we begin to feel positive shifts and changes in our body during and after a Rolfing session, words seem limiting.  It is hard to give voice to a newly felt sense of embodiment, to be in your body for the first time in perhaps years.

To merge with your body and it's felt sense, is to merge with that which is ancient.  I have noticed how we sometimes dismiss these new felt sensations as being coincidence or even illusionary.  That somehow, that which is most definitely real, living in your body, is simply happenstance and nothing more.     

Even when we give credence and validity to those shifts that take form in our body, words escape us.  Yet to express what we feel to be different, grounds our lived experience.  This can be quite powerful.

So, here are some ways in which to help you integrate new found changes during and after a session.

I.  Language.

Even though language seems like a barrier at times, do try.  At first what comes out of your mouth may seem silly, almost goofy.  As your Rolfer, I will do my best to understand you.  Yet, even if I don't, what matters most is that it has meaning for you!  Words like lighter, heavier, grounded, open, compact, balanced, still, quiet, alive, energized, and taller have all been used to express the changes that clients have felt. 

Yet, what of others that might be...unique?  I have heard the following words to convey the changes they are feeling: Green, mountainish, void like, brighter, loopy, cascading, trippy, w.t.f., weird, good weird, Purplish Red, comical, absurd, brighter, etc. 

II. Imagery.

Now this can be rich.  Yes, let me know what you are seeing as well.  Not just the anatomical and physical changes taking place, but what you are seeing in your mind's eye.

Perhaps you glimpse natural vistas, like a forest, mountains, a river or ocean.  You might see the faces of old friends and loved ones.  Or perhaps a myriad of colors and textures.  Memories of long ago places and people may arise as well. 

Sometimes these images take on the forms and movements of natural phenomena.  The colors and textures you see may ebb and flow like a river, or shimmer like leaves in the wind.  This place is very much in touch with the natural world.  Enjoy it...  :)

III.  Movement.

Sometimes the best way to express the changes taking place is to . . . move.  I have seen folks use their hands and arms to express how much bigger they feel.  Sometimes they shudder a bit and have to walk in circles.  Throwing your head back while laughing also works.  Just walking around the room a bit helps as well.

After a session you might want to go for a long walk, while exaggerating the changes you feel in your body.  Perhaps Dancing.  Yoga.  Gardening.

IV. Art.

I remember the first time I was Rolfed.  I was trying desperately to convey to my Rolfer what my hips felt like after a session.  We got out some paper and a pen and I drew a stick figure with HUGE hips.  "This is what I feel like right my hips are huge floating balloons." 

I also remember back when I first started my practice.  I shared a space with other practitioners.  On the wall outside of one of my colleagues, was a series of paintings done by a client who had gone through a series of structural integration sessions.  Each painting conveyed the transformations this client went through.

They were beautiful. 

If you need some paper, pencils and coloring pens, let me know.  Have fun with it!

V.  Silence.

In the end, silence is also a wonderful option.  This is not the same as "shutting down."  Many of us give out so much energy during any given day.  Sometimes it is best to quietly enjoy these new felt senses throughout your body.  Much can be shared in silence as well.  Not all that is shared must be overt, much can be conveyed in subtle and gentle ways as well. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Relating to our Body.


As someone who has worked on many a body and explored the physical and spiritual boundaries of my own body over the years, I have seen and experienced first hand, how we relate to our bodies.

The relationship we have with our bodies is a relationship we will have throughout this life.  And I would argue, the relationship we have with our bodies is a microcosm with how we relate with others and our environment.  How we perceive our body is instilled in us at a very early age.  This relationship is augmented and shaped throughout our lifespan by many events, both tragic and ecstatic.

Often times, a client will come in when this relationship has broken down on some level, usually at no fault of their own.

All of these places / relationships this newsletter explores are not static.  Many are ways of relating that we have all felt or are familiar with.  There is nothing wrong with any one type.  That said, take note and see if you tend to reside or live in one way of relating more than others. 

Let's explore . .

The Body Doesn't Exist
This perception of our body is all too common.  With this type of rapport, we see our body as a vague and ghost like entity that functions as it is supposed to, until it "breaks" or feels acute pain.  Or, we realize we have a head, but are disconnected from the neck down.  "Feeling" our bodies is an unknown quality of being.  Sometimes this way of relating to our bodies is a mechanism for survival.  Within the forgotten rich and sensuous realms of our body lies hidden hurts and long forgotten traumas.  We cut ourselves off from not only the pains of our past, but the potential joys of the present. 
In our day to day life, as we go about our errands and other responsibilities, we generally relate to our bodies in this way, especially when we are in "planning" mode. There is nothing wrong with this state of being in of itself, but ideally it is not a place we should remain...
Body as Pain
With this type of relationship, we sense and feel our bodies as being the harbinger of discomfort and pain.  I'm not entirely sure why this happens, but any sensation in our body is seen as a potential threat.  We become hyper vigilant and brace ourselves deep within against a perceived danger...within our own body. 
If this is a way of relating you are familiar with, try and sooth yourself when you begin to feel scared or threatened.  Pain and discomfort from within becomes less intense and more manageable. 
Body As Machine
Here we realize that we do have a body, and it can do some pretty amazing things!  Another description might be Body as Instrument.  Body as machine can build a house, fix a car, repair the sink, mow the lawn, trim trees etc.  This can be a satisfying and at times rewarding approach to being in our bodies.  Look what I did!  Look what I can do! 

Unfortunately, with Body as Machine taken to the extreme, we learn to ignore and even suppress warning signs.  We might feel unsettling aches, fatigue, and building chronic pain, yet we learn to ignore these alerts from our body.  Why?  Because there is a job to do. There is work to be done. Unfortunately this is done at the expense of our living, breathing, and feeling body.
Body as Athlete
Body as Athlete is a body that we are more intimate with.  With the athletic body we have learned to feel the limitations of this amazing being by pushing it's edges, feeling it's limitations and surpassing them.  With time and practice, we begin to learn of it's awesome power, potential, and amazing grace.  At times though, especially in competitive sports, our body can simply become Body as Machine, losing sight of the first felt joy of athletic accomplishment.  At it's extreme, vulnerability is not an option.  To be flawed can be seen as being weak, and must be suppressed to accomplish the given athletic task at hand.
Body as LIFE
Body as life, I think, is our birthright.  It is a relationship that beckons exploration, curiosity, felt sense, and most importantly, compassion.  Here we can explore the myriad of anatomical relationships throughout our body.  From the curious grounding of our feet, to the ever growing expansion in our chest.  It is infinite.  We can also be playful here, to be curious, to try new things and ways of moving or sensing that might be harder to do with Body as Athlete or Body as Machine. 
With Body as Life, there is no end goal of winning, but of being.  Felt sense is hard to describe.  Language feels limiting here.  It is a joy to watch and be witness to clients who begin to feel felt sense changes in their body.  These might be the sensation of a cool breeze gently moving within their body, or feeling an electrical charge in their finger tips, or seeing a kaleidoscope of colors as their body begins to release long held tensions. 
This is the place where thought is an intruder.  With Body as Life, we are one and the same with our biology, our shared evolution, and dare I say, the teased edges of a larger and more universal sense of self.  I am not one for new age fluff. This way of being, Body as Life, is quite real and accessible, even though it feels tortuously brief sometimes. 
Compassion.  I think to fully experience the myriad of sensations in our body, we must be compassionate.  To be kind to our bodies and to our selves.  With Body as Machine and Body as Athlete in particular, compassion is shuffled to the way side.  Compassion on this level is one of nurture and self care.  Of rest and rejuvenation.  Hungry?  Eat well.  Tired?  Sleep deep.  So stunningly simple, yet easily forgotten. 
Even Body As Life is not a place you would want to reside in permanently, I think, because you might go mad!  Well, either that or attain enlightenment.  :)  That said, Body As Life has been, unfortunately, forgotten by most of us.

Body as Finite

One of the many undercurrents of doing any sort of body work, is the implicit understanding that we are, in essence, trying to keep mortality at bay.  I think, especially when we begin to grow older, chronic pain is not just seen as being a hindrance, but a reminder that our time is here is limited. 
Rolfing is not simply trying to shore up resources to keep your body up and running.  On the contrary, we are trying to create optimal health and the highest quality of life possible.  Granted, as we grow older our bodies begin to deteriorate.  That said, MUCH of our suffering as we age is duly unnecessary. 

Hopefully, as we age, Body As Life becomes much more appealing.  Our limitations become more apparent, yet the richness and infinite complexity of our body is still there to be explored and honored.  I have seen this with people in their 80's who continue to do martial arts.  The depth of their somatic knowledge is mind blowing.  The irony is, as they get closer to the end of their life span, the greater their appreciation and understanding of their finite yet infinitely rich body.
The question becomes, with Body as Finite, what is the quality of the relationship I wish to have with this body while I am here?  And eventually, when the time comes, in what  way do I hope to leave it?  In many ways, the way we relate to our body now is how we will pass on as well.  No guarantee, but definitely a precursor.


Rolfing has the capacity to bring us closer to Body As Life.  Sometimes this sudden illumination into what is possible and accessible in our bodies can be...shocking.

We might begin to realize that the way in which we have been living, relating to our bodies, will simply no longer suffice.  Construction workers might feel the need to find work that is more gentle on their bodies.  Long Distance runners may begin to feel and appreciate the need for more rest.  Those who have been dissociated from their bodies will perhaps feel the totality of their being, rather than just the thinking brain.  Clients who have experienced a life of chronic pain might begin to feel longer and longer spats of time with little or no discomfort.  For those who are getting older, the desire to live more fully and intimately might become more pronounce

Monday, September 29, 2014

Third Paradigm.

I recently came across an article I read years ago.  It was great to read it again and get re-acquainted.  The article is called, "Rolfing:  a Third Paradigm Approach to Body-Structure" by Rolfer Jeffrey Maitland.

There are many and varied types of body work to be found in our contemporary world, especially here in Seattle!  Some of them are relaxing, some corrective, and others are more holistic.

Each one of these practices on the spectrum from relaxation to holistic are, in of themselves, no better or no worse than any other healing modality.  This applies to Rolfing as well.

Also, each approach has their own inherent limitations.  As a Rolfer I am untrained to, with any expertise or effectiveness, provide lymphatic drainage for my clients.  And, those trained in lymphatic massage might be hard pressed to diagnose and treat structural anomalies in their clients.

That said, I wold like to explore this continuum, and where Rolfing fits in . . .

We have all found and needed body work that is simply . . . relaxing. Every so often, this is what my body craves, to get a full body massage and leave feeling oh so blissed out and relaxed.

Different forms of body work that help create a sense of relaxation and well being enhances healing on various levels.

This approach does not, however, treat and correct structural problems and associated chronic pain.  Some of these might be addressed, but by accident and chance, unless a practitioner has such training.

Corrective body work modalities, seek to enhance a client's health by assessing and treating pain, functional problems, and somatic dysfunction.  Assessment as well as treatment with these types of approaches can be quite refined.  Symptom or pain relief is of great importance.  Certain types of physical therapy and chiropractic are just some examples of this approach. 

Corrective types of body work tend to be, but not always, more specialized in their approach as well.

Those practices that fall under the umbrella of "Holistic" tend to seek and encourage optimal health and well being for their client.  Not just the abatement of pain, but a state of being that embodies peak physical, spiritual and emotional balance.

Here is the kicker.  A holistic approach does not seek to alleviate symptoms, disease,  and dysfunction per se.  Rather, it seeks an all encompassing approach to a client's well being.  It seeks a way to organize and create balance for the totality of a client.  Consequently, more often than not, various symptoms of pain and dysfunction tend to fall to the way side.  A very welcome side note for the now balanced and healthier client. 

It may come as a surprise to you, my dear client, but when I work with you I am not seeking just symptom or pain relief. That is not my intention. Rather, I truly am looking for the best strategy to help you find better posture and balance.  Oh, and as a result, lo and behold, long held pain and discomfort begins to fade away. . .

With Rolfing, which is a holistic modality, it is important to remember that I am working with the totality of the human body.  I don't specialize in just one area of the body.  Pain is a symptom, and not a cause.  Sometimes they do overlap.  Yet, as your practitioner, I am seeking balance for the whole, and not just associated parts.

"The body is a living unified system in which no one system is more fundamental to the make-up and organization of the whole itself."  Jeffrey Maitland.

In other words, as your Rolfer, I am working with systems and not just anatomical parts.  For example, I may at some point be working with an artery in your abdomen, even though you are experiencing pain in your foot.  As I work on this artery, I am touching and affecting a whole system, and in this particular case, a cardiovascular system.  And, it just so happens that there is an associated artery related to the artery in your viscera that is in your foot.  Lo and behold, both ends of this system are released, and pain begins to diminish in your foot.

At times, during a session, you might experience this sensation yourself.  Perhaps you come in for some work because of pain in your back.  I may end up working near the front of your rib cage, and you might feel it in the exact spot in your back where you have been feeling discomfort.

All of these systems throughout your body are also very much in relationship with one another.  No one system is of paramount importance than another. 

Indeed, as your Rolfing practitioner, I am constantly educating myself to learn and explore the endless intricacy and beauty of human anatomy.  Even within the Rolfing community, there is disagreement to what it is we are and should work on.  Some believe we should remain focused primarily on muscles and fascia.  I disagree.  Rolfing is inherently a holistic modality.  No one system takes precedence over another. 


Aligning your body with gravity is, in essence, what Rolfing is all about.  Finding alignment with gravity is truly what makes Rolfing a holistic modality. 

With Rolfing, we are addressing and working with whole systems to help bring your body into vertical alignment with gravity, the end goal.  Gravity is one of the primary forces of nature, along with electromagnetism and nuclear strong force/weak force.  Generally speaking, we are oblivious to gravity's power day in and day out.  We are born into the field of gravity like a fish is born into the waters of the ocean.

We become acutely aware of it's force when we are fighting it; misaligned with gravity's powerful field.  Again, another reason that makes Rolfing such a powerful holistic modality, is that we bring your body back into alignment with this field, this primary force of nature.  The totality of your being resonates with gravity rather than being burdened by it.

One of the reasons I am hesitant to discuss gravity as it relates to Rolfing is that it can seem so damn theoretical, that is, until you experience aligning with gravity yourself.

Ahhhhhh, but when you finally do, you realize, wow, this is good stuff...and it works! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Out of Whack.

I would like to to explore a question I tend to get during or after most Rolfing sessions.

That question is, "How did my body get out of whack like this?"

This question comes up often after a client's body begins to feel better after one or a couple of sessions.  Once they begin to feel better, I think it is quite natural to did my body get out of sorts in the first place?

Let's look at some possible reasons why . . .

1.  Injury.  That seems pretty obvious, huh?  I mean, you fall or bump your head on something, stub your toe etc., and you are going to feel quite a bit of pain.  Sometimes though, an injury or blunt trauma to your body will reverberate throughout your body in ways you can't consciously track.   

Imagine throwing a stone into a pond.  There is the point of impact, and then there are the waves that follow.  Let's say you fall on your hip.  That is the point of impact, yet many waves follow and ripple throughout your entire body.  Your hip might heal quick enough, but you might begin to feel pain elsewhere, sometimes weeks and months later.  Again, in my previous blog post, "It's a Symphony" I explore this phenomena further.

2.  Sedentary Lifestyle.  Our bodies are complex.  And, in many ways, we are meant to move in complex ways.  Sitting in front of a computer, as I am doing now, is not really a pattern that millions of years of evolution prepared us for.  For many of us, this is something we do for work often.  Neurologically and physiologically your body begins to prepare you for the long haul if this is the pattern you repeat over and over again.  If you are hunched over your computer 24/7, your body will begin to lay out collagen fibers to help keep you in this position.  Consequently your posture will be affected and held in this pattern.  Various aches and pains will follow.  And, if you simply go from sitting in front of your desk to then crashing on your couch at home, you are tempting fate.  Don't forget to get up and MOVE!  Honor our hunter and gatherer roots! 

3.  Stress/Anxiety.  Stress in of itself is not a bad thing.  The stress response in our body helps keep us alive.  Yet, stress is not meant to rule our nervous system all day and all night.  Chronic stress can have an adverse affect on our bodies over the long haul.  Our hearts become strained from continued and increased contraction.  Adrenal glands become exhausted from producing too many stress hormones.  Our liver, kidneys, and digestive organs all bear the brunt of prolonged anxiety.  Our posture and structural integrity begins to suffer as a consequence of prolonged stress.

4.  Nutrition.  What we eat has a profound affect on our bodies.  Unfortunately, most food now has little if any nutritional value.  When we do not eat enough, we obviously starve our bodies of the nutrition it needs to thrive.  When we eat poorly, we trigger what is called and Inflammation Response in our bodies.  The inflammation response is meant to deal with and eliminate foreign substances that invade our bodies such as bacteria.  Food is meant to have nutritional value, not be seen as a threat.  Yup, that diet coke you drank?  Your body reacted in a way that saw it as poison.  One very common symptom of the inflammation response is joint pain.  So, when you eat, make sure it is nutritious.  Avoid foods that might trigger inflammation.  Next time you are shopping, truly read the ingredients.  If there is an ingredient you cannot pronounce, put that puppy back on the shelf!

On a personal note, I have been trying to eat even more organic foods.  I used to eat organic here and there.  These days, more frequently.  I have noticed that I am less anxious and sleep better.  Oh, and I am experiencing less aches in my body as well!

5.  Layers.  None of the aforementioned items should be seen in isolation. Unfortunately many of these are intertwined with one another.  Eating poorly can lead to stress, and visa versa.  You might be living a sedentary lifestyle and then are injured, which might compound the healing process.  It is tempting to point to one thing and say, "aha that's it."  Alas, it is usually a cluster of many complex factors.

6.  Life.  These are some possible reasons of why your body might, "get out of whack like this."  Alas, life is full of surprises. We are amazingly complex and beautiful beings, as well as being flawed.  Sometimes we forget this very mortal fact.  Our bodies are brilliant things, yet sometimes they need a little help.  What to do? 

I have mentioned this before in previous newsletters.  Come in for Rolfing on a pro-active basis.  This can work wonders for your body.  Self care is so very important.  Also, what can you do on your own?  I have the secret for you.  Ready?  Ok, here it is:

Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest.  :)

I mean this sincerely.  At the end of a session client's will ask if there is anything they can do to help keep the positive changes that have taken place in their body.  I do have movement exercises that I may give you from time to time.  Yet, check out some of the factors we explored above.  What, if any, of them speak to you the most?  Which one(s) should be addressed first and foremost?  In this way, perhaps chronic pain will become an aberration and not the norm.

Take care...

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Fight, Flight, Freeze...


This is a topic that I have been wanting to discuss for some time. 
In light of the recent tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Conn., I think it is time to explore a term we are hearing in the news quite often,"trauma." 

The word itself can be a bit scary.  Yet, it is a common experience as part of the human condition. 
I would like to help de-mystify, from a more physiological and anatomical view, of what trauma is and what can be done to help alleviate heal.  Sometimes the more we learn about something, the less scary and overwhelming it is.

As a Rolfer, I see the repercussions of physical trauma quite often.  I also sense and work with symptoms of psychological trauma as well.

First, let's discuss what trauma is.  Trauma is an event involving a single experience, or a series or events, that completely overwhelm a person's ability to cope or integrate all that has happened to their body and psyche.  The key word here is overwhelm.  All of our body's ability to compensate and contend with a given threat is simply...overcome.

Trauma can happen quite easily in situations of war, a car accident, abuse, or the death of a loved one.  Yet, trauma need not be, as seen through the eyes of an adult, a catastrophic event.  As children, it doesn't take much for us to experience trauma.  Our nervous systems are not fully developed when we are young.  Because of this, we are much more susceptible to traumatic events.

1.  A Story.

I am sure you have heard of the fight or flight response.  This is the body's natural response to any given stressor.  There is another response that is also quite natural, and that is the freeze response.  You will find all three in nature on a regular basis.

A great example of all three responses would be the story of our friend the Gazelle.

Let's say our buddy the Gazelle is minding it's own business, munching on some grass, when suddenly it gets a whiff of a Lion near by.  When a gazelle senses a lion, its innate response is to prepare for fight or flight.  Perhaps it has young ones near by, and might hope to defend it's young, or fight.  More likely than not, being that it is not a fellow predator, it will flee.  The gazelle flees, and the lion gives chase.  Now, let's say the poor gazelle is caught.  At this stage, the gazelle might in fact simply play dead, or freeze.  The freeze response is a state of helplessness, surrender, yet at the same time, one of survival.

If the gazelle is extremely lucky, and the lion is distracted, it may take this opportunity to flee once again.  It does indeed get away a second time, and the Lion is unable to pursue or capture our friend the gazelle.

It is at this juncture where trauma may get a foot hold.  Yet, for the gazelle, it begins to twitch, shudder and shiver.  It's autonomic nervous system is discharging, and its body is seeking homeostasis or balance once again. 

We humans, however, for a variety of reasons, have forgotten or lost our ability to discharge.  This is very important.  It is here that trauma takes hold.  Our response is not homeostasis or balance, but one of numbness, disassociation, and or constant hyper vigilance..  It is essential for our bodies to respond to a threat and then return to homeostasis afterwards. 

In other words, it is essential that our bodies are able to respond to a threat, and then after the threat has passed, have the ability to find balance.  With trauma, homeostasis or balance, feels and becomes out of reach.

(Thanks to Peter Levine for this story.)

2.  Biology.

One of the primary objectives of our brain and body is quite fundamental, and that is survival. 

When we talk of emotions, sometimes I think we assume that "feelings" are these ephemeral things that have no basis in physical reality.  On the contrary, emotions are physical.  Fear, joy, sadness, despair, love, and even terror are the result of our mind and body synchronizing or fragmenting from one another.  It is a dance of our endocrine, nervous, cardiovascular, lymphatic, skeletal, visceral, and muscular systems ... and then some.

A whole novel could be written on the physiological actions and reactions that take place in our body when we feel frustration for just a few minutes.  So very complex and intricate.

Let us look at what happens on a physical/biological level when we experience danger, and then . . . trauma. 

To deal with threats, our body has a command center, and it is called the HPA axis. 

The HPA axis contains the following:  hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.  This axis produces finely tuned chemical messages that connect the central nervous system, endocrine and immune systems. HPA is the coordinator for our body's ability to defend itself.

The next time you get spooked, perhaps an angry dog getting to close to you, know that the HPA axis has just been turned on.

Time to introduce you to the HPA's main players.

The hypothalamus is located pretty much right in the middle of your brain.  If you were to place one hand on your forehead and the other at the base of your skull, it would be located roughly between your two hands.  The hypothalamus helps coordinate the autonomic nervous system.  The autonomic nervous system has two branches called the sympathetic and parasympathetic, which I will introduce you to later.

The pituitary gland is located in front of and just a little bit south of the hypothalamus.  It's roughly the size of a pea.  Even though it is a small little guy, it is a major player in our body.  It is responsible for creating 9 hormones that regulate balance in your body.  One of these hormones triggers the adrenal glands.

Last, but not least, are our friends the adrenal glands.  You have probably heard of these guys before.  They are perched right on top of your kidneys.  If you take your hands, and are able to reach behind to roughly lower mid back, they are located right about there.  They are the power players who release hormones in response to stress.  You have heard of adrenaline, which is essential to survival.  Another key hormone here is called:  cortisol. 

Cortisol is a bit of a counter balance to adrenaline.  It serves to control the stress response and calm the immune system.  It helps temper your body's fight and flight response, but not dampen it.

The whole of your sympathetic nervous system, "fight or flight", is put on red alert if the HPA axis senses danger!  Where does the sympathetic nervous system originate?  Nerve fibers from pretty much the whole front of you spine, touch on most every organ as it prepares you for survival.  If you were to take your hand and draw a line from your belly button to your throat, this is the area from which the SNS originates.

These are the players that create the HPA axis, the command center that deals with any unwanted threat or attack.  What is essential, is that the HPA axis is eventually able to "chill out" once a threat has passed.  Remember our friend the gazelle?  After it has discharged pent up energy, perhaps with shaking or running around, it may go about it's business once again of eating grass...  In order for this to happen, it's parasympathetic nervous system is activated.

Once a threat has passed, and the HPA axis believes all is clear, the parasympathetic nervous system comes on board to calm every thing down.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also referred to as the, "Rest and Digest" system.  I am a big fan of this one!  :) 

Where does the parasympathetic nervous system mostly reside?  Well, parasympathetic nerve fibers arise from the cranium and your sacrum.  Like the sympathetic nervous system, remember "fight or flight", they touch on and effect many glands and organs in your body.  If you place your hand on your sacrum, and later on both sides of your head, you have just found where the PNS originates.  No wonder downward facing dog in yoga can feel so good!  

The HPA axis exists for our survival.  Obviously, toxic stress can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies when the HPA axis is utilized too much, and we never allow ourselves to rest, to find balance.

Yet what happens when we experience trauma?

3.  Askew.

The HPA axis is also triggered by toxic stress and a traumatic event(s).  Trauma gets a foot hold when the energies in your body that are culminated for fight or flight become trapped.  The various systems that I described above that are primed for action are also simultaneously dampened from discharging.

Remember how I mentioned how important it is for the body to "chill out" after a threat has passed?  With trauma, our bodies are getting ready for fight/flight AND to calm down at the same time.  Our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are now firing simultaneously. 

Our parasympathetic nervous system is supposed to help sloooowly bring us back down.  With trauma, our nervous system isn't allowed to coast to neutral, but is instead suddenly switched OFF.  In our bodies, this switch is called the vagus nerve.  It is one of the cranial nerves I introduced to you earlier.

Two systems are now at war with one another.  One is meant to follow the other.  The gas peddle is not to be pushed down at the same time as the brake.  In other words, we are indeed overwhelmed!

The HPA axis becomes confused, and various maladaptations
may follow.  We might feel "checked out" more often than not, as if in a continuous daze.  Or, we might be all too quick to anger and lash out.  Sometimes our psyche is trying to integrate all that is happened, and we might experience ongoing nightmares. 

Our soma and psyche do the very very best it can at this point.  But these options are fairly limited.  We remain in a state of hyper arousal, shut down, or vacillate between both.

4.  To Heal.

It is important to understand at this point, if you have indeed been traumatized, that there is nothing wrong with you.  As scary as all this might seem, and it can be, your mind/body is simply doing the best that it can.  Sometimes though, we all need a little help.

What is beautiful and amazing, is how much we have advanced in our understanding and treatment of trauma.  There are many many new ways in which to address trauma that weren't available, say, even 10 years ago.

Here are a few modalities that might help out. 

Play Therapy for Children.

As I mentioned before, children can be the most susceptible to traumatic events.  Play therapy is used with children aged 3 through 11 and provides a way for them to express their feelings and experiences through a guided healing process. As children begin to communicate their lived experience through play, the events that were once simply overwhelming, become better known and understood.  They become whole once again.


Psychotherapy can be an absolutely wonderful modality in dealing with trauma.  I would highly recommend working with a trained professional who is wise to the treatment and symptoms of trauma.  If you ever need a referral, please let me know.


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a very powerful tool used in a therapeutic context.   The goal of EMDR therapy is to process traumatic memories, which helps reduce their lingering and overwhelming influences.  

Body Work.

As a Rolfer, my goal is to help bring your body into alignment.  I am not personally trained to deal with trauma and it's effects per se.  Yet, throughout the course of Rolfing, old trauma does come up.  Rolfing can help your body find homeostasis once again. 

For those of you that have worked with me before, you may have noticed times
where you suddenly feel cold for no reason, or your body might shake and shiver a bit.  These are good signs.  Remember the story about the gazelle?  Well, your body is finally finding the room and space to discharge.  It might not be trauma in of itself, but perhaps an overly activated autonomic nervous system.

Also, Rolfing can help you reconnect with your body.  When we are traumatized, we disassociate or become divorced from our own bodies.  With body work, we can explore, in a felt sense, the myriad of sensations that exist in our body
, and re-connect with them.Rolfing using osteopathic and visceral techniques, can be very helpful.  Even though I might be dealing with an adhesion in your stomach, I am also touching and working with your nervous system.  The conflict between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can be alleviated with some amazing results. 

Self Care. 

This is key.  Find ways in which to calm and sooth yourself every day.  You cannot push through trauma or "get it together."  But you can show yourself the kindness, love and compassion that you so very much deserve.  Find some quiet every day.  Listen for and feel the various sensations throughout your body.  Yoga and tai-chi are a few practices that can be very helpful in this regard.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I would like to explore the phenomena of chronic pain.

Usually pain is considered acute if it lasts no more than 30 days.
  Pain is generally considered chronic if it lasts 3-6 months after it's onset.

Unfortunately, more often than not, many of us have experienced this all too common malady.  Chronic pain can be literally debilitating.  Sometimes it can lead to cognitive discord and even depression.  It is the harsh somatic white noise in the back ground that never ceases.

I have clients that experience both.  With acute pain, there is usually apparent tissue damage and compensatory patterns throughout the body.  This, however, is thankfully fairly short lived.

With chronic pain, things get a bit trickier.  Now, before I go on, let me just say that there has been quite the paradigm shift in pain science.  Stay with me here for some new insights may seem absurd at first glance.

The New Pain Science. 

With sudden and acute pain we have a pretty straight forward idea of what is going on.  Let's say you stub your toe.  Well, in the general vicinity of your toe you have what are called "nociceptors."  These little guys are sensory neurons that can be found throughout the body.  Their primary job is to let your spinal cord and various parts of your brain know if there has been any damage done to your body.  In essence, their job is to ensure your body's survival.

So, back to your poor toe.  Immediately after stubbing your toe, nociceptors send a very loud, "HEY, WE GOT A PROBLEM DOWN HERE AT THE BIG TOE!" signal to your spinal cord, brain stem.  From there it goes to multiple sites in the brain. 

First it goes to the cerebellum (motor control) and  the thalamus (regulates alertness).  Now, here's an interesting twist.  There is then a dialogue with the frontal lobes of your brain, which are responsible for higher brain functions (executive decisions/long term memories/choosing between good and bad actions.) and the Posterior Parietal Cortex (planning and executing movements.)  Everyone huddles together and figures out what to do.

This "dialogue" between the Frontal Lobes and the Posterior Parietal Cortex eventually leads to a decision/action.

It will hurt or it won't.

This would be the paradigm shift I mentioned before.

It used to be thought that nociceptors sent pain signals to your spinal cord, brain stem and brain.  Now, however, it is believed that they send signals to your brain, and your brain decides whether or not it should be painful.  The brain makes the executive decision if pain will be needed for your survival.

So, with the stubbed toe, your buddy the brain does the right thing, it makes your toe hurt so you protect it and do what is necessary, hopefully, to repair any damage done.  (I am not entirely sure what part of the brain is responsible for the soliloquy of profanity that may follow immediately after stubbing the toe. . .) 

This scenario would be considered "acute pain."

Yet, how does acute pain trans-mutate into chronic pain?  More importantly, what can be done about it?


Sometimes these signals from nocioceptor to brain and from brain to nocioceptors might get confused. 

In an ideal world, some time after stubbing your toe, any tissue damage slowly but surely begins to heal.  Then, the brain makes yet another decision.  It decides that healing has taken place and pain as a mechanism for survival is no longer needed, thus pain begins to subside.

Yet, what happens if there is no more tissue damage, yet pain persists?  There are a number of things that could be going on...

1.  The brain may begin to experience seemingly benign sensation and interpret it as pain.  The brain still considers a certain area to be under threat, even if there is no damage done.  Such as the stubbed toe.  Even though the bruising has abated, simple pressure on the toe might trigger a painful response.  The nervous system is still stuck in a loop of protection/survival.

2.  Long term pain begets even more pain.  This is called long term potentiation.  It's like a well worn neurological pathway that your brain uses over and over again.  The more this pathway is used, the easier it is to follow. 

3.  Old Injuries.  This is key.  Old injuries are very susceptible to awakening over used neurological pain pathways.  Let's say at one point, that toe you stubbed was once broken.  Your brain already has pathways established from your previous accident, and it doesn't take much to awaken them once more. 

Remember the various parts of the brain which light up after receiving signals from the nocioceptors?  These parts of the brain, frontal lobes and posterior parietal cortex, rely heavily on past events and memories before making an executive decision.

If you had never hurt your big toe in any substantial way before, you would curse the gods, ice it and life goes on.  If, on the other hand, you broke such said toe once before, your brain/body is already primed and ready to respond in a perhaps overly protective and zealous manner.  Where pain would once linger for a few days, it instead stays put for far too long.  Your mind and body are hell bent on your survival, so pain persists...

4.  History and Environment.  We all have different family histories...some healthier than others.  Unfortunately, if there was any physical abuse, our bodies may already be hyper tuned to any potential danger as adults.  Old habits for survival die hard.  Also, even if there was no physical harm, but emotional abuse, your body again might be hard wired to to sense any undue sensation as dangerous, and react accordingly. 

Also, how did our parents relate to pain?  We mirror our parents.  Did they ignore pain or hyper inflate it?

Regardless of our respective histories, our bodies respond to our environment.  If we don't feel safe, or we feel in some way in danger, our brain and our bodies may in fact create pain where there is no physical damage done.  Now, to be very clear, you are not "making anything up."  This is happening not even on a subconscious level, but on a very deep level within our Central Nervous System.  If your job is stressful, take note if you begin to feel various aches and pains after even just thinking about your respective jobs.

5.  Visceral in Origin.  This is a slight tangent but should be mentioned.  Sometimes we get pain where there is no damage done.  This called referred pain.  Remember those nocioceptors I was describing earlier?  Well, for whatever reason, there aren't that many in your viscera.  There are a lot more towards the periphery of your body.  So, you may have an adhesion in your guts, yet your brain hasn't received any distress calls from that area.  Unfortunately, over time, you may begin to recruit other structures in your body to protect this adhesion.  For example, your liver might be slightly stuck on another organ near by.  Your rib cage might be bent forward to help protect this adhesion.  Then your vertebrae follow.  Here at the spine there are plenty of nocioceptors, and then your brain finally gets the signal that something is awry.  This can lead to chronic pain if the original culprit, the liver, was never dealt with.  I have described this dynamic in previous newsletters.  Rolfing using Visceral Manipulation can be very helpful when this has occurred.

What is to be done?


Language.  Be mindful of how you talk about your pain.  More importantly, be alert to how others describe or interpret your chronic pain.  Language is very powerful.  If you find yourself referring to your pain in a demeaning and harsh way, there is a good chance your brain will continue to sense danger on some level and perpetuate your discomfort.  "God damn toe...I'll never be better...I'm all screwed up...I'm a train wreck... there's something wrong with me...what did I do wrong..." etc. et al. are all shame based interpretations of something quite benign yet confused in your nervous system.  When visiting a health care provider, and they use language that is. . .harsh, take a moment to either remind them of the power of their words or perhaps find a new practitioner. 

Body work.  Manual therapy, in particular Rolfing, can be of great help for those dealing with chronic pain.  Without going into great detail about what happens on a physiological level, just know that the continual loop of survival and inflammation gets re-worked and worked out on multiple levels.  Also, your brain begins to re-map it's awareness of perceived injuries and sites of pain.  With chronic pain, your proprioception and or awareness of your own body becomes skewed.  With body work, healthy proprioception takes hold, and your mind begins to realize that all is well, everything is as it should be.  There is no damage as it once thought there was.

Movement.  Subtle and gentle movement can work wonders for those dealing with chronic pain.  Movement which helps differentiate sensations.  When we are feeling chronic pain, unfortunately ANY sensation can be interpreted as being a threat or as being painful in of itself.  Movement that re-awakens proprioception, as mentioned above, is very helpful.  Painful areas certainly draw our attention but not necessarily our sensitivity and awareness. Gentle yoga and feldenkrais are two approaches I can think of right off hand.  If you ever need a referral, just let me know!

Just one last thought.  Next time you are dealing with any undue or chronic pain, I have one suggestion above all others...


Sometimes, when I am experiencing pain, whether it be physical or even emotional, I take my hand and gently caress that which hurts.  If it is emotional, I caress and sooth my heart and forehead.  If it is physical pain, such as my left knee, I close my eyes and with true intention, gently caress my knee and kindly, oh so kindly, tell myself that all is well.  The pain doesn't "go away" but it does lessen...and I feel more whole.

When pain begins to manifest again, I sooth myself in return.  This helps create new and healthy neurological pathways.

Those parts of my nervous system and the executive players in my brain begin to realize that the loop of hyper-vigilance and pain may not be needed after all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's a symphony.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, "How does my body get out of whack like this?"

Most of my clients come to see me when their bodies have reached a state of chronic pain. This question comes up, interestingly, when they notice improvement after a few sessions. I think perhaps they are realizing they no longer have to feel such discomfort, and are curious as to how in the hell they got into such a painful place to begin with.

Well, as you might have guessed, it is fairly complex. It is very seductive to point to one thing in the human body and say,
"That's it!" Alas, it's not so simple.

At any given moment of any given day our bodies are constantly adjusting to various stimuli internally as well as externally. This can be sleeping patterns, eating habits, stress, anxiety, joy, bliss, and any number of physical, environmental and or emotional influences.

Our bodies, in their infinite wisdom, are constantly trying to reach a state of homeostasis, or balance. It's really quite remarkable. . .

So, everyone everywhere may have a plethora of various adhesions or limitations in their bodies that are barely even perceived during any given day. These restrictions, or
"lesions" in Osteopathic lexicon, come and go...

Yet, let's say a stimuli is perhaps too blunt or is traumatic. At it's simplest point this could be a stubbed toe and at it's extreme end a car accident. From this point on, your body may find it more and more difficult to find ways to compensate to this extreme or somewhat benign trauma.

Eventually, perhaps days, weeks and even months after an incident (bike accident, fall, sitting for prolonged periods of time, emotional shock...) your body will simply run out of ways to compensate.
THEN you reach for the pencil on the ground and your back goes out! "But I was just reaching for a pencil!"

Alas, your body may have been engaging in the simplest of motions, yet your body may have been spring loaded, unable to bear any more discomfort or compensate any longer. 

And then. . . pain gets a foot hold! 

What's Gravity Got to Do With It? 

There is another player in this unfolding scenario that many other modalities don't address: gravity. We are born into the power of gravity and we go out with it as well. It may be one of the weaker forces in the universe, but tell that to your stiff neck.

So, backing up a bit. Let's say a small but important artery near your neck and collar bone, called the Subclavian Artery, gets pinched. The body, as I recently mentioned, will compensate the best way it can to protect this artery.

Why does this happen? Well, it sounds a bit macabre, but your body needs blood flow to your brain more than it needs that shoulder. So, it will recruit all of the outlying musculature to protect this artery. Then, the body will lay out strands of fascia, collagen fibers, to make it even more sturdy. Thus, stiffness...and pain might get a foot hold here.

Gravity. Well, if we lived in outer space, your shoulder would be slightly curved forward and that would be that. Alas, we live here on earth. So, your body will also do what it needs to keep you upright.

So, your body has pulled in somewhat around the Subclavian Artery. Now the body will also compensate to keep you upright. It might begin to pull up and rigidify your Trapezius muscle, so as to lift and somehow balance your shoulder girdle so you don't fall over!

Your Trapezius muscle is not meant to stabilize you in gravity. It is simply meant to lift or lower your scapula. Here is another place you might feel pain. The Trapezius is doing a job it's not meant to do. It too is getting reinforced with lots of collagen fibers, aka fascia. Alas, the nerves that feed this muscle begin to become inflamed and aggravated, and voila! Pain takes hold...

I hope you are getting the picture now.

On and On It Goes. . .

Over time, this orchestration of compensation will continue to reverberate throughout the body.

For example: your shoulder is pulled forward to protect the Subclavian Artery. Your body recruits other muscles to return you to some semblance of vertical alignment, such as the Trapezius muscle.

and then...

your pelvis will perhaps take more load on the left side toward the front to compensate for the imbalance in your shoulder. Again, your body is trying to keep you upright in gravity.

and then...

You start to get hip stiffness.

and then...

Your hip stiffness starts to pinch on the sciatic nerve, and you begin to get pain in your hamstring.

and then...

You look around for my contact information and give me a call! :)


What is to be done?

Rolfing, especially Rolfing using Visceral Manipulation, can help your body find this inherent desire for homeostasis once again and simply help steer your body back on course.

I highly recommend
Rolfing in a pro-active sense. These root causes that I have discussed can be addressed early before your body has exhausted any and all compensatory patterns thus leading one to experience undue pain.

I have clients that come in on a fairly regular basis. During most any given session, I will find areas in their body where they are just beginning to hold undue tension. Where one place could have eventually led to back pain or shoulder pain, we are able to release them, and they not only avoid any discomfort, but feel simply fantastic afterwards.

I also highly recommend a practice of self-care. Something that helps you explore and unwind building restrictions in your own body. Yoga, tai chi, and even simple walking are just a few examples.

Again, our bodies are so very brilliant in their desire to find balance. Sometimes we forget that this inherent movement towards balance simply needs to be nudged along and consistently nourished.

Pain is usually the last foothold for your body. It has reached critical mass.

See if you can find the time and resources to
honor your body every day. After all, it's doing everything it can on it's end!